Creation Science in the Classroom - A Case Study

When proposals of a "balanced-treatment" creationism class is raised, be aware that it's been done before, so we know what happens. In this case, starting in 1979, teacher Ray Baird taught a "balanced-treatment" class to 5th and 6th grade students using "public school" materials from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). In 1981, it created an issue that divided the community of Livermore, CA, and resulted in

The method of "instruction" in the ICR materials violated the basic principles of education -- that the goal is for the student to understand the concepts and material rather than to compel belief -- by repeatedly requiring the student to make a life decision right then and there between the Creator and "atheistic evolution" (as the materials misrepresented evolution). This caused a number of the 12-year-old students to become atheists, just as the creationist materials had instructed them to do.

Besides the chapter from Barry Price's book, quoted below, other sources of information on this event are:

The following is the text of Chapter 12 from Barry Price's book, "The Creation Science Controversy" (Sydney, Australia: Millenium Books, 1990). The book is currently out of print. I have tried to find the author and publisher in order to formally request permission to post the material. Having been unsuccessful, I am posting this exerpt on the Web under fair usage, since I am only posting a small part of the book, a single chapter out of more than 12, the purpose for posting is educational, and I am not profitting in any manner from this posting. If the person or company that holds the copyright objects to my posting this material here, then please contact me.

Scanned and converted to HTML by David C. Wise. Please notify me of any scan errors that you may find herein.

Chapter 12

Creation Science in the Classroom - A Case Study

This chapter considers the effect of creation science in the classroom. A case that became a nationwide scandal. Many of the student materials have not been published before. The details of what happens in actual classrooms where creation science is taught are nigh impossible to obtain. What happened at Livermore, California is a damning indictment against creation science. Creationists know this and fear it more than all the scientific and religious arguments put together.

It is an object lesson for parents everywhere. It should cause those parents who have sent their children to Christian schools, in order to learn Christian values, to check closely that what happened at Livermore is not happening to their children. In some cases it is.

All parents should be concerned whenever creation science, in any form whatsoever, is allowed into schools. If parents are unaware of what could happen, then surely there will be concern after reading this.

The Emma C. Smith School

In 1980 the Emma C. Smith Elementary School at Livermore became the center of a storm of controversy which sent shockwaves throughout the State of California and across the nation. A group of sixth grade students had been taught a course in creation/evolution by Ray Baird, using materials almost exclusively from the Institute for Creation Research: texts, slides, videotapes and newsletters. Baird had been teaching the same course to classes of 12-year-olds for two years prior to this.

The materials had been bought with state funds intended for gifted students. It was alleged by one student's parent, Marian Finger, that Lloyd Teel, then principal of the school, had signed the requisition for the materials, ignoring a complaint made by one of the teaching staff about the religious content in the course called "Creationism - Evolutionism."

In the United States it is illegal to teach a particular religion in public schools, although schools may teach about different religions in a historical context. The separation of church and state is a strongly upheld tenet of the Constitution (Amendment 1, Bill of Rights). Many of those who first settled in America had fled from the religious wars and persecutions of seventeenth century Europe.

The Livermore Parents

There are hundreds of newspaper clippings on every aspect of the Livermore affair. The following indicates the feelings of some of the parents: The situation in Livermore developed slowly over a period of three years, according to Finger. During that time, Finger says, a sixth grade teacher, Ray Baird, ordered about $700 of materials, primarily from the Institute for Creation Research and the Creation Science Research Center, and was using the material to teach a unit on creation/evolution. The money came from the state grants to California school districts to be used for materials for gifted children.

Finger's son Eric took the unit in 1979. On the first page of Eric's notes for the class is a statement of the Genesis account of creation. According to Eric, his teacher emphasized the mutual exclusiveness of the two models. "He said that either both were wrong, or one, but not both, could be right," Eric says.

Eric says that at the end of the unit, the teacher conducted an anonymous vote in which the students had to choose between evolution and creationism. According to Eric, six students out of a class of about 30 voted for evolution; the rest voted for creationism. The teacher presented a tally of the votes to the class.

