Bible Classes, Creationism Do Not Belong in Public Schools. Period.

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In an effort to provide greater clarification to my intended meaning in this post, I’ve penned another titled, “Providing Some Clarification: Intelligent Design and Freedom of Religion.” I suggest you read it too.

For reasons that are perpetually beyond my capability to fully discern or grasp, this is a hard pill for conservative Evangelicals and, in a lot of cases, Christians in general to swallow. I don’t want to presume to understand their intentions or even assume that they are universally the same, but it seems to me that the people who support advancing creationism and teaching the Bible in public schools do so because they feel they’re somehow protecting America’s “Christian heritage.” If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know how I feel about that: it’s completely ridiculous.

On Thursday, April 12, 2012, the Arizona state legislature passed and submitted for gubernatorial approval House Bill 2563, which charged the Arizona State Board of Education to “design a high school elective course titled ‘The Bible and its influence on Western Culture,’ which would include lessons on the history, literature and influence of the Old and New testaments on laws, government and culture, among other aspects of society,” according to the Huffington Post.

Speaking on the Arizona bill specifically, its justification that is religiously neutral because it would only require teaching about the biblical influence on Western culture and not religion per se is founded on a faulty premise. There’s a library of literature and writings beside the Bible that have exerted a enormous influence on Western and American culture, not the least of which are Greek philosophers like Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates; and Enlightenment thinkers like Descartes, Rousseau, and Locke. Whether or not the purpose of this class is to solely teach the affects of the Bible on American society, it is inherently discriminatory as it excludes (from a literary perspective) other literature that influenced Western law, politics, and culture.

Also making news lately have been bills attempting to allow public school teachers to advance creationism in science classrooms even though these measures have been routinely and rightfully struck down by the courts on the grounds they violate the separation of Church and State, most recently in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. Often, bills like these take the form of “academic freedom” protections which purport to allow teachers leeway in exploring strengths and weaknesses of biological evolution and other scientific theories; this is the case in Missouri, Texas, and Oklahoma. Incidentally, the Oklahoma bill (which died in committee as it should have) was sponsored by Republican state representative Josh Brecheen; Josh used to work as a field representative for Senator Tom Coburn and I know him from us once going to the same church.

These bills and their ilk are actually fairly common in states dominated by politically conservative Christians. The governor of Tennessee recently announced that he will allow a bill to become law that will protect teachers who want to criticize the scientific theory evolution from a religious standpoint from legal sanction. Kentucky already has a statute that authorizes science teachers to teach the so-called “theory of creation” and to use the Bible to do so.

Most forms of Creationism (particularly Young Earth Creationism) are, plainly and simply, theories which have no basis of support in the geologic record. They’re baselessly and nonsensically opposed to the vast wealth of vetted scientific research on the origins of life and the universe. From a scientific standpoint (which, I might add, is a standpoint people who advocate them attempt to adopt), they’re completely irrational. Science and religion are two different disciplines with two different purposes: the former, to understand the mechanics and laws that determine how life and the universe function; the latter, to tell what all of that means. I don’t go to church to learn about physics and I certainly don’t want to go to a science lecture and listen to ridiculous, dogma-driven scientific-theories-in-name-only.

Even the argument that teachers should be free to teach blander forms of intelligent design in the classroom is completely baseless. Although Creationism would fall under the umbrella of intelligent design theories, intelligent design in general merely argues that the universe couldn’t have originated by chance or without the direction of a Supreme Being, who doesn’t necessarily have to be the Christian God. Even though it doesn’t advance a particular theological position, intelligent design is still inescapably religious in nature and does not belong in a science curriculum for reasons I’ve already made clear. And, to reiterate, the courts have found this to be the case time and time again.

So, back to my original point, I’m still unsure what core goal it is that people who advance these types of laws are hoping to achieve. Do conservative Christians actually think that shoving their theological positions down people’s throats via public school science curricula actually accomplishes anything constructive? Do they seriously think that forcing schools to teach the Bible will somehow bring droves of people into the faith? Trust me, very few people are going to sign up with that kind of approach.

Not only are these quixotic fights counter-productive, but they’re unnecessarily divisive and contrary to what we’re supposed to be doing as followers of Christ. Their counter-productivity stems from I presume are these people’s intent to preserve America’s “Christian heritage.” What they apparently don’t realize is that by introducing theological dogma into public school science curriculum or by allowing teachers to contradict scientific evidence with religious theory, they actually open the door for any number of religions to advance their Creation mythologies in the public classroom.

As Cara Santa Maria points out in her blog piece for the Huffington Post, laws like the ones I’ve discussed “essentially [give] teachers carte blanche to discuss whatever crackpot ideas they want…”

“I wonder what repercussions a teacher would face if he/she introduced ‘Pastafarianism‘ to the classroom. In this “alternative theory,” the unseen and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster touched Adam with his “noodly appendage” and is thus responsible for the creation (or “intelligent design”) of the universe… Obviously, the Flying Spaghetti Monster parody was developed to ridicule the idea that intelligent design be taken seriously in the science classroom. But this new law makes it clear that Tennessee is not in on the joke.”

