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There is good news and bad.

The good news is that the Arizona state Board of Education on Oct. 22 voted 6-4 to adopt a new set of K-12 science-teaching standards, deleting new Bible-based language supported by the state’s lame-duck Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas. The superintendent wanted to  insert supernatural creationist dogma into the standards and also unsubstantiated doubt about the settled veracity of biological evolution.

The bad news is that anti-intellectual creationism was ever seriously entertained by the standards panel at all, much less not unanimously rejected by panelists the moment it turned up — unconscionably and unconstitutionally — in discussions. Rationally speaking, the vote should have been a no-brainer 10-0, not 6-4.

‘Thunderous applause’

Immediately after the vote, the Arizona Republic newspaper reported:

“The revised standards approval received thunderous applause from educators and education advocates sitting in the boardroom. The vote came after a series of attempts by [Superintendent Douglas] to compromise the treatment of evolution in the standards in particular, as [the National Center for Science Education] NCSE previously reported.”

After the final vote, NCSE Executive Director Ann Reid applauded the panel:

“This is a tremendous victory for Arizona science education. Only with a scientifically accurate and pedagogically appropriate treatment of evolution and climate change in their state science standards — and in their textbooks and classrooms — will Arizona’s public school students be adequately prepared to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.”

It was a close call and a subterfuge.

‘Sabotaged by staff’

NCSE officials said a previous draft of new standards recommended by the Arizona Science
Teachers Assoc. regarding evolutionary speciation and manifest climate change was “sabotaged by staff” at the state Department of Education “at the behest” of Douglas. NCSE says the superintendent is “on record as advocating the teaching of ‘intelligent design’ alongside evolution and as disagreeing with the [Supreme Court] rulings that prevent it.”

It was a sneak attempt at a policy coup. Even though the term “intelligent design” was not included in the bowdlerized new-standards draft, revisions “were clearly aimed at softening the treatment of evolution,” NCSE contends.

“For example, a middle-school-level standard discussing natural selection’s role in speciation was revised to eliminate the e-word, ‘evolution,’ as well as the reference to speciation.”

An explanation’

Another bit of creationist sleight of hand, according to New Times, was that Kezele somehow, unfathomably, convinced his co-panelists to “de-emphasize evolution in at least one instance, changing a description of evolution as ‘the explanation’ for the unity and diversity of life to ‘an explanation.’”

Of course, the virtually unanimous consensus of scientists worldwide is that evolution is the explanation, its validity reconfirmed ad nauseum over more than 150 years. Only creationists, bent on conforming actual reality to the surreality of the Bible, see it differently.

The continuing strategy of espousers of “creation science,” or so-called “intelligent design” proponents, is to plant seeds of doubt in students’ mind nationwide and in all grades about the long-established scientific veracity of evolution. It is how they try to bolster their unverifiable religious claims of divine intercession in the material development of the cosmos and mankind.

Religion masquerading as science

The Supreme Court and virtually every serious, credentialed scientist everywhere formally view creationism as simply religion masquerading as science.

Although most new standards proposed in a preliminary draft were revised after thousands of responses had been received from the public, the sections on evolution were revised by a committee specially appointed by the superintendent that included Joseph Kezele, a young-earth creationist panel member and a biology professor at Arizona Christian University in Phoenix. Thus, creationist distortions were discretely inserted into proposed new standards at the last minute.

The Phoenix New Times reported that Kazele, who is president of the Arizona Origin Science Association, “is a staunch believer in the idea that enough scientific evidence exists to back up the biblical story of creation.”

Evolution a ‘false explanation’

The newspaper reported that Kezele believes evolution is “a false explanation for life” and should be taught so that students “can defend against it, if they want to.”

“I’m not saying to put the Bible into the classroom, although the real science will confirm the Bible,” Kezele told New Times. “Students can draw their own conclusions when they see what the real science actually shows.”

The article added, “Kezele argued that evolution — universally accepted by the mainstream scientific community as the explanation for life on Earth — is based on mere assumptions.”

Creationism ‘alongside’ evolution

For her part, Superintendent harbors similar biases against evolution:

“Personally, I absolutely believe that intelligent design … should be taught alongside evolution. But the courts have deemed that unconstitutional. The focus of the draft science standards is not to introduce intelligent design into the standards, but rather to clearly define the strengths and weaknesses of evolution theory. … Science is supposed to be about questioning an explanation, not blind acceptance.”

Evidence-based people can be excused for shaking their heads over the idea that supernatural musings can be argued “alongside” and against empirically settled scientific “theories” — a precise scientific term that means a hypothesis rigorously and continuously vetted for validity over significant time. It’s like arguing fever dreams against mathematical principles.

But still, the nay-saying of faith persists.

Worse yet

The really bad news is that creationists, as we speak, continue trying to insinuate religious ideas in science curricula across the land (currently in Louisiana), and because America is still majority Christian land whose true believers take their cues from invisible deities, we can expect it to indefinitely continue. I have posted about legislative fight over evolution in own state, South Dakota, here.

If you want to see how destructive to and distracting from a good, real-world education this is, you would be well-advised to read 40 Days and 40 Nights, a wonderful, riveting book by Matthew Chapman, coincidentally a descendent of Charles Darwin. The subtitle to Chapman’s book explains its theme: “Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, Oxycontin®, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania.”

The trial about which Chapman writes shows how conflict over the teaching of evolution ripped apart one American town.

Three cheers for Arizona, but, honestly, it ain’t over yet.


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Cover image of “3,001 Arabian Days.”

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FYI, my newly published memoir — 3,001 Arabian Days — is now available in paperback on Amazon, here (and soon in digital format). It’s the story of growing up in an American oil camp in the Saudi Arabian desert from 1953-1962. Hope you enjoy my memories of a fascinating and foundational experience.

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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...