Scientists Urged To Continue Their Efforts
Washington--Last week, on the eve of U.S. District Judge William R. Overton's ruling that Arkansas's creation-science law is unconstitutional, the largest general science association in the country demonstrated that it does not think the creationism-evolution conflict is over.
At the annual meeting here of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (aaas), which represents 136,000 of the nation's scientists, the organization's executive board passed a resolution that condemned creationism as a set of ideas with "no scientific validity."
And at two symposiums on the creationism-evolution controversy, the scientists were warned that a favorable ruling in the American Civil Liberties Union's suit challenging Arkansas's creation-science law would not mean the end of the creationist movement.
Stanley L. Weinberg of the Iowa Academy of Science, who has organized a national network of "committees of correspondence" to help fight creationism at the local level, warned against "premature celebration."
"To win their battle, the creationists do not need legislative successes or favorable court decisions," he said. "These can be helpful, and they make good propaganda, but they are almost irrelevant to the decisive confrontation, for which the arena is public opinion in local communities."
Scientists need to use the same tactics that creationists do, said Mr. Weinberg, tactics that he called "the standard practices of American politics": holding meetings, distributing literature, buying television and radio time, and lobbying school-board members and state legislators.
Mr. Weinberg said his committees of correspondence, which have grown in number from one to more than 40 in the past two years, have helped teachers and parents defeat local creationism movements in dozens of cases throughout the country, and helped defeat creationist bills in 20 states in the last year.
Wayne A. Moyer, executive director of the National Association of Biology Teachers, also cautioned against the idea that creationism has been defeated, saying that "creationist pressure in 1982 will be intense."
Despite the outcome of the Arkansas trial, he said, a revised creationism bill is being circulated in many state legislatures. He also argued that, regardless of the fate of these bills, creationism has to be fought as a "grassroots political movement."
Kenneth S. Saladin, a biology teacher at Georgia College, described the statewide and local creationism activity in his state--starting with the "regrettable" news that Georgia will probably be the next state to pass a creationism bill.
Georgia will consider two bills in its new legislative session. House Bill 690, which came close to being approved by the Georgia General Assembly in 1980, has been modified to allow any school district to exempt itself from the law by holding a voter referendum on the issue, thus making the teaching of creationism voluntary rather than mandatory.
And a new bill, House Bill 1120, permits any school district to hold a referendum to approve adoption of creationism in the curriculum.
Mr. Saladin said that it is "almost certain" that one of the two bills will pass this year.
"But a still more difficult crea-tionist tactic to deal with," he added, "is their making appeals to individual school boards."
Several symposium participants mentioned the importance of better science education in the fight against creationism. William E. Ellis, a history teacher at Eastern Kentucky University, said the "clear message" from a survey he did on high-school teachers' attitudes about the controversy is that they want to be better prepared to teach and defend evolution.
Langdon Gilkey, a faculty member at the University of Chicago Divinity School and a witness for the plaintiffs in the Arkansas trial, said, "This new fundamentalist reaction against evolution arises in part because of the frequently careless and uninformed way evolution has been taught. Each time a child comes home and reports, 'I learned in science class today that Genesis is wrong,' the seed is planted for the creationist reaction."
Mr. Saladin said that better education of biology teachers who will have to defend evolution in front of school boards is important.
"I hope you'll forgive me," he said, "if I admit that I like having the creationist buffoons around. They have stimulated me to attain a much deeper and more appreciative understanding of evolution, and to do a more conscientious job of teaching it."
Mr. Saladin conducts a 10-week undergraduate seminar on religious opposition to science, and a summer course for science teachers in which he spends a week on creationism.
Like Mr. Weinberg, he urges scientists to "get out of the laboratory and get into the street fight, where the action is."
"Get involved," he said, "in a war you are now losing."