My unrivaled colleague, Jay Mathews, wrote a column urging Republican Rick Santorum to stay in the presidential race so that he can promote his belief that high schools should discuss alternatives to evolutionary theory.

Jay notes that when he suggested in 2005 that high school biology classes would be improved if students debated Darwinism and intelligent design — as if, apparently, they had equal claims of scientific legitimacy — he got a lot of letters telling him he was an idiot, and even a dangerous one.

Jay, of course, is the most accomplished education reporter on the planet, which makes this particular line of thinking so unacceptable.

Come on Jay, you must know better.

This isn’t an issue of competing theories. This isn’t an issue of whether one believes God had a hand in creating life.

This is simple: Evolution is the animating principle of modern biology, uniting all biological fields under one theoretical tent. It’s a theory in the sense that everything in science is considered a theory but biologists have no doubt of its essential truth: that life evolved on Earth through changes in the gene pools of populations over time.

Creationist theory is not a scientific alternative view to evolution. Though there are different varieties of creationist theory, or intelligent design, they all refer to the religious belief that God intervenes, or did intervene, in the physical world.

U.S. courts have ruled over and over that teaching explicitly religious alternatives to evolution in public schools violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

Yet the issue is so confusing or controversial that high school biology teachers are reluctant to endorse evolution in class, according to a 2011 poll. That poll of high school biology teachers, published in Science magazine, found that:

*About 28 percent consistently implement National Research Council recommendations calling for introduction of evidence that evolution occurred, and craft lesson plans with evolution as a unifying theme linking disparate topics in biology.

* About 13 percent of biology teachers “explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design by spending at least one hour of class time presenting it in a positive light.”

* The rest, about 60 percent, “fail to explain the nature of scientific inquiry, undermine the authority of established experts, and legitimize creationist arguments.”

I don’t know if you, Jay, would find this disturbing, but I do.

High school students certainly should know that there are a lot of people who don’t believe in evolution. But that’s hardly the same thing as saying that creationism and evolution should be debated, side by side, as if they have equal claims to legitimacy in a biology class.

They don’t.

And just because a lot of people think so doesn’t make it so.


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