Creationist bill pending in Ohio legislature

August 21, 2014 • 10:35 am

The Albatross is preventing me from digging deeper into this story, but a report at i09 describes a pendingbill in the Ohio legislature that mandates teaching science in a way that favors creationism. It’s the “teach-both-sides” issue, but is couched in careful and weaselly language. Here’s the relevant part of Bill 597:

(iii) The standards in science shall be based in core existing disciplines of biology, chemistry, and physics; incorporate grade-level mathematics and be referenced to the mathematics standards; focus on academic and scientific knowledge rather than scientific processes; and prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another.

Notice two things: the concentration on science as “knowledge” rather than a “process” (teaching the latter is in fact critically important), and the prohibition of “political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another.” What on earth does that mean? Well, you can guess.  It means that you can teach all interpretations. If you teach a naturalistic explanation of evolution (which these yahoos probably see as “political” or “religious”), you must also teach the Biblical interpretation.  That’s not just a guess. As i09 reports:

One of the bill’s sponsors, State Rep. Andy Thompson (R-District 95) told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that this clause [above] prevents teachers and schools from only presenting one side of a political and scientific debate without also presenting the other side. In practice, he says, that means school districts and teachers would have the freedom to introduce religious interpretations of scientific issues into classrooms — with creationism taught alongside evolution, as well as varying views on the actual age of the Earth and whether humans and dinosaurs co-existed. Likewise, the arguments put forth by climate-change deniers could be included in science lesson plans.

Thompson also shows why he wants science taught as a body of facts rather than a process:

“It gives some flexibility to districts to pursue what they think is most appropriate to their students,” Thompson said. “We want to have the ability to share perspectives that differ. Teaching one thing to the exclusion of anything else limits the discussion.”

Thompson said faith involves belief even when evidence cannot prove something…and that all scientific beliefs are open to challenge. He pointed to ancient beliefs that the sun orbited the earth – a belief widely accepted, but which was eventually challenged and disproven.

“In science, the debate is ongoing,” he said.

By requiring multiple sides to be presented, he said the bill will take the “pure politicization” of any issue out of classrooms.

Here he floats the old canard that science, like religion, is based on faith. And the facts of science are—OMG—changeable!  Somehow that’s seen as a vice, while unchangeable religious dictums are considered virtues.  I won’t get into that, and I’ve explained previously why “faith” in the religious sense simply plays no role in science (scientists have “confidence” in results in proportion to their supporting evidence, not “faith,” which in religion is belief without evidence sufficient to convince all rational people.)

And which debate is ongoing, by the way? Not the debate between evolution and creationism, for that was settled over a century ago. And we knew about the heliocentric solar system in the 16th century.

While I’m most exercised about this attempt to lie about science to kids, or misrepresent the field (Ohio readers: write your legislators!), there was one other part of the bill that has now been excised. Its presence, however, gives a clue to the political sentiments of the bill’s creators:

The legislation also created a stir because its changes to Ohio education standards required that “at least 80% of literary works taught in grades eight through twelve be complete works of classic British and American authors published prior to 1970.” That would nearly eliminate all modern authors and most foreign ones, which, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, would include:

“Greek works by authors like Aristotle, Sophocles and Plato or tales like The Iliad and The Odyssey; Crime and Punishment or anything else by Fyodor Dostoevsky or fellow Russian Leo Tolstoy; Dante’s Divine Comedy; Machiavelli’s The Prince; and anything from French authors like Victor Hugo or Albert Camus.”

Following the news report, Thompson said that the requirement would be removed from the bill. He attributed its inclusion to a “drafting error.”

Yep, for, as we know, all good literature is by Anglophones. Really, no Dostoevsky, Tolstoy or Dante? At least these Ohio mushbrain legislators had the sense to deep-six that stuff, which would have made them a laughingstock. Now let’s hope that the revised bill gets defeated, for it’s simply a variation of the “teach-the-controversy” bills that have repeatedly either failed to pass in other states or which have been declared unconstitutional by courts.

69 thoughts on “Creationist bill pending in Ohio legislature

  1. You gotta give these yo-yos credit for one thing. They are surely persistent. And consistent, in their weasellyness.

  2. Well if this is really a about kids “hearing both sides of of the story” I think it should be perfectly acceptable to introduce legislation that mandates evolution be taught in Sunday school. If all these religious folks really just want kids to hear both sides of the story, they shouldn’t see anything wrong with this.

