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This article is from the In-Depth Report Creationism Vs. Evolution

Evolving Creationism in the Classroom

Creationists cast themselves as proponents of "academic freedom"



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If it's September, it's time for creationism in schools. That's how some would like it, anyway.

Sure, evolution is the linchpin of modern biology, explaining everything from antibiotic resistance in bacteria to the progression of species found in the fossil record.

That didn't stop Republican vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, from expressing the idea that creationism—the biblical notion that God created Earth and its life forms a few thousand years ago–should get equal footing with evolution in public school science classes. "Teach both," she said during a 2006 televised gubernatorial debate. "You know, don't be afraid of information."

She isn't the only one who feels that way. In the past, proponents of creationism have tried to sell it as "creation science" or "intelligent design"—the idea that life is too complex to have evolved without divine intervention. But after a landmark legal setback in Pennsylvania (teaching intelligent design  in the public schools was found to violate the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state), creationists have retooled their approach. This year's buzzwords were "academic freedom" and "strengths and weaknesses".

Lawmakers in several states drew inspiration from a petition published in February by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based group promoting intelligent design. The petition argued that teachers should not be penalized for "objectively presenting the scientific strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian theory" and students should be allowed to express their views on those same strengths and weaknesses.

Creationists chalked up a notable win with this approach in Louisiana, where Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal in June signed into law the Louisiana Science Education Act. Similar bills were introduced this year in Florida, Missouri, Michigan, South Carolina and Alabama.

In Texas, the state school board is one vote short of approving new educational standards in March that allow a curriculum that highlights the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution. It's all part of a gradual rhetorical shift away from talking about creationism and intelligent design toward casting doubt on evolution, says Joshua Rosenau, spokesperson for the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif.

"They have this idea," he says, "that it's a zero-sum game, so anything you can do to knock evolution down actually promotes creationism without having to say the word."

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