Critics of the practice of teaching evolution in science classrooms are taking up a new strategy: going after the teaching of global warming.
The New York Times reports that a bill recently introduced in Kentucky would encourage teachers to discuss "the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories," including "evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning."
By linking the global warming debate with these other issues, proponents of the legislation have a two-pronged motive. First, it strengthens their legal argument. Courts have ruled that singling out evolution for criticism violates the separation of church and state, so going after global warming gives them a broader agenda and thus opens a legal loophole. Second, by riding the coattails of rising public doubt about climate science, creationists hope to legitimize their stance against the scientific establishment in general.
"Wherever there is a battle over evolution now, there is a secondary battle to diminish other hot-button issues like Big Bang and, increasingly, climate change. It is all about casting doubt on the veracity of science — to say it is just one view of the world, just another story, no better or more valid than fundamentalism," physicist Lawrence M. Krauss of the Origins Initiative at Arizona State University told the New York Times.
And the bill in Kentucky is only the latest in a string of legislative attempts across the country with similar intent. Just this week, a resolution passed in South Dakota that called for more "balanced" teaching of global warming in public schools, citing that "carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, but rather a highly beneficial ingredient for all plant life." Last year the Texas Board of Education required teachers to present all sides of the debate when discussing global warming, and in Oklahoma a bill much like Kentucky's was introduced.
Aside from sharing political and legal agendas, critics of global warming and critics of evolution may seem like improbable bedfellows. After all, what does global warming really have to do with creationism, and vice versa? But the two issues share a lot of cultural overlap.
For instance, a survey published in October by the Pew Research Center found that white evangelical Protestants were among those least likely to believe that there was "solid evidence" that the Earth was warming because of human activity. Rev. Jim Ball of the Evangelical Environmental Network, a religious group that accepts the science of global warming, noted that many Christian fundamentalists have difficulty accepting the reality of human-induced global warming because they believe only God has the power to alter the climate.
Yet despite the obstacles, climate scientists and educators are mounting a movement and counterstrategy of their own. The Climate Education Interagency Working Group, a group that consolidates the efforts of several federal agencies, is making a strong push under President Obama's leadership toward "climate literacy" for both teachers and students.
So long as science itself is not banned from the classroom, climate scientists and evolutionists alike still have one major advantage in the fight: sound, empirical evidence.