Zack Kopplin, The 19-Year-Old Face of the Anti-Creationist Movement

Having fought his battles in Louisiana, the Rice University student is now ready for Texas and any move to put faux science in the public schools here.

Zack Kopplin, The 19-Year-Old Face of the Anti-Creationist Movement

When Zack Kopplin was six years old, his younger sister, Lila, came bounding down their Baton Rouge stairs. Joining her family at the table, she shared her news.

"I know where babies come from!" she exclaimed brightly. "God makes the babies up in heaven and brings them down to mommies and daddies."

Zack, who'd just finished reading a children's biography of Charles Darwin, leapt from his chair, bursting to Lila's side of the table. "That is not right!" he shouted. "That is not right, Lila! Babies don't come from God — they come from monkeys!"

Zack Kopplin took an early interest in both the natural and the prehistoric world.
Photo courtesy of Andrea Neighbours
Zack Kopplin took an early interest in both the natural and the prehistoric world.
His childhood fascination with dinosaurs and fossils helped spur his current opposition to publicly funded creationism.
Photo courtesy of Andrea Neighbours
His childhood fascination with dinosaurs and fossils helped spur his current opposition to publicly funded creationism.

"No, God!"

"Monkeys!"

"God!"

"Monkeys!"

And on it went, neither child allowing any ground.

Nearly a dozen years on, and with a more finely tuned understanding of Darwin's theories, Kopplin learned that the Louisiana State Legislature would be presenting something similar to Lila's argument. It was late 2010, and the state was holding a public hearing on potentially scrapping the textbooks pipelined for Louisiana students and replacing them with ones including creationism.

To be sure, creationism was already legal in Louisiana. Kopplin — who had worked on a senior project focusing on the Louisiana Science Education Act, a misnomer that had legalized the study of creationism — was hoping to prevent it from entering public textbooks. "This was just to stem the bleeding," he says.

Kopplin settled into his seat, a 12-person panel, including the pair of legislators who'd sponsored the LSEA, semicircling over him. He placed his papers in front of him. Kopplin, who'd long preferred burying his head in books and news feeds to making direct eye contact, looked up. He found the legislators' faces.

"Look, I know we have a science problem," he began. "And some will say the LSEA requires you to do this, because that's the message pushed. Some will say we need different textbooks because we're confused about the [evolution] controversy. But that's not true."

He paused. The two legislators, the two who'd injected religion directly, deeply, into the education of public school students, shuffled uncomfortably and watched. Kopplin continued.

"And frankly, the LSEA is an unconstitutional creationism law. And it needs to be repealed."

Kopplin, shoving the butterflies aside, had accosted a pair of state legislators about a bill violating the Establishment Clause. He breathed. He'd begun.

Three years, countless speeches and 78 Nobel laureate signatures later, Kopplin, now 19 and a student at Rice University, has taken his fight to Houston, to Texas. And if our state's legislators don't yet know his name — if they haven't seen him all over cable news or haven't read his writings on famed evolutionist Richard Dawkins's Web site — they soon will.

Because Texas, over the course of this next legislative session, will likely be deciding on a form of voucher funding for its public school students. And unlike Louisiana, this state still has an opportunity to forgo sending public funds to creationist academies.

And Kopplin, who has thrown all his energies into his research, has begun touring both the state and the nation to make sure that his new home does not become like his old.
_____________________

"This is the civil rights issue of our time," Republican state Senator Dan Patrick tells me in early February. Patrick, bedecked in a canary scarf symbolizing his support of something he's taken to calling "school choice," is sitting in an emptying gymnasium. He's just finished pacing a stage, running the numbers and the narratives of the students who'd escaped the crumbling rings of public education.

He's calling for an overhaul of the charter system and noting, time and again, how much bipartisan support he's received. Indeed, Representative Gene Wu says Patrick is one of the few Republicans who are not simply pushing for an increase in charter allotment, but also acknowledge that the $5.4 billion hacked from the public education coffers in 2011 was indeed a cut, rather than the slashed surplus that Governor Rick Perry posits.

Which is big, in a sense. Because Patrick, as the new head of the Senate Education Committee, has the power — the leverage, the position — to cajole Perry into reinstating the defunct funding. Plus, even if the $5.4 billion were reinstated, public funding would still be only at 2011 levels.

But Patrick won't do that. Perry wants something else, as does Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst.

And while the senator continues to sit there, bouncing numbers on the merits and the waitlists and the values of charters — 100,000 students on standby, 300,000 students failing — he alludes to the plan that is still gestating.

He won't call his proposal "vouchers." That name, non grata, has been shelved. "You bring up vouchers, and you start to see temperaments get a little warmer and heart rates quicken a little bit," says Dax Gonzalez, communications manager with the Texas Association of School Boards.

Indeed, what Patrick is planning — again, no formal language has yet gone up, so we have only sound bites and white papers — aren't vouchers, technically. Rather, what he says he wants is something he calls a Business Tax Scholarship.

There is, however, more than a mere semantic difference between vouchers and these seemingly anodyne scholarships. Instead of simply directing public education funds toward a voucher system, Patrick's plan would allow the right-leaning Legislature to funnel part of businesses' current franchise tax into some form of voucher pool. In return for their scholastic generosity, the businesses would receive attendant tax credits — swiping a break for a tax foregone.

It's an intriguing concept. "These aren't public dollars," Patrick says reassuringly. And he is — semantically, technically — correct. The monies never enter the state's treasury. They never touch government hands.

But that's little more than wordplay, lawyerly smoke obscuring the fact that funds headed to public coffers have instead been redirected from private hands toward private hands.

"What he's proposing is a racket," says Dan Quinn, communications director with Texas Freedom Network. "It's kind of like money laundering. Instead of the state providing the funds directly, Patrick can get businesses to do it. It's a racket."

And it's not simply about funds forgotten and accountability ignored. After Georgia began a widespread and wholly similar system in 2008, a New York Times investigation revealed large-scale corruption trammeling these educational transactions: Private schools building athletic empires. Boards aiding employees and relatives rather than those in need. Schools taking the public scholarships to buttress antigay policies.

