Science for Science Teachers
Written by: Michael Ruse
In 1981, the State of Arkansas passed into law a bill that demanded that if evolution was taught in state-supported schools, then something called “Creation Science” — aka the book of Genesis read literally — had also to be taught. This happened during the interregnum between Bill Clinton’s first time in the governor’s mansion and when he regained it two years later. The bill was debated for all of half an hour by the legislature and signed by the then-governor, a man as unqualified for the post as he was surprised at getting it.
Obviously this law violated the First Amendment separation of church and state, and so the ACLU swung into action to get it declared unconstitutional. After a two-week trial, the federal judge ruled precisely that and so that was the end of the Arkansas “Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Scient Act,” as it was called. I was one of the witnesses for the plaintiff, called in to testify on the history and philosophy of science, showing that whereas evolutionary theory is science, creation science is not science but religion.
Among the other expert witnesses was the late Stephen Jay Gould, the well-known paleontologist and popular-science writer, and the late Langdon Gilkey, the most eminent liberal theologian of his day. But far more impressive than any of us was a local, high school biology teacher. I remember sitting in the courtroom as he testified. The assistant attorney general was trying to tie him into knots over some technical point in evolutionary biology. Finally, the man blurted out: “Mr. Williams, I’m not a scientist. I’m a science educator. I love science, I really do. And I love my students. My job is to take the science and teach it to my students. I am not a leading researcher. I am an educator, and I have my pride and professional responsibilities. And I just can’t teach that stuff [meaning creationism] to my kids.” Sometimes it is just a privilege to listen to other human beings and recognize that they are better people than you are. (I am quoting from memory. I have just looked at the actual transcript of the trial. The teacher’s words are even more moving that I remembered.)
I have been thinking about that man a lot since I wrote my piece on why I am weeping for Florida State University. In that post, I made the point that there is something seriously out of kilter in an institution, claiming to be a place of higher education, that lavishes funds on the football program but starves the academic side. In passing, I made reference to one of the very good things that is happening on the FSU campus,: the project to upgrade the teaching of future school teachers of mathematics and science.