DAVID ROSMAN: Keep religion out of Missouri's science curriculum

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:41 p.m. CST, Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Seventeenth out of 34 in science. That is what Bloomberg reported in December 2010 about U.S. education for 15-year-old students. For a country that is supposed to be exceptional, America’s falling below nearly 50 percent of its peers in students’ knowledge of science should be seen as a catastrophe, as a major blow to American education, American enterprise and American exceptionalism. That was in 2009, and I do not foresee improvement when the 2012 report comes out later this year.

So what is Missouri planning to do about this blow to the American ego? What has been recommended to overcome this backslide into mediocre? A giant step backward.

HB291, the Missouri Standard Science Act, introduced by Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, will force science classes to teach Christian creationist beliefs as science. By using scientific-sounding language, misdefining terms and misunderstanding science, the bill would force intelligent design into Missouri’s elementary and secondary science curriculums.

However, creationism by any name is still biblically based, not proven science. Such legislation would remove what is left of “American exceptionalism,” and our position as the world leader in science will further erode.

This blatant attempt to introduce Christian creationist beliefs into Missouri schools is also an overt attack on the First Amendment and Missouri’s Bill of Rights, Article I, Section 5, which states that “neither the state nor any of its political subdivisions shall establish any official religion.” By forcing biblical teachings on all students, regardless of their personal religious or areligious principles, and to force a specific version of the biblical teaching on our students is unconstitutional.

Here are but two examples from Brattin’s proposed legislation:

“170.018.2 (2) ‘Biological evolution,’ a theory of the origin of life and its ascent by naturalistic means…  Theory philosophically demands only naturalistic causes and denies the operation of any intelligence, supernatural event, God or theistic figure in the initial or subsequent development of life.”

This statement alone shows a complete lack of understanding of science, the scientific method and what is provable. To speculate that a supernatural being is responsible for life as we know it is based on religious philosophy, not science.

“170.018.2 (3) ‘Biological intelligent design’ (a) The origin of life on Earth is inferred to be the result of intelligence directed design and construction. There are no plausible mechanisms or present-day experiments to prove the naturalistic origin of the first independent living organism.”

To “infer” is not scientific proof, only speculation based on what is known.

There are no “mechanisms” or “experiments” only if we negate the avalanche of DNA evidence pointed out in the 2008 report that University of Chicago scientists were involved in, which was “three of 15 studies highlighted by the journal Nature as ‘evolutionary gems,’ papers published in the journal in the last decade that demonstrate why scientists can confidently ‘treat evolution by natural selection, in effect, as an established fact.’”

Or Columbