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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Vouching Against Creationism

By Phil Plait

There are days I wake up, excited to have another chance to share my love of the Universe and our understanding of it. I canât wait to get coffee inside my brain and my fingers on the keyboard.

Then there are days like today, when I have to talk about people who refuse to open their eyes to the reality around them and writing about it makes my brain asplodey. Todayâs culprit: young-Earth creationists. Their transgression: vouchers.

Vouchers are complicated, but in theory allow children from poor and lower-income backgrounds to attend private schools instead of public schools. In practice though, vouchers are loaded with problems. One of the bigger ones is that many of the private schools that accept vouchers are religious schools, where creationism is taught instead of actual science (or, as I like to call it, ârealityâ).

This is a problem because the cost of the schooling for these vouchers comes from the public education system. So, in other words, public education money is going toward the teaching of creationism.

This is unconstitutional. Thatâs not just my opinion, either: A Louisiana judged ruled the voucher program was unconstitutional. Teaching creationism in public schools as a whole has been ruled unconstitutional many times, over and again, by the judicial system. Edwards vs. Aguillard is a good example, which rested on the idea that the First Amendment prohibits the endorsement of religion. Of course, thereâs my favorite, Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover, which showed that Intelligent Design is just creationism in a cheap tux, and teaching it violates the Establishment Clause. Iâll note that the Kitzmiller judge was a conservative Republican, and his written opinion on ID (in which the phrase âbreathtaking inanityâ is used) made him one of my personal heroes.

This is also simply the wrong thing to do. Young-Earth creationism is provably, overwhelmingly wrong in every way. Teaching it to children is stunting their ability to learn about the real world, and putting them at a severe disadvantage to children taught real science. Of course, not everyone agrees with this assessment, but the unconstitutionality of teaching creationism using public funds is not at question.

This is a problem in many places, perhaps nowhere more than Louisiana. Governor Bobby Jindal, about whom I have written before, recently signed into law a terrible ideaâgiven the Orwellian name of the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA)âthat allows teachers to use âsupplemental materialâ that specifically and with intent is designed to undermine real science, especially evolution. Itâs clear Jindalâs support of vouchers is, in no small way, meant to further this goal. And itâs costing Louisiana taxpayers millions of dollars.

The good news? We have a good guy on our side: Zack Kopplin, who has been tirelessly tracking and fighting the teaching of creationism in that state for many years. He has been vocal, and tried twice (with the support of Louisiana State Senator Karen Carter Peterson) to repeal the LSEA. Both times he came up short, but heâs going at it a third time. He wonât quit.

Heâs also tracking what schools are accepting vouchers across the country, and so far has found 310âthree hundred ten!âthat teach creationism, in nine states and in the District of Columbia. They are receiving tens of millions of dollars for these vouchers.

And itâs not just that schools are downplaying evolution. The heroes at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) just wrote about schools in Texas that are actively teaching creationism. This doesnât surprise me at all, and wonât for readers who know my long-standing displeasure with the teaching of science in that state (and if you arenât, a quick Google search will enlighten you). The NCSE also reports that antievolution legislation was just introduced in Missouri as well.

This is a fight, and it will not end. Itâs been around a long time, and will continue; for years polls have remained fairly steady, showing that roughly half of all Americans think the Earth is less than 10,000 years old.

These people are wrong. They have every right to believe that, and even to teach it to their kidsâ¦at home or in church. But not at public schools, and not with public funds. That represents a clear violation of the U. S. Constitutionâs First Amendment, and we must not allow it to stand.

If you can, give Zack some love, and the NCSE too. They could use it.

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