More worrying to many, though, was the spike in state-funded creationism. Entirely ignoring any concept of church-state separation, Georgia allowed businesses to subsidize public students now receiving educations on the origins of Eden, the racial legacy of Noah and the merits of Levitical homophobia. Some of the economics classes in those high schools receiving "scholarships" began teaching that the Antichrist "will one day control what is bought and sold." And a handful, bizarrely, also attributed Noah's flood to the current store of petroleum and shale reserves found near the South's oil-heavy states.

Georgia, however, is but one state to which Patrick is looking for guidance. While he seems set on the concept of scholarships, another state, Louisiana, has recently implemented a voucher system unparalleled in both scope and strife.

Per Kopplin's research, Louisiana's encounters with creationism have been even starker and more egregious: self-proclaimed prophets declaiming their holiness; schools learning of the friendships between Adam, Eve and iguanodons; students shoveled in front of television sets showing little more than Bible-based videos for hours.

All of these, funded directly by the state's new voucher program while the public school system misses out on the millions now sent toward these creationist academies.

"Louisiana [has had] almost the destruction of traditional public schools in that state," says Linda Bridges, president of the Texas Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. "Louisiana is someplace we don't want to go."

Despite the fact that Louisiana's system was recently declared unconstitutional by a state district judge, those modeling potential legislation in Texas have singled out both Georgia and Louisiana as having systems worth implementing here.

"If we created any kind of school choice at the state level, then we'd probably instantaneously become the largest school choice program in the country," says James Golsan, the leading educational analyst with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the pre-eminent voucher lobbying organization in the state. "And if it's exclusively private reform, or if it's comprehensive [reform] like Louisiana, that's all going to get hammered out in the legislative process."

When asked what system he'd most like to see Texas implement, Golsan is concise: "I think there's enough momentum to see some reforms in this session," he says. "[And] comprehensive reform is the ultimate goal."
_____________________

As a child, Kopplin was shy. Painfully, paralyzingly shy. His grandfather would stare at him, admonishing him: "Look me in the eye!" And Kopplin would nod, take his eyes from his grandfather's gaze and turn them down, watching his shoes.

"My dad was always a little disappointed in Zack," Andrea Neighbours, his mother, said. "My dad was always a tough guy. He just couldn't understand."

But that shyness didn't prevent a young Kopplin from developing an early moral compass. According to his mother — and as evidenced by his convictions on (and slight misreadings of) Darwin — Kopplin always knew what was right. He always followed the facts.

"When he was younger, he was more of a black-and-white thinker," his mother recalls. "There's right and wrong, and it made him a very moral kid. He'd say that this is right and that facts are right when you have evidence."

Zack was a voracious reader. His grandmother consistently boxed books to send him, and his literary pursuit was supported by a mother who'd written a pair of novels herself.

But his time and his interests weren't purely page-bound. To Zack, there were few creatures more intriguing than the terrible lizards that once roamed the bayous and the byways nearby, and he took an early interest in the lives and demise of dinosaurs. He pinpointed the museums nearby — in Houston, in Dallas — and his family visited them whenever his father Andy's job would allow.

Soon his grandmother's books were joined by brittle, calcified bones, bundled alongside pre-­Columbian artifacts and ancient horse teeth.

Meanwhile, Andy Kopplin served as chief of staff for both Louisiana's Republican Governor Mike Foster, elected in 1995, and Foster's Democratic successor, Kathleen Blanco, elected in 2003. The latter contest struck a portentous note, beginning the end of a friendship between the Kopplins and the family of the current governor, Bobby Jindal, whom Blanco had defeated.

Discussions on policy poured through Kopplin's house, and he paired his interests in fossilized records with a pursuit of current affairs. Coming of age during the George W. Bush years — and taking a marked interest in monitoring the Arab Spring — lent Kopplin a particular political bent.

But the reticence remained. "He always felt free to speak his mind with us," said Ben Simpson, a friend since kindergarten — but in the public forum, Kopplin clammed.

In February 2008, Andy Kopplin ran in a special election for the state's 6th Congressional District on the Democratic ticket. Zack was set to campaign for his father, looking to speak at the local high school.

When his turn to talk arrived, Kopplin, then 14, stood mute. His father didn't even qualify for his primary's runoff.

"[Zack] watched himself fail and was devastated when Andy lost," his mother says. "It ate him alive — and it's always been really painful for him, knowing that he didn't have enough courage."

A half-dozen months later, still nursing the guilt, Zack and his father were met by a friend, a member of the editorial staff at the Baton Rouge Advocate, who asked: "You see that Jindal passed the creationism law?"

The creationism law. The one that allowed the teacher — the public-school teacher — to bring creationism, to bring something Kopplin considered so obdurately nonscientific, into the science classroom. Kopplin knew about the law. And he knew the thing would never pass, because this was 2008 and this was the Western world, and, hell, Bobby Jindal's got a biology degree from Brown University. This thing would never pass.

And then it did. And Jindal signed off on it.

Something clicked.

"I have this idea of what's right and what's wrong, and in my mind, I just knew it was wrong," Kopplin recalls. "And it was a really simple thing for me — this is bad, and it needs to be gotten rid of."
_____________________

Louisiana's first modern creationist law arose in 1981. The "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Acts" served as an attempt to parry the theory of evolution with alternative notions of the origins of life — namely, those found in the Book of Genesis.

Six years in, the U.S. Supreme Court scuttled the law, holding in Edwards v. Aguillard that the state legislature had maintained a "pre-eminent religious purpose in enacting this statute." (Notably, Justice Antonin Scalia dissented, supporting the putative rationale of "academic freedom.")

While Louisiana was forced to revert to the throes of science, the creationists coalesced. A few years after the ruling, a group called the Discovery Institute came into being. And where earlier creationists had pushed the eponymous theory, the Discovery Institute, based in Seattle, began advocating a new notion they called "intelligent design."

