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Religion, biology, and the public schools

The separation of church and state continues to be seriously challenged in American schools by pressure groups insisting that "biblical creationism" be taught in natural science classes.

This old issue -- reincarnated in the '70s -- not only has refused to go away , it is being pushed with new vigor this spring from California to New York. In the former state, creationist groups are suing for equal representation for their views in biology classes, being dissatisfied with having them presented in sociology courses. In New York, meanwhile, state educational officials are giving serious attention to creationists' demands, according to the New York Times. Similar creationist pressures are being felt elsewhere.

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This is no wild-eyed effort to have fundamentalist doctrines, as such, taught in schools. Rather it is a subtle, albeit intellectually bizarre, attempt to have creationism accepted as "scientific theory." Many proponents stress they don't want "to introduce religion into the classroom." They contend that evolutionary theory is seriously flawed and that scientific evidence now favors some sort of creation theory. Yet the "theory" they offer is a thinly disguised version of fundamentalist religious thinking even if without direct mention of God or the Bible.

As Wayne A. Moyer, executive director of the National Association of Biology Teachers, has noted, "There is not a shred of evidence to indicate any scientific basis for the creationist view." This is evident in some of the leading arguments creationist proponents offer.

For example, they claim that the layered sequences of fossils found around the world is not the accumulation of billions of years of geological evolution. They argue, instead, that the fossils were deposited in recent times (within the last 10,000 years) as the result of a worldwide flood. This flies in the face of a mountain of interlocking evidence for the antiquity of the deposits.

A more arcane argument appeals to the second law of thermodynamics. This law can be interpreted to mean that an isolated system must decay toward disorder. Thus, the creationists claim, organic life could not evolve ever greater order and complexity -- a creator must be involved. But this interpretion of physical law applies only to systems isolated from outside influences, cut off from all energy sources, while earthly life has had a continuous supply of energy from the sun. Such specious "science" can never win its way in free intellectual competition. So creationists are insisting that the state force its presentation. It is time that this pressure be seen, and resisted, for what it is -- a pseudo-sophisticated effort to push a heavily literal interpretation of Genesis in the public classroom -- a direct break of the separation of church and state.