Recently, I received the following e-mail from Robert Luhn, Communications Director for the National Center for Science Education. H/t to Mr. Luhn and to Ryan at the Daily Kingfish, who posted about this issue earlier today. Here’s the letter:

There’s a big story brewing that you should check out.

At first glance, it looks pretty humdrum: a pair of board meetings devoted to a raft of obscure agenda items. But these could be the most contentious, bitterly debated meetings of 2009.

What’s at stake? How millions of kids in Louisiana will be taught science and evolution, and ultimately, how competitive they will be in the job marketplace.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and its various committees are grappling with the recently passed Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA)…how to implement it, what science standards should change, what guidelines to give teachers, and more. The debate boils down to a battle between committee members (educators and scientists) who back the teaching of evolution…and the members of the board (notably chairman Dale Bayard, a Family Forum supporter) who are pushing an anti-science, creationist agenda.

The meetings:

January 13
Student/School Performance and Support (SSPS) Committee meets on LSEA.
When: 9 a.m.
Where: Claiborne Building
Room 1-100, The Louisiana Purchase Room
1201 N. Third Street, Baton Rouge, LA 70802
Agenda: www.louisianaschools.net/lde/uploads/12677.pdf
Meeting packet: http://www.doe.state.la.us/lde/uploads/12570.pdf (Note: this packet will probably be removed from the DOE site on 1/19, so get it now!)
***The board is scheduled to take up the Science Education Act in item: “V. REFERRALS A. Unfinished Business 1. Consideration of revisions to Bulletin 741, Louisiana Handbook for School Administrators, §2304 Science Education.”

FYI: Bulletin 741 is the school administrator handbook that all school boards in Louisiana must follow. (You can see the current version at www.doe.state.la.us/lde/bese/1041.html). Some proposed changes to the handbook could have profound effects on how science is taught in the classroom. For example, earlier wording (such as “Religious beliefs shall not be advanced under the guise of critical thinking”) has been removed. Well…this bears watching!

January 15
Meeting of the full Board of Education to review the SSPS Committee report on LSEA.
When: 9 a.m.
Where: Claiborne Building
Room 1-100, The Louisiana Purchase Room
1201 N. Third Street, Baton Rouge, LA 70802
Agenda: www.louisianaschools.net/lde/uploads/12667.pdf
***Look for the board to get into agenda item 9, “Board Committee Reports”…that’s where the discussion will heat up.

This is just embarassing.

I have to admit: I am somewhat dumbfounded by religious folks who believe it’s important to provide public subsidization to teach their own, very specific theories on the nature of human life in order to provide a counterpoint for the scientific theory of evolution. It reflects a fundamental ignorance of and disrespect toward the discourse of science.

And that’s cool, in a private school.

But in America’s public schools, we cannot afford to confuse science with religion or faith.

7 thoughts

  1. Religion and Science are two different planets and should stay that way. We are not living in mud huts with palm roofs because of science…. Religion is effective in keeping us together as a civilization.
    Science keeps us alive and moving forward. Let these two completely different things stay on their respective planet. Keep teaching Darwin’s studys.
    It gives us a blance in looking at the past and the future.

  2. When i went to school, we were taught both the THEORY of evolution, and the THEORY of Creation. These are simply the two most commonly known and accepted beginning theories. I dont see a problem with both being taught. I know as a christian, my parents told me to ignore what i learned about darwin. “get the answers, pass the test, and forget it exists.” my parents are good people. Not backwater, mud hut dwellers, they just believe very strongly (as do hundreds of millions of other people) in creation. But even as a christian, im glad i learned about evolution. I dont believe in it, but its a theory that is widely accepted and what alot of science is based off of (which is a mistake to me since its a theory, which is not a fact). To not know the basic of evolution and its history, and WHY its scientific concensus, in todays society would be foolish. But this is an argument that will never end. If both sides would just chill out, there wouldnt be a problem. The truth is, our generation is just a blip on the life of the earths radar screen. We will never ever know how we got here. We will have theories, but we will never ever really know. The sooner people on both sides realize that the better. Have faith in your beliefs, but dont call people ignorant for being a firm christian. And dont call someone ignorant being science minded. But dont try to say that your beliefs are the only ones worth teaching. Thats ignorance in and of itself.

  3. Adrian:

    You are confusing the common, every day meaning of theory with that of a scientific theory. In science, which you admit you have long forgotten, you test a hypothesis, and the result of the test is a theory, which is to say the theory explains what happened during the test. Scientists have tested various hypotheses dealing with creation, and the explanation that every single one of those tests fits is what we know as evolution.

    The reason, Adrian, that we don’t teach religious beliefs about the creation in our public schools is because this nation was founded as a secular nation. It’s part and parcel of that little thing called the First Amendment … freedom of religion. We do not want to push any religion on anyone, as they have the right to choose their beliefs.

    I respect those that want to believe in the creation story. But to push that story on the children of non-Christians is against the law in this nation, as it means pushing that the state is pushing religion.

  4. Thank you Ryan for your spot-on remarks.

    Adrian, I’d caution against arguing the false equivalency between the “theory” of creationism and the theory of evolution.

    Every major religious faith contains some type of creation story or myth.

    Intelligent design is not a tested scientific theory; it’s an articulation of a religious belief on the nature of existence (couched in the language of science).

    Importantly, the theory of evolution does not preclude or deny the existence of God or an intelligent life force (or whatever you want to call it). The notion that teaching evolution to children is a backdoor way of indoctrinating atheism is absurd and ignorant.

    Some on the religious right would like us to view this as if it were an “equal time” issue, but it’s not. This is about supplanting and invalidating science, in order to better conform with a religious belief.

    Think about it this way:

    Imagine you’re a high school student in Rapides Parish. You’re an excellent student, and one day, you hope to become a medical doctor. Because of your great grades and work ethic, you are accepted into one of the finest undergraduate schools in the country.

    But during your first semester, you suddenly find yourself completely overwhelmed and confused. In high school, your science teacher had told you that because evolution was a theory and not a law, it was important to learn about alternative theories of creation. Your teacher acted as if science was more of a philosophical perspective than an objective, tested discourse.

    Everyone else in your class seems to intuitively understand the nuances of genetic mutations and the implications of the survival of the fittest in the animal world.

    The theory of evolution informs science in many, many ways, but because you went to a school where Intelligent Design was given equal time as evolution and because you lived in a State whose leaders saw an opportunity to score cheap political points by undermining science, you find yourself completely unprepared.

    How can Louisiana foster a sustainable climate of innovation when its leaders are actively attacking science?

    To me, this isn’t just a Constitutional issue (which it is), it’s also about ensuring the quality of our educational system (and the future of our State).

    I am always puzzled by religious folks who believe in waging war against science. Thankfully, I was reared in a church that understood and appreciated science– a church that saw science as a work of God. But I know that not all Christians believe the same thing. Many in the religious right would like to inject their own beliefs into science education, not because they truly understand evolution but, honestly, because they feel threatened by science. They seek to adapt science to fit their own faith, instead of adapting their faiths to science. Perhaps such an adaptation would create too much cognitive dissonance.

    Buddhists, on the other hand, have never had a problem interfacing with science or adapting to scientific discoveries. There are many different reasons why Buddhists can adapt science so much more seamlessly than some Christians can, but it boils down to one simple truth: Buddhists are far less concerned with constantly validating the historicity of their parables.

    The religious right wants to construct the public sphere to fit their own (very subjective) beliefs, all under the pretense of creating a more moral society (as if they have exclusive rights to morality).

    We should all wise up to this. It has little to do with evolution; it’s simply a tactic that belongs to a much larger strategy.

  5. I have to agree with Ryan…Creationism is a religious belief not a theory. It isn’t rooted in research nor can it be proven. It’s no different than requiring teachers to introduce a the idea that a Klingon prob that landed 10 million years ago is the cause of life on earth.

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