Why We Oppose the Petition to Ban Creationism

Ten days ago we posted about a White House Petition to Ban Creationism. Since then the thing has had some attention in the blogosphere, with a few traditionally pro-science blogs actually supporting the petition and urging people to go to the White House website to vote for it. We think this is folly.

But before we give you our reasons, here’s some background information. The petition can be found here: Ban Creationism and Intelligent Design in the science classroom as federal law. It’s only two paragraphs long, after which it ends with this embarrassing typo:

Therefore, we petition the Obama Adminstration [sic] to ban the teachings of these conjectures that contradict Evolution.

You may be wondering what this White House petition process is all about. If you haven’t heard of it before, that’s because it’s new. Here’s a Wikipedia article on it: We the People (petitioning system). As we said in our earlier post:

When they first started accepting petitions, in September of 2011, only 5,000 signatures were required, but that’s been raised a couple of times and now it’s 100,000 — see Why We’re Raising the Signature Threshold for We the People.

The petition to ban creationism already has 39,000 signatures, and it needs a bit more than 60,000 more before it reaches the magic 100K mark. Then what happens? Nothing, really. It doesn’t mean a thing. As we said before about the petition process:

It looks like a way to let people harmlessly blow off steam, sort of like Red China’s Democracy Wall.

But aside from the typo and the overall meaninglessness of the petition, why does your Curmudgeon oppose the thing? We’re going to repeat here a comment we made this morning at Panda’s Thumb, in their thread Things To Do This Weekend, which — wrongly we think — suggests that the petition should be supported. We said:

The White House petition is an absurdity. It’s wrongly conceived for several reasons. To begin with, such petitions are a recent invention by the current administration, and other than being an online place where people can blow off steam, they have no legal significance at all. Even if the petition achieves the magic number of 100K (that number has been increased at least twice during the brief existence of the program), nothing will happen to implement its demands.

Secondly, when faced with “academic freedom” laws in the states, we’ve always said that the validity of scientific theories isn’t decided through the political process – yet that’s what this petition seeks to accomplish. Thirdly, the federal government has no constitutional authority over what’s taught in public schools, so the action being demanded is legally impossible.

Fourth, there are potentially negative consequences of this – in a public relations sense. The petition plays into the hands of those who are always whining that “Darwinists” are bullies. Also, it won’t be long before creationists launch their own petition to ban evolution – or at least to teach “both sides.” That petition won’t mean anything either – legally – but it could probably get at least a million supporters. So if you like the idea of science being played out as a propaganda war, then you’ll love this petition process.

I’ve saved the most trivial objection for last. The petition’s author is not only ignorant of how meaningless the White House petition process is, how science works, what the Constitution says, and what the possible negative effects of this could be, but he can’t even spell-check – the petition has a typo.

I think the petition is wrong at every level, and it’s not deserving of support. Instead of voting for it, it’s probably better to criticize it.

But that’s not all. The more we think about this thing, the more it seems to us that whoever created the petition — one “A. J.” allegedly from Vienna, VA, is likely not someone who favors sound science education. We suspect that it’s really something concocted by a small group of “clever” creationists — possibly in some dingy Seattle “think tank” — who want to demonstrate how “intolerant” we “Darwinists” really are, and how we want to suppress their glorious insights about creation science and intelligent design, and how we’ll resort to governmental force to maintain our “atheistic monopoly” on public education.

Think about it. The petition is not only politically ridiculous, but it makes no sense in any other way. It’s understandable only if it’s seen as part of a creationist campaign to spread misinformation about science and science education. Science exists and is taught because of its merits. It’s not something like political (or ecclesiastical) power that grows out of the barrel of a gun.

Therefore, your Curmudgeon not only opposes the petition, but we repudiate the motives behind it. We denounce its very existence, and we urge you to do likewise.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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16 responses to “Why We Oppose the Petition to Ban Creationism

  1. The nice thing about these petitions is:
    (a) they are meaningless;
    (b) they can be entertaining.

  2. Another petition website had a petition to ban chemtrails a couple months ago. I think it got more sigs than the ban creationism petition has. The chemtrail petition was clearly a spoof of a silly concept, but people kept signing it and spreading the word. I was tempted to start a Ban Alien Abduction petition after seeing the response the chemtrail petition received.

