It seems creationists are running out of ways to undermine evolution after a federal judge tossed a lawsuit that had sought to ban evolution from public school classrooms on the grounds that it promotes atheism.

This week, U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree said new science standards created by 26 states (including Kansas) and the National Research Council aren’t causing the group that filed the lawsuit enough harm for the case to move forward.

The curriculum, known as the Next Generation Science Standards, teaches that “evolution primarily results from four factors: (1) the potential for a species to increase in number, (2) the heritable genetic variation of individuals in a species due to mutation and sexual reproduction, (3) competition for limited resources, and (4) the proliferation of those organisms that are better able to survive and reproduce in the environment.”

There is no mention of God or creationism, meaning fundamentalists are not fans of the Next Generation standards.

The group that challenged these standards is a Kansas-based outfit called Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE). You’ve probably never heard of them since they’ve only been around for a couple years, but I’m sure you won’t be surprised to discover that COPE is mainly interested in forcing religion into public schools. On its website, COPE says its “mission is to promote objectivity in public school curricula that address religious questions and issues so that the educational effect of the teaching is religiously neutral.”

That sounds nice, doesn’t it? Public schools should be neutral on religion, after all. The problem is COPE isn’t actually interested in objectivity or neutrality. It’s surely no coincidence that eight sets of parents who served as plaintiffs in the lawsuit were described as “Christian parents.” No other religious viewpoints appear to be involved with COPE in this case.

In its court filing, COPE argued that the science standards are “causing Kansas public schools to establish and endorse a non-theistic religious worldview…” in violation of the First Amendment.

COPE said the curriculum is coercing “impressionable children… into the religious sphere by leading them to ask ultimate questions like what is the cause and nature of life in the universe – ‘where do we come from?’”

COPE argued that these are “religious questions” and that the science curriculum is unconstitutionally indoctrinating students in a “materialistic/atheist” worldview, which is invalid because “science has not answered these religious questions…” about how life began.

Everything about that argument is flawed. Contemplating the origin of life on this planet is not an inherently religious question that is unfit for children to ponder. And science has done a fine job of unlocking the mysteries of the universe – despite COPE’s claim to the contrary. Evolution may be a theory but no legitimate scientists question its validity. Thus learning the facts of that theory is not “indoctrination.” It’s called education.

All of this is an old tactic that has been tried – and it has yet to succeed. It likely never will, since the U.S. Supreme Court settled this matter nearly 30 years ago in Edwards v. Aguillard. In that case, the high court said creationism cannot be taught alongside evolution in public schools because creationism advances a specific religious viewpoint.   

Since that is where we stand, what would COPE gain if its argument had succeeded? If creationism can’t be taught as fact in public schools and evolution were also considered “religious indoctrination,” that would leave science teachers with the option of presenting… nothing at all.

Clearly giving kids no information whatsoever about the origins of the universe is not the solution, but groups like COPE would rather students learn nothing than learn anything that runs counter to Religious Right dogma.

Creationism belongs in houses of worship and private homes. Sound science belongs in public schools. This issue was settled long ago and it’s good a federal judge recognized as much.