photo by tastypiesinc (source: Flickr Creative Commons)

The politicization of science class in the American public education system is nothing new, the main issue of contention being the teaching of evolution or natural selection in biology classes.

Recently, however, teaching climate change in state schools has come under fire from skeptics in much the same way that evolution in the science curriculum has been challenged by creationism – most lately the proponents of intelligent design.

A New York Times piece explores how in certain American states, advocates of climate change skepticism are campaigning to include their side of the climate argument in the curriculum. South Dakota has already passed measures effectively requiring this, while Texas, Louisiana and Kentucky have introduced bills bundling the two subjects of climate change and evolution into a group of subjects of which – to quote George W. Bush – ‘the jury is out’. These states now encourage or promote ‘critical thinking’ or presenting ‘all sides’ on subjects such as global warming, the origins of life, evolution and human cloning.

The issues of religion, evolution and climate science are separate issues for most part, but do have a large crossover, probably to the chagrin of atheistic skeptics or evangelical environmentalists. (Yes, there are plenty of both.) But the legal and political advantages to this kind of bundling bring a certain biblical parable to mind, something about killing two birds with one stone.

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.

–New York Times

John G. West, a senior fellow with the intelligent design advocacy group the Discovery Institute:

‘There is a lot of similar dogmatism on this issue, […] with scientists being persecuted for findings that are not in keeping with the orthodoxy. We think analyzing and evaluating scientific evidence is a good thing, whether that is about global warming or evolution.’

–New York Times

But creationist beliefs are generally founded in dogma. This isn’t a criticism, as creation accounts undeniably come from scripture believed to be the word of God. It is also where fundamentalist teachings always seem to butt heads with science – if we take the Bible to be literally true, scientific findings that contradict its words must be inherently false. It isn’t a case of logic vs. faith, but rather of trying to force the two into the same mold. In other words, why use science to prove or disprove something if you feel that science itself isn’t authoritative? The conflation of science and religion is comparable to the conflation of science and politics already apparent in the climate debate, never mind religion and politics.

Anyway, those skeptical of global warming might find legal and political strength by teaming up with the enemies of Darwin, but such associations can’t help their scientific arguments. Of course, those arguments should be judged by evidence and not the politics or religion of the people behind them – but they sure don’t half make it hard.

by Graham Land

Read the Leslie Kaufman’s article ‘Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets’ in The New York Times.