  3. 1970? OK, we’ll build our curriculum on Huckleberry Finn, The Jungle, Native Son, The Grapes of Wrath, Catch-22, The Naked and the Dead, A Farewell to Arms, Portnoy’s Complaint, and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, etc. I’m sure that will satisfy Mr. Thompson.

    I’m always amazed when conservatives think that people only just started disagreeing with their ideas and rules.

    1. I think the primary limitation of the proposed rule is the “80%” thing. For some reason (don’t ask me why – I’m reporting, not defending), many of these state rules don’t count the bible as a single book of literature. So the 80% rule eliminates all major novels while allowing the bible to be taught in sections…and that’s why the fundies put the rule in.

  4. As if there were only two sides to any story. The insinuation that evidence against an aspect of evolutionary theory is automatically evidence for creationism is an intellectual travesty.
    These bill are entirely and act of projection – this is what I do or want to do regarding education therefore that must be what educators are doing. This is why legislators should not be allowed to decide curricular issues.

  5. “Greek works by authors like Aristotle, Sophocles and Plato or tales like The Iliad and The Odyssey; Crime and Punishment or anything else by Fyodor Dostoevsky or fellow Russian Leo Tolstoy; Dante’s Divine Comedy; Machiavelli’s The Prince; and anything from French authors like Victor Hugo or Albert Camus.”

    You have it easy: proposed changes to the UK curriculum excludes US literature too. No Hemingway, no Steinbeck, no F Scott Fitzgerald.

  6. And we knew about the heliocentric solar system in the 16th century.

    Erm…I’m pretty sure Eratosthenes had that figured out a couple millennia before the 16th century — and there’s no reason I know of to think that he was the one who originated the idea, just the first we know of to put some solid numbers to it.

    Some damned elegant and simple work, too — the sort of staggeringly revolutionary thinking that’s blindingly obvious in retrospect yet had never been contemplated before.


  7. If what the religious believe were true, there would be no need to resort to the deception in which they engage. Were He real, God’s existence would be obvious. That the religious deem it necessary to play games, to create phony science institutions and draft deviously worded legislation is evidence that their beliefs are myths.

  8. “and prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another.”–Oh, man, that’s particularly weaselly: assuming one will read “prohibit” and “religious interpretation” and then just move along!

  9. The current form of the bill reads like déjà vu versions of several other such bills that have come and gone. The bill will eventually die, but until then much unneeded energy will be spent by the FFRF and other organs of reason to make sure the lethal injection will work. So I believe this too shall (not) pass.
    The bad news is, as we had learned recently from Jerry, that
    teaching creationism is already common in public schools, especially in certain states like Ohio. So this one may need some extra attention.

    1. The sad thing is, the proposing legislators probably don’t care if it passes. The work required to defeat it means nothing to them. Their goal is to be able to go to their constituents and tell them they tried to pass it. If it passes, they win. If it fails, they win the martyr sweepstakes. There is no downside for them with these proposals, because even when they don’t pass, they win.

      The only way to eliminate such things is to educate the US public to such an extent that they start resenting impossible-to-pass bills and symbolic legislative gestures. But as long as they think these things are good, politicians will keep doing them.

  10. History teachers form Cincinnati to Toledo should start exhibiting Mel Brooks’ “History of the World” to their classes in protest and then we can see what rep. Thompson thinks about presenting all sides of an issue.

  11. It’s incredible that this guy has managed to force his brain to realize that some issues have more than one side. I doubt he’ll ever force the count to get higher than two, but it’s a start. Congratulations, Andy Thompson.

  12. I am especially bothered by this for several reasons. First, I live, and pay taxes, in Ohio. Second, I know Rep. Andy Thompson. He’s the publisher of a magazine founded by his parents, Bird Watcher’s Digest, based in Marietta, OH. Thankfully his brother is the editor, and a good friend, so I know the magazine won’t be supporting any of this pernicious nonsense.

  13. I glanced through Dante’s Divine Comedy as a kid and assumed it was essentially a restatement of Catholic orthodoxy as an epic poem.

    Years later I read the analyses of it by Harold Bloom and others and realized how wildly subversive of traditional Catholic thinking it actually was.

    Yes, do teach Dante in Ohio, please.

    1. IIRC it did double-duty as political commentary, as Dante populated his hell with subtle representations of all the political figures of the time that he didn’t like. Sort of like Revelations being a commentary on the Roman Empire of the time.

