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Creation 'science'

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As Barry Yeoman writes this week, the anti-evolution movement is alive and kicking and, apparently, setting its sights on the youngest among us. This at a time when there is agreement across the political spectrum that we need to double down on science education.

It would be easy to dismiss this effort as the work of zealots or crackpots, except that educators and school boards across the nation are facing pressure to alter their definition of science so that it doesn't offend the religious right. The recent case in Dover, Pa., shows that a public that is not vigilant could see their curriculum hijacked for religious purposes. As the ruling in the case details, the effort to elevate Intelligent Design to science was a thinly disguised ruse by anti-evolutionists.

When first I ran across an account of the work of Ken Ham, whose approach to "debunking" evolution Yeoman witnessed last weekend in Rocky Mount, I couldn't help thinking about certain aspects of my high school education in Florida circa the mid-1970s. There, I had a few encounters with creationism myself.

The first was when the teacher in my state-required Comparative Political Systems class (the name of the course had been changed the year before from "Americanism vs. Communism," but the textbook was the same) took some time out to talk about his conversion from socialism to Christ and to hawk his book on God and evolution. His point was that evolution, like communism, was a threat to our way of life. The guy is now a rather notorious member of the anti-science Christian fringe. His latest crusade: Copernicus was wrong.

My second memorable encounter was when my ninth grade biology teacher announced that we would study creation theory for a couple of class periods. Anyone who didn't want to learn about it was excused to go to the library. The way he put it, though, it didn't seem like a good idea to leave. Only the kid who spent most of his time sleeping in the corner got up and left.

What followed, in part, was a rather amazing lecture explaining that the firmament mentioned in Genesis was actually a great band of water in space that surrounded the earth and shielded us from cosmic rays. That, my teacher explained, was why folks pre-Noah typically lived for 1,000 years and why we don't. The great flood, we were told, was the heavenly ordered descent of the firmament (to drown the sinners, of course).

A few days latter, we went back to cutting up frogs and fetal pigs.

In a way, I could not have received a better series of lessons:

—Remain skeptical.

—Check things out on your own.

—Some people are just plain freaky.

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