Creeping creationism in Chicagoland

March 3, 2011 • 8:01 am

I wouldn’t have thought it possible. In the South, maybe, but not in supposedly enlightened Chicagoland.  But creationism is extending its tentacles into our area, trying, like Putin, to rear its ugly head in the public schools:

First, as the Daily Herald reports, two candidates for the Fremont School board (about an hour north of here) are in favor of teaching creationism in public school science classes. One is the current board president:

“I think from a scientific standpoint it can be given as a viewpoint,” board President Sandra Bickley said in the interview. “(It’s) another theory to consider.”

Fellow candidate Kim Hansen had a similar take on the controversial topic.

“It should be presented in a very broad type of curriculum or structure,” said Hansen, a first-time candidate.

And get this:

Bickley and Hansen were asked about creationism’s potential role in the school district’s curriculum toward the end of Monday’s candidate interviews.

Bickley called creationism “one set of theory” and thought it should be taught in science classes as part of a unit, although not necessarily promoted.

“It’s something out there,” she said. “I don’t think it’s something that should be ignored.”

Hansen also thought creationism belonged on public-school curriculums.

“There is no right or wrong” when it comes to people’s beliefs, she said.

Note the common trope that creationism is, like evolution, just a competing “theory.”  And note as well the view that evolution is a “belief” and that such beliefs are neither “right nor wrong.” It’s this kind of populist postmodernism that throws me into despair.   I don’t think it can be fixed with any amount of education in evolution: those views come straight from religion.

And if that’s not depressing enough, all four candidates for school board in nearby Lake Zurich favor instruction in creationism in public school science classes. That, too, is reported in The Daily Herald, and there’s so much fail here:

[Incumbent member Tony] Pietro believes creationism should be taught in science class to give students “as much information as possible” about the origins of life.

“I think we can say this is a theory,” he said Thursday. “None of us were here when man was created.”

When man was created?  Sorry, there was no creation: we have the fossils showing our gradual evolution from apelike ancestors. The fail:  misunderstanding of theory and acceptance of the common notion that evidence is only meaningful if we can see things happening before our eyes. (Does Pietro accept the existence of Napoleon?)

When the court rulings on the issue were mentioned, Pietro didn’t waver.

“When we teach (it), we need to say this is a theory,” he said.

Wallace took an even stronger stance on the issue.

“Creationism to me is factual,” he said. “Darwinism is a theory.”

As for court rulings against teaching creationism in science classes, Wallace said people must work within the law or change it.

The fail:  misunderstanding of the word “theory” as it’s used scientifically, complete ignorance of the massive evidence for evolution, and the belief that the Bible is factual.  Religion again, of course.

[Doug] Goldberg also emphatically supported adding creationism to the science curriculum.

“I’m a good, God-fearing American and the answer is ‘Yes,’” he said. “Clearly, religion in general is a big part of our daily lives as Americans. I believe that allowing a student to be exposed to the theory of creationism is a relevant and reasonable thing to do.”

Goldberg said he “hadn’t studied the legal ramifications” of the issue.

The fail:  ignorance of the First Amendment and of the many court cases that explicit prohibit what Goldberg wants.  Note, too, the adjective “God-fearing”.  It’s never “God-loving,” is it? Teach creationism or you’ll boil for eternity in molten sulfur.

But the worst is the intellectual cowardice of another incumbent, who accepts evolution but wants creationism taught to the kids—even though it’s wrong:

[Jim] Burke also said “yes,” but not as enthusiastically as the other candidates. He acknowledged scientific evidence supports evolution.

“It’s not a belief, it’s proven fact,” Burke said. “I would hate to see the line between those two things blurred.”

If teaching creationism in science classes is unconstitutional, officials shouldn’t try to get around the law, he added.

So far I can’t find who won the elections, but since all four candidates in Lake Zurich are pro-creationism, we can safely assume that some of them won.
What’s to be done about this?  I don’t think that my going up north and giving a bunch of lectures on the evidence for evolution will work.  Nor will telling these people that evolution and faith are compatible. (Burke, at least, already knows that.) And will that make them change their minds on teaching creationism alongside evolution?