      1. DC is part of the great tradition of setting the local and pressing in a far off land so we can think about it better, laugh at it, etc. as necessary. Shakespeare does it well too, with princes of Denmark and the far off land of Illyria. People who dislike science fiction often don’t notice this commonality, but …

        1. Alice in Wonderland was another such example…as was Star Trek (race relations and the Cold War), M*A*S*H (set in Korea but all about Vietnam), and probably every last comic book superhero story….



  14. I received an email from FFRF about bill 597 in Ohio, with an attachment to write to the Chair of this bill. As an Ohio resident, I quickly sent a response in opposition to this unconstitutional bill. I urge all Ohio residents to do the same.

  15. This bill exposes the prejudice and ignorance of its writers that they consider evolutionary theory, for example, to be a “political or religious view”. Evolutionary theory is scientific knowledge, so, although the bill’s framers don’t realize it, it actually forbids the teaching of creationism.

    1. Sadly I don’t think so. As I mentioned above, “gotta read the whole book” rules are often quickly followed (or preceded) by “the OT and NT are not books, they are anthologies of smaller works” rules. That allows the fundies to include biblical reading assignments. You didn’t think the fundies would forget to carve out an exception for their faves, did you?

  16. Please do teach Plato! Yes, the Symposium in which dudes get wasted on wine and sing the praises of homoerotic attraction. Or read Phaedrus and learn that “platonic friendship” meant an intense emotional and intellectual relationship the tween two dudes who weren’t having sex; because you know, most of the time two dudes would totally be having sex in that situation.

  17. I wouldn’t actually do it, because a) I’m not a teacher, b) it would be unconstitutional, and c) it would be a good way to get fired; but this is what I would like to teach in response to such a law:

    Over the past weeks we’ve covered the enormous body of evidence showing that all known life on earth is related and has evolved from a very simple ancestral organism that lived about 4 billion years ago.

    Now, some of you may have been told that the universe was created 6000 years ago. You may be wondering how this claim can be consistent with the evidence we’ve been discussing. It turns out that there is a way to make them consistent; it’s called the Omphalos hypothesis. Under this theory, God created the universe with all the cosmological, geological, and biological evidence of great age already in place.

    In essence, this is claiming that God is a liar; that He created the world presumably with the intent — and certainly with the effect — of deceiving those who looked most carefully into its history. All of the evidence we discussed was carefully planted.

    I am forbidden by law to advance one interpretation of the facts over another. All I can do is present the explanations I’m aware of — the Theory of Evolution and the “God is a Big Fat Liar” Theory — and let you choose between them.

      1. Last Tuesdayism is logically irrefutable, like Berkeleyan solipsism. But it puts you on the slippery slope to Next Thursdayism.

        And once you realise that the universe might not have been created yet AND that it doesn’t matter a bit, the end of the slope is that the idea of a single, unique, actually REAL universe makes no sense either. Some kind of many-worlds reality-principle is the only way to stop the slide.

  18. I love how they try to create “safe” zones. Prior to 1970? British or American? Queue up Wilde, Shaw, and Russell, DH Lawrence, Tom Paine, Twain, Hume…. Sorry, Punkin’, better not teach them to read at all.

  19. I hate to rain on your parade, Jerry, but the exclusion of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Hugo, Camus, and many others is already the de facto situation in most American high schools for the majority of students not in honors or advanced placement classes. It didn’t take any explicit policies – just a tide of mediocrity.

  20. It would be interesting to see creationism taught along side of real science and to systematically dismember it by thoroughly explaining to the students how each and every claim of human origins in the Bible is hogwash. I’m sure the parents would go ballistic, but perhaps some teacher in Ohio who is otherwise ready for retirement would have a blast.

    1. Actually…since we’re taking a tangent into topology…real-world Möbius strips are two-sided. And comparable non-twisted rings are four-sided. This is because a sheet of paper has not two, but six sides; it’s just that four of the sides are very, very small in one particular dimension. Small, but non-zero….</pedant>



      1. [idle thought]
        It might be possible to create a real-world Möbius strip with just three sides, with clever use of a 3D printer.
        [/idle thought]

        1. It’d be much easier and quicker and cheaper to do it with modeling clay than a 3D printer, unless you already had one and were well versed in its use…

          …but I’m afraid I’m not visualizing what you’re suggesting. Best I can think of would be a triangular prism looped with a third of a twist. But that would actually be single-sided….


      2. Each of the faces of a Möbius-shaped paper prism has the topology of a M-strip, though (until you get down to the fuzziness of the surface at microscopic scale).

        My favourite topology demo involves cutting calamari into interlocking pairs of rings.

