Creationist’s Reign Ends in Kentucky

Kentuckians can be less embarrassed starting soon. This from the NCSE … it’s a bit old, but it had slipped past in a flurry of other emails, and I think it is really interesting.

FLETCHER LOSES KENTUCKY GOVERNORSHIP

Kentucky’s incumbent governor Ernie Fletcher (R) was soundly defeated in the November 6, 2007, election, by Steve Beshear (D), a former lieutenant governor of the state, who took 59% of the vote. A Baptist minister, Fletcher was perhaps the most outspoken supporter of creationism to serve as a governor anywhere in the country in recent years. He expressed disappointment about the verdict in Kitzmiller v. Dover, for example, saying that local school districts ought to be able to teach “intelligent design” if they wish (Cincinnati Enquirer, December 25, 2005).

Subsequently, in his State of the Commonwealth address in January 2006, Fletcher contended that under Kentucky law, teachers already have the freedom to teach “intelligent design” in the public schools. He was apparently referring to a portion (KRS 158.177) of Kentucky’s Education Code authorizing teachers to teach “the theory of creation as presented in the Bible” and to “read such passages in the Bible as are deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of creation.” The Louisville Courier-Journal (January 11, 2006) reported that according to a November 2005 survey of the state’s 176 school districts, none were teaching or discussing “intelligent design.”

Reaction to Fletcher’s comments on the part of the state’s newspapers was negative. For example, a Kentucky Post (January 11, 2006) editorial responded, “His plug for teaching intelligent design in public schools is manifestly unwelcome, if what he meant was that science teachers ought to incorporate it into their curriculum. If schools offer comparative religion classes as electives and teachers wish to address intelligent design in such classes, that’s another matter. But this is instruction that most families can take care of just fine in their own homes or churches.”

The topic of “intelligent design” arose again during a televised debate between the gubernatorial candidates at Northern Kentucky University on October 3, 2007. According to WKYT (October 3, 2007) in Lexington, Kentucky, Fletcher commented, “I think there’s nothing wrong with teaching that, in fact, I think to teach that is part of our founding heritage and I think it’s very important,” while Beshear retorted, “I believe that science ought to be taught in schools and religion ought to be taught at home and in the churches and in the synagogues.” Beshear takes office on December 11, 2007.

By the way, I utterly disagree with the often made, often off the cuff remark that “if they/you want to teach intelligent design/creationism in social studies/comparative religion classes then fine…” No, it is not fine. It is exactly as unconstitutional as teaching it in science classes, and this is where the next battleground may well be.

We’ll talk about that some other time..

For more information, NCSE provides these links:

Section 158.177 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes (PDF)

WKYT’s coverage of the debate

NCSE’s coverage of previous events in Kentucky

Comments

  1. #1 FhnuZoag
    November 10, 2007

    Does it change things if you change ‘teach ID’ to ‘teach about ID as a belief’? It’s unconstitutional if you give special endorsement to specific religions. But disallowing discussion of beliefs would make social studies/comparative religion courses basically impossible.

  2. #2 Ex-drone
    November 10, 2007

    I utterly disagree with the often made, often off the cuff remark that “if they/you want to teach intelligent design/creationism in social studies/comparative religion classes then fine…” No, it is not fine. It is exactly as unconstitutional as teaching it in science classes

    That seems like an overly broad comment. I agree with you on ID because it has no scientific value and no provenance in Christianity. I also agree that it would be pointless and injurious to attempt to teach the scientific validity of creationism. However, the creation story is the founding myth of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, and the literal interpretation of that story (i.e., creationsim) is a genuine component of the fundamentalist sects of those religions. A comparative religion class should not shy away from creationism as long as it gives equal time to teaching impartially the founding myths of other religions. Surely, this could be done from a philosophical, sociological and/or historical perspective without resorting to evangelical proselytizing.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    November 11, 2007

    Ex:

    I don’t think my remark is overly broad. You are saying that it may be OK to teach about the bible stories in comparative religion. I did not say that such teachings would be a problem. I was specific to intelligent design and creationism. Intelligent design and creationism ala fundamentalist rhetoric are explicitly anti-science diatribes.

    Think of it this way. Imagine an introductory lecture on comparative religion. The lecturer covers Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Crow Shaminism, Ju/’Hoansi (bushman) religion, Yamomamo (Amazon) religion, and Iroquois religion.

    For each religion there is the mention of the origin story for the earth and the origin story for humans.

    So this is six religions and two aspects of each religion giving twelve “moments” in the lecture.

    At each of these moments, the lecturer pauses and lists the ways in which what has just been said conflict with western science regarding the origin of the planet and the evolution of humans. The lecturer then throws in that this demonstrates that we should not believe what science says, and that theories of the origin of the earth are just theories and theories about the evolution of humans are just theories. Etc.

    Creationism is not about religious text, it’s about opposing science.