The only thing that stands between the school children and their inculcation with the ideas of Gish, Comfort, and Dumbski is the courts.  And the issue will never go away in America until religion does.

71 thoughts on “Creeping creationism in Chicagoland

  1. “There is no right or wrong” when it comes to people’s beliefs, she said.

    Feh, just watch these absolutist rats scurry for the shelter of relativism when they want to exempt their bullshit from critical scrutiny. You can bet they never say things like that in church.

    1. Yep, I doubt very much that they believe the existence of the One True Saviour is merely a matter of opinion.

    2. Their relativism would likely also vanish when confronted with parents who opted not to procure life-saving medical attention for their child, in favor of mumbling some kind of magical incantation.

      Our legal system recognizes that some beliefs are wrong. What’s more, these same fair-weather relativists would agree in many instances. Such pronouncements are not only stupid, but willfully dishonest.

    1. It’s been happening for some time, and is a strategy explicitly honed and executed by creationists.

      1. Yes, I’ve heard Ann Coulter give speeches at various universities pleading with young people to pursue education degrees so that they can inculcate young, uncritical minds with their creationist BS. HA! Basically she admits that they can’t win with reason, so they must go after the little ones while their minds and reasoning skills are still forming.

        1. …they can’t win with reason, so they must go after the little ones while their minds and reasoning skills are still forming.

          That the blatantcy and ubiquity of that tactic doesn’t cause more people sit up and take notice defies belief. (So to speak..) The idea that this is child abuse, as Dawkins stressed in TGD, is a meme that definitely needs spreading!

  2. Can we not somehow have a campaign to make people aware of the great difference between scientific theory and groundless hypothesis? Oh well I suppose not…….

  3. I just hope these comments are from school board newbies who just aren’t yet familiar with the legal issues that have already been decided.

  4. What dismays me is that too many on the pro-evolution side see winning in court as a victory.

    It is not. The reason ID/Creationism should not be taught in schools is the same no matter where that school is situated, and that reason is that ID/Creationism are not science.

    That in the US there is a clause in the constitution that prevents ID/Creationism from being taught because they are religious ideas is useful in that it has clearly prevented science education in the US from being even worse. But you should not have to rely on the courts. The idea that teaching ID/Creationism in schools should be rejected on the grounds doing so would harm the education of children. Until that is the case there should be no talk of victories.

  5. “The fail: misunderstanding of the word “theory” as it’s used scientifically, …”

    I’ll suggest it once again:

    always capitalize the word “Theory” when used scientifically.

    There is no valid grammatical reason to avoid this, and it would dramatically improve the layman’s understanding of the issue.

    1. That’s a really good idea, but most scientists wouldn’t give a rat’s ass. The stuff they write isn’t read by the laymen who need to know the distinction (i.e. scientific articles).

    2. Not sure how effective that would be. On a significant number of the pro-creationism/tea party-style comments I see EVERY LETTER IS CAPITALIZED!!

    3. Agree that that’s a good idea. Especially as scientists themselves use the colloquial sense of the term in conversation, just as we all conciously choose the connotations that fit our various needs.

      1. I’ll go even further and suggest that if faith-heads continue to capitalize God, we capitalize Science. Just to irritate them.

        Yes, I realize that will open the door to: “that proves Science and God are equally a matter of belief.”

        But still, it would irk them. And that would make me happy.

    4. How about consistently replacing “theory of evolution” with “theory for evolution”?

      That could shift “evolution” into the realm of independently confirmed fact (which it is) and leave to “evolutionary theories” the task of explaining the process’s features. These theories could be tested against the facts of “evolution” and confirmed or discarded independently. In fact, one could even include creationism as one “theory for evolution,” and explain what facts of natural history force our discarding it.

    5. it would dramatically improve the layman’s understanding of the issue.

      In the culture it is suggested, perhaps. I come from a culture where names are capitalized besides the initial word of a sentence. So frankly I don’t understand capitalization.

      In english capitalization is also used for book & paper titles, where every word is (annoyingly) capitalized, as well as for nations & their languages (say, “English”). What more use do you imply, how should I understand it?

