Government & Politics

Student takes role of David to creationist’s legislative Goliath

Zachary Kopplin undertook an unusual “science project” for his senior year at Baton Rouge Magnet High School. He’s  defending science itself, by advocating for the repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act.

Kopplin rightly views the legislation as costumed creationism –  ridiculous Trojan horse legislation that lets instructors  teach scientific “controversies” where none exist. He understands that when pseudo-scientific “supplemental” materials are used to critique scientific theories (such as evolution or gravity), a false balance results: ungrounded speculations are placed on par with the overwhelming scientific consensus.

This is a profound disservice to Louisiana’s high school students. They are receiving a diminished science education so that their Bible literalist parents won’t have to confront uncomfortable questions. Here’s my advice to these folks: Work out your self-generated mysteries on Sundays, people! Because if you want to go down this road, I’m going to use your law to create maximum academic mischief just to prove my point. Ptolemaic astronomy, anyone? Or how about Four Humors anatomy class? It’s all fun and games until your children graduate and realize that their science education was a cruel joke, and everyone else is laughing at them – including prospective employers.

Fortunately, Kopplin’s pro-science efforts have gained momentum in recent days. The Louisiana Coalition for Science recently announced that they will help Kopplin repeal the law, and that two New Orleans legislators will support the legislation:

Senator Karen Carter Peterson has agreed to introduce [a  repeal] bill in the Senate. Rep. Walt Leger has agreed to handle the bill in the House of Representatives if it survives the Senate.

Of course, repeal is a tall order. In 2008 the Science Education Act passed 94-3 in the House, and 35-0 in the Senate. The Coalition for Science recognizes that repeal won’t be easy. They say they are “realistic” about their chances of success this year. But, like Kopplin, they believe the fight is worthwhile and necessary, and they invite anyone who cares about science to contact their state senators in support of Peterson’s bill.

In a previous post titled “Reason’s Greetings,” I wrote about Kopplin’s testimony before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Kopplin noted that had all kinds of job listings for scientists, but none for creationists.

I recently e-mailed Kopplin and asked him what motivated him to pursue his repeal effort. He replied:

The biggest reason is jobs. There really are zero creationist jobs.  The biotech industry is an important part of our economy and Louisiana students can’t afford to be shut out of it.  Even if we’re not going into the biotech industry, the law still hurts us.  Any science company is going to have trouble trusting a Louisiana student’s education because our state has an anti science reputation based on this law.  No college wants to accept students who think creationism is science whether it is a college like Harvard or a state school like LSU (Kevin Carmen’s testimony at BESE is evidence of this), and it is making it harder for Louisiana students to be successful.

Also, it is pretty embarrassing whenever I go visit my family and friends out of state. I’ve had friends ask me about the LSEA after they saw it being covered in the New York Times.  I don’t want to be ashamed of the place where I grew up in.

Kopplin is right to connect the Science Education Act to lost job opportunities – that’s where the political traction is. While I’m fond of all the philosophical arguments against creationist “science,” nothing resonates with the average voter like job loss. Louisiana’s future will require highly trained scientific minds employed to drill for oil, restore the coast, and grow the emerging biotech corridors in New Orleans and Shreveport. This seems self-evident. But then the question becomes: Do we want these jobs to go to native Louisianans, or to scientists from out of state?

I mean, if the rest of the country is laughing at Louisiana’s “Flintstones” level science curricula, won’t that hurt our efforts to, as President Barack Obama says, “win the future?”  If Louisiana becomes a leader in pseudo-science education, won’t that only lead to more brain drain, out-migration, and lost economic opportunity? The bottom line has already been affected:  New Orleans lost out on a convention this year – to UTAH – because of this law.

Granted, Louisiana is a conservative state, and it has a strong fundagelical religious movement that supports creationism in the classroom. But so does Texas, and take a look at the latest news from the Lone Star state:

Thanks to activism by the Texas Freedom Network, [the anti-evolution publisher Foundation for Thought and Ethics] has announced it’s pulling back from efforts to get its creationist text books into the hands of Texas school children.

