When the Arkansas legislative session opens in January, there may be a new creation bill for legislators to consider. Arkansas Citizens for Balanced Education in Origins is behind a proposed new law to be entitled "The Thorough Explanation of Origins and Development in Textbooks Act." The stated intent of the measure is to "require complete, but reasonable, disclosure" of which assumptions are testable and which are not when textbooks present scientific data about origins. This is allegedly necessary because students need to know what assumptions underlie the data presented and the state needs to ensure "that education is maximized and indoctrination is minimized."
The bill's spokespersons—Ed Gran, a physics instructor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and Malcolm Windsor, an engineer at the Pine Bluff Arsenal, offered a sample of how they felt the law would affect textbook material. This sample quoted a textbook's account of Stanley Miller's 1953 experiment that produced amino acids from elements that may have been present on the primitive earth. The law would require that the textbook explain that the experiment assumed a reducing atmosphere, assumed the formation of DNA in the experiment, and assumed negligible effects from such factors as low amino acid concentration, low temperature formation, high destruction rates, and so on.
The tenor of this sample shows three things. First, it shows that creationists hope to drown any textbook evolutionary explanation in a flood of qualifications; they want to list every caveat they can think of. Second, it shows that creationists want to get equal time for their favorite anti-evolution arguments, most likely those arguments that say radiometric dating is based on unproven premises, that rocks date fossils and fossils date rocks and hence the geologic column is based on circular reasoning, and that all studies of origins are untestable and therefore unscientific. Third, it shows that, if creationists in Arkansas cannot get publishers to produce textbooks that meet their rigid specifications, the state simply won't buy any textbooks that mention the subject.
This latter point is crucial. The bill would, if passed, effectively ban all existing public school science textbooks that treat evolution. None meet these extreme requirements. Without textbooks, evolution would likely not be covered to any extent. Thus, by binding up the textbook selection process in red tape greater than that in Texas, evolution would be effectively banned from Arkansas public schools. Section three of the bill makes this clear when it states that textbooks are not required to present any information about origins and the development of the universe and life.
The U.S. District judge in New Orleans struck down the Louisiana creation law on November 22, 1982, in response to a motion for summary judgment entered by the state board of elementary and secondary education. The board argued that the creation law violated the state constitution by allowing the legislature to set curriculum independent of the board. The creationists plan to appeal the ruling.
On April 8, 1982, a Virginia State Board of Education teachers' visiting committee approved biology graduates of Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist College for certification as Virginia public school teachers. However, this caused a furor when Falwell announced that his graduates would be teaching creationism. So on May 21, the Board of Education teachers' advisory committee voted unanimously to deny teacher certification to the graduates. This brought the matter to the full board in July. At the July meeting, it was decided that Liberty Baptist College officials should answer a list of thirty questions regarding church-state issues raised by the school's practice of teaching and advocating creationism. The questions were answered, and the results were then brought before the board on September 24.
There Judy Goldberg, lobbyist for the ACLU, argued against the certification, and Jerry Falwell argued for it. Falwell charged the ACLU with being a defender of Nazis in Illinois and an enemy of religious freedom in Virginia. He referred to himself as a victim of a "Scopes trial in reverse." Ms. Goldberg said that the new evidence presented by the college in answer to the thirty questions shows that the college changes its story whenever objections are raised. After this confrontation, the board split four to four on certification, resulting in no decision being made.
But on December 10 the board took up the matter again, this time with all members present. The vote was seven to two in favor of certification. This means that Liberty Baptist College graduates are now authorized to teach in Virginia and in thirty-five other states that recognize Virginia certification. The board will review its decision in one year.
In an unprecedented action, the New York City Board of Education recently declared three science textbooks unacceptable because of inadequate coverage of evolution, presentation of creationism as science, or both. The books were Life Science from Prentice-Hall, Experience in Biology from Laidlaw, and Natural Science: Bridging the Gap from Burgess.
Carol Brownell, a spokesperson for the board, said, "The professionals came down on the side that you cannot exclude the discussion of Darwin's theory. They feel the theory of evolution is firmly established in science and has to be acknowledged." This decision could encourage similar decisions elsewhere.
Iowa continues to be a target for creationist efforts. This summer an intense, well-bankrolled, statewide creationist effort got underway. The campaign involves three thrusts: (1) threatening with lawsuits school districts or individual teachers who teach evolution, (2) petitioning school boards to hold referenda on adding a list of fifteen creationist books to every school library, and (3) persuading school districts to purchase a creationist videotape entitled The Timeless Issue of Life: Creation or Evolution. So far, due to the grass-roots efforts of the Iowa Committee of Correspondence and allied groups, every creationist effort has been blocked.
In August, former astronaut James Irwin led an expedition up Mt. Ararat in search of Noah's ark. This expedition, financed by his own evangelical foundation based in Colorado, found "solid evidence" of the ship's presence on the mountain. The climbers, however, have been secretive about the facts but plan to announce "important findings on the interstructural formation of the mountain in the near future," as if that was what the world was waiting to know. The expedition would have lasted longer than it did had Irwin not fallen from an ice ridge and lost all but three of his teeth. However, after the expedition was discontinued, Irwin and Lt. Orhan Baser of the Turkish army stayed behind to take a final aerial look at the northwest side of the mountain where "pure and solid proof" of the ark's existence was supposedly found. No more reports were made after that until Irwin conducted a second expedition up the northeast side of the mountain, following up on a recent "sighting" by Dennis Burchett. Apparently nothing was found, because, after Irwin returned home, he indicated to Maclean's magazine that he was still in pursuit of "a dark, promising object" on the northeast side of the mountain. "We know the ark is there," he declared, but he offered no solid evidence.
A self-styled explorer, Tom Crotser, of the Institute for Restoring Ancient History, says that he and others have found the Ark of the Covenant, allegedly buried by Moses, and has been asking financial support for an expedition to retrieve it. The Institute claims a considerable track record in finding biblical remains. In recent years, they allegedly uncovered Noah's ark and discovered the site of the Tower of Babel. London banker David Rothschild was approached for possible backing of the Ark of the Covenant venture but declared Crotser's effort to be a "pure joke." Nevertheless, Crotser declares that his team discovered it on October 31, 1981. After examining the Bible, they concentrated on a peak near Mount Nebo in northwest Jordan. There Crotser's team found the Ark but did not move or open it, lest they incur the wrath of God. The Ark supposedly contains Aaron's budding rod, the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and other important things these "raiders of the lost Ark" are eager to acquire.
According to a recent Gallup survey, 44 percent of the respondents agreed with the statement, "God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last ten thousand years." Thirty-eight percent agreed that "man has developed over millions of years from less-advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, including man's creation." Only 9 percent held that "man has developed over millions of years from less-advanced forms of life. God had no part in this process." Another 9 percent said they didn't know or gave other responses.
This is the first time an accurate survey has been made of creation belief in America. Usually the questions are phrased wrong and leave out the true nature of the issue at hand. This one did not. However, it is important to understand that creation belief does not imply a desire for creationism in the public schools. Not all creationists want "equal time" or feel that the public schools offer an appropriate setting. Some creationists believe that reducing their theism to a "mere scientific theory" does it an injustice. This is why the survey results, on the question concerning which account of origins should be taught in the public schools, came out a little different. Thirty-eight percent felt that creationism should be taught, 33 percent felt that evolution with God should be taught, and 9 percent thought that evolution without God should be taught. None were asked if all three should be taught, so it is hard to decide what these results mean. We don't know how many of the 38 percent favoring creationism wanted "equal time" and how many wanted creationism exclusively. The 4 percent who said that they favored all three views being taught volunteered that opinion.