Genesis Through the Back Door

American high school seniors rank 16th among 21 industrialized nations when it comes to achievement in science, and you can bet a frozen mastodon that the leaders -- Sweden, the Netherlands, Iceland and Norway -- got there with a stronger curriculum and better-trained teachers, not with endless court fights over creationism.

Yet fighting creationism has evolved into a booming business for the American Civil Liberties Union. It is awaiting a ruling in Georgia in a suit it brought against the Cobb County school board. Seeking to mollify religious parents who take the creation story in Genesis literally and believe that their religion should intrude into their public schools, the board decided to paste a sticker inside the cover of high school biology textbooks, saying in part, “Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things.” Caveat homo sapiens. What next? A back-cover sticker to American history texts wondering if ending slavery was really such a great idea?

The evolution-hedging wording ignores the overwhelming evidence supporting the widely accepted theory of evolution. But in the politically charged world of school board politics, we suppose school leaders deserve credit for trying to solve a devil of an argument with a compromise that keeps students learning about evolution, with the full text intact, and teachers free to teach.

It was a surprising move for the often uncompromising creationists to accept the sticker, the barest of implied nods to their convictions. In their eyes, at least parents who want to teach their children creationism -- at home -- can point to the sticker to quiet that inevitable teen refrain: “You’re wrong.”


Far more troubling was last month’s decision by the Dover, Pa., school board to mandate the teaching of “intelligent design” alongside evolution. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that the required teaching of creationism as science violated the 1st Amendment. Trying to disguise creationism with the label of “intelligent design” (which sounds like an IKEA marketing pitch) doesn’t pass the smell test -- or any valid science test.