  3. docbill1351

    If creationism was banned then we’d all have to flock to Curmie’s site to discuss orchids or scone recipes. Imagine the calamity!

  4. How about petitioning for a ban on DHMO (dihydrogen monoxide)?

  5. Yeah, lets ban DHMO! Too much of that stuff can kill you. How many people die from DHMO every year? Too many. We demand action! I wonder how many nutty Congresspeople will sign onto that petition?

  6. Retired Prof

    No need to ban DHMO, since it is so easily neutralized. Mix a liter of it with a liter of hydrogen hydroxide, and you get two liters of plain water.

  7. “No need to ban DHMO, since it is so easily neutralized. Mix a liter of it with a liter of hydrogen hydroxide, and you get two liters of plain water.”

    Quite so, Prof. But, how many Congresspeople (Congresspeople? Well, let’s be gender equal) know that?

  8. I have to agree with our Curmudgeon on this one: the petition is a silly blunder and irrelevant to good science or good education. Dover/Kitzmiller demonstrates that US Constitutional safeguard against establishment of religion is sufficiently robust to see off the antics of the cdesign proponentists–even if they themselves don’t recognise that.

  9. Garnetstar

    My understanding is that creationism is already “banned” in the science classroom, due to Edwards v. Aguilar. And, what authority does a president have to ban some subject or other? It’s SCOTUS that decides what is free speech or what is promotion of religion by the state.

    Not only meaningless, stupid as well. That *does* sound like the Discovery Institute!

  10. longshadow

    This petition proposes actions that impinge on the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution. The 1st Amendment cuts both ways; religious instruction (to which Creationism, and it’s tarted-up cousin, Cdesign proponentsists Intelligent Design, both belong) is already forbidden from public schools under the establishment clause, but the amendment’s free exercise of religion, AND its freedom of speech clauses, both forbid the government from interfering with any private institution or individual that wants to teach creationist twaddle.

    Also, the petition is badly constructed in the sense that teaching Creationism (or any other biological theory) is orthogonal to student performance in math and many sciences, contrary to the assertion the petition makes.

  11. Johnnyrelentless

    Here’s why you’re wrong, Mr. Curmudgeon:

    The petition does not not seek to ban science, it seeks to ban religion being taught in the classroom. Science is still perfectly free to be debated, questioned, and fact checked.

    As for White House petitions being meaningless, they are not. Do they automatically result in a law being made? Of course not. Does that mean they are useless? Of course not. They are a way for the people to at least get an acknowledgement from the White House that their issue has been heard as well as to bring attention to it from a wider audience: the rest of the people.

    How you only recently found out about White House petitions I don’t know. They’ve been in the news quite a bit over the last few years since their creation. At worst this particular petition is just another way for Church/State supporters to be heard.

  12. retiredsciguy

    The score: Mr. Curmudgeon, 4; Mr. Relentless, 0. Sorry, Johnny, but it is very difficult to top the Curmudgeon’s logic.

  13. Yes, Relentless did not address our concerns. He will not find a more anti-creationist audience anywhere, and he can’t even win us over.

    If we make a petition to ‘ban’ their ideas, they can make a petition to ‘ban’ ours just as easily. The US Constitution was based on enlightened self-interest. Which is a fancy way of saying: don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you.

  14. I’ve FB’d and tweeted my agreement with this post. Religion in the classroom is already unconstitutional in the US. Defining creationism would be legally impossible, as would the distinction between teaching it as true (bad) and learning about, discussing, and dissecting it (which we badly need to do, in order to develop better strategies against it).

  15. Techreseller

    Before I start I agree with our Curmudgeon. I live in Vienna. I know AJ. He is a high school student. Smart, focused and just a little bit to earnest if you know what I mean. He is not a creationist. Wrong on this maybe, but well intentioned.