"Most of those for evolution were among the gifted students," Eric says, who is himself among the gifted students. "I thought a lot of the others were maybe influenced by how Mr. Baird presented it. I don't know if that's true, but it could be."

Eric and the rest of the gifted students were given extra assignments in the class: They were required to view filmstrips over again in the library.

Those filmstrips were blatantly religious, according to Sheila Karlson, another of the mothers. "One of them started out by saying, and this is almost a direct quotation, that 'Either the Bible is true or evolution is true. You must make a decision.' It goes on from there to give this very distorted picture of evolution and this glowing picture of creation.

"Karlson became aware of the situation when her daughter, Kristine, became worried about preparing a report in which she had to present the scientific evidence for both evolution and scientific creation. "Scientific creation was a term I had not heard of," Sheila Karlson says. "I didn't know where to get that information. I told Kristine to go to the Bible, but she said, 'No, it has to be scientific evidence."

Kristine Karlson was convinced that creationism was correct. "Lots of people believed in creationism," she says, "because the teacher is such a nice, friendly person."

"I saw that as the biggest threat," Sheila Karlson says. "Here you have a teacher who is worshipped by his students. He could tell them anything and they would believe him."

Karlson says that she is uncomfortable with forcing children to make such an important choice. "I was trying to make clear to Kristine that I don't know how many people ever make that choice, and that it isn't necessary."

When Sheila Karlson approached the teacher about the course, another mother went with her because, Karlson says, the woman's son refused to watch the television program "Cosmos" because, her son said, Carl Sagan was a liar, according to the teacher of the class.

Ruth Anne Hunt's son John Patrick is a bright, articulate, 12 year old. John Patrick described what his teacher said prior to showing a videotape of a "Cosmos" presentation on the evolution of crabs. "He poisoned the well," John Patrick says. "He would say: 'Television people manipulate you' (Baum, 1982, p. 24)

Another newspaper reports Baird as saying that the resources used to teach his course were just placed on the shelves and not used in class presentations. What he omits to say is that the shelves were in the library. The books were borrowed extensively by the students for reports and assignments. There was nothing else they could use. There was considerable divergence between Baird and parents on this issue.

Baird has admitted to error in using these materials, but has contended that the course had already started when they were delivered and he "just placed them on the shelves without really reviewing them," a failing he has also called an error. He has said he incorporated none of these materials in his class presentations, and he gave "equal, if not more, time and consideration" to the theory of evolution.

The protesting parents give a different picture. They say Baird's course was slanted to creationism and his presentation of the issue conformed to the ICR's teachings, in particular its doctrine that the choice between creationism and evolution is a choice between God and atheism. The parents also contend that Baird was fully aware of the content of the materials, some of which had been in his classroom since last year. (The Independent, 7 January 1981)

The point overlooked by both Baird and parents is that these materials or their equivalents from the ICR are the only ones he could have used. They are designed and published for schools and without them there would have been no course. He would have been doing no more than standing up in the front of the class voicing his own opinion.

There is more than a little doubt that Baird gave equal time to evolution and creationism.

"I think it's true he gave more time to evolution, says one parent. "He spent 40% of the time telling the kids why creationism is good and the other 60% telling them why evolution is bad."

Another parent, whose child observed Baird teaching this subject three years ago, relates that while Baird succeeded in winning some converts to the creationist view, other students, including her own child, were so appalled that they completely rejected religion in their own lives. According to this mother, all the teacher really accomplished was to polarize the class into two camps, the believers and the nonbelievers. (The Independent, 7 January 1981)

One of the mothers writes:

The most dangerous information to the scientific creationists was the fact that the gifted students could see how bad the science was and that they were voting evolutionism which was, in the context of the course, the same as voting atheism. Some of the gifted students voted evolutionism because they could see the fallacy of the either-or approach. Some actually, in anger, did give up religious belief. (Finger, 1988)

The Materials Used

Between 6 March 1979 and 22 January 1981, invoices from Creation-Life Publishers, San Diego, addressed to Livermore Valley Unified School District (California), showed a total of $735.29. Of this, $345.95 was spent on the purchase of eight filmstrips and a set of transparencies. There was also a purchase of Science Readers from the Bible Science Association. These are in sets of eight, one for each week of the course. These are all marked Public School Edition.