"They couldn't call themselves creationists, so they had to regroup and rebrand creationism as intelligent design," says Dr. Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University and one of the leading experts on intelligent design. "They laid low for a few years, developing supporters and donors, but they made no attempts to hide the fact that they were creationists."

Girding their support and plotting their rhetoric, creationists — under the rubric of intelligent design — struck at Kansas textbooks in the mid-2000s, forcing the state to carry a balanced palette of origin science in its textbooks.

"My wife and I were over in France on vacation," says Harry McDonald, the president of Kansas Citizens for Science. "Our guide was talking about anthropology of these cave paintings, and when she heard we were from Kansas, she just went off and kept telling us how backwards these politicians and these people were."

Concurrently, and far less notably, a pair of young-earth creationists cowed the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board into balancing evolution with theories of an intelligent designer. However, much like Louisiana's run two decades earlier, this antiscientific crusade ended up before a judge. And just as before, the doctrine of creationism was struck down.

Pennsylvania returned to a state of normalcy. After a year and a half, Kansas also reverted to its pre-creationist texts. The intelligent designers stood rebuffed again. But that didn't mean they were done.

"These creationists, they never give up, even when they get kicked in the butt," says Forrest, who served as an expert witness in the Dover case. "I knew something was brewing [in Louisiana], but I had no idea of knowing exactly when or where it would hit."

In the end, the legislation came down to one man, elected governor in 2007, whose Ivy League education and Oxford background, many assumed, should have precluded such pandering to a religious base.

Jindal signed the LSEA into law on June 25, 2008, crowing about the academic freedom he and his legislature had just brought to the state. Time and again, he made sure to note that this wasn't about any one religion or any one theory.

And much like Patrick's current wordplay, Jindal's claim was technically correct. There's nothing in the LSEA that mandates the balance attempted in Kansas or Pennsylvania. There's simply a notice that teachers may use "supplemental materials" to help explicate theories that are purportedly controversial, including evolution.

"The law forbids, specifically, by enumeration, anything remotely similar to [the creationism] that is gaining the headlines everywhere," said Gene Mills, president and power broker of the powerful right-wing Louisiana Family Forum. "There's [been] no miscarriage of justice or unreasonable non-disclosure and non-willingness to participate in open dialogue...C'est la vie, man."

Of course, for anyone remotely familiar with Louisiana, this law was precisely about the allowance of creationism into the classroom. "Everybody knows exactly what this bill is," Forrest muses.

The fiscal impact's already run through the state. The Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology, one of the most notable national scientific organizations, planted a conference boycott on Louisiana. Dr. Kevin Carman, then dean of the College of Science at Louisiana State University, noted that multiple faculty cited the LSEA in either their reasons for departure or their rationale for not moving to Louisiana.

"It's a very cleverly worded act...and it's manifested itself in our ability to hire or retain faculty," says Carman, now the executive vice president and provost at the University of Nevada, Reno. "It's been quite disturbing to highly educated young people...You don't end up attracting the kind of talent you need to have a knowledge-based economy."
_____________________

During his senior year of high school, Kopplin was allowed a choice of senior project, something to distract him from college applications and SAT studies. His classmates chose musical pursuits, cooking lessons and learning new languages. Kopplin chose to push for repeal of the LSEA.

Contacting Forrest — who first vetted the boy to be sure he wasn't a plant from the Louisiana Family Forum — Kopplin learned from the earliest moments that his project was likely going to fail. "Other than Tennessee's 1967 repeal, I don't know of a single creationist law that's actually ever been repealed," says Forrest. "Besides, in Louisiana, Jindal has a lock on the Legislature."

Kopplin pinpointed a state legislator, Representative Karen Carter Peterson — one of only three in the House to vote against the bill — who he believed could help.

Forrest then put Kopplin in contact with Dr. Harry Kroto, a chemistry professor at Florida State University and a former Nobel recipient, to ask for aid. "I thought it was extremely heartening that a young man like this would take on such a task," Kroto said. "I haven't come across that before...People think that an attack on evolution is an attack on Darwin, but it's actually an attack on the whole scientific community."

Kopplin convinced Kroto to contact his fellow Nobel laureates and soon began compiling their endorsements and signatures in opposition to the LSEA. The list, which Kopplin still maintains, currently contains 78 Nobel winners backing his cause.

In the meantime, Kopplin's fight continued. In one of the few moments of levity in the first textbook hearing, a Presbyterian minister Kopplin had asked to attend said, "I should not be here to tell you you shouldn't be putting creationism in the schools. But this is Louisiana, so I have to be here and say: What they want is religion, and it should not be in the schools."

Despite the creationist students bused in to the board hearings, the board voted 8-4 to defer a decision on the books. One month later, it voted 6-1 to purchase texts without the imprimatur of creationism. Two days later, they concluded their voting, cementing their decision to purchase the textbooks.

The anti-creationists had won.

It was rear-guard, sure — "supplemental materials" were still allowed in the classroom — but as Kopplin said at the time, it was "the largest victory for science that Louisiana has had in eight years."

Still, as Forrest had warned, the LSEA was a different entity entirely. While Kopplin began lobbying on its behalf — publishing his creationist research, gathering the laureates, shuttling between television interviews and writings on Dawkins's Web site — Peterson presented her repeal bill. It was supported by the City of New Orleans. It was supported by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the American Society for Cell Biology.

It didn't even make it out of committee.

(One of the numerous viral videos surrounding the LSEA hearing shows state Senator Julie Quinn, upon being presented with the list of Nobel laureates, saying that she'd grown "tired of seeing little letters behind everyone's names.")

The problem, as both sides seem to acknowledge, is a simple one: Despite the fact that the LSEA's been on the books since 2008, not a single complaint or lawsuit has been brought by anti-creationists. That's not to say that creationist education hasn't taken place; rather, none has yet been brought to public light.

"In other words, Zack and the boys are on a hunt with a political solution to a problem that just doesn't exist," Mills, the LFF president, said. "There's gotta be a different agenda at work here."

