McCain's VP Wants Creationism Taught in School
Added: Fri, 29 Aug 2008 23:00:00 UTC
Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin wants creationism taught in science classes.
In a 2006 gubernatorial debate, the soon-to-be governor of Alaska said of evolution and creation education, "Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of education. Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both."
(Read about Palin's views on ANWAR and polar bears on our sister blog, Threat Level.)
Asked by the Anchorage Daily News whether she believed in evolution, Palin declined to answer, but said that "I don't think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class."
"I'm not going to pretend I know how all this came to be," she said.
The battle between evolution and creationism -- specifically, Christian creationism -- in U.S. classrooms dates back to the 1925 Scopes trial, when a Tennessee court banned the teaching of evolution. Since then, state and federal courts have repeatedly rejected so-called creation science in public schools, calling it religion rather than science.
The latest courtroom defeat came in the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover case, when the superficially religion-neutral theory of intelligent design was classified as religious creationism. The Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that teaching creationism violated the separation of church and state.
Nevertheless, pro-creationism education initiatives driven by Christian conservatives have flourished, and defenders of evolution -- and, more broadly, scientific integrity -- worry that Palin's pick will give momentum to this church-over-state push.
"It's unfortunate McCain would pick someone who shares those particular anti-science views, but it's not a surprise," said Barbara Forrest, a Southeastern Lousiana University philosophy professor and prominent critic of creationist science. "She's a choice that pleases the religious right. And the religious right has been the chief force against teaching evolution."
In February, Florida's Board of Education narrowly defeated a bill calling for evolution to be balanced by "alternatives." The language is widely regarded as a euphemism for creationism engineered by the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute, whose "wedge strategy" calls for the gradual dilution of classroom evolution and its eventual replacement by "a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."
Armed with courtroom-friendly language, Texas is currently considering creationism-friendly revisions to its own curriculum. In June, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal passed the Louisiana Science Education Act, encouraging schools to provide alternative critiques of global warming, human cloning and evolution. Similar initiatives were defeated in South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Missouri and Michigan.
Palin's statements track with the official Alaska Republican Party platform, which support creation science and intelligent design by name, and says that "evidence disputing the theory should also be presented."
According to Fordham Institute science education expert Lawrence Lerner, Palin's nomination is less worrisome in terms of education than the broad relationship of science and government.
"In the direct sense, vice presidents don't have much to do with what goes on in classrooms. But a person who's a creationist doesn't understand science and technology at all," said Lerner. "It doesn't bode well for science, and doesn't bode well for interaction between science and government."
President Bush has been publicly skeptical of evolution, while Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama has professed support. "I think it's a mistake to try to cloud the teachings of science with theories that frankly don't hold up to scientific inquiry," he said in April.
John McCain's campaign did not respond in time for publication.
When asked about Palin potentially being a step removed from the White House, Forrest responded, "We'd have a creationist as President. But that's not new -- we've already got one."
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