In creation science publications the only difference between Christian school and public school editions is the erasure of biblical references. With the exception that Christian school editions may sometimes have short religious messages at the end, both editions are identical. Not all creation science books come in two editions.

The majority of the materials ordered were obviously not intended for classroom use. They included technical monographs and other publications with titles such as Genetic Engineering and Ageing and Freezing Human Bodies. Most of these seem intended for personal use as background material for Ray Baird, who admits he is a convinced creationist. He is also, by all reports, a very popular and effective teacher.

The only books ordered in multiple copies were Dinosaurs, Those Terrible Lizards (1O), Evolution? The Fossils Say No (Public/ School), (4) and Dry Bones ... and Other Fossils (7). The first two are by Duane Gish and the third is by Gary Parker. There were also single copies of books by Henry Morris, for example The Twilight of Evolution. This book is especially -renowned for Morris's derivation from the Bible that the craters on the moon are scars from a primordial battle between two factions of angels, and that flying saucers are in reality the devil's minions visiting earth from their homes in the asteroid belt. The most popular books with the students were those by Gish and Parker.

There is not a single book in the eight weeks' course which presents the viewpoint of evolution. Not one! Even though Baird claimed he was "only showing kids how to make choices between two contrasting viewpoints" (Livermore Herald, 18 January 1981).

In the Classroom

The children's notebooks plus the texts used for the course are graphic. They tell very clearly the teaching objectives and strategies for the unit, and they illustrate the pseudo-objectivity of the teacher:

There are two models which are used by science and each is valid. Neither model can be proved. Each is a matter of faith. One model is followed by those who believe in God. The other model is followed by atheists.

The materials, both textual and visual, the constant repetition, the conviction of the teacher, the absence of any other viewpoint all add up to little short of brainwashing when drummed in over a period of eight weeks by a competent and trusted teacher with a class of 12-year-olds.

It is important to examine a sample of the work done by the students. Here are notes written by one student in the first lesson of the course:


Creationists believe, in the beginning a creator created the heavens & the earth & all life in this order:

Day 1 The heavens & earth were created. All was dark at first, & then there was light for daytime. There was some form of water.
Day 2 Water divided from heaven & earth.
Day 3 Water separated from dry land to form oceans & land. Vegetation on land.
Day 4 Two big lights were formed - one for day & one for night.
Day 5 Sea life & birds were made.
Day 6 Animals arrived - males & females.
Day 7 The creator rested.
It happened in a short period.
Plants & animal s were created in groups called kinds. There could be changes within a kind, but one kind could not change into another kind.
They also believed at one time there was a world wide flood. Before the flood there were no mountains & it never rained, there were only rivers to drink from. There was a warm even temperature all over the earth.

What caused the flood was there was a water vapor canopy all around the earth & it would protect all life from harmful rays of the sun.
Rain drops need a nucleus or a fine spec of dust or something solid. Water vapor is not clouds, steam or mist; it is clear water. If it ever started raining the whole water vapor canopy would come down on the earth.
At the time there were many volcanoes all around the earth.
A volcano does not have to be tall. At the time, a lot of volcanic action had been going on; a volcano erupted & somehow blew specs of dust into the water vapor canopy & it started to rain & the whole water vapor canopy came down & flooded the earth.


And this was the teacher's comment on the notes:
Where is the scientific evidence that you have researched to support the theory of creationism. You have generally explained the theory well.
It is quite apparent that God has not been mentioned to this student. Evidently this is done so that it can be stated that it is not religion! In this way, Creator is made into creator - offending to many Christians. It is blatantly obvious that this is the biblical account of creation followed by a pseudo-scientific story of the Flood. It is found only in creationist writings and nowhere else.