In early 2012, Kopplin, as a freshman at Rice, and Peterson, now a state senator, attempted the same tactic. A repeal bill was filed once more. Just as before, it failed to make it out of committee.
_____________________

But the public has taken notice. Between award ceremonies at the Playboy Mansion and national interviews — all while dodging derogatory postings from the head of Kentucky's Creation Museum — Kopplin has fast become the face of the anti-creationist movement.

"It's hard to be very optimistic...but when I look for reasons to be optimistic, it's people like Zack," says Dr. Neal Lane, the former director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and now a fellow with Rice University's Baker Institute. "These people who believe in a young earth...they don't see inconsistencies with their belief. And they're really in the way of democracy."

As it stands, both Kopplin and Peterson are planning on leading a third, nearly identical repeal effort over the coming months. There's little indication that this one will make it out of committee.

"Zack does very well," Mills continued. "The problem is, he's lost every single time in the court of public opinion...There are only so many times you can tell everybody they're dumb and still prevail in a popular vote."

For what it's worth, Kopplin has never resorted to ad hominem attacks against any opponents (despite earning "anti-Christ" monikers from his more unhinged detractors). He doesn't even discount the notion of creationism within a private education — his isn't some Hitchensian crusade against all things religion.

Sure, he wishes he could go back and redirect these creationists' educations. But he's perfectly willing to allow them their space and their education. So long as it's kept within the private sphere.

That's why he has now turned to Louisiana's voucher system. The program, which went into effect in 2012, has caused as great a rift within that state as the LSEA has. Teachers' unions have filed lawsuits. Leaked e-mails show the state Education Superintendent's office trying to "muddy the waters" of the media's investigations. One state legislator objected to funds going to an Islamic school because, as she put it, it wouldn't teach "the fundamentals of America's Founding Fathers' religion, which is Christianity."

"Hearing that now we want to be more like Louisiana, that's the first time I think I've heard any legislator say that Texas wants to be like any other state," Gonzalez says. "It's really hard for me to hear any self-respecting Texan say that we want to be like anybody else. It's just not in our genetic makeup."
_____________________

It's early February, and Senator Patrick is finally leaving the "school choice" symposium. He's still offering anecdotes about the necessity of choice, of the national groundswell that's swept these ideas into both his platform and his governor's stump.

And then Kopplin's name comes up, and the descriptions of this 19-year-old's work and his stances come out. And Patrick cuts it short. "I don't know who that is," he says.

Which is interesting, considering Kopplin's proximity and growing fame. And it's all the stranger considering that both Patrick and Kopplin had spoken in a public arena just a few months earlier.

It was late August, when Patrick was first hinting at the agenda to come. A public hearing was called in Austin on the merits of vouchers. Kopplin wasn't asked to attend. He went anyway.

The hearings began at 9 a.m., with a steady string of invited testimony dragging on about the intransigence of unions and the panacea of vouchers. Six hours later, ears burning from the invited stream of voucher backers, Kopplin walked to the microphone.

The crowd had thinned. Patrick, one of the few pols remaining on the dais, was directing questions and asked Kopplin to begin. Patrick allowed Kopplin to run for nearly 90 seconds before the senator broke off the discussion.

"Now, this is only Louisiana, right?" Patrick interrupted, looking down at the 19-year-old.

Kopplin paused. "As far as I know, yes."

And it was, at the time. Kopplin hadn't yet researched other states, hadn't yet delved into the thousands of private schools across the nation receiving some form of public subsidy.

Six months later, Kopplin points to a list he's posted online that shares the names and information of more than 300 voucher schools around the U.S. that serve their publicly funded students with some form of antiscientific sectarianism.

There's one in Indiana teaching that the Bible is "wholly without error." There's one in Wisconsin that teaches that "evolutionists are 'stuck' because they have no god." There's one in Florida — another state to which Patrick points, time and again, for inspiration — that exists "to evangelize non-Christian students." All of these, hundreds of these, receive funding from public tax dollars.

"Honestly, there are thousands of schools, and I missed a lot," Kopplin says, noting that his research is ongoing. "There are probably 2,000 [voucher] schools nationwide, and probably half are creationist."

Unfortunately, as Kopplin also observes, such an education isn't limited to the kinds of schools Patrick's vouchers and scholarships will likely fund. A recent report by the Texas Freedom Network showed that dozens of public school districts across Texas have offered some form of Christian proselytization, purveying jingoistic Christian nationalism and distinct anti-Jewish ­biases.

Likewise, Barbara Cargill, chair of the State Board of Education, revealed on January 31 that the board hasn't yet reneged on trying to instill creationism in public textbooks. (For what it's worth, Don McLeroy, the erstwhile SBOE chair and creationist extraordinaire, has come out in support of a voucher plan.) After looking through one of the educational management curricula used in the state, Cargill shared her anti-intellectual concern.

"Our intent, as far as theories with the [curriculum standards], was to teach all sides of scientific explanations," she opined. "But when I went on [the educational management Web site] last night, I couldn't see anything that might be seen as another side to the theory of evolution."

At the moment, however, Kopplin remains focused on divesting sectarian private schools of public funds — so much so, he says, that he'll be taking off the following academic year to pursue wholesale his anti-creationist research. He's continued touring the state, speaking to student organizations and associations of freethinkers and humanists. He's begun pushing for expanded scientific education, something he's taken to calling A Second Giant Leap for Mankind.

And though he says he hasn't spoken to Senator Patrick since their conversation last fall, he makes sure to note that those 90 seconds have served as the impetus for his current work. "My research is dedicated to Senator Dan Patrick," Kopplin says, letting a smile slip. And he says he's looking forward to the day he can answer Patrick once more in person.

"Thank you, Senator Patrick. I'm glad I now have an answer," Kopplin says, steadying his line. "And you can go look at the site if you want to look at the full list of schools. [Because] if you create a voucher program, it seems unavoidable that you'll teach creationism."

casey.michel@houstonpress.com

ALTERNATE STRATEGIES
Inventive methods have been used in several states to open the door to taxpayer-funded creationism courses.