When science becomes a vehicle for advancing a dogmatic position, it then effectively ceases to be science. Yes, I’m aware that some teachers adopt the alternate approach by attempting to argue that evolution and, by extension, science debunks the existence of God. Even though that might be the case, you don’t fight fire with fire in this instance because no matter what side ultimately wins, science loses.

In the end, what this really seems to boil down to is a deep-rooted misconception on the part of conservative Christians: they don’t seem to understand (or care) about the concept of separation of Church and State or about the reality that the United States is home to people of religious beliefs other than their own. They also seem to want to force the government to do their job for them by advancing their beliefs through public institutions. Culture War Christianity is divisive and deleterious, serving only to paint a picture of the Church as a backward, obstructionist, and intellectually obtuse institution completely cut off from reality. Most importantly, efforts like the ones I’ve discussed in this post distort and pervert the purpose of the Holy Scriptures by attempting to use them either as a science textbook or as a history book for Western culture, roles they’re fundamentally incapable of fulfilling.

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16 thoughts on “Bible Classes, Creationism Do Not Belong in Public Schools. Period.

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  5. I don’t disagree with your points about not teaching Christian history in school. It is religion. However, often parts of history are omitted because they were religious in nature, and I think this is over the line. Mentioning that it happened is not condoning it, it is telling the truth.

    On your comments about evolution and science, I would disagree strongly with most of what you said. First of all, science and religion are perpetually tied together when discussing the origins of life, because science cannot answer those questions. Interpretation of the evidence must be made and this means people’s unavoidable biases come into play. Also, Intelligent design has been advocated by well known scientists who are atheists, one being Michael Behe, who has introduced a very important problem with evolution called irreducible complexity. Along with that, I am currently writing a research paper on macroevolution, and there are significant problems with it.

    Just some personal thoughts.

    • “First of all, science and religion are perpetually tied together when discussing the origins of life, because science cannot answer those questions.”

      It’s not science’s purpose to answer those questions. True science is an attempt to “understand the mechanics and laws that determine how life and the universe function,” as I stated in my post. We look to religion to assign purpose and meaning. They are linked, but not conjoined.

      “Also, [i]ntelligent design has been advocated by [well-known] scientists who are atheists, one being Michael Behe, who has introduced a very important problem with evolution called irreducible complexity.”

      I’m aware of the concept of irreducible complexity, but that discussion isn’t relevant to the discussion at hand. My contention is that science teachers should not be able to teach “scientific theories” based on something other than actual science. For a better idea of what I’m talking about, see my response to the previous comment.

  6. I’m not entirely sure of your position. Correct me if I’ve misinterpreted, but I’m hearing that you believe the Bible to be true but scientifically groundless, and for that reason, you do not want the truth taught.

    If there is a fact, and the conclusions made are in contradiction of that fact, then the fault is not with the fact, but with the conclusions. From what I’ve heard/read from various sources, scientific answers as we know them leave a lot of holes; that they are tenaciously stuck to and perpetuated in spite of this smacks of the ridiculous dogmatism that you ascribe to conservative Christians.

    Many “old earth” arguments I’ve heard can be countered with “young earth” theories that make just as much sense. The great flood as recorded in the Bible, for instance, would account for a lot geologically.

    In any event, I’m not a scientist, and mine is not a brain with much interest in retaining those kinds of facts, stats, and data. I do, however, try to make it a point to think for myself, not merely accept what the majority has adopted as its truth. Nor do I believe that making the truth legally available equates with shoving it down people’s throats, and I don’t see why suppressing a truth in favor of a popular untruth is in anyone’s best interest.

    This can’t be about separating church and state, since Science is practically being elevated to a godless religion in itself. This isn’t about rational neutrality, but about attempts to keep God in his little corner and out of the rest of the world. I don’t see how Christianity can accommodate that. We either take God at his word, or we don’t. There’s no picking and choosing our beliefs based on what will help us get along best with our non-Christian counterparts.

    To wrap it up: Do I think creationism should be taught in public schools? Well, frankly, I don’t think the public school model is doing much good for people anyway, so this may not even be a battle worth fighting. Do I think creationism should be disallowed? No, I don’t.

    • “Correct me if I’ve misinterpreted, but I’m hearing that you believe the Bible to be true but scientifically groundless, and for that reason, you do not want the truth taught.”

      You’ve misinterpreted. As the Bible is not a scientific document but an anthology of written works spanning multiple genres (historical chronicles, poetry, parables, etc.) across multiple centuries, its truth is neither predicated nor reliant on scientific accuracy. Based on that reality, it is furthermore inappropriate to use the Scriptures as a basis for undermining legitimate scientific theory.