      1. In english [sic!] capitalization is also used for book & paper titles

        That’s not strictly true, although it’s increasingly common on the Web and sometimes in print when titles aren’t set in italics (books) or enclosed in quotation marks (papers, also short stories; which is the more common convention). So, you’d see The Lord Of The Rings rather than The Lord of the rings – “little words” (articles and connectors like “of”) aren’t capitalized. I think some people are confused about which “little words” should or shouldn’t be capitalized, so they capitalize every word! Strangely, library records tend to use lower case, except for proper nouns (names, &c.); so, The lord of the rings (or Lord of the rings, The).

        As for Theory v. theory, I think it would be hard to establish that distinction in the wild (esp. in the press who still struggle with specific names like Meles meles, which is often rendered Meles Meles).

        Dawkins tries to make the distinction in The Greatest Show on Earth by using the new coinage “theorum”. That’s an unnecessary bastardization of the language, though, and even less likely to catch on.

  6. The problem in America is that there’s a tendency to rely on democracy for every public job. Why do people that decide what goes into the curriculum need to be elected? Why should the popularity of a fact weigh against its proof? If you elect these public positions then they will always be weighing up how popular their decisions are and how likely it will be to get themselves re-elected. Over time, with poor education feeding into the populace and these poorly educated people voting the problem will be exacerbated. We end up only teaching popular truth.

    Appoint the board of directors in education based on their understanding of the field and this problem will largely go away. And American schools will catch up with the rest of the world.

    1. The trouble with that idea is the assumption that there’s going to be some way to assure the designated appointers are rational. Given that the schools are already full of creationist staff, as are the schools of education, as is politics, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

      Rather than turtles all the way down, it’s sort of like…what?…delusions all the way up?

  7. Perhaps the accomodationists (quislings)have a ‘Rapid Response Team’ to be immediately dispatched to that school district to ‘reason’ with such people, thereby protecting science education in the schools. Or not.

    1. Reminds me of the bumper sticker: Don’t pray in our schools and we won’t think in your churches.

  8. “There is no right or wrong” when it comes to people’s beliefs, she said.

    So is that belief right? Or wrong? If it’s neither, why should I care?

  9. A. Nice alliteration.
    B. How does one get elected to a school board without knowing the meaning of the word ‘theory’, much less what evolution is?
    C. We’ll be a red state yet. Just a matter of time. Chicago will be a little island of rationalism. (Sort of.)

  10. I went to high school in another Chicago suburb and my biology teacher never once said anything about evolution.

    “And the issue will never go away in America until religion does.”

    The Christian war against science education will end when Christianity is eradicated.

  11. In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.

    Mark Twain

  12. I think skeptical Chicagoans should show up and demand that public schools teach all the controversies: Stork theory, heliocentrism, alchemy–the whole pantheon.

    The teach the controversy line of t-shirts is especially well done–perhaps showing up to school board meetings might be appropriate.

  13. Whether the accommodationists are willing to admit it or not, science and religion are irreconcilable, and the religious are fully aware of the fact.

    The way out of this mess is most emphatically not accommodationism, but making plain what religion is. For Christianity, that means worshipping a book that opens with a story about a magic garden with talking animals and an angry giant, continues with a talking plant that gives magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero, and ends with an utterly bizarre zombie snuff porn fantasy where the thralls fondle the king zombie’s intestines.

    Will that bring the conversation screeching to a halt? Yes, of course. And that’s a good thing.

    It’s high past time people grew up, but they’re never going to as long as everybody keeps bowing and scraping and admiring the cut of their magnificent robes.

    After all, that’s the real moral of the story. It’s not Jesus who’s naked, and it’s not just the “sophisticated” theologians. It’s all the people in the pews. Sure, they’ll get upset when we point and laugh, but they’ll also go home and get dressed, too.



    1. I feel much the same about those people who try to argue with the religious fundamentalists about what Jesus would have really wanted. It just ends up with a quote mining war over the intentions of a deity that couldn’t be bothered to make its books agree. Better to argue about actual facts, and people’s actual opinions and rights, rather than try and relate it to the static wishes of a fictional character.