This is what creation science calls an alternative account to evolution; it is claimed to be "not religion."

The following is an excerpt from the book most popular with the 12-year-olds, Dinosaurs, Those Terrible Lizards:

There are other scientists, called creationists, who believe that the scientific evidence shows that dinosaurs did not evolve, but that they were created by God, just as described in the Bible. Creationists believe that dinosaurs were created the same time that Man and all other creatures were created, probably sometime less than 10,000 years ago. The Bible says:
And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and everything that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:24, 25. (Gish, 1977, p. 13)
This excerpt, as does the rest of the book with its appealing illustrations, subtly proclaims that evolution and creation science are on a par, that creationists believe in God and that the Bible is science. This excerpt was copied from one of the books placed in the Smith school library for the use of Baird's class. After the storm broke, Gish publicly rejected Baird for not using public school editions. He used this as an excuse to proclaim that the Institute for Creation Research disapproved of what happened at Livermore. It was a convenient way to wash his hands since this book by Gish seems to have been the only Christian version at the school. All other books were the public school editions.

However, there is some doubt that this was a Christian school edition. ICR policy is that Christian school editions may use Bible references but public school editions may not. Many ICR publications appear only in the one format. However, there is no evidence, at least in existing catalogues, that the above book of Gish's has appeared in both public and Christian school editions. The system is somewhat flexible because at the Arkansas hearing a few months after the incident at Livermore a copy of Gish's Evolution? The Fossils Say No had been hastily converted from public to Christian by the simple expedient of gluing a disclaimer inside the front cover (Gilkey, 1985, p. 301).

Following Gish's logic, what is nonsense in public schools is transmuted to truth in Christian schools by the addition of Bible references. Conversely, truth in Christian schools is transmuted to nonsense in public schools by removing Bible references. Hence a Bible reference changes true to false and vice versa. The mind boggles. The possibilities are endless. The implications for students in Christian schools are serious.

The following excerpt is from the public school edition of Parker's Dry Bones ... and Other Fossils (p. 68):

You didn't believe in God, Dad?
Not really, Dave. I surely didn't believe that God was speaking to me through the Bible. And, after all, there is one big weak spot in the creation view.
What is that?
You can't believe in creation if you don't believe in a Creator. If there is no Creator, then creation doesn't make any sense.

But if there is a Creator, then evolution doesn't make any sense.
You are right about that for sure, David! Evolution is not based on the fossil evidence. It is really based on belief that you have to explain everything without God.
So, creation and evolution are both really a matter of faith.
When you get to the bottom of it, that's true, Dave. If you don't believe in God, then you have to believe in some kind of evolution. And then you must try to make the fossils fit in with evolution somehow.
But if you believe the Bible, then you can see how easily the fossils fit with Creation, man's sin, and the Flood. Right, Dad?
Right, Dave!

The above excerpt shows without the shadow of a doubt that not only are young children being forced to make a choice between God and evolution but they are being taught that the entire worldwide community of scientists is totally deluded because they don't believe in God. These palpable lies are repeated ad nauseum through the seventy pages of the book. The actors in the charade are Dad and his son, Dave. Dad is a former atheist evolutionist who was converted to God and creationism.

Following is the conclusion to Dry Bones... and Other Fossils:

And we hope that you, too, will try to see God's world through God's eyes. The heavens declare His glory; the fossils show the power of His judgment. And the open arms of Jesus hold us with the love of God that leads to abundant life forever for those who believe Him.

Thanks for sharing our adventures and thoughts on fossils. From our family to you and yours - May God bless you! (Parker, 1979, p. 71)

This is part of a science course. This is being read in the hundreds of thousands of copies sold in Australia and the United States. This is creation SCIENCE.

