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.