Apr 26 2013

Backdoor Creationism

Proponents of creationism have essentially been banned from the public school science classroom. A series of court decisions has created a clear precedence that doing so violates the Constitutional separation of church and state. However, no one really expected them to quietly go away. They have taken on a series of strategies to continue their efforts to teach their particular religious faith as science in the public schools.

They endlessly are seeking end-runs around the Constitution. First they tried “creation science,” and then “intelligent design,” but these were both transparently just religious faith crudely dressed up as science. Now they are still trying “teach the controversy” and “teach the strengths and weakness of evolution.” Both have had some limited success, but I predict will also eventually die a legal death.

Another strategy is to simply ignore the law and teach creationism anyway. In highly fundamentalist Christian communities there’s no one to blow the whistle, and no one to listen. A recent survey found that 13% of public schools teach creationism outright, while 60% avoid controversy by promoting neither evolution nor creationism. Only 28% teach evolution as the unifying theory of biology (as it should be taught).

Of course, many parents just avoid public schools by home schooling or sending their children to private schools. Recently a quiz from religious private school has been circulating. It seems legitimate and pretty much tells the whole story.

For me this raises and interesting issue – can private schools teach anything they like? I understand parental freedom to teach their children their own beliefs and culture without government interference. That is an important part of freedom of religion. Here is my problem – parents are required by law to provide an education for their children. If they do not avail themselves of the public school system then they have to demonstrate that they are providing a suitable alternative (home schooling or a private school).

Here is a huge back door for teaching creationism – each state has their own criteria for private schools. Accreditation does not seem to be required. In any case, accrediting agencies are all private, and there are Christian accrediting organizations, all with little government oversight or guidelines.

The solution here is obvious, at least to me. If we accept the premise that the government can require parents to provide an acceptable education for their children, then we must also accept that there needs to be some standards to that education, or else the requirement is meaningless. What this should mean is that home schooling programs and private schools that wish to substitute for public education should be officially accredited. Further that accreditation should adhere to reasonable standards, which should include teaching science, and not teaching religion as science.

Public schools can engage in whatever religious instruction they wish. They can even have classes in which they teach children that everything they learn in the science classroom is false (there’s no way around the religious freedom issue here). But they should be required to teach actual science in the science class – this is what the mainstream scientific community accepts as valid.

Yet another backdoor method has recently come to light, thanks to the ACLU.

Hugoton Public Schools invited Creation Truth Foundation’s founder Dr. G. Thomas Sharp to teach the “Truth about Dinosaurs” at two assemblies next week. At least one of the assemblies will be mandatory for all students and teachers.

So, if you can’t teach creationism in the science class, just invite a creationist speaker to a mandatory assembly and have them teach it there. The superintendent of the school, Mark Crawford, is quoted as saying:

“I agree with the ACLU, in that, if a mandatory all-school assembly where creationist truths or creationist beliefs were expressed, that would be inappropriate public-school content, and that is not the case,” Crawford said. “It’s completely and totally school appropriate.”

This is transparent nonsense. The speaker preaches old-fashioned creation-science propaganda. He has nothing to say on the subject of dinosaurs that isn’t creationist pseudoscience. Even if he scrubs his lecture of any reference to God or the bible, the content is still creationism.

This is still an active issue. I hope the ACLU keeps up the public pressure. These obvious attempts and sneaking creationism through the back door into the public school have to be vigorously opposed.

37 responses so far

37 thoughts on “Backdoor Creationism”

  1. bsoo says:

    This is a tough situation. I don’t want a generation of children to grow up without a proper science education but I also don’t want the Federal government mandating educational standards. First, because they have no Constitutional authority to do so, and second, because they will inevitably make a mess of it. In this case, I feel we have no choice but to leave it to the states to decide. If they choose to create legal standards then those standards will have to meet Constitutional muster. That won’t mean that they can’t teach creationism, but they at least can’t mandate it as part of the curriculum. If they choose not to create legal standards for private and home schooling then we have the status quo. This frustrates me to no end because the Bible is such obvious utter nonsense that I can’t understand how any functioning adult could believe in it.

