Those who challenge the teaching of creationism -- the notion that the authoritative text for the explanation for the earth's creation is the Book of Genesis -- as science in public schools have rightly focused on the First Amendment's mandate for separation of church and state as the basis of their legal claims.
But that emphasis has obscured an equally important cultural issue at the core of the creation argument: the increasing resistance in our society to accept the findings of scientists.
Today, this phenomenon finds itself expressed by legislation in the great State of Kentucky, which, if passed, will "encourage," according to the New York Times
, "the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories," including "evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning." This is exactly the academic-freedom strategy adopted by right-wingers in Pennsylvania, Kansas and elsewhere who attempted to challenge the teaching of Darwin's explanation of human evolution. But the Pennsylvania effort was famously knocked down by the courts on First Amendment grounds.
The Kentucky bill offers more than a legislative strategy; it advances a legal one. For if a thesis widely accepted by the scientific establishment can be challenged for reasons not based on religious faith, the First Amendment's religion protections don't factor in. (The Bible doesn't have much to say about climate change, per se
.) Once the climate-change-deniers get under the rope of public-school science teaching, there's no reason to keep those who deny the theory of evolution equal status to Darwin.
From today's New York Times:
The linkage of evolution and global warming is partly a legal strategy: courts have found that singling out evolution for criticism in public schools is a violation of the separation of church and state. By insisting that global warming also be debated, deniers of evolution can argue that they are simply championing academic freedom in general.
As the United States struggles to compete in technological fields with such nations as India and China, this bodes quite ill for our nation's capacity in the future.
But worse than that is the acceptance of authoritarianism that ignorant, curiosity-challenged populations exhibit. Once the population rejects that which true knowledge reveals, the man in charge is free to advance any fantastic narrative he chooses, with buy-in from the ignorant proles.