Zack Kopplin is a self-described “investigative journalist and activist” who specializes in slinging the scare word “creationist” around where it doesn’t belong. His current article at The Daily Beast, where he writes irregularly, is a classic: “Creationism in Texas Could Go Extinct on Election Day.”
ENV‘s Sarah Chaffee and Jonathan Witt have written to urge against “gutting” science standards in the state — lowering the bar for students when it comes to getting a rounded, objective view of the evidence for and against Darwinian theory. “Creationism” has nothing to do with it, and in fact as a religious doctrine, creationist teaching has already been found to be unconstitutional for public schools.
Yet Zack invokes “creationism” and “creationists” 29 times in his article, including branding Discovery Institute as a “creationist think tank responsible for similar creationism laws in Louisiana and Tennessee,” managing to pack three falsehoods into just 12 words. He’s highly resistant to understanding the subject he covers. In fact, we used to exchange tweets, but he’s since blocked me on Twitter, a gauge of his curiosity about what his imagined “creationists” actually say.
At a certain point, in following media coverage of academic freedom laws like these (which explicitly do not mandate or offer protection for teaching creationism or any religious doctrine), you get a little cynical about “journalists.” Or “activists” — once upon a time there was a difference. But then along comes a breath of fresh air — delivered by Tyler O’Neil at PJ Media (“Is Texas About To Weaken Its Evolution Standards?“). Mr. O’Neil read Kopplin’s article, evidently noted that Kopplin quoted nobody at Discovery Institute — other than citing an unidentified “whistle blower” claiming that everything we do is because of religion. (Zack’s hyperlink for more about the mystery source is, unfortunately, broken.)
O’Neil then did something so rare as to be remarkable. He contacted Discovery Institute and requested comments from our colleague Sarah Chaffee, who responded crisply and factually for attribution. He then accurately represented her answers to his questions for his readers! Read the resulting article for yourself. We were floored by it:
Proposed changes to Texas public school science standards are making waves. The Daily Beast’s Zach Kopplin warned that “Creationism in Texas Could Go Extinct on Election Day.” But the old science standards did not teach creationism — they presented a full scientific view of evolution: its weaknesses along with its strengths. Perhaps ironically, these changes have faith and science groups demanding more teaching on evolution, not less.
“We think it’s good for students to learn more about evolution, not less,” Sarah Chaffee, program officer in education and public policy at the Discovery Institute, told PJ Media in an email statement. She corrected Kopplin’s article, which refers to Texas’ current science standards as “creationist.”
“Texas’ science standards do not authorize teaching creationism — which is a religious belief entailing a supernatural creator,” Chaffee explained. Furthermore, the standards “also do not authorize teaching about intelligent design — which ‘holds that certain features of the universe and living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.’ Discovery Institute does not advocate pushing intelligent design into public schools.”
So what did the old standards say, and why do some see them as “creationist?” Chaffee argued that “these standards reference only current scientific debates over such issues as the fossil record [an in-depth review of abrupt appearance as explained in mainstream evolutionary biology is available here. Other information on scientific controversies is also available.] These are well-documented in the scientific literature.”
Miss Chaffee clarifies, as noted above, that “creationism” is not the issue here.
As Chaffee explained, “teaching creationism in public schools is unconstitutional,” according to the Supreme Court’s 1987 ruling in Edwards v. Aguillard. “If Texas science standards had authorized the teaching of creationism, they would have been struck down long ago.”
Instead, there are two “fundamental changes” under consideration to the state’s science standards, and again, O’Neil knocked us off our chair by stating these accurately and offering responses from Sarah Chaffee. He even goes the extra mile and gets a comment from Jim Stump at BioLogos. The theistic evolutionary advocacy group “welcome[s] the proposed changes.”
Fine, let’s have that discussion, but for goodness sake, not before clarifying the actual questions at stake. Tyler O’Neil has done admirable — and sadly rare — work on behalf of clarity and accuracy. Give the man a Pulitzer Prize.