  2. mrwilson41 says:

    The diploma is only as good as the standards of the school. Testing like the SAT and ACT help colleges determine if kids have the aptitude to take their education further. I don’t have a problem with creationism and religion being taught, as long as it isn’t publicly funded either directly to the school or through a school voucher program.

  3. I agree that colleges are free to consider the quality of the diploma. But, that just creates more dillemas. Should colleges shun students who graduate from religious schools with poor science education, or should they consider this an opportunity to teach those students real science? Also, there are religious colleges and universities – so a student can get through their entire education without encoutering real science.

  4. Flail says:

    I’m generally not a “market will fix everything” type of person, but the worse these religious schools and homeschools get at educating their students, the better employers/colleges are going to get at screening out those that attended religious schools or were homeschooled. Nobody wants to hire a biologist that doesn’t understand evolution. It is a tragedy that these kids aren’t going to get a real chance at a real education, but you can’t force parents to do a good job.

    [quote]Should colleges shun students who graduate from religious schools with poor science education, or should they consider this an opportunity to teach those students real science?[/quote]

    Steven, it hasn’t been that long since I was a college student. Some of the students that were already set on creationism thought of their classes as an opportunity to “speak truth to power” by interjecting their nonsense into discussions and generally acting to the detriment of the students that were there to learn. I don’t know if that is an appropriate reason to shun all of them, but we have to balance the need to reach those students with the cost to everyone else.

  5. eiskrystal says:

    I can’t help noticing that the questions on that sheet are not so much about the bible as they are about how to defend the bible from basic questions.

  6. The kicker for me is the superintendent’s quote. “I agree with the ACLU, in that, if a mandatory all-school assembly where creationist truths…”

    Creationist truths? As opposed to other kinds of truth? Truth is not relative.

  7. ccbowers says:

    “I’m generally not a “market will fix everything” type of person, but the worse these religious schools and homeschools get at educating their students, the better employers/colleges are going to get at screening out those that attended religious schools or were homeschooled.”

    Yes, but you can’t just look at point A and point B, which is what the “market will fix everything” thinking often does, but what happens in between matters. And its not really creating a generation of kids that don’t understand science (as a bsoo describes), its creating a generation of kids with very different understanding of reality, and creates an even wider gap of science knowledge. This is also amplified by the internet- where great information is at your fingertips, but one can also learn a completely different (and incorrect) set of facts and understandings.

    The scary part to me is a person getting an entire education (in and out of school) that is completely divorced from reality. Seeing that image above really saddens me.

  8. AndrewTyson says:

    “The scary part to me is a person getting an entire education (in and out of school) that is completely divorced from reality. Seeing that image above really saddens me.”

    I partly agree and partly disagree. I am a product of Bob Jones homeschooling until 6th grade and then after that private christian reformed middle school and high school. My biology classes never introduced evolution in high school, but never really attacked it either. I loved the sciences, but was bored senseless in biology because from what I was being taught it was just a LOT of labels based on characteristics, lots of memorization, lots of learning the function of biological aspects, but there really was no unifying factor to make it all make sense.

    I would not, however, say that my education was completely divorced from reality. Even with a lack of evolution education I scored a perfect 36 on the ACT science reasoning section and was mostly able to teach myself evolution in the later years. I still learned the scientific method, physics, and advanced mathematics (including logic).

    It wasn’t a complete loss. The biggest damage was done to whatever potential future I had in biology, but overall, I would argue I had a good education.

  9. AndrewTyson says:

    To be clear, in my last post the overall good education I recieved came from my mother, who is a fantastic educator, and my high school, not the bob jones curriculum.

  10. LarryCoon says:

    On the issue of College Admissions, while it didn’t garner near the attention of the Dover trial, the University of California system was sued by the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, CA, and six Calvary Chapel students a few years ago. The suit charged that the UC system violated their freedom of speech & religion rights in its admissions process.

