free debate

April 13, 2011

Religion and Politics in the Science Classroom

Ever since the Scope's Monkey Trials in 1925, there's been a political debate raging about the teaching of creationism and evolution in the science class. There's a lot of claims flying about: "Teach the Controversy", "Evolution is just a theory", "Intelligent Design is a science too!" Thus, so far this year, 7 different states have proposed bills that directly attack the teaching of evolution and other sciences.

As I mentioned before, this is hardly a new problem. Anti-evolution legislation is proposed every few years, and we've discussed it before. Every time, the National Center for Science Education presents its solid stance that evolution is a science and is fundamental in understanding biology; creationism, however, is not a science and has no place in the science classroom. Normally, this is enough to prevent the bill from being passed.

Man is But a WormThis year, however, there's more of a problem. In Tennessee, an anti-evolution (and anti-global warming) bill passed in the House of Representatives. It aims to let teachers "question" the sciences, and proposes they teach the alternatives. They fall into the trap I hear a lot, that "evolution is just a theory." This is not true in any sense. Evolution is a fact; we know for certain that animals change over time. We've watched it happen. The theory is Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, which was accepted by the scientific community over a century ago. There is zero controversy among the scientists; the "controversy" is only created by political and religious groups.

It's this made-up controversy that causes around 60% of high school biology teachers to be wishy-washy, at best, with the teaching of evolution. Many of these are not creationists themselves (although, unfortunately, some are). However, it's easier to play it safe and avoid the issue than deal with unhappy parents or school boards. Less than 30% of science teachers are willing to take the necessary strong stance that evolution is a scientific fact, and deserved to be taught as the central tenant of biology that it is.

I do think that religion can be taught in schools... in a comparative religions class. Single religions can even be taught... in private religious schools. But religious doctrine, based on texts written millennia ago, don't have any place in the empirical, ever-adapting realms of science and the science classroom. I find it very sad that, despite every rational argument that's been made for the teaching of evolution, despite a century of scientific acceptance, and despite the fact that intelligent design/creationism/creation science has been repeatedly proven to not be a science, there's still this yearly battle over such a central fact of how the world works.