It’s safe to say that when it comes to the issue of anti-evolutionism in public schools, Arkansas doesn’t have a very good track record.
In 1928, the people of Arkansas by ballot initiative enacted a law making it illegal for any public school teacher in the state to “teach the theory or doctrine that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals.” Teachers who broke the law could be fined $500, a hefty sum in those days.
That’s strike one.
In 1981, Arkansas legislators passed a state law called the “Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act (Act 590),” which mandated the teaching of “creation science” alongside evolution in the state’s public schools. The following year, a federal court struck down the law in the case McLean v. Arkansas.
That’s strike two.
Is Arkansas determined to go for strike three? It looks that way. The Education Committee of the Arkansas House of Representatives recently voted to advance a bill that would allow teachers to promote creationism in science classes, and yesterday the full House passed the measure 72-21.
Most legislative attacks on teaching evolution these days are masked in talk about “teaching the controversy” or references to “intelligent design” (ID). The sponsor of the Arkansas bill, state Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville), didn’t even bother with those tactics. Her measure, House Bill 1701, is straight-up creationism: It states that if a public school is teaching evolution, it can add creationism.
During the House debate, Bentley was short on facts. She asserted that scientists have been debating evolution vs. creationism for “thousands of years.” Actually, evolution is overwhelmingly accepted in the scientific community. And Charles Darwin didn’t publish his theory until 1859, so thousands of years of debate isn’t possible.
Under current Supreme Court precedent, the type of “balanced treatment” law Bentley is proposing is unconstitutional. Louisiana legislators in 1981 passed the “Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act,” which mandated the teaching of creationism in public schools whenever evolution was taught. The Supreme Court struck the law down as a violation of church-state separation in 1987’s Edwards v. Aguillard.
After that ruling, the creationists attempted to “evolve.” They tried renaming their idea several times – “the theory of abrupt appearance” and “evidence against evolution” were popular for a time. But it was “intelligent design” that got the evolution deniers most excited. That fared no better in court. In 2005, AU and its allies won a legal case and got ID kicked out of a Dover, Pa., public school.
No matter what you call it, creationism remains religion, not science. Old-school creationism is anchored in a literal reading of the Book of Genesis. That’s fine for Sunday School, but it has no place in a public school science class.
Aside from violating church-state separation, creationism also denies our children exposure to real science. It leaves them bereft of the skills they need to compete. If they fall too far behind, they may find entire careers closed off to them. In a world where science and technology shape our lives, no one should want that.
There’s still time to pull back, Arkansas. Remember, strike three means you’re out.