    UC evaluates high school courses to assure that they include appropriate subject-matter content and skills training to meet UC’s academic standards. These requirements are intended to ensure that incoming students are conversant with substantive content and methods of inquiry at the level required for UC students. A number of such courses were found lacking, and denied as meeting UC requirements for college preparation.

    The suit alleged that students who attend the schools teaching these courses are thereby discriminated against in the University’s admission process. UC contended that its course approval decisions were made based on neutral academic standards and that it applies those same academic standards to all schools and students who apply to UC.

    Here’s info on the case, including a link to the summary judgment:


  11. jre says:

    I’ll have to disagree with bsoo on this one. Setting nationwide education standards is within the purpose of the Department of Education, and perfectly constitutional — unless, that is, you also believe it’s unconstitutional for DoT to set crash standards, or DoE to set radiation limits. Nor is there any reason to believe that “they will inevitably make a mess of it.” Just the opposite is true — those who have studied public education policy are pretty much agreed that the nation’s educational system would do much better with a uniform set of standards, and that a federal agency would do an excellent job of creating those standards. The problem is political: everyone’s pet peeves are elevated to claims of truth when it comes to education policy, and a preconception that the government always screws up becomes self-fulfilling.

  12. ccbowers says:


    Realize that my comment does not necessarily apply to you (apparently it doesn’t at all). It likely does apply to some percentage of the people who were in similar situations as you that perhaps didn’t have the positive influences you did. Surely much of how you turned out has to do with who you are as a person as well. Not everyone is in that situation, and miseducation can be damaging

  13. Sherrington says:

    The link provided in this post takes you to the Snopes.com page about this quiz. It includes the second page. My favorite question and answer:

    “The next time someone says the earth is billions (or millions) of years old, what can you say?”

    The student’s answer — which apparently received full credit — was “Were you there?”

    So, the content being taught may be bad, but at least good critical thinking skills are rewarded.

  14. rocken1844 says:

    JMO but I would like to see the NSF or AAAS or some other credible outfit put out an annual video documentary called “The stupid things creationists published this year”. I think the scientific community needs to turn up the heat.

  15. evhantheinfidel says:

    I see a potential problem. If the government officially endorses private schools that are religious, that could put them in a dangerous position of determining whether ideologies are “real” religions or not, which is necessarily a violation of the first amendment, like all of those tax exemptions. There could be ways around that, but it would have to be probed carefully, unlike alien abductees.

  16. Davdoodles says:

    I suppose one way of looking at it is that these kids are missing out on a science education, and will probably never go on to be scientists. While anyone who misses out on a basic education (be it science, mathematics, literacy or whatever) is obviously disadvantaged, it is not necessarily fatal to their future prospects.

    Also, while these pro-gibberish parents might seek to totally control the message their kids receive, they face an ever-increasing battle to do so. Sure at the younger end of the scale, and during home-schooling etc, it is possible, but technology of all sorts makes it impossible to stop information that older kids and young adults want to get.

    I suspect that, while it may have been possible to cloister one’s family away for much of their lives even 15-20 years ago, these days it’s virtually impossible to be the only message people receive. My guess is that many of these young home-schooled kids will go on to realize that their parents are more interested in keeping them ignorant than in educating them, and will rebel…

  17. rezistnzisfutl says:

    Another problem with teaching creationism is that it only serves to add to the anti-science, even anti-education, sentiment that already pervades this country. The US already has issues with students being behind kids in other countries, especially in the STEM fields, and the kids in other countries are the ones we’re competing against. Also, if we have a large segment of the population who are anti-science and anti-education, all that will do is create resistance to adding money and resources to the education system, NSF, and other public education and research outlets, organizations that are already experiencing severe cuts. If we have lawmakers in congress who sit on the Committee on Science and Technology proclaiming that evolution and climate change are “lies straight from the pit of h***”, how can we expect them to vote on matters of funding education, NASA, and, well, anything else?

    I have to disagree with BSOO – the purpose of a Department of Education is to ensure that the quality and minimum standards of education are the same on one side of the country as they are on the other, at least in public education. So, if I moved my kids from Florida to Oregon, I should not have to worry whether Oregon schools will have adequate education for them and they can continue on a track they began in Florida. I know it’s the libertarian ideology to minimize government as much as possible, but there have to be standards and the ability to enforce standards. As we can see, that’s already a problem.