      1. thats all well and good Sajanus, but some of us really do care about what would have happened if Spock had his own captaincy.

  14. And note as well the view that evolution is a “belief” and that such beliefs are neither “right nor wrong.” It’s this kind of populist postmodernism that throws me into despair. I don’t think it can be fixed with any amount of education in evolution: those views come straight from religion.

    They also come straight from kindergarten. In order to protect religious views from critical scrutiny and rational evaluation, the faithful have apparently conflated the age of the earth with “I like chocolate pudding.”

    1. Indeed.

      You’re entitled to your own preferences, but not your own facts.

      If you insist on pretending that the world is something it isn’t, you’re setting yourself up for your very own personal Darwin award.



  15. Not sure why this surprises you. Surely you’ve made some forays out to da burbs. I have an aunt & uncle in Deerfield and visited them enough times when I lived in the city to know how fast the mentality (not theirs, for the most part) changes as one moves beyond the city limits. And isn’t Lake Zurich one of the most conservative areas in the whole state? I also had a colleague who did a post-doc at Lake Michigan Biological Station in Zion (close to the WI border) — you’d think you were in Kentucky, I do NOT exaggerate.

  16. I’ve really become disenchanted with school boards. Local government of this low level really lacks the kind of checks and balances we get from federal and state levels, especially the check of knowledge. These people who run as creationists often have no previous background in politics, don’t say what they’re planning, and are little observed before they run. So the chance of electing them accidentally is pretty high, even if you actually pay attention to the candidates. I don’t really like the idea of appointment much better, so perhaps a mix would be best? Or just taking the ability to change the curriculum to creationism out of the hands of school boards entirely.

  17. Since the Constitution bars the establishment of a state religion, we’ll need to make sure all competing theories of creation get discussed.
    My favorite is the theory that Mr. Ash created the universe.

    Any Salinger fans here?

  18. I wonder which “kind of creationism” they propose to teach. There are as many different “stories” as there are religions. I ran across a real “knee slapper” in updating my atheism glosary. It’s from the magazine “The Real Truth” published by The Restored Church of God. They quote the Bible to back up their Young Earth belief for about two pages, then admit Images of 125 billions of galxies, 3,000 of which are visible, are 80,000 light years away and the light has taken billions of years to reach Earth. So the universe is billions of years old and the Earth 4.5 billion. So Earth has existed for all this time but “very recently” that God “recreated the Earth” to prepare for the first human beings, Adam and Eve. Then they add, “When one allows the Bible to interpret itself, and uses that knowledge to interpret scientific data, the truth of creation is not only accurate , but magnificent and inspiring. Well their all knowing God did a piss poor job of it. Why not recreate it without a hot center, no more earthquakes, tsunamis and other threats to the children of A & E

    1. The children of Accident & Emergency? 🙂

      BTW, without its molten core the earth would not have a magnetic field, and the resulting bombardment of solar wind particles would make things rather inhospitable to life as we know it.

      1. the resulting bombardment of solar wind particles would make things rather inhospitable to life as we know it.

        Not really. The atmosphere is primarily what shield us from cosmic radiation, the dynamo field is primarily what shields the atmosphere from solar wind & CME (coronal mass ejection) erosion. But as Venus shows, that depends on what kind of atmosphere one starts out with.

        [IIRC, CMEs et cetera are only contributing 2/3 of Earth atmosphere leakage anyway, the rest is thermal escape. But most planets have a much more active (smaller) sun than we have.]

        The real use for habitability as I understand it is that the dynamo mechanism ends up increasing the window for, and so the number of, habitable planets.

        1. To keep it short I didn’t detail the mechanism that causes the inhospitability. The unshielded bombardment blows away the atmosphere, which is certainly inhospitable. Consider Mars.

    1. Good question. When can we start calling it the “Law of Evolution”? How does this come about? Darwin’s Law. I like the sound of that.

    2. Not being a biologist, I don’t see any hinder for that. Without selection you wouldn’t have the transition from chemical to biological evolution anyway, and with competing populations you will forgo static eternal individuals in general. So evolution is likely universal, indeed defining life.

