Cadre of US fundamentalists determined to see biblical tenets added to courses

June 23, 2006

Creationists in academe have tried but have so far failed to influence university science courses in the US, an expert has told The Times Higher , writes Jessica Shepherd.

John Staver, director of the Centre for Science Education at Kansas State University, has tracked the creationist movement for seven years. He believes that most adherents have been given short shrift by their academic peers despite the rise in Christian fundamentalism in the US.

A poll earlier this month revealed that 46 per cent of Americans believe that human beings did not evolve but were created by God in their present form within the past 10,000 years.

Just 13 per cent agreed that: "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process."

This month, a biology professor accused a textbook of allowing the teaching of creationism to sneak in by the back door.

Jim Sparks, at Virginia Commonwealth University, complained that Essentials of Biology published by McGraw-Hill Press omits critical chapters on evolutionary biology.

His university denied this. A spokeswoman told The Times Higher that although the textbook had a few paragraphs on creationism and intelligent design, it had several chapters on evolution.

Professor Staver, who is a Christian, believes that academics on both sides of the Atlantic must remain vigilant. "The UK science community needs to keep its radar up in terms of what creationists are doing," he said.

He said that creationists were now concentrating on schools in an effort to influence school curricula.

"We in the US are just waking up to their latest strategies of gaining influence in schools," he said.

"But universities - apart from a handful of private ones run by Christian faith groups, such as Wheaton College in Illinois - tend to be populated by academics with strong views about science. Creationists have tried and failed to gain real influence in universities. They are still not getting their papers on intelligent design published in journals, either."

Professor Staver said there were six proponents of intelligent design or creationists out of ten members on the Kansas State Board of Education.

Their influence has meant that teachers are forced to incorporate criticisms of evolution into the curriculum. He believes that it has also deterred high-tech and scientific businesses from setting up branches in Kansas.

He said: "Many of the most conservative Christians ultimately want a Christian theocracy, which would basically break down the wall of separation between Church and State.

"This contradicts the US Constitution's First Amendment, which bans the establishment of a single faith."

Last December, a judge overturned an attempt to put intelligent design on the science curriculum of schools in Dover County, Pennsylvania. In January, a California school district settled out of court with parents who sued over its decision to incorporate intelligent design into philosophy lessons.

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