      “Many ‘old earth’ arguments I’ve heard can be countered with ‘young earth’ theories that make just as much sense. The great flood as recorded in the Bible, for instance, would account for a lot geologically.”

      No they can’t and no it wouldn’t. But, since you’ve only relied on vague generalities, there’s not anything specific for me to address in these statements.

      “In any event, I’m not a scientist, and mine is not a brain with much interest in retaining those kinds of facts, stats, and data.”

      Then what, if I may ask, qualifies you to label a set of well-supported scientific theories as “untruth”? Do you go to your plumber to ask information about your prescription medications (assuming, of course, he isn’t an underemployed M.D.)?

      “We either take God at his word, or we don’t. There’s no picking and choosing our beliefs based on what will help us get along best with our non-Christian counterparts.”

      True, in a sense, but this statement is informed by a faulty understanding of how to interpret God’s word. For example, most Young Earth proponents draw their inspiration from the Genesis Creation account. They do so apparently not knowing that the Genesis Creation account was not intended to be a step-by-step guide to how God created the world. Take a look at this essay to get a better idea of what I’m talking about.

      What isn’t mentioned in the essay is that Genesis 1 and 2 were intended to combat a Babylonian Creation myth which suggested, among other things, that human life has no purpose but was a mere accidental result of one god splitting another’s head open. The writer of Genesis 1 and 2 intended to show that a powerful and loving God was intimately involved in creating human life and that Creation has a definitive purpose.

      • As regards my scientific qualifications, I don’t have many of my own to speak of. I’ve merely heard from those significantly more qualified than me on both sides of the debate. It’s like global warming — a number of experts say it’s happening and we caused it, a number of comparable experts say we’re heading toward another Ice Age and we had little or nothing to do with it. When this sort of debate arises, I have two concerns:
        1) Is the side of the majority (or simply the louder of the parties involved) turning a blind eye to any and all contradictory information and refusing to give their position up to scrutiny, lest they find their arguments won’t hold up?
        2) Do the arguments allow for the inclusion of God, or are they trying their hardest to explain him away?

        I don’t have a bone to pick with science, in and of itself. Whether the universe was formed in a week or an eon is, in the grand scheme of things, hardly vital. But students aren’t asked to analyze a novel or poetry apart from its author, paintings and sculptures apart from their artists, music apart from their composers, films apart from their directors. Why, then, are they commanded to study and try to make sense of the natural world apart from its maker?

      • “I don’t have a bone to pick with science, in and of itself. Whether the universe was formed in a week or an eon is, in the grand scheme of things, hardly vital. But students aren’t asked to analyze a novel or poetry apart from its author, paintings and sculptures apart from their artists, music apart from their composers, films apart from their directors. Why, then, are they commanded to study and try to make sense of the natural world apart from its maker?”

        Eloquent, but this is actually a faulty comparison. The identity of the writer of 1984 isn’t in dispute; nor the composer of the Pastoral Symphony; nor the artist who painted La Primavera; nor the sculptor of David; and nor the director of Citizen Kane. The most that proponents of intelligent design can ever hope to prove scientifically is that some form of irreducible complexity precludes that life and the universe formed at random. The identity of any Creator is, for better or for worse, the realm of religion and theology.

      • Is your contention, then, that all subjects should be taught in absolute isolation, with no consideration given to any others that might affect it?

      • No, you’re mischaracterizing what I’m saying. As I’ve said, not all disciplines are equitable or serve similar purposes, as is the case with science and religion. Tell me, if you’re so dead-set on allowing science teachers to teach Creationism, are you comfortable with them assigning whatever name they choose to the Intelligence behind intelligent design? For Hindus, that would be The One in the Vedic Cosmogony; for Muslims, that would be Allah; for neo-pagans, that would be any one or all of their sundry gods and goddesses. You probably haven’t realized it, but that’s the logical conclusion to your line of thought.

      • I’ve not said that I’m dead-set on allowing science teachers teaching Creationism at all. I would prefer that they could, but as you mentioned within your post that possible road down which that allowance would lead, those consequences did indeed enter my mind.
        At this point, I am undecided whether it would be best to allow public educators the assignation of a name to the intellect behind intelligent design — for you’re likely correct, it could open the door to doctrine I believe to be as erroneous as a creation-sans-creator theory. But one can concede the existence of evidence of intelligent design without naming names. And yet proponents of science seem anxious to dismiss it entirely, which doesn’t strike me as being the better poison.

      • I’m sorry, but what you’re saying just doesn’t make any logical sense. There’s really nothing else for me to say other than to reiterate points I’ve been making over and over again.

      • I, too, am sorry if I’ve been unable to make myself clear. In any event, thank you for taking the time to keep the dialogue going.
        ~Best wishes.

  7. I agree that Creationism shouldn’t be taught in school. However, I’m not a big supporter of evolution either, especially concerning the evolution of humans from primates. There are too many unanswered questions that go along with the theory of evolution. I think a more direct emphasis on natural selection, which can be proven, is a more sound solution.

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