BY CASEY MICHEL

While Louisiana, Florida and Georgia have gained recent headlines for using voucher and scholarship programs to buttress creationist schools, a handful of other states beyond Texas are currently deciding whether to redirect state funds to creationist education:

Arizona

A recent Republican-backed proposal, similar to Louisiana's creationism legislation, would bar the state from disallowing teachers to address "scientific weaknesses" in evolution.

Colorado

Citing "academic freedom," this bill would have allowed teachers to "create an environment that encourages students to...explore scientific questions" about evolution. The proposal died in committee.

Indiana

One year after the Indiana Senate passed a bill allowing religious-based views to be taught alongside evolution in public science classrooms — the proposal was eventually struck down in the House — the same sponsor is promoting a potential bill that would force teachers to back up their evolutionary lessons with necessary documentation. The sponsor, a self-proclaimed creationist, has termed evolution a "Johnny-come-lately" theory.

Missouri

A bill sponsored by a Republican state representative last month — a self-proclaimed "science enthusiast," no less — would require the state's elementary and secondary schools, as well as introductory courses in public universities, to offer equal textbook space to evolution and intelligent design.

Montana

Much like Colorado's, this proposal, which would have mandated the teaching of intelligent design within the classroom, died in committee in early February. The bill's sponsor said it was a "monumental leap" to believe that evolution is true.

Oklahoma

A pair of bills have been pre-filed that would allow teachers — some of whom "are unsure" about specific topics — to "find more effective ways" to teach "scientific controversies." One bill cites evolution among the controversies listed.

Tennessee

Tennessee, site of the 1925 Scopes trial, is the only state challenging Louisiana for primacy in creationist education. Last year, legislators passed a law allowing teachers to discuss creationism alongside evolution in an effort to examine "strengths and weaknesses."

Texas

Vouchers and misdirected public courses on the Bible are the most notable ways Texas may subsidize creationist educations, but a state legislator is seeking to make it a crime for public universities to discriminate against research on intelligent design. Representative Bill Zedler, who has compared evolutionary theory to a windstorm creating a watch, has put forth a bill that would prevent universities from discriminating against faculty members working on "research relating to the theory of intelligent design."

Virginia

A proposed constitutional amendment would allow students to opt out of public-school courses that conflict with their religious beliefs. While the Republican sponsor noted that Muslims would be allowed to forgo dissecting pigs, it seems clear that the bill is directed at allowing children of creationist families to avoid all courses on evolution.

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
44 comments
EMoore
EMoore

I just don't understand what the "theory of intelligent design" is and how is it superior to the theory of evolution? God just "poofed" us here? Aren't all things possible with God? Including an evolutionary timeline? I also hope that these intelligent design backers get what they want - to have biology teachers "back up" the theory of evolution with fact-based information. Um. Okay. That's exactly how the theory came to fruition in the first place. No skin off their back! Seriously. How long is creationism going to be around??? I really wish it would go the way of the 99% of species in the history of this planet - EXTINCT.

2guns
2guns

Hijacking others ideas & using it for evil. Maybe today's "Christians" will understand it better this way

 “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” And he said his reply to them would be blunt: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”- Matthew 7:22-23

Yeah. From  THAT guy .


quickly1
quickly1

How nice that Casey gets a stipend from the teachers' unions.  Do they pay by the word?

dregstudios
dregstudios

Here in TN, they have taken steps though new legislation to allow creationism back into the classroom.  This law turns the clock back nearly 100 years here in the seemingly unprogressive South and is simply embarrassing. There is no argument against the Theory of Evolution other than that of religious doctrine. The Monkey Law only opens the door for fanatic Christianity to creep its way back into our classrooms. You can see my visual response as a Tennessean to this absurd law on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/04/pulpit-in-classroom-biblical-agenda-in.html with some evolutionary art and a little bit of simple logic.

myrtle
myrtle

Woe to you Zack Kopplin.  God will bring you justice to you just as he did Madalyn Murray O'Hair. 

BobRobinson
BobRobinson

Zach Kopplin has taken offense not only with Creationism in public schools, but he is also attacking private, religious schools who teach Creationism. He is leading an offensive against the voucher system in Louisiana because underprivileged students would be able to chose to attend a  private school where Creationism is taught in addition to Evolution, and in rare cases in lieu of Evolution.  Opponents of Creationism often accuse Christians of forcing their beliefs on those who subscribe to the Scientific Theory of Evolution, but Kopplin is being a hypocrite by attempting to force students to have to choose Evolution. I am a proponent of Evolution, but I am far more interested in the right to choose what type of education my child receives. I do not want a 19 year old telling private institutions how to conduct their education, nor do I want poor students to be turned away from institutions just because that religious institution choses to teach Creationism in addition to Evolution (because when faced with admitting underprivileged students with the attachment of heavy handed government requirements on what must be taught, these institutions will remain private and available to only the "haves" and not the "have nots") . Zach Kopplin could do the right thing, and oppose Creationism in public schools, where it does not by any means belong, but he is trying to destroy Creationism everywhere, even in religious institutions, and that is simply not right.    

wesearch60
wesearch60

I have yet to see any creationist or "young earth/universe" apostle reconcile that if the earth and by extension the universe is young (only a few thousand years old), how does one explain the viewing of stars billions of light years away. 

wjkelly01
wjkelly01

Intelligent design could be the creationists worst nightmare. If teachers begin bringing in supplemental texts on Hindu, Shinto, Native American,  Buddhist, etc. theories  of Intelligent design, and ignore the Christian one, they would hear a loud cry from these supposed learned people seeking to include Intelligent Design theories.

Anse
Anse

I don't understand. Why are they effing with the system like this? You want to teach your kid some jacked up bullshit, just do it. 

2guns
2guns

@myrtle So you speak for  the Prophet? 

"You must not have any other GOD but me."

It's the very FIRST COMMAND that GOD

gives after stating his presence. 

You judge others. You set punishments.  You are not a Christian. You are

the one that murdered Hypatia in GODs name. 

