Creationist bills to be defeated


Two bills that take a new tack at trying to introduce supernatural explanations for the origin of life into Missouri’s public school science classes appear dead this year.

Having failed to get a biblical version of creation into public school science classes, conservative Christian groups tried a more oblique approach by trying to discredit the theory of evolution.

The two pieces of legislation cloaked criticisms of evolution in a veneer of academic freedom and open inquiry. Called the Missouri Science Education Act, both bills would require science instructors in 6th through 12th grades to teach a critical analysis of any science considered a theory.

While never using the term “evolution,” the bills emphasize that “a substantive amount” of criticism should be taught about any theory of biological origins. “Healthy skepticism” of scientific information should be promoted.

State assessment tests would be required to include a section on such criticisms, including questions of logic, supporting data that is missing and alternate explanations about the origins of life.

The leading bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Wayne Cooper of Camdenton, was approved by the House Education Committee on March 16. Committee Chairwoman Jane Cunningham, a Chesterfield Republican, cast the deciding vote in favor of the bill.

But each committee has a limited number of bills it can move to the House floor. Cunningham said she simply doesn’t have room for Cooper’s bill.

“The bill had a very positive hearing,” Cunningham said. “I think that’s because it’s a different bill than has been introduced before, so it’s not as controversial. It basically says to teach theory as theory and fact as fact.”

Cunningham’s description understates the controversy surrounding the bill. The Education Committee approved the bill by the narrowest of margins. Seven Republicans supported the measure; one Republican joined five Democrats in opposition. The only Republican opposing the bill was Rep. Maynard Wallace, a former school superintendent.

It was supported by several conservative social organizations, including the Missouri Eagle Forum and the Missouri Family Network’s Christian Life Commission. It was opposed by a wide range of teachers’ groups, school organizations and several faith-based groups, including the Jewish Community Relations Council in St. Louis.

Batya Abramson-Goldstein, the council’s executive director, said the bill was simply the latest effort to bring religion into science class. Calling it the Science Education Act didn’t change the bill’s intent or its effect, she said.

Otto Fajen, chief lobbyist for the Missouri affiliate of the National Education Association, said the bill’s intention was to water down science education. Such a policy, he said, carries significant implications for Missouri’s economic future.

“Our kids will be competing against folks in Asia and other parts of the world who are not constrained by certain segments of the population that are unwilling to acknowledge what science tells us about the natural world because it doesn’t fit into their notions,” Fajen said. “We need to be doing our utmost to increase science literacy so our kids can compete.”

Cooper, the bill’s sponsor, said such criticism missed the point of the bill. He said the measure would improve discussion of science by fostering open inquiry in the classroom. A critical look at scientific theories and ideas about the origin of life would expand academic freedom by freeing teachers from a narrow view of science, he said.

Cooper, a physician, said science classes are biased against any critical review of evolution and against open inquiry of alternative explanations.

“The question is, do we want to keep the status quo or allow a fuller discussion of science?” Cooper said. “People with control now don’t want to relinquish that ground. I don’t want to tell teachers what to teach. But should one theory dominate without the facts to support it?”

Abramson-Goldstein said if Cooper’s view were to prevail, students’ literacy in science would be seriously diminished. Rather than encouraging open inquiry, the bill would mix science and religion, she said.

“This would get kids to look at science as a big blur,” Abramson-Goldstein said. “When you peel away the layers, you have religion being brought into the science classroom. And science and religion should never be pitted against each other.”

Gerry Greiman, chairman of the JCRC’s Church-State Committee, said a close reading of the bill shows that it would require students to spend as much or more time studying alternative explanations of the origins of life than they spend studying accepted science.

Such a requirement, he said, would be “a vast intrusion into control of science curriculum” by the legislature. The proper place for such discussions is in philosophy, literature and religion classes.

“There is no scientific evidence of intelligent design,” Greiman said. “To inject this into science education is to distort science education, not enhance it.”

Cunningham said she thought it was a stretch for critics to equate the bill with an endorsement of creationism or intelligent design, which holds that the complexity of the natural world can be explained only by the intervention of a divine creator. She said she saw nothing wrong with requiring state assessment tests to ask students to critically examine any scientific theory.

“If we teach them about it, the tests should reflect that,” Cunningham said. “This bill is just about telling the truth.”

Cooper said he planned to discuss his bill with teachers’ unions and other parts of the education establishment to find ways to make his bill more palatable, while still addressing what he sees as bias in traditional science curriculum.

“I couldn’t have faith that everything happened by chance,” Cooper said.

A two-hour public forum on science education issues is scheduled Thursday, April 6, beginning at 7 p.m. at Clayton High School. The forum, “Why Intelligent Design is wrong for public schools and why it matters to you,” is sponsored by the Danforth Plant Science Center, the Jewish Community Relations Council, Washington University and cooperating school districts.


The Missouri Senate voted 30-1 to create the Holocaust Education and Awareness Commission, a 12-member panel that would operate under the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The legislation must still be approved by the House.

Kit Wagar is the statehouse correspondent for the Kansas City Star. He can be reached at 816-234-4440 or by sending e-mail to [email protected].