        1. Interesting. My favorite demonstration is of how the rings can be reduced to flat but tasty chunks with a standard chewing motion. 😉

        2. This conversation has now given me a flashback to another conversation I had on the internet maybe a year ago or so. A theist was asserting that God exists by invoking what I now call The Argument From Circles (distinct from a mere circular argument).

          The argument asserted that I’ve never seen a true circle because when you “connect the points” it is actually an N-sided polygon. I tried explaining that the definition of circle doesn’t involve connecting anything as a circle is “the set of all points equidistant from a fixed center point,” no line segments involved. We discussed the need for a physical correlate to a point; i.e. what size are we defining a point to be since the abstract definition neither defines nor requires it? Eventually, after a failure to grasp High School level geometry, this person simply returned to asserting that I haven’t seen a true circle but I “believe” in them.

          1. The argument is basically in Plato. If you cut out the middle parts of the argument, a (semi-)cariacture of Plato is: “You can do geometry, therefore we should be ruled by folks who have no steady sexual partners.”

          2. I don’t believe mathematical circles exist in the real world. I do believe that I can imagine mathematical circles, and that other people imagine something sufficiently similar that it’s interesting to talk about these imaginary mathematical circles.

            I don’t believe gods exist in the real world. I do believe that I can imagine gods, and that other people imagine something sufficiently similar that it’s interesting to talk about these imaginary gods.

            Seems like a reasonably accurate analogy, but not one that’s a useful argument from the theist point of view.

            1. I can see how your analogy would be more consistent than “abstract concepts of circles, therefore God.” But, can you really picture a mathematical circle? My whole argument with this person hinged on the fact that the concept of a geometric point is not defined to have a size. Can you picture a sizeless set of points equidistant from some other sizeless point? I don’t think we really can. We can picture some physical manifestation of these points, but if we zoomed in enough with a microscope, we’d see all kinds of edges and eventually gaps between the atoms.

              Abstract concepts in mathematics define only what is necessary; in the abstract there’s no necessity to giving a physical size to a point or set of points, so it simply doesn’t exist as part of the definition. To have a physical circle, we need to have some kind of matter to depict it and therefore define what our precision is. I can certainly picture a set of points made out of matter all centered say +/- 1 mm from the coordinates used to define a circle, which I’m sure is similar to what you’re picturing when you think of a circle.

              But, I can see how your analogy still could hold for the sake of argument: We can define an abstract concept of a god that falls short of the specific concepts necessary to define an actual instance of this god. The big difference here is that adding the physical specifications for a circle allows us to see what we call physical circles. I’ve yet to see any coherent specifications added for demonstrating an actual instance of a god. So, no, god(s) do not exist in the way circles exist.

              1. Well, the point I was originally trying to make is that if a theist somehow managed to convince me to believe in God in the same way I believe in mathematical circles (whatever that might mean), that theist has still lost the debate — because I don’t believe mathematical circles exist in the real world.

                I guess I expressed that point poorly, because it doesn’t really have anything to do with imagination.

                On this side topic of imagining mathematical circles: It’s certainly true that when I try to imagine a mathematical circle, I “see” a curve of non-zero thickness, so my imagination differs in important aspects from my goal.

                But say I try to imagine an alligator. I’m sure that my imagined image differs in many ways from my goal (I’m not very familiar with alligators), although I’m not sure exactly what those differences are.

                My imagined alligator is useless for, say, answering questions about alligators. On the other hand, my imagined mathematical circle may be useful for answering questions about mathematical circles, especially since I understand fairly well the differences between my imagined mathematical circle and a true mathematical circle.

                IMHO, this means that I actually can imagine mathematical circles, and that I’m better at it than imagining alligators.

    2. Even worse is the recurring and often implicit assumption that, if there are two possibilities, they both must have an equal chance of occurring.

      I can’t directly find a nice example of it, but I’m sure you’ve seen it.

  21. The reasoning for prohibiting teaching of the scientific process is simple enough: creationism uses no scientific reasoning and never will. When evolution is thought about in those terms, it becomes even harder for a student to accept creationism.

  22. Yawn. These things recrudesce more easily than TB. NCSE spends much of its time opposing them.

  23. Notice two things: the concentration on science as “knowledge” rather than a “process” (teaching the latter is in fact critically important), and the prohibition of “political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another.”

    Exactly. If you don’t focus on the process, there’s no way to determine the quality of the knowledge! Seems very convenient to sneak in some “religious ways of knowing.”

    I still can’t make any sense out of the second half. How do you “prohibit” something “in favor of” something else?

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