One of the amusing truths about the religious right’s victories is how they typically precede a later decline. The attempt to ban the teaching of evolution during the Scopes “Monkey” Trial was dismal, utter failure at the peak of the movement’s influence. The failure of atheistic communism was treated as a blessing to a God-fearing nation as Christian identity politics waned before a burgeoning secularism.
On a much smaller and local scale, but with national importance because of Texas’s influence, it pleased me to see the March primary defeat of far right chart-topper Donald “Don” McLeroy of the Texas State Board of Education just as biblical creationism was finding its chance for a prominent role in state textbooks.
Now comes the chance to oust Ken Mercer — described by the Texas Freedom Network as the “chief defender of the board’s creationist faction” — from our own district. Mercer accepts microevolution (such as in mutations of flu), lest he appear totally ridiculous to even the devout, but rejects macroevolution because he has never seen a “dog-cat” or “cat-rat.” Nevermind the transitional fossil record in all of this, but it shows the losing ground on which the creationists stand. They now must grant some credit to Darwinian theory, as a push for an outright ban just won’t do.
Mercer is then best described as a soft creationist, and he repeats his allies’ insistence that inserting religious dogma into biology classrooms is actually a valuable opportunity in scientific inquiry and exploration, coupled with the authoritative term “intelligent design” to give the bupkis a sense of legitimacy. This is a pretense, though I doubt it is self-consciously so. It is certainly, however, a tactical shift. Creationists have found arguments based on faith are not in fact arguments, and have instead adopted pseudoscientific babble. Mercer is the ShamWow of Texas creationism: by outward appearances attractive, but really just a glorified damp sponge.
In contrast is Rebecca Bell-Metereau a professor at Texas State and a principled opponent of Mercer’s extremism. She has also sharply criticized the state’s emphasis on teaching students to take tests and little else (with the resulting loss of academic independence). Increasing standardization is often ignored, excused or encouraged by the left, and I like to see a candidate reject it.
Bell-Metereau has not, however, escaped the left’s habit of calling for a depoliticized, managerial education system. She does not think the state should “politicize the curriculum.” But if academic curriculum is decided by an elected state committee, then it is implicitly subject to politicization. The only way to take politics out of education is to take the state out of education itself, by destroying one or the other, or both, or by taking yourself or your children out of it. But then wouldn’t this also be political? Ah, nevermind.
Last month, I advised students to keep a distanced, skeptical and independent outlook on politics. I still think this is the right attitude to take. But I wouldn’t suggest disengaging completely. One has to deal with politics in some manner, and if the teaching of evolution helps demolish the influence of the faith-based, while defending the separation of church and state, then it is an effort I will gladly take part. The best I can do is to vote — and agitate here — for stopping cheap hucksters like Mercer from scribbling over our science textbooks. Let’s make a fight out of this, because here it is political.
— Robert Beckhusen is a journalism junior