Alabama Textbook Selection in Context

Last summer, the Alabama State Board of Education, after much vacillation, required for the first time that evolution be included in the state curriculum guide. That was the good news. The bad news was that, for political reasons, a statement was sent out to teachers saying, "Consistent with the expressions of the U.S. Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard, teachers shall have the freedom and flexibility to supplement the curriculum with the presentation of various scientific theories about the origins of life, if done with the secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction." Because creationists claim that a sanitized version of Genesis-taken-literally can be made scientific, they applauded the statement. (Textbook critics Me1 and Norma Gabler have promoted this "Supreme Court approved" view in Texas, California, and Ohio; see "What Did Justice Brennan Mean?" NCSE Reports 9(2):14.)

This statement shows where the antievolutionists at the Alabama textbook hearing were coming from. It calls for scientific theories, and because of the beating creationism has taken in the courts, terms such as "scientific creationism" or "creationism" in any form is to be avoided. The new strategy is to use euphemisms like "intelligent design," or "evidence against evolution," or "theories of evolution", all of which are code-terms for "scientific" creationism (see "Creeping Creationism," NCSE Reports 9(2):15).

The enthusiasm for "intelligent design" was doubtless stimulated by an Eagle Forum workshop held in April, 1989. Charles Thaxton, principal author of the new creationist book Of Pandas and People, was the keynote speaker. Pandas contrasts evolutionary explanations with "intelligent design" as explanations for the natural universe. The book was submitted for adoption in Alabama, but it was not available at the several sites where copies of books up for review were supposed to be available to the public. As a result, evolution supporters did not see the book before the hearing and could not comment upon it. At this writing, Pandas is neither approved nor rejected; it is in a limbo-like state from which it may be retrieved by the Alabama State Board of Education.

NCSE is following the story and will update this report in a future issue. A review of Of Pandas and People is scheduled for the next issue.