The excerpts above can only indicate in the slightest degree the overall classroom milieu. There are the eight filmstrips, the set of transparencies, guest speakers and, most important of all, a committed creationist teacher popular with students. The only materials about evolution are those prepared by creationists, proving that evolution cannot be true.

In the seventh week of the course a test is given to prepare students for the final examination in the eighth week. By the seventh week, all the concepts have been well drilled. Students now realize that evolution and creation are opinions. There is no more evidence for one than for the other.

The final test is a condensed version of the pretest. Unless you knew what had occurred in the preceding weeks you could be excused for thinking that both evolution and creation had been taught. But the only thing taught about evolution is where it conflicts with creation. No evidence, just a handful of facts which give the appearance that both versions have been given equal time and equal effort.

The Final Vote

During the course the gifted children, who questioned the either-or or two-model presentation, were sent back to the library to view again the filmstrips. The authority of the printed word and the visual media are effective on all of us but much more so on 12-year-olds. The purpose of the whole course is to gradually lead students to the making of a decision and commitment which will affect their lives at the deepest level. The first step is to bring about acceptance that creation and evolution are equally valid models. The second step is to equate evolution with atheism. The final step is to evaluate the effectiveness of the indoctrination.

After the test the students were asked to vote creationism or evolution. Given the context of the vote and everything which had gone before, it is nigh miraculous that the six gifted children voted evolution knowing that by so doing they were voting atheist. Two actually became atheist and gave away religion.

It is appropriate to quote from Brother W. X. Simmons, director of the Catholic Education Office, Sydney. In November 1986 Simmons sent a letter to Catholic schools in Sydney which effectively banned the teaching of creation science. The letter also served as the foreword to The Two Books of God, a paper which gave the religious reasons for rejecting creation science.

Scientists do not accept creationism as science, and the Catholic student who is taught creationism as if it were a science is forced into an impossible position. No professional teacher should consider doing such. (Price, 1986b, p. A13.0)
The dilemma in which the students at Livermore were placed is a microcosm of the same dilemma in which many Christians have found themselves over the past century or more. The failure of the Christian churches to accept evolution because it appeared to contradict certain doctrines has caused many to conclude, as did the students at Livermore, that if the Church's science is so fallacious then so is its religion. This is one of the reasons why it may be said that Christianity is the religion which spawns atheism. The failure of Christian leadership to proclaim that evolution is acceptable means that for many the dilemma still exists. Thus Church leadership must bear at least part of the responsibility for the milieu in which creationism flourishes.

In the midst of the events at Livermore Chuck Larson, whose wife, Jan, was president of the Smith School Parent-Teachers' Association, appeared on public television. His words are a poignant comment on what has been said above. He says it all:

If evolution were to be absolutely, 100 percent proven to be true and that creationism was a lie, then, you know, what would I do with my belief as a creationist, as a Christian, if we go back to religion now? I would absolutely discard all of the Bible and everything in it. I, as a person, am a faulty person, and I have ignorances and faults and, you know, failures in my life, and I need an anchor and something to hang on to. And so if my God becomes a liar to me then He's no longer God, and I've got to look elsewhere for God.
(Transcript of Creation vs. Evolution, Battle in the Classroom, KPBS Television, San Diego, 7 July 1982)

The Aftermath

The three or four mothers who approached the Livermore teacher to complain about their children being taught religion under the guise of science were ordinary suburban homemakers. In no way did they foresee that their action would catalyze the biggest scandal the nation had seen concerning the teaching of creation science in a classroom. They suddenly found themselves in the center of a storm. Protagonists from both sides rushed to Livermore to defend their interests.

Heavies from the ICR in San Diego arrived in town. Richard Bliss, an education expert, had with him Wendell Bird, the creationist lawyer who was to argue creation science in many a court, and still is. Attorney Bird advised Livermore creationists not to mention God when talking about Genesis (Sunday Times, California, 8 February 1981).

The upshot was that Livermore became a community split, a war zone with the bullets being fired by outsiders.

