Myth #4: Creationism should be taught alongside Evolution in the classroom.
This is my fourth article on common myths surrounding state/church separation. The first article focused on the myth that the words separation of church and state are not found in the Constitution. The second myth I addressed concerned the misconception that church/state separation has removed God from the public square. Myth #3 was that the United States is a Christian nation.
Amazingly, only about a third of Americans agree that evolution is a viable science in spite of the impact that evolutionary theory has had on modern science. For example, many areas of medicine have been directly impacted by evolutionary theory: molecular biology, pathology, pharmaceuticals, and oncology all have roots in evolutionary theory. In agriculture, genetic diversity, disease resistance, and pest control are all based on understanding how evolution works. Professionally, I was an evolutionary paleontologist for over twenty years in the oil and gas industry. We used the evolution of fossil groups routinely to identify the occurrence of hydrocarbons in the subsurface of the earth. So it bothers me greatly to hear people arguing about whether evolution is a viable science – we used it every day in our jobs!
In America today, a large and growing segment of the population wants to replace what is taught in the science classroom with Biblically based accounts of creation. Even among those charged with teaching our children the outlook is shameful. A recent study found that only 28% of public school biology teachers follow recommendations for teaching evolution recommended by the National Research Council. A full 13% of biology teachers don’t believe in evolution and teach Creationism instead – so much for curriculum oversight!
As upholders of church/state separation, it is imperative to recognize the efforts of fundamentalists for what they are and keep religion from where it has no place. Since the mid-1960’s there have been a number of attempts to get creationism taught in the classroom. But the courts have continually come down on the side of science and reason. A few years ago a school board in Dover, Pa, for example, decided that evolution was a flawed theory (that’s right – a school board which included no scientists) and instructed biology teachers to offer alternatives to evolution in the classroom. Their alternative was Intelligent Design which is essentially a religiously-based explanation for creation. Vigilant parents sued and the case went to court. The school board lost and had to pay in excess of one million dollars in court fees.
What separates real science from Biblically driven science is that scripturalists know their theories to be correct beforehand because they believe God’s infallible words are found in the Bible. Subsequently, their “science” is largely made up of mining information supportive of Biblical revelations. Scriptural proponents argue that biologic creation is too complex and conditions on earth are too finely-tuned for life to have simply appeared randomly without input from a creator and therefore argue Evolution is not a viable theory.
In conclusion, the theory of evolution has been studied for over 150 years and represents arguably one of humanity’s major intellectual achievements. Despite humanity’s great scientific accomplishments, many religious fundamentalists see science and reason as often misleading and feel more comfortable listening to spiritual leaders when it comes to interpreting science. Clearly, religious based science is a threat to freedom of scholarship. It insists upon the replacement of valid science with theories rooted in Christian scripture. And most troubling, it insists upon the replacement of valid science by scriptural science inside the classroom which is a clear violation of our constitution’s clause on church/state separation and threatens the technical progress of our country. Not being science and being religiously motivated, creationism has no place in our public schools. Our schools serve a broad and diverse student population with different religious backgrounds and students believe in a variety of explanations for creation – so it is unfair for any religiously-based explanation for creation be taught.