    Having said all that, I still have a problem even with teaching comparative religion, as a separate issue from the above. Not because I don’t think comparative religion is uninteresting or unimportant, but because I suspect that across high schools in the US it is taught by Christians who are teaching it in a way that advances or promotes Christianity. Such promotion is not legal and it is offensive.

    I quickly add that I have no idea how common that illegal and unethical activity is. I certainly did not encounter it in my comparative religion class in middle school. Our teacher was an atheist. We did not study christiantiy or judaism at all because we were already steeped in it. For each religion that we had time to study, Mr. Neiderberg had a simple formula: He supplied us with information supplied to him by practitioners of the religion, we read this material as well as other standard text, and then someone from that religion would come in and talk about it with us. We were able to ask questions and converse with the speaker.

    I remember so well the parting words of the guy teaching Hinduism:

    “You are all going to come back as pigeons, I’m telling you!” as he ran out the door. We were a tough crowd.

  4. #4 Russell
    November 11, 2007

    Greg writes:

    At each of these moments, the lecturer pauses and lists the ways in which what has just been said conflict with western science regarding the origin of the planet and the evolution of humans.

    Were these creation stories always and everywhere taken as literally as they are by modern fundamentalists?

    The lecturer then throws in that this demonstrates that we should not believe what science says, and that theories of the origin of the earth are just theories and theories about the evolution of humans are just theories.

    That would be dumb, of course. But that’s not the only direction to go after noting the conflict between religious creation stories, taken literally, and modern science. There is quite a bit to be said about how modern believers have responded to that conflict, from opting for a less literal reading to waging war on science. This is an important part of modern religion, and deserves attention when studying religion.

  5. #5 John Pieret
    November 11, 2007

    What can be constitutionally taught is a legitimate version of “teach the controversy;” arguments a broad range of religious (and non-religious) people have against any hegemony of science as the only way to view the world.

    Kent Greenawalt, in his book, Does God Belong in Public Schools?

    http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/rncse_content/vol25/5787_idoes_god_belong_in_public_s_12_30_1899.asp

    … and in his shorter article, “Establishing Religious Ideas: Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design” that covers some of the same ground and is available on the web:

    http://www.utexas.edu/law/faculty/conlawtheory/Greenawalt.pdf

    … goes over the constitutional questions well. And, no matter how we might feel, there is nothing in the constitution that forbids teaching ideas that oppose science.

  6. #6 Scott Hatfield, OM
    November 11, 2007

    I agree with John.

    Also, Greg, I have to point out that many atheists of my experience are much better-read on the Bible than the believers who often demonize non-belief. It is ignorance, rather than knowledge, that tends to promote the sort of reflex-action religion of the fundies. I have to think that while there is a risk to a comparative religion classes, in that they might reinforce the sense of privilege that many Christians have, there is also a benefit: knowledge and a broader context in which to view claims of faith can only make the move (if it occurs) to abandon faith more well-informed.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    November 11, 2007

    Most of what John and Scott are saying is laudable and reasonable. What you are missing is the actual experience of the classroom … what actually happens when a fundamentalist teacher gets a green light. It is unfortunate, very unfortunate, that a large percentage of public school teachers cannot be trusted to not turn what may look from the outside like reasonable, thoughtful, interesting, mind-broadening curriculum into a bible lesson.

    The wedge strategy masquerades as exactly the kind of open, educational, let’s all be smart verbiage that otherwise sounds very good.

    Think of it this way. A curriculum that examines religion across cultures, that criticizes science in a fair and just manner, that examines human history including beliefs of origins, and so on, is like an excellent, highly recommended menu item at a fine restaurant. Who would not want it.

    The Wedge Strategy, which is in the hands of at least a quarter of the public school teachers in this country, is like a really bad staph infestation discovered by the health department in that very restaurant.

    You can say all the nice things you want about that restaurant’s menu. But you can’t eat there.

    It is not the evolutionists/scientists who have created this situation. The system was broken by the religious zealots. But we all have to live with it.

    Now, don’t assume that I’m simply against any kind of teaching of anything or everything. I agree that controversies can and should be addressed, etc. But rather than telling me how great it is to teach about fundamentalism and fundamentalist beliefs, tell me how to do it under the present conditions, with something like a quarter of the teachers (potentially) waiting for the opening to impose their particular religious beliefs on the students in their classrooms.

    Russell: Were these creation stories always and everywhere taken as literally as they are by modern fundamentalists?

    Good question. How would we know? What difference would it make? Would it be the case that if one group does not heartily believe in their myth, and another does, that we assign different meanings to them in the classroom? Do all fundamentalists believe in their fundamentalism as much as they seem to as a group? The answer to that is absolutely no. There is a fair amount of variation in my experience.

  8. #8 John Pieret
    November 11, 2007

    … rather than telling me how great it is to teach about fundamentalism and fundamentalist beliefs, tell me how to do it under the present conditions, with something like a quarter of the teachers (potentially) waiting for the opening to impose their particular religious beliefs on the students in their classrooms.