"Whether intentional or not, a child should never be forced to make a decision between God and science," said Mrs. Karlson, a former Catholic now attending a Presbyterian Church. "How many of us ever do that?"

After months of acrimonious debate and reams of publicity, the Livermore school board voted last month to suspend the teaching of scientific creationism by Ray Baird at the Emma Smith Elementary School.

The controversy, however, is far from over. There remains a passionate and powerful division of feelings - even though both camps claim to be unemotionally involved.

Neighbors are not on speaking terms even though they live on the same street, consider themselves Christians and have children who play on the same soccer team. (The Herald, California, 8 March 1981, p. 16)

A compromise was inevitable. The battle at the level of the school board seesawed back and forth. It wasn't much calmer in the Smith School Parent-Teachers' Association: the president was a creationist. For a while it looked as though Baird would be allowed to continue his course on the condition he consulted with parents and other members of the community.

One newspaper editor saw clearly enough through the cloud of emotion to get to the real issue:

Ray Baird's Error

Ray Baird has admitted that he erred in bringing creationist materials into his classroom at Emma C. Smith School. He has promised not to use such materials again and to solicit community involvement for the creationist course he plans to teach in the spring.

Although Baird's admission of error was given with sincerity, and although he enjoys a widespread reputation as a competent and popular teacher, we believe that the error can't be dismissed so easily. The error was not a minor one but involved an apparent violation of the First Amendment; separation of church and state.

It also involved, in Baird's neglect to screen the creationist materials, a violation of one of the most fundamental of all the responsibilities expected of a professional teacher - one which demands special care when the subject is as sensitive as this one. Baird's belief in creationism is so fervent, it seems, that it rendered him incapable of maintaining his professional discipline.

We're profoundly concerned about his intention to teach the course again. We're convinced that regardless of how he dresses up creationism, the same problems will remain.

The issue, however, isn't really Baird. The issue is that teachers like him should be prevented from teaching this kind of subject in the future. Preventive guidelines are in order - specific ones concerning creationism and all other church-sponsored doctrines that purport to have scientific or academic legitimacy. If such guidelines aren't invoked, there are grounds to personally discipline Baird, and this should be done, as an example to discourage other teachers who might try to bring the church into the schools.
(The Independent, California, 14 January 1981)

However, in the end, Baird's course was canceled and Baird went on to teach in a nearby senior high school.

A Conspicuous Absence

What is absent from the media accounts, all 12 square meters of cuttings when spread across the floor, is concern for the effect on the thirty students of Baird, and the students from the previous two years, and the students since. We can't help but wonder about them - what do they believe now, those who were forced to make such a monumental decision at the age of 12?

Did those students who chose the evolution horn of the false dilemma realize the truth later in their lives and become at ease with religion? Did some of those who chose the creationism horn realize later that it was scientific nonsense, and become atheists? Did those who chose creationism and stayed with it become, like Chuck Larson, fearful that if evolution were true then God must be abandoned?

Furthermore, how many Bairds in how many classrooms are recreating the same dilemma? How many tens of thousands of children are being affected?

In Australia the Creation Science Foundation states on the envelopes it uses to mail its materials that the CSF is the "Supplier of quality Creation Science Material, Christian School Texts and Audio Visuals." The school materials listed in the catalogues are virtually the same as used at Livermore. The CSF sells at least a quarter of a million dollars' worth of texts and films each year. How many Australian parents who send their children to Christian schools are aware of what may be happening to those children belief in God at the expense of the rejection of the scientific culture in which they live? Or the acceptance of science at the expense of faith?

There could be no more appropriate ending for this chapter than the words of one of the mothers whose children attended Baird's class. She still looks back with anger at what was inflicted upon her child.

I'll tell you honestly, that it infuriates me to think that some teacher, entrusted with the minds of gifted students, is feeding them twisted facts, gross exaggerations, and downright lies about the nature of the world because he feels it's his "duty" to save their souls (or whatever his particular problem is).

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First uploaded on 2001 June 27.
Updated on 2011 August 03.