Glenn Branch's picture

Party Time! Part 2

Themed birthday party, ca. 1910-1915, likely in New Jersey. Via Wikimedia Commons.

In part 1, I reported that in 2006, there were eight state Republican parties with antievolution planks embedded in their official platforms, and that in 2014, there were again eight such state Republican parties. (In 2006, Oregon’s was among them and North Dakota’s was not; in 2014, North Dakota’s was among them and Oregon’s was not.) The state Republican parties of Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, were present in both lists. I now want to begin to compare the earlier and the later versions of these seven platforms; I’ll offer a few comments along the way.

  • Alaska 2004: “We support giving Creation Science equal representation with other theories of the origin of life. If evolution is taught, it should be presented as only a theory.”
  • Alaska 2014: “We support teaching various models and theories for the origins of life and our universe, including Creation Science or Intelligent Design. If evolution outside a species (macro-evolution) is taught, evidence disputing the theory should also be taught.”

It’s not surprising that the 2014 plank adds the new-fangled “Intelligent Design” while retaining the old-fashioned “Creation Science.” It’s interesting, though, that “Intelligent Design” is employed as a synonym for “Creation Science”—if the platform’s authors regarded them as distinct, then surely they would have used “and” rather than “or” in the first sentence. It is surprising that the venerable misconception that a theory in science is necessarily conjectural or speculative was abandoned. Its replacement involves a misconception not so pervasive but just as serious, though: evidence can confirm or disconfirm a theory, but it can hardly be said to “dispute” a theory. Perhaps the platform’s authors regard evidence not as something that can be objectively assessed but as something that is intrinsically prejudiced, as in Stephen Colbert’s apothegm “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” Finally, I should note that the 2014 plank may have already been removed, per Alaska Public Media (May 4, 2014).

  • Iowa 2004: “We believe that the local choice to teach creation science, or intelligent design science, should be allowed in government schools rather than exclusively teaching evolution as the only viable theory. We also believe that tax funded libraries should include creation science materials on their shelves.”
  • Iowa 2014: “We support a balanced presentation of creationism and evolution in public schools. We believe that textbooks and teachers should clarify that Darwinian evolution is only a theory and not scientific fact....We recommend that tax-funded school libraries include intelligent design and creationism materials on their bookshelves.”

The move from listing specific versions of creationism to mentioning only creationism in general is perhaps just a matter of brevity, and the move from discussing public libraries in general to discussing school libraries in particular is perhaps just a matter of clarification. It’s harder to know what to make of the move away from talking about local choice. Are the expression of support, belief, and recommendation of the 2014 platform just the party’s opinion, or are any actions to implement them proposed? Only one antievolution bill appeared in Iowa in the last decade—House File 183 in 2009—and it swiftly died in committee.

  • Kansas 2006: “Kansas students should be allowed and encouraged to fully discuss and critique all science-based theories for the origin of life in science curricula.”
  • Kansas 2014: “Kansas students should be allowed and encouraged to fully discuss and critique all science-based theories for the origin of life in science curricula.”

There’s no change here. The confusion between evolution and origin of life—a topic infrequently discussed in detail in K–12 science education—is sadly common but not in need of extensive comment. The adjective “science-based” is reminiscent of the phrase “the full range of scientific views,” familiar from the failed Santorum amendment and from a string of antievolutionist proposals. Of course, creationism (including “intelligent design”) is not recognized by the scientific community as a science-based theory, but the worry is that passage of such a proposal would encourage teachers to misrepresent creationism as though it were. Supporters of such proposals have often been evasive about the scope of “the full range of scientific views”: in Florida in 2008, for example, the sponsor of Senate Bill 2692 reportedly preferred instead merely to recite the text of the bill rather than to answer specific questions about it. The reason is obvious: if she had asserted that creationism was within “the full range of scientific views,” she would have been faced with the evidence to the contrary, while if she had denied it, then it would have been harder to secure support from those who wish to see creationism taught in the public schools and also to resist attempts to amend the bill to make it explicit that creationism was not within its scope. That’s part of the reason, I suspect, that the trend lately has been to prefer catchphrases, like “academic freedom,” that don’t so obviously invite such pointed questions.

  • Minnesota 2004: “[W]e support...protecting educators from disciplinary action for including discussion of creation science, adopting science standards that acknowledge the scientific controversies pertaining to the theory of evolution.”
  • Minnesota 2014 (PDF): “We should continue to encourage the voluntary expression of religious beliefs and traditions of students. Specifically, educators who discuss creation science should be protected from disciplinary action and science standards should recognize that there is controversy pertaining to the theory of evolution.”

The differences seem to be mainly stylistic, even the change from “scientific controversies” to unornamented “controversies”: it’s hard to believe that the platform’s authors would be content if the Minnesota state science standards were to acknowledge that evolution is socially, but not scientifically, controversial. The existing Minnesota state science standards (PDF), adopted in 2009, do not suggest that evolution is controversial. One benchmark in the “Nature of Science and Engineering” strand (9.1.1.1.7) is sometimes misrepresented as doing so. Yet since the benchmark reads, “Explain how scientific and technological innovations—as well as new evidence—can challenge portions of, or entire accepted theories and models including, but not limited to: cell theory, atomic theory, theory of evolution, plate tectonic theory, germ theory of disease, and the big bang theory,” presumably all of the mentioned theories are presented as controversial if any are. How, precisely, it would be possible to protect educators from disciplinary action for teaching creation science, when the unconstitutionality of teaching creation science was firmly established in the Supreme Court’s decision in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), is unclear.

At this point, I vote that we take a break. I won’t say that I read all of the platforms I was able to find in their entirety or with a great deal of attention, but even so I felt that my eyes were glazing over somewhere amid the vast wasteland of states beginning with the letter M (eight, really?). You’re only getting snippets from them, but even that might be more than enough for now. Rest assured, though, that when I return, in part 3, the first order of business will be comparing the antievolution planks in the 2004 and in the 2014 platforms of the Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas Republican parties.