  18. flgator08 says:

    “”””Should colleges shun students who graduate from religious schools with poor science education ….”

    Of course they should. That, or force them to prove via testing that they can grasp the basics of science and reason. Look at any of the major premier seminary institutions and even they would not tolerate this type of ignorance.

  19. BillyJoe7 says:


    ““The next time someone says the earth is billions (or millions) of years old, what can you say?”
    The student’s answer — which apparently received full credit — was “Were you there?”
    So, the content being taught may be bad, but at least good critical thinking skills are rewarded.”

    Come again?

  20. bsoo says:

    jre, I don’t want to turn this into a political discussion, but I do believe all those things are unconstitutional because the Federal government is only allowed the powers that are explicitly granted to it in the Constitution. I don’t see any problem with the states taking on any of those responsibilities and there’s no reason they all couldn’t agree on common standards if they chose to do so. Here is the stated purpose of the Department of Education at it’s creation, notice the terms “supplement”, “complement”, and “promote”, not “mandate”:

    to strengthen the Federal commitment to ensuring access to equal educational opportunity for every individual;
    to supplement and complement the efforts of States, the local school systems and other instrumentalities of the States, the private sector, public and private educational institutions, public and private nonprofit educational research institutions, community-based organizations, parents, and students to improve the quality of education;
    to encourage the increased involvement of the public, parents, and students in Federal education programs;
    to promote improvements in the quality and usefulness of education through federally supported research, evaluation, and sharing of information;
    to improve the coordination of Federal education programs;
    to improve the management and efficiency of Federal education activities, especially with respect to the process, procedures, and administrative structures for the dispersal of Federal funds, as well as the reduction of unnecessary and duplicative burdens and constraints, including unnecessary paperwork, on the recipients of Federal funds; and
    to increase the accountability of Federal education programs to the President, the Congress and the public. (Section 102, Public Law 96-88)

  21. bsoo says:

    I want to see children get a good science education as much as anyone, but can’t we find a way that doesn’t involved a top-down mandate from a Federal government who will probably horrible botch the standards anyway? Is that really the best we can do?

  22. anonymitty says:

    “The next time someone says the earth is billions (or millions) of years old, what can you say?”

    The student’s answer — which apparently received full credit — was “Were you there?”

    That’s a good answer. The next time some kid tells me his grandmother is 70 years old, I’ll ask him “were you there”?

    But now moving on to a serious point, employers and colleges aren’t going to screen out kids who were home-schooled, because on the whole, they tend to be rather well educated. The science part of it may be weak, or pitifully misguided when it comes to religiously motivated home-schoolers, but the kids do tend to arrive at college with above average writing and math skills. The best public schools are quite good, but the run of the mill public school doesn’t set the bar very high, and the worst don’t impart any discernible knowledge of reading, math, OR science.

  23. rezistnzisfutl says:

    Is that really the best we can do?

    Of course, there is always room for improvement, but we can’t leave minimum standards of education to the mercy of local jurisdictions who don’t value education and don’t acknowledge science. While there is no reason that states should not be able to run their schools as they see fit, they still need to be able to provide minimal standards for the benefit of children. A purely libertarian approach, just like taking a pure approach to any situation, will only fail.

    One only has to look at the constant assault on education by a myriad well-funded, well-organized groups who’s expressed purpose is to systematically undermine the teaching of science and education in general (beyond the very basics).

    Honestly, I don’t know where the fear is. The kind of concerns about having a department of education by some approaches paranoia, as if having one is going to somehow result in some sort of overarching government control a la “taking all our guns away” or “make us slaves of the state”.

    Also, why should we expect that state and local educational systems to be overall better or worse than the federal government? There is no reason to believe that states would do a better job, and every reason to be concerned that they’ll do a far worse job. If there are jurisdictions that are truly doing a better job, then perhaps what could be done is to study what it is they’re doing and attempt to copy it elsewhere, if it’s possible.