Despite being a staunchly conservative state, and one of the largest textbook markets in the nation, a creationist publisher stopped trying to insert their “instructional materials” in Texas classrooms. If pro-science victories are possible in Texas, why not in Louisiana?

Zachary Kopplin’s father is Andy Kopplin, the top deputy mayor and Chief Administrative Officer for Mayor Mitch Landrieu. So it will be no surprise if one day the younger Kopplin  decides to run for political office. But for now, he’s content to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act, graduate from high school, and go on to college. There, he plans to major in political science and economics, and minor in biology.

I wish him well.


One last note. University of Louisiana at Lafayette Professor John Oller Jr. responded to my “Reason’s Greetings” post from December, stating:

Mark Moseley, was correct in suggesting, at least, that critics of the outdated, doctrinaire, dumbed down books spoke about current biological science, while the defenders of the 19th century orthodoxy (who would win BESE’s approval, and who had not read the “new” biology textbooks) defended the books on the basis of 19th century dogma.

While I’m thankful for the notice, I didn’t mean to suggest that the textbook “defenders” appealed to “19th century dogma.” When I said that the textbook defenders “had faith in the two state committees that recommended the books,” I meant that their argument went beyond the particular texts at issue, and concerned the integrity of science education itself. The critics of the textbooks mostly narrowed the discussion to the texts under consideration, while the defenders tried to expand the context of the debate, and reveal the creationist motives underlying the critics’ complaints. They appealed to the expertise of evolutionary science professors and professional biologists who also testified at the meeting, and said that the evidence supports evolutionary theory.

That’s one of the problems with a false debate in a forum with time constraints. Creationists can throw out dozens of ill-founded questions in the time it takes a scientist to patiently answer one of them. But it doesn’t seem that these question-intoxicated creationists listen to the answers they get. They just toss out more (remedial) questions. (Ex: “I don’t understand how something as complex as an eye can evolve.”)  It’s truly a bizarre spectacle when “young earth” non-scientists trapped in 1st Century dogma attempt to dismiss an entire scientific community for being trapped in “outdated” 19th century dogma.

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  • jeffrey

    Why are we so afraid to just teach the controversy regarding natures many mysteries?

  • “Work out your self-generated mysteries on Sundays, people!”
    Hell, I wish we could just round them all up, put them on a boat and send them back to the Holy Land so they can work this out over there.

    Great post!

  • “Drill Baby Drill” and creationism are mutually exclusive.

  • Tim

    As Neil deGrasse Tyson wrote, “Another practice that isn’t science is embracing ignorance. Yet it’s fundamental to the philosophy of intelligent design: I don’t know what this is…. So it must be the product of a higher intelligence.”

    Sadly the Louisiana legislature is chock-full of happily ignorant lawmakers.



  • Glad to hear of another Baton Rouge High (future) alumnus who is pro-science and reason, unlike the one who is currently governor.

  • Bryan Trim

    As someone who graduated from a Louisiana high school, and has subsequently gone on to work in science and get a teaching certificate in another anti science state (Oklahoma), I applaud this young man’s efforts.

    To answer the person who asks “Why are we so afraid to just teach the controversy regarding natures many mysteries?

    There is no controversy in science. The controversy is manufactured, and is a multibillion dollar industry.

  • taiji

    so they just did a study in Russia here are three of their questions:

    Does the sun revolve around Earth? Is radioactivity a human invention? Did humans ever live side by side with dinosaurs?

    more than 30% answered yes to the book end questions and more than 50% answered yes to the radioactive question. They cant even blame religion as the root cause.

  • Brian

    Very simple solution. To all the creationists…go away. Pack your bags and go away. Hell, we would probably be willing to carve out a section of the U.S. and give it to you. Take your 10th century science and leave the rest of us in the 21st century. Of course, when you leave, you can’t take anything that science developed after, say, the 10th century. You know, things like electricity, medicine, and naturally, all the great civil protections we have struggled for. So just go away.

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