Saturday, March 6, 2010

Religion: The Alternative Theory

A recent article from the NY Times describes the attempts of conservative religious groups to change educational standards in various states across the country. Conservative Evangelical groups argue that the current public school curriculum does not offer fair alternatives to the ‘theories’ of evolution and climate change. The logic behind this argument is that both evolution and climate change are only theories and not fact. Conservative groups originally attempted to have alternative theories to evolution taught in school. However, the only current alternative to evolution would involve teaching creationism. The idea of teaching creationism/intelligent design in public schools is strongly rejected by many individuals in the United States. These groups argue that the teaching of any form of religion as an alternative to evolution would clearly breach the wall of separation between Church and State. This thought process was substantiated by a district court in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2005, the district court ruled that it was unconstitutional to place warning stickers inside textbooks stating that evolution was merely a theory. The court ruled that the stickers were a direct implementation of religious beliefs into the public schools and thus a breach of the First Amendment. To see the full court ruling click here.

Recently however, conservative groups have been attempting to package together both evolution and climate change in an attempt to change educational standards. By coupling both of these topics, these groups hope to bypass the issue of separation and focus solely on ‘educational fairness.’ They argue that scientists have perpetually been overstepping their “scientific right” by asserting what many believe is mere theory, as fact to the youth of our nation. Scientists in turn see the issue in a different light. For them, there is no viable alternative theory to either evolution or global warming. The only alternative teaching mechanism would involve creationism. The two main issues that I believe need to be discussed before determining whether it is appropriate to change the public school curriculum involve the separation of Church and State and the establishment of religion. Both of these First Amendment issues are paramount in this case.

The separation of Church and State is the primary issue at the heart of the debate over whether it is appropriate to teach alternative theories of evolution and climate change in public schools. Because these alternative theories would involve some form of divine intervention, it appears that teaching them would be a clear violation of the First Amendment. I believe that it is not appropriate to teach any form of creationism in a public school setting. In my opinion, the argument that climate change is solely an issue of ‘educational fairness,’ is not true. First, the addition of climate change is simply a way of sidestepping the issue of separation. By teaching alternative theories of both climate change and evolution, right wing groups can argue that religion is not the determining factor for implementing an educational curriculum change. However, even if alternative theories to climate change were taught, I don’t think that this should have any effect on the teaching of evolution. The only alternative theory to evolution currently available is creationism. Thus, religion would be inherently forced into the schools. I do not believe that it is logically valid to suggest that the addition of climate change to the debate infers that there are no religious implications to changing the current school curriculum to include creationism.

Secondly, I do not agree that it is clear that the conservative right’s rejection of climate change does not have some religious roots. Many Evangelical Christians assert that because God created the Earth, it is ignorant to assume that humans could ever destroy it. This viewpoint clearly shows some individuals’ beliefs that religion should be a basis for what is taught in public schools. Because many of the “alternative theories” that have been proposed by the conservative right involve some form of religious belief, I believe that any change to the public school curriculum along these lines would violate the First Amendment ideal of the separation of Church and State.

Another issue that I argue is prevalent in this case involves the Establishment Clause. Although this topic is not overtly asserted in the article, it is still a prevalent problem in this case. If the Texas Board of Education were to allow some form of divine intervention to be taught in public schools, it would inherently favor the Christian tradition. A particularly relevant case to this issue is Epperson v Arkansas. The case states that, although the mention of creationism is not illegal, a specific form of religion should not be a part of the public school curriculum. Allowing this would conflict with the majority ruling in Epperson v Arkansas. Because Evangelical Christian groups are the main propellant behind this debate, I do not think it is a far stretch to assume that they would not be in favor of allowing all forms of creationism to be taught. Instead, these groups would rely on the traditional Christian beliefs concerning creationism. This rejection of other religious teachings in the public schools could be viewed as an establishment of the Christian religion in the United States. Both arguments concerning the separation and establishment of religion are why I believe that it is unacceptable to allow any form of creationism to be taught, in a public school setting, as an alternative theory to evolution, climate change, or any other scientific theory.


E.Levy said...

I believe the issue of teaching evolution has gotten out of hand. While climate change represents an entirely different issue, evolution and its place in the education system is firmly needed. I agree with the author of the blog that by not teaching evolution, creationism is being promoted by the state. How can there exist any well backed counter to the argument that evolution exists? The simple answer, that most evangelicals claim, is not only wrong but relies on creationism. Even if evolution isn’t a 100 percent fact, it’s the most commonly accepted scientific answer, and that’s the key. The state has a compelling interest to teach the most commonly accepted scientific point of view on how we came to be here, nothing else.

Jessica B said...

I believe a school has the right to teach evolution and climate change as theories, because that is what they are. But that does not mean they have the right to teach an alternative theory of purely religious implications. I would understand a religious parents concern if a theory that contradicted their beliefs was taught as fact because of the confusion their children may experience but if teachers make it clear that it is merely theory it is the parents responsibility to teach the theory of their choice. It is not in the States interest to teach a theory with no scientific and solely religious evidence. A child of a non-Judean-Christian background has no need to learn creationism. If you want your children to be educated on your religious beliefs take them to church.

Alicia_W said...

I agree with Jessica and the author about the fact that creationism should not be in public school curriculum. Besides the obvious differences between creationism and evolution, another is that creationism is based of a religious theory and evolution is based of a scientific theory. As a secular nation, religious theories should not be taught within the classroom. We are not teaching science within the church, and therefore there is no reason to teach any form of religion (besides maybe in a history course that is purely factual) within the classroom.

Lauren P said...

Although I agree that the theory of evolution currently taught in public schools is a theory, I think that it is important to note that there are proven facts within this theory. Nearly all biologists today agree that evolution is a fact. However there is some debate about whether Darwin’s theory of evolution is the way we came to be; there may be an alternative model explaining how life evolves. Thus, I think it is fair to present evolution as a theory, but not necessarily because the current alternative is creationism. Further, because this model is based on scientific evidence, not on religion, I think that teaching evolution is secular and neutral. Creationism, on the other hand, is clearly religiously based and therefore should not be incorporated into public school curriculum.

jpeterson said...

The only argument I want to add here is that there is a huge difference between promoting and informing. I think it is safe to say that on the religious side of the argument, these groups are concerned that evolution is being promoted as if it is truth, or in religious terms, they are teaching a type of theology. As there are proven points to evolution, much of the theory is really just theory. I personally am very skeptical of theory being taught as if it is truth. I see no problem in learning theory, arguing theory or anything else dealing with theory, but once it becomes theology, truth or absolute-based of which evolution is sometimes taught, then there seems to be a problem. Thus I would argue creationism absolutely has its place in public education. And my support for this is Abington v. Schempp. It was in this case that the Schempp test was developed along with the distinction between promoting religion and teaching about religion. Thus it seems to me on the grounds which were established in this case that there should be no reason why teaching about creationism could not be allowed.