  24. ccbowers says:

    “Federal government is only allowed the powers that are explicitly granted to it in the Constitution”

    The statement is true if you remove the word explicit. The US consitution is more broad that you are implying, and although the 10th amendment describes what you are addressing here, it is not so strongly worded in its final form, thus leaving wiggle room for powers are not so explicit (as clarified by the courts since then). Anyways, I don’t want to change the topic to constutional law so much , but you then said:

    “I don’t see any problem with the states taking on any of those responsibilities and there’s no reason they all couldn’t agree on common standards if they chose to do so.”

    You say this as if this would be a new thing to try…. the thing is that this is where we are today and have been since the beginning, and there are obvious problems that are not being addressed by the states (or certain ones anyways).

    You don’t see problems with all of the states coming up with common standards? You must be speaking theoretically (and therefore unrealistically), because the level of cooperation between the states is unheard of, and I’m not sure that there is mechanism to do this. You are clearly letting idealogy unecessarily limit the potential solutions to a serious problem.

  25. Jared Olsen says:

    BJ, I’m assuming Sherrington was being sarcastic. I have to…

  26. etatro says:

    I just wrote about this topic on my blog pertaining to undergraduate education in life sciences (http://ericktatro.com/2013/04/24/teach-more-evolution/). I think that evolution by natural selection as a unifying theory or theme is lacking in the curricula, which causes classes to be about rote memorization or mastering technical skills.

  27. Jojo says:

    For completeness in this topic, not all homeschoolers shun evolution or are even religious. Google [secular homeschool] sometime, and the percentage of non-religious homeschoolers is increasing dramatically.

    I’m liberal atheist and I homeschool my daughter. She’s only 5, but we talk about evolution and all of science all the time. I’m also in a very large group of secular(ish) homeschoolers with similar opinions.

    Also, one huge reason (among many) for choosing to homeschool is to skip out on the testing-based education and the problems (I feel) it creates (ie “teaching to the test” and missing out on recess, arts and socialization, etc). So I am very much against any sort of government standards being pushed on me because that would mean I’d inherit all those standardized tests and the problems produced by them.

    I don’t expect everyone to agree with that last paragraph, but do hope everyone can accept that some education environments (religious and non-religious private schools included) choose not to implement the same “standards” on purpose.

  28. Sherrington says:

    Yes, BillyJoe7 and Jared Olsen, my comment that “at least good critical thinking skills are rewarded” was meant as sarcasm. Given that there are people who actually think that “Were you there?” is a good challenge to the claim that the earth is billions of year old, I can understand why someone may think I was serious. I should have added a [sarcasm alert].

  29. Jared Olsen says:

    Very good Sherrington, I thought so :-). Sarcasm is notoriously hard to judge in written text, even amongst the intelligensia (no Sarcasm!) that peruse this blog…

  30. evhantheinfidelon, I like your point: “If the government officially endorses private schools that are religious, that could put them in a dangerous position of determining whether ideologies are ‘real’ religions or not”.

    I always wondered how religions got away with never being fully defined by the law (unless I am missing something, I’m not a legal scholar), since the “religious” rely on its murkiness for conscientous objections, tax deductions (evasions?), and in regards to educational issues like this.

    But seriously can’t I just start my own religion in my head, and how can someone prove me wrong or claim that I didn’t?

  31. superdave says:

    Half the questions on that test are not even facts and are based entirely on AIG talking points. That quiz is more like a political survey than a test on either religion or science.

  32. rezistnzisfutl says:


    You bring up some interesting points about some problems with standardization, though I want to precede anything by saying that there is a difference between having minimum standards of quality education, and administering standardized tests. The former is in place to ensure that curricula across the country meets minimum requirements for quantity and quality, and that unnecessary and/or contrary instructions are not included. This means that the quantity and quality of the curriculum in Florida will be more or less the same in, say, Oregon. If my kids were receiving quality instruction on a college-based track in Florida, I should not have to worry whether that instruction will be undermined if I got laid off and moved to Oregon for work, and that they could continue on that track at their new school. I also shouldn’t have to worry if they’re going to contend with some sort of religious indoctrination, or worse, rampant denialism because the state or local area were predominantly fundamentalist christians and they had no requirements to meet minimum standards of education.

