Creationist Lawmakers Hijack State Fossil Proposal
Creationists are once again attempting to inject their anti-science agenda into public discourse, this time with a breathtakingly inane attempt by lawmakers to hijack a little girl’s proposal for a South Carolina official state fossil. Given the single-minded intransigence of the promoters of creationism, it is not surprising that they would attempt to bring their profoundly false conceptions of the origin of life into such a proposal. Nonetheless, this event affords yet another embarrassing reminder of the persistence of pseudoscientific ideas in a nation that so often prides itself on its achievements and supposed greatness.
Eight-year-old Olivia McConnell convinced her state’s lawmakers to submit a bill designating the woolly mammoth South Carolina’s official state fossil. She cited the fact that in 1725, slaves on a South Carolina plantation made a historic discovery of woolly mammoth teeth, one of the first documented discoveries of fossils on the North American continent. She also pointed out that only seven states lack a state fossil, and noted the value of fossils in providing information about the past. Rep. Robert Ridgeway and Sen. Kevin Johnson happily obliged, but the bill was stalled in the state senate by creationist lawmaker Sen. Kevin Bryant.
In a remarkable display of folly, Bryant proposed that the bill be amended to include a reference to the biblical account of creation, including three verses from the Book of Genesis. He proposed that a mention be included of the putative creation of the mammoth on the sixth day. Fellow lawmaker and promoter of pseudoscience Sen. Mike Fair has backed him. The true pity is that they have so much company: 46 percent of Americans hold to a creationist view of origins, according to a Gallup poll released in 2012.
Thanks to the efforts of these two creationist lawmakers to hijack it, McConnell’s state fossil proposal is now on hold. From a scientific standpoint, including a reference to the biblical account of creation in a bill to designate an official state fossil is fundamentally as absurd as including alchemy in a chemistry class, or giving “equal time” to “flat earth theory” in a geography class. Of course, creationists such as Bryant are nothing if not predictable in their attempts to inject their profoundly false ideas into every attempt to increase science education in this country, as witnessed by the recent kerfuffle over Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos.
Unfortunately, Bryant and Fair are but another symptom of an embarrassing national problem with pseudoscience. Never mind the overwhelming evidence of the fossil record, which clearly captures evolutionary change: for people like Bryant and Fair, everything was created supernaturally. The fossil record for the evolution of the so-called proboscids, including mammoths, is actually quite good. The proboscid lineage can be traced from the relatively unassuming Phosphatherium, a squat, vaguely pig-like herbivore living about 55-60 million years ago, down through the emergence of Deinotheres and Gomphotheres to mastodons (Mammutidae), and the Elephantidae, such as mammoths (Mammuthus), and extant African and Asian elephants (Loxodonta and Elephas).
In an age when it has never been easier to access accurate information about the real world and its true history, the existence of lawmakers determined to promote the proven falsehoods of creationism should be as laughable as lawmakers who believe in geocentrism—even in South Carolina. For example, TalkOrigins.org has an index rebutting a dizzying array of creationist claims. TalkOrigins.org also examines evidence for evolution from such sources as the fossil record, the remnants of broken genes in the human and other genomes, transposons, biogeography, and much, much more besides. Reading a single introduction to the subject, such as Richard Dawkins’s The Greatest Show on Earth, can provide a perfectly sufficient general lesson on the overwhelming evidence for evolution.
In hijacking the South Carolina state fossil proposal, creationist lawmakers Bryant and Fair capably represented their anti-scientific views. They also capably represented the culture that allowed two men to grow to maturity and run for public office, all while professing a profoundly false idea of the history of life. Perhaps someday future generations will look back on America in the early 21st century and cringe at such palpable and public displays of allegiance to pseudoscience, but in South Carolina and many other states the picture is not an encouraging one.
Opinion by Michael Schultheiss
Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (print source)
The Daily Beast
NY Daily News
About.com – Dinosaurs