NCSE's Townley criticizes West Virginia's new cryptocreationist law

NCSE Executive Director Amanda L. Townley.

Writing for Scientific American (April 3, 2024), NCSE Executive Director Amanda L. Townley criticized West Virginia's new cryptocreationist law.

The new law provides that "[n]o public school board, school superintendent, or school principal may prohibit a public school classroom teacher from discussing or answering questions from students about scientific theories of how the universe and/or life came to exist." The bill's lead sponsor, Amy Grady (R-District 4), declared that it would protect the teaching of "intelligent design," according to West Virginia Watch (January 23, 2024), although a federal court found "intelligent design" not to qualify as a scientific theory in Kitzmiller v. Dover in 2005.

After describing the legislative history of the new law, Townley suggested that its sponsors and supporters were in the grip of two misconceptions. "The first misconception is that learning about evolution threatens students' faith," she explained, whereas in fact, "Evolutionary biologists include people of many faiths and of none, and evolutionary biology is routinely taught in institutions of higher education, whether public or private, secular or sectarian, as the well-established area of modern science that it is."

"A second misconception is that exposing students to 'intelligent design' promotes religious freedom," Townley continued. "On the contrary, because 'intelligent design' reflects a narrow sectarian rejection of evolution, teaching it in school actually harms religious freedom. The division of church and state is crucial for the religious freedom of everyone in the U.S. Yet some people hope for the undoing of this separation of religion and political power, mainly because they expect that those in power will share their particular religious beliefs."

Townley also warned of unforeseen consequences, writing, "With no definition of 'scientific theories' in the law ... the sky's the limit. Why not geocentrism or flat-Earthery? Why not crystal healing? Why not racist views claiming that white people and Black people have separate ancestry? All of these notions, which stem from religious beliefs, not science, have been held up by their proponents as scientific theories, and West Virginia's legislature and governor just opened the public classroom door to them."

Townley concluded, "Failure to maintain the separation of church and state, and to instead favor a particular sectarian view, opens a door that, one day, people will wish could be closed."

Glenn Branch
Short Bio

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.