    However, to the latter point of standardized testing, I agree, they probably aren’t the best way of assessing knowledge. As with any other system that has to deal with an enormous and varied population on a limited budget, it is difficult to create one standard for everyone. And as with any other system, it’s not perfect and there is always room for improvement.

    This is why I think that the philosophical purpose of the Department of Education is a good one, as a supportive organization existing to provide assistance, and oversight, to states who are primarily in control of education. It would be an enormously bad idea to leave it to states or local jurisdictions to determine standards of education because then there would be many who would implement teaching of creationism in schools and allow religious indoctrination in schools, and who knows what else? It’s already a huge issue, so I can only imagine what would happen if there were no regulations in place.

    It’s great that you’re providing what sounds like a solid educational foundation for your daughter – she is fortunate to have the opportunity. Unfortunately, most parents just don’t have the time, training, or resources to home school or to send their kids to the best private schools, so we are left with public schools. IMO, it is possible that kids can receive a quality education in public schools, in spite of the problems that do very much exist.

  33. jre says:

    The path by which we wandered into constitutional law started with Steve’s reasonable suggestion that educational systems (including home schooling and private schools) be accredited, and that accreditation assume reasonable standards for educational content. From there, we went to the question of who does the accreditation, and thence to the claims that (a) the federal government is only allowed to do things explicitly permitted in the Constitution, these things not including the setting of educational standards, and (b) even if the federal government were allowed to set education standards, it would do a poor job of it. I’ve already said I disagree with both claims, and will try not to re-flog the issue beyond noting that (as ccbowers has observed) the Constitution permits a great many things that it doesn’t and couldn’t spell out explicitly, and that, pace libertarian commenters, the federal government does quite a few of those things extremely well.

  34. dregstudios says:

    Here in TN, they have taken steps though new legislation to allow creationism back into the classroom. This law turns the clock back nearly 100 years here in the seemingly unprogressive South and is simply embarrassing. There is no argument against the Theory of Evolution other than that of religious doctrine. The Monkey Law only opens the door for fanatic Christianity to creep its way back into our classrooms. You can see my visual response as a Tennessean to this absurd law on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/04/pulpit-in-classroom-biblical-agenda-in.html with some evolutionary art and a little bit of simple logic.

  35. norrisL says:

    Not saying that this sort of thing does not happen in Australia, but it certainly is not a subject that comes up on the TV news etc. Maybe we are just a bit more laissez faire her in Oz. We certainly don’t have a big mob of good ol’ boys from the deep north running around trying to get creation taught in schools.

  36. banion23 says:

    Eek. IMO evolution took the cross down. Finally, people can be atheists without fearing their lives might end in a public execution.

    But so far as federal educational standards are concerned, I think the federal government has overstepped, and possibly gotten confused about, the lines it’s not supposed to cross.

    The first amendment states that the federal government can neither or prohibit the exercise of religion. “separation of church and state” is just a propaganda term used by some to stave off religious nuts who use undue social pressures or indoctrination to push their beliefs to others.

    Here’s a section of the first amendment.

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

    And here’s the definition of the word “respecting” from a dictionary dated 5 years after the adoption of the Bill of Rights.

    RESPECT’ING, ppr. Regarding; having
    regard to ; relating to. Tliis word, like concerning, has reference to a single word
    or to a sentence. In the sentence, “his conduct respecting us is con.n.endal)le,” respecting has reference to conduct. But when we say, “respectit.g a further iippro- pnaiiou of money, it is to be observed,
    tliat the resi’urces of the country are inadetpiate,” respecting hiis relerence to the « hole subsequent clause or sentence.

    Sorry the copy/paste didn’t work well, and no, it’s not plagiarism. Here’s the link to the dictionary–I think every American citizen should understand that language distorts and changes with time. Respecting is a synonym for regarding. So Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

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