Vriezen: States should stop trying to push religion into classrooms


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Hagia Sophia behind Bars of Blue Mosque Istanbul

Claire Vriezen

Once again, a state is trying to pass an underhanded bit of legislation that would be used to inject religious views into a public school science classroom. At the end of January, the Indiana Senate approved a bill that would allow schools to teach “various theories of the origin of life.” While the legislation still has to pass through committee and the Indiana House of Representatives, the fact that creationist legislation has once again been introduced at a state level is troubling, to say the least.

Since the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in 2005, it was ruled that attempting to teach “intelligent design” was the equivalent of teaching creationism, a distinctly religious idea, and was not permissible in the science classrooms of public schools. Despite this clear Supreme Court ruling, multiple states and school districts have continued to attempt adding creation “science” to public school classrooms.

The text of Indiana’s proposed legislation originally read as follows: “Sec. 18. The governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation.”

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, this bill did not even attempt to disguise teaching creationism as the less threatening intelligent design. And it is a certainty that any attempt to teach “creation science” in schools will be a distinctly Christian creation story, considering the current religious demographics of the United States.

It then becomes telling that the bill was amended to read somewhat differently after it passed through the Indiana Senate. The text of the current bill removes the use of the term “creation science” and adds on “the curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Scientology.” The change was introduced by Sen. Vi Simpson, D-Bloomington, in a move she hoped would bluntly point out the religious implications of the bill. The sponsor of the bill stated that he disliked the change to the bill but hoped that it would increase support.

Thankfully, after a good deal of opposition from the scientific community, the House speaker noted that this issue was something that had previously been ruled upon by the U.S. Supreme Court, and this amendment may be a “side issue and someplace we don’t need to go.” It is questionable whether the bill will progress further, but the fact that it was introduced gives yet another look at the climate towards evolution in schools in America.

While it could be argued that the phrasing of the bill doesn’t specify the curriculum be implemented in a science classroom, the original text of the bill that contained the phrase “creation science,” implying an intended change to the science curriculum, and the topic of the origin of life is usually reserved for a life sciences or biology course.

Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Wheatfield, considers the current wording of the bill to be “no different than any history of philosophy class we would offer in high school or a curriculum setting.” If, perhaps, this bill was for the discussion of creation stories among various religions and taught in the context of a history, religion or philosophy course, there would be little issue. However, presenting any creation stories — regardless of which religion they stem from — as scientific ideas violates the fundamentals of scientific theories.

Evolution is taught as a valid theory and set of facts because it is such. In science, facts refer to things that are directly observable. Measurements, observations and data all constitute facts. Facts that support the theory of evolution include things like the extensive fossil record, DNA sequencing data and experiments or observations of the evolution of species in a lab or natural setting.

Additionally, a theory in science refers to “a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence.” Well accepted theories include the theory of heliocentricity, the germ theory of disease, the theory of gravity and the theory of plate tectonics, to name a few. Evolution is the theory that explains all the facts we have collected with regards to the mutability of species. Theories must also be falsifiable and can be used to predict about the world.

Creation stories are not equivalent ideas to tested and refined scientific theories and, as such, should not be taught alongside evolution. They cannot be falsified, nor do they have predictive power. On a further note, the state legislature of Indiana should not be spending time arguing about whether to amend the curriculum to allow for the addition of religious ideas in a science classroom. There are surely better uses of the time and resources of the state legislature.