by Michael Baltzley on Science 10 Jun 2016, Vol. 352, Issue 6291, pp. 1285-1286 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf7386
Biology faculty who teach evolution at U.S. colleges and universities often worry about the efforts of creationists to include the teaching of “intelligent design” in publicly funded high school biology courses. Now we also have cause to worry about students at publicly funded colleges and universities earning science credits for learning creationism.
The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) is developing an Interstate Passport Initiative, funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education, which would streamline the learning outcomes for courses across institutions to facilitate the transfer of credits(1). Unfortunately, with the Passport Initiative, WICHE proposes making the creationist “teach the controversy” strategy as a standard part of college biology courses. In their document “Faculty handbook: Constructing your institution’s Passport block,” WICHE suggests that to demonstrate scientific literacy, students should “watch the Ken Hamm [sic]–Bill Nye evolution-creation debate and evaluate the scientific evidence and arguments used by the participants”(2).
This suggestion validates creationism as science by stating explicitly that both participants have scientific evidence. Middle school, high school, and college instructors who support creationism can point to the WICHE Passport Initiative as evidence that there is a scientific debate that includes creationism. The Answers in Genesis website has already promoted the debate as a way to get creationism into science classrooms(3).
If the goal of the curriculum is to help students use scientific evidence to debunk myths, the suggested class activity should be rephrased to read, “Watch the Ken Ham–Bill Nye evolution-creation debate and evaluate the arguments used by the participants.” However, even with better wording, by including the debate in a science class, WICHE is promoting the use of the Ham-Nye debate as an example of a scientific controversy. There are hundreds of genuine biological debates, both current and historical, that good educators can make interesting. WICHE should choose real examples of scientific debates and avoid advocating for creationism in science classrooms.
A student who takes general education courses at a WICHE Passport institution will soon be able to transfer the credits to any other Passport institution. The receiving institution cannot reject individual courses from approved institutions. Currently, WICHE lists 24 public institutions representing more than 150 campuses in seven U.S. states as participants in developing the Passport Initiative. WICHE plans to expand the Passport Initiative to six more states. As the Initiative grows, more and more public postsecondary institutions will be awarding science credits for courses that include creationism. To prevent the insertion of religion into science classrooms, scientists must speak out against the Passport Initiative until WICHE removes creationism from their suggested curriculum.
(1) Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, The Interstate Passport.
(2) Interstate Passport, “Faculty handbook: Constructing your institution’s Passport block” (2016); p. 43 (pdf).
(3) Answers in Genesis, “Public schools and the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate” (2014).