Matt writes to point out that the anti-evolution textbook stickers are coming off in Cobb County. A small victory, he says. Yes, and an important one. I wish I were more heartened by it.

The so-called debate that intelligent design creationists have sought and inspired is already having a chilling effect on science education. Witness Monticello, Minnesota, where an elementary school withdrew their invitation to children’s book author Lisa Westberg Peters for fear that her visit would spark debate about evolution. I understand principal looking at meager per-pupil funding might have cause for concern, but I still think this was the wrong decision.

My next book purchase will be Peters’ book, Our Family Tree.

Bert Humburg has written a marvelous essay for The Panda’s Thumb, “Creationist Fears, Creationist Behaviors.” Highly recommended. Humburg points out that for creationists, “the whole point of criticizing evolutionary theory is to criticize evolutionary theory.” He explores what’s behind creationists’ fear of evolution, the notion that it invalidates their religious beliefs. That makes sense: my father, a fundamentalist Christian, has said on several occasions that without a literal understanding of the Bible, his faith is meaningless. (Selective literalism aside, this is deeply troubling to me. Why would God’s truth be any less true as metaphor?)

Critically, Humburg suggests what this means for science advocacy strategies:

  • Deny creationists martyrdom. Do not let them portray themselves as a persecuted minority.
  • Don’t confuse the public. “Arguing pseudoscience with science in an audience comprised of those unfamiliar with the science involved will lead to confusion.”
  • Develop alliances. We cannot rely solely on scientific arguments.

Real evolution advocacy happens in day-to-day life. It happens when doctors explain to their patients that since the 1930s, animal research has been required to bring drugs to the market and that such research makes no sense without evolution. It happens in political discussions, as citizens learn the actual science that underpins the contentious issues being debated or supports sound policies. It happens when theologians remind creationists that God calls them to take responsibility for their beliefs and that well-meaning believers have had to reexamine their theology in the light of verified science many times throughout history. It happens when those who understand evolution advocate for it daily without embarrassment, recognizing it for the non-controversial component of essential biology education that it is.

Go read it in its entirety, it’s worth it.

As for the textbook stickers, a lot of people I’ve talked to feel that they’re innocuous enough, what’s the big deal? Read the judge’s opinion (PDF) and it will be crystal clear: the decision to place the disclaimer stickers in textbooks did not happen in a vacuum. A reasonable person in Cobb County is likely to interpret the stickers as government endorsement of particular religious beliefs. That is unacceptable. That is why I am so happy to see the stickers go. Thanks for the news, Matt. It is a victory.