    Sorry, the Constitution doesn’t work that way. The government doesn’t have to prove it is going to do things in a constitutional manner before it does them. Those who object have to show that it isn’t doing the right thing after the fact.

    Don’t get me wrong either … I’m not saying this is the best of all possible worlds. It is simply the way our government works under the Constitution.

    I think it was Americans for Separation of Church and State that was trying to create a model curriculum for dealing with the interface of science and religion in K-12 education. Naturally, it should go beyond fundamentalist objections and include mainstream religions’ views towards philosophical natualism and even include post-modernism (shudder!). Ultimately, you cannot fairly force people to pay for an educational system that refuses to even address their deepest beliefs.

  9. #9 greg laden
    November 11, 2007

    John: Can you clarify? The courts have made the manner in which the constitution applies here. Nobody is waiting for anything to happen. It has happened.

    Or are you saying that the entire battle has to start fresh for each topic? First science, then social studies? That may be true to a certain extent. Certainly, Dover, for example, was about science. But the promotion of religion in public schools is well understood with piles of case law as being inappropriate.

    I don’t think a curriculum can “go beyond” fundamentalist objections. The very way that fundamentalist “objections” are worded makes them utterly inappropriate. They are no more appropriate as a basis for curriculum than insistence that bigfoot may be real is appropriate for the basis of curriculum.

  10. #10 John Pieret
    November 11, 2007

    There is a difference between teaching something is true and teaching that a controversy exists. Wherever you wind up putting it in the curriculum, the very existence and nature of this cultural war is a fit study for public education under the Constitution. Arguments for and against each side can (and, IMHO, should) be aired in a fair manner within a public educational system in a pluralistic society. Those cases you talk about never put science in some sort of philosophically sancrosact position above any questioning. Indeed, if you read Edwards v. Aguillard you’ll see that quite the contrary is true.

    The fact that some/many people hold creationism as a religious view in opposition to science and the arguments they make in support of it was never banned from being taught. Those are objective facts of our society. The only thing that was banned was the religious position that creationism is science. That is a truth claim about a specific religious view that other religious views don’t make and which those other religions and science itself dispute. In short, the state would be taking a position on the truth and/or falsity of a religious view if it teaches creationism alongside evolution as if the former is science. That is what is prohibited.

    However, there is nothing to prevent the state from teaching about the views of various segments of society and the arguments pro and con for each as long as it doesn’t take sides. Sure it’s fraught with opportunities for bad education but so is when the state teaches about economics, poverty, justice, history, civic morality and all the other things we fight over.

    When I said any such instruction should “go beyond” fundamentalist objections to science, I meant it should air more than those two positions in any discussion of the public’s attitude towards science and should include the multiple arguments for and against each. The dispute over science, like the culture wars, is multi-sided.

  11. #11 greg laden
    November 11, 2007

    John,

    What you are saying makes sense and sounds really great. But you are missing the point. The purpose of the controversy is to have a debate that can be brought into the schools, to form a context to promote Christian fundamentalism. That is the reason the controversy exists as it does. Your desire for openness, dialog, teaching and learning turn out to be putty in their hands.

    This is the point of the Wedge Strategy.

  12. #12 John Pieret
    November 11, 2007

    Well, my point has been mostly about the Constitution and how it works, not so much about what I’d like to see taught. But I did say “a legitimate version of ‘teach the controversy’,” which pretty much rules out the DI’s brand. They want to dispute the science without scientific justification.

    However, it’s a simple fact that the Constitution does not forbid teaching bad science or teaching science badly. Freedom includes the freedom to be wrong … and to argue for the wrong.

    What I’m talking about is what I see as the constitutional necessity of letting the larger issues be aired, as part of the overall philosophical/religious discussion within society, and how best to do that with the least harm done. Your understandable desire to avoid any possible inclusion of a view you (and I) think is wrong is not constitutional grounds to keep it completely out of schools.

  13. #13 Scott Hatfield, OM
    November 12, 2007

    The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and not just as to what the law says, but what the politicians and other state employees (including teachers) do. I agree with you, Greg: if formally endorsed within the curriculum, the ‘Wedge’ or other ID statements could be cat’s paws’ for sectarian religious views entering the curriculum.

    But you know what? Any number of things could be such, and there’s no reason to single out ID or creationism outside of the science curriculum for special treatment, since as I understand it that could also run afoul of the Establishment Clause.

    In that context, that makes what I’m trying to promote at my school all the more dangerous in principle. But I think our students are crying out for opportunities to ‘connect the dots’ between what’s in the curriculum and what’s not, especially where religion and philosophy are concerned. I invite any and all readers to click on the link, read about my effort, and offer criticism or comments on my blog.

  14. #14 greg laden
    November 12, 2007

    Scott,

    I think your program looks great. Very challenging. Hopefully many of the kids who experience this sort of thing will decide to be teachers!