      As a physicist, I’m not very keen on “laws”. Facts, hypotheses, models, theories are useful concepts. Laws are promoting universal facts, mechanisms or processes as somehow special, and I don’t see the meaning of that. Maybe it is a useful mnemonic, but why should that overrule understanding which is after all what science is about?

      In short, if you like it go for it. But don’t be surprised if you won’t see all of us joining you; as for myself I would have to think it over.

  19. There are a lot of people willing to condemn school board members and nominees for their backwards beliefs, and rightly so, but where are the school board nominees who accept evolution as true and would have it taught exclusively? Why aren’t scientists and supporters of science running for these positions?

  20. Who’s for advocating teaching The Lord of the Rings and other epic fantasy in geography classes? After all, the genre has all these splendid maps. And they’re in books, so they must be true, right?

  21. “Imagine the people who believe such things and who are not ashamed to ignore, totally, all the patient findings of thinking minds through all the centuries since the Bible was written. And it is these ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would make themselves the guides and leaders of us all; who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us; who would invade our schools and libraries and homes. I personally resent it bitterly.”
    Isaac Asimov, in Canadian Atheists Newsletter (1994)

    La plus ça change…

  22. I had several fraternity brothers from Chicago but Pete was the best. His response to just about any question was, “Oh, yeah, well FUCK YOU!”

    You could say, “Hey, Pete, want another beer?” and get that response.

    So, when did Chicagoans become so mellow? Where is Pete?

    These creationist macaroons should be given the Pete Treatment; shouted down, laughed at and ignored.

  23. The “God-fearing” business really raises my hackles as well. Suppose it were some schoolyard bully named Todd we were talking about. How many red-blooded American dads do you think would counsel their kids to be good Todd-fearing wimps, happily giving up their lunch money and thanking Todd for the privilege? Yet when it comes to God, this sort of craven capitulation is counted a virtue.

  24. It was several years and beers back so recollection is cloudy, but I visited some friends in Juneau and downtown on one of the buildings is a beautiful mural of what I took to be the Inuit creation story. I believe it is basically, Raven finds Man in a big Clam while Bear and Caribou look on. In short, it’s far more plausible than the Judeo-Christian creation myth. There was no talking snake.

  25. If I were a parent in Fremont or Lake Zurich I would get my lawyer to write a letter informing the School Board that if they try to teach religious beliefs in my kids’ science classroom, they could expect a law-suit.

  26. “another theory to consider”

    I hear that baloney all the time. Some people just don’t know the difference between Theory and Dogma – they’re the sort of idiots who claim that science is dogmatic and that religion is scientific.

  27. The worst is that it’s contagious. In France, more than half a century ago, I was taught evolution, even at the religious school where I spent 4 years. The religion classes taught that God had started the evolution process. Later, I never heard of creationism during all the years I worked as a teacher. But recently, some voices are asking creationism to be added to the education programs.
    Since those who ask can be divided between Christians and Muslims (with different creation myths) the creationism program won’t appear tomorrow. Nevertheless, the idea creeps forward.

  28. “we have the fossils showing our gradual evolution from apelike ancestors”

    Actually there are some major gaps in the fossil record. If you were as unbiased as you claim to be you would acknowledge that.

    1. there are NO “gaps” in the fossil record. a gap of any size would mean that we were required to have a fossil of everything that ever lived. Repeat…no “gaps” Also the idea of “missing liks” needs to go in the toilet. Nothing is missing. Again, we find what we find and are lucky to be able to do so when we do. We’re lucky gto have the ones we do. Read Your Inner Fish about how Neil Shubin predicted where, and to a large extent what Tiktaalik would look like

  29. Someone should create and send nice looking brochures/ booklets to these asshats as they run for schoolboard office that lists all the lost suits by “their” side over the years, and the financial cost to the schools (via taxpayers). Or even better, send the packets to the local taxpayers themselves. And you KNOW that these school board losers are part of the same crowd that bitches about wasteful spending, and too-high taxes.

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