Bubba
Bubba

@myrtle Hey asswipe, Madalyn Murray O'Hair was murdered by a thief, at the behest of your God.  What a dipshit you are.

Anse
Anse

So you think tax dollars should be spent on schools that teach kids that 2+2 = 5? Because that's exactly what we're talking about here. I don't think you're a real proponent for evolution, because if you were, you'd know how absolutely wack creationism is, and how utterly destructive it is from an educational standpoint. But let's also address this little truth: if the state released money to a Muslim school that taught students that Jesus was merely a prophet and that the Koran is the one true word of God, this would not go over so well.

trav45
trav45

@BobRobinson  You're missing the point.  He's against these private institutions receiving public funding, as he should be.

randomanon
randomanon

@wjkelly01
Just for clarification;
No Buddhist principle explicitly promotes creationism, and most Buddhists do believe in evolution.

But I get your point, and I agree

brandblake
brandblake

@Anse You sound extremely well educated. Please tell us more about how we should educate our children...

myrtle
myrtle

Hey Bubba..

Sounds like you need some prayer too!  


BobRobinson
BobRobinson

@Anse Comments like these are why people harbor animosity towards opponents of Creationism. Simple math is empirical, and can be reasonably proven. Creationism relies on faith, which is not quantifiable and provable. If it where, it would be a scientific theory. I'm talking here about schools that teach Creationism in religious classes. The theory of Evolution is a scientific theory and properly belongs in science classes. Comparing Evolution to Creationism is comparing apples to oranges. One is faith based, one is scientific, but unless you can prove that Creationism is false then it should not be juxtaposed with a false mathematical proof. And to counter your second point, I believe if a student receives a voucher they should be able to attend any school they wish that will accept that voucher. That is also the law in Louisiana. If a parent wants to send their child to a Muslim school with a voucher they should have every right to do so. Religion is not the issue here: the issue is allowing every child, regardless of class, race, or religion, to have the same access to a quality education, and the same chance to succeed as everyone else.

BobRobinson
BobRobinson

 @trav45 Actually, he has publicly stated that he is against private institutions receiving public funding because he believes it is s "Trojan Horse for Creationism." Zach and I are both from Louisiana, and I think we can both agree that the public eduction system in our home state is broken. Vouchers are the only option on the table right now with our highly conservative legislature and state government, and in Louisiana, they might actually provide a viable, short-term solution to allow children from low income families that are not receiving anything resembling a quality eduction in underperforming schools to get the same chance to succeed as students in private schools or high preforming public schools. I think where Zach and I agree again is that the solution is more funding for schools, better wages for teachers that will attract better teachers and reward high performing teachers, and better access to text books and learning technology. Since the earliest says of Louisiana history our state has struggled with eduction, and now we have the opportunity to level the playing field in an attempt to end the cycle of poverty at least for thousands of deserving children. We should not allow squabbles over religion to prevent those children and their parents from choosing the best educational option available to their child.  

juli3
juli3

@brandblake @Anse

I believe Anse's point is, if you *want* to instill religious beliefs in your child, then do so, but don't force it on other children through the school system.

*My* child learned science, including evolution, in school & *I* took my child to church for religion. No problem. The problem starts when certain Anti-Democracy types want the school & church to perform the same function & are willing to force it through the law to accomplish that goal.

"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
~Sinclair Lewis.

amnkeefe
amnkeefe

@brandblake @Anse Maybe we should teach our children how to think. The rest they can figure out themselves.

BobRobinson
BobRobinson

@Anonymous @myrtle Generalizations and stereotypes do not help anyone. The core of the Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and most any other faith is not to wish harm on anyone, even on, as you say a "nonbeliver." A more appropriate statement would be "That is not a very religious thing to say. It is not right to judge others or wish harm on them."

EMoore
EMoore

@BobRobinson OK. Anse doesn't need to prove that creationism is false; the onus is on you and your fellow believers to prove it true. And the reality is, it cannot be proven. There is no factual evidence that creationism theory - any version, mind you - is true. Scientific theories all around stand on ample evidence, are testable and observable. You know, the real problem is that people like you are so emotionally bound to your rigid beliefs because deep down inside you're afraid of mortality and you need comfort. Apparently, your belief system provides this. I've met creationist converts who were courageous enough to abandon their ridiculous beliefs and step into the light of reality. I really hope you do the same but I suspect it won't happen.

TrulyWonderfulPeep
TrulyWonderfulPeep

@BobRobinson @AnseOh yes, it is "ignorance". Creationism claims the Earth is only thousands of years old, when science proves that is simply NOT true. 

kmaher23
kmaher23

Nobody will get a good education at a school that teaches Creationism.  Unfortunately, if the parents choose to handicap their children by giving them a subpar scientific education, they have that right.  But they don't get one cent of tax money to do so...

BobRobinson
BobRobinson

@Anse @BobRobinson I fully agree the best long term plan is to increase funding, provide better teacher salaries, and provide more resources for students, but in Louisiana, with a republican government, that is not going to happen. Vouchers are the only solution on the table, and I am only stating I would prefer them to nothing! What I am saying is that the good private schools will not accept these students because they have enough money and they do not rely on state funds. Why would they accept students who will require them to change their entire system of education? The simple answer is that they will not. You use the term "rewarding funds" these funds go to students, who then are able to pay for private schools. We are not talking about your tax dollars paying for Creationism 101 at Catholic College Prep, we are talking about tax dollars going to a child who can then chose the best education available to them. I have emphatically stated that Creationism has NO PLACE IN PUBLIC SCHOOL CLASSROOMS. Allowing voucher students does not make a school that is private a public school, just as allowing a sick patient into an ER who cannot afford medical care at a Catholic Hospital does not make that Catholic Hospital a public hospital. We have an education crisis in Louisiana much akin to a medical emergency, and the voucher system is much akin to putting a bandaid on a mortal wound, but the bandaid is all that is being offered in Louisiana, and all I am saying is I would take the bandaid over nothing. I am not debating Creationism being taught in lieu of Evolution, I am against that, but I think it is terribly important to allow children access to the best education available. If you will indulge me in a hypothetical: if a child chose to attend a school that would allow them to get a good job and would provide them with an education that is 1000%% quantifiably better than the education they where getting in an underperforming public school, would you deny them the right to attend that school if that school taught Creationism and not Evolution? 

Anse
Anse

@BobRobinson @Anse The answer is not to take money out of public schools. The answer is to improve the schools. This can be done. It must be done, and if you reward a publicly-funded voucher to a student to attend a private school, you are therefore funding private education. That is so clear it is not possible to call it anything but what it is: the state support of private, religious education.

You are ignoring the point. I don't care if you embrace evolution. I don't care about the difference between creationism and evolution. As it regards this topic, we are only concerned with the possibility--and indeed, the reality--of the state rewarding funds to schools that do NOT make that distinction. They do exist, they are receiving state funds, and Mr. Kopplin is entirely right to object to it. Furthermore, we have state laws now proposed or passed that will make it expressly illegal for state-sponsored schools to force students to make that distinction. Apparently in Tennessee, if a student in a SCIENCE CLASS wants to claim that INTELLIGENT DESIGN is a valid alternative theory to evolution, the school will be REQUIRED to acknowledge this as okay. THAT IS THE PROBLEM. THAT IS WHAT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT. NOT YOUR DIVERSIONARY DISCUSSION ABOUT RELIGION AND SCIENCE.

BobRobinson
BobRobinson

@Anse @BobRobinson Ok, I do not know how to make this more simple: we are not talking about the allocation of public funds to private schools in Louisiana, private schools are doing just fine without voucher students. We are talking about public money being provided to poor students in underperforming schools to have a chance at a quality education. No strings should be attached to allowing these students to be admitted, and strings will bar their admission because schools will not forgo their principals for a few underprivileged students per year. Oversight against abuse is totally necessary, but Creationism is not the abuse we are talking about, poor educational conditions and poor teachers are what we are talking about. 

Creationism is NOT ignorance. Ignorance is seeing a belief that is conflicting to your own, and classifying it as ignorant because it is against your own beliefs. Creationism and Evolution can coexist in private schools, one in a religion classroom, and the other in a biology classroom, but neither should cross over. We are talking about state funds benefitting poor students, not benefitting private schools. Corrupt schools that are using students as cash cows are the enemy, not private religious schools who have been providing quality education for a hundred years. I think the whole part of this argument you are missing is that these vouchers in Louisiana only are for poor students, and they are often for less than the amount of tuition at already full capacity private schools with students paying full price with no financial help from the state. The effect of denying these students the chance to go to these quality schools teaching religion is to allow for more of these charter schools with the intention of using children as cash cows to crop up. 

Anse
Anse

@BobRobinson It is the responsibility of good government to provide money with strings attached. A system that rewards vouchers without any oversight is a system that will be ripe for abuse. We're seeing that in Texas now, where charter schools could be started with virtually no standards, and schools that became little more than cash cows for unscrupulous administrators. If you have a private school, and you really want it to remain private, I cannot fathom how you could support a voucher system. The strings may not be there now but they will be there at some point, and they should be, or you will end up giving tax money to schools that have atrocious standards and are doing little better than perpetuating ignorance.

We're dancing around a key issue here, of course. Are ignorant people free to be ignorant? And how far should the state go to support their pursuit of ignorance? Is it possible that the government should have the authority to say one curriculum is good and another one isn't? If there are tax dollars at stake, then yes, absolutely they must. To fail to do this is a disaster. You are free to teach a child whatever you want, but you are not free to have that supported by the state. 

BobRobinson
BobRobinson

I think we agree that there is a terrible public school system in Louisiana, no arguments there for me. I am also not arguing for Texas to do anything. I would hope no other state has the same problems as LA. Apparently you have no idea how vouchers work. They are for poor children only, they are paying less than the students who can afford to pay to go to that school, and they are simply taking their allocated money away from an underperforming school to allow that student a chance to succeed. When private schools accept these students they are doing so not because they need that money, but because they want the children to have the opportunity, they accept their vouchers. They will not allow them if there are strings attached by the government. Then, students will be rooked into charter schools springing up to take advantage of the system, and everyone will suffer. 

Anse
Anse

@BobRobinson If you allocate tax dollars for private schooling, it is no longer "private", and taxpayers have a right to voice their opinion on this particular allocation. Secondly, the reason Louisiana's private schools are considered superior to their public ones is because the state does very little to support public education. The standard salary of a teacher in Louisiana is atrociously low, for example; school campuses are often in disrepair (which I know from personal experience, having visited schools in New Orleans). The truth of the matter is that in many Southern states, public education went into a tailspin after Brown v. Board; before integration, public education was widely supported throughout the South. The day Texas begins following the example of Louisiana will be a very sad day for Texas schoolchildren.

BobRobinson
BobRobinson

Let me be clear, in Louisiana private schools often provide a far superior education to public schools, with the rare exception of our magnet schools, which are highly competitive and difficult to get in, especially if they are not in your district. For hundreds of years in Louisiana the wealthy have remained wealthy because their children had access to private school education, and for that reason we have the second most children per capita enrolled in private schools. I was fortunate enough to attend one of those private schools, and Mr. Kopplin was fortunate enough to attend a magnet school, but every child in Louisiana should have a choice between those two quality educational options. Creationism, as taught in the majority of religious schools in Louisiana is not young earth creationism, which you have described. It is the faith based idea that God created the heavens and the earth, and it is taught in a religious classroom along with the Bible. I never heard a theory about dinosaurs being in the garden of Eden or on the arc, and the vast majority of schools do not teach creationism in this manner. In addition, my school had one of the strongest biology departments in the state, and we where taught evolution as the definitive scientific theory. Our teachers never said anything about Jesus in a biology classroom. I feel like this is a straw man argument, because a few extreme schools teach an absurd theory we are should ban any religion in private schools wanting to allow deserving voucher students? No! If anything we should fight against schools teaching Young Earth Creationism, but leave schools teaching a religious belief in a private school religious classroom alone. If students don't want to learn religion, or they want to learn a different religion, they can take their vouchers to the school of their choice. Choice is what makes this country great.

Anse
Anse

@BobRobinson But you are not defending "quality education." That's the point. You are defending what amounts to indoctrination. These private schools make no distinction between religion and science. They are teaching children that Noah was a real person who really had dinosaurs on the ark. They are teaching children that evolution is really sham. That's their curriculum, and it's false, and you support it. There is no "equality" issue here. This is no effort to provide true choice; this is an effort to undermine the truth. Education is unfortunately a political minefield; it can't be avoided. But when the state engages in the support of what amounts to the perpetuation of dreadful ignorance, it cannot do anything but destroy the progress of knowledge in this country. You can wrap it in a flag and paint in the colors of freedom and the nice and patriotic rhetoric of liberty but in the end, you support the stupid-ization of American schoolchildren. That will not end well.

EMoore
EMoore

@BobRobinson @trav45  Public schools are "under-performing" but a private school that teaches mythological events and encourages Bible literalism is somehow...better? Truly a better educational option? Come on dude.

Anse
Anse

@BobRobinson @Anse Anybody who spends money on anything has the right to control the conditions under which the money is spent. I don't care if it's a million dollars or a single dime; if we are to have effective government, we must have a government that does not simply hand money out freely. The government has an obligation to see its education funds spent for actual education. I mean, hell, why not just send money to homeschoolers, too, while you're at it? Can you really believe that these vouchers should come with *no* strings attached?

For the record, I'm opposed to vouchers. They are supposedly intended to give families choices, with one consequence being that public schools, in an effort to retain students, will compete in a kind of market for those students and will work to reform their curriculum and their instruction. But this approach is fraught with a multitude of problems. First of all, it's not really a competitive market, since vouchers are a kind of price control; if a school is truly going to be free to operate independently, it must be free to set tuition as its priorities require. We have private schools in Houston that cost over $10,000/year, as much as many universities; a holder of a voucher cannot expect to attend those schools, nor can those schools be required to accept them. You aren't guaranteeing a better education; you're just offering a *different* education. Secondly, does it follow that families will choose the best program? Consider other examples of consumer choice in our larger marketplace. The world's largest retailer is Walmart. It's not Neimann Marcus, it's not Macy's, it's Walmart. This kind of approach to education does not give us a system of Neimann-Marcuses; it gives us a system of Walmarts: cheap crap for the masses, hardly a qualitatively superior system, but one that gives people bang for their buck. For further examples, consider the proprietary school model currently employed by schools like the U. of Phoenix; some of these schools employ hundreds of recruiters because their chief obligation is attracting students who qualify for government loans. That is money in the bank, and it's profit. Their standards for admission are a joke and their graduation rates suck. Why? Because graduation is a secondary concern. Keeping the incoming freshman coming through the door is the point, because that's a new customer and new money. That is, in effect, a voucher system. It destroys the fundamental relationship between institution and student and exploits the government in the process. And to this day, I cannot see how Louisiana's approach has improved educational opportunities for their students.

BobRobinson
BobRobinson

@Anse @BobRobinson I do not want to live on this planet anymore (insert furturama meme here). If you cannot see the difference between allowing a poor student to attend the school of their choice and thereby giving maybe 3k per student per year to a private school accepting less than 10 students, should that allow the government to control the curriculum? And if it does than the schools WILL NOT accept these students, and that is a tragedy! 

Anse
Anse

@BobRobinson @Anse There is no difference, dude. You may as well send a check directly to the religious school and call it a day.

BobRobinson
BobRobinson

@Anse @BobRobinson We are not talking about publicly funded private schools, we are talking about publicly funded students attending private schools which run on private funds, not on public funds. We are talking less than half of 1% of their funding coming from voucher students. 

Anse
Anse

@BobRobinson @Anse First of all, religion has a place in public education--as an academic study and not as a reinforcement of student/family values. There are religious clubs that students can join. No problem there. But a "religious class" has no place in a publicly-financed school. You want to start a religious class, do it outside of class time, and don't expect tax money to support it.

BobRobinson
BobRobinson

@Anse Again, you are confusing quantifiable and empirical facts with something that cannot be quantified, proven, or disprove. The moon is not made of cheese, we can definitively prove that. We cannot prove whether there is or is not a god. The issue is freedom to choose. If a poor child's parents want to send them to a religious school and they have a voucher they should be allowed to do so. Creationism is not insanity, it is a faith based belief, and it belongs only in a religious classroom. The state should not tell a private institution how to teach students in a religion classroom. 

Anse
Anse

@BobRobinson Bob, parents can send their kids to any school they want. They can teach their children that the moon is made of cheese. The question is whether or not the state should support that. You are completely maligning the issue by attempting to press this "freedom of choice" baloney. It is not relevant to the central debate, which is, should tax dollars support this insanity? And the answer must be, has to be, NO.

BobRobinson
BobRobinson

 I feel like telling children and parents they cannot chose the school they want to send their child to because that school teaches Creationism in a religion class is far more fascistic than teaching both Creationism and Evolution in the same school. Creationism in public schools is certainly not ok, but the government should not tell private schools receiving voucher students what to teach their students. If a child or their parents do not like what the school is teaching they can take their voucher elsewhere. That is a democratic idea, not a fascistic idea. 

Anse
Anse

Yes, teach them how to think. Which is what the scientific method does, after all. But I would argue that skill and content knowledge must go hand-in-hand, at least on an elementary level.

@brandblake, Intelligent design is an insidious thing. Its defenders spend 10% of their time on pure conjecture based on a misunderstanding of nature, and 90% of their time telling you all about how wrong evolution is. It's a "theory" with only one purpose: to cast doubt on the entire endeavor of science. I see it as one of the more destructive methods by which the American right wing is attempting to throw our society into chaos, both cultural and political. They can't dictate the framework of debate any more, so just nuke the debate itself.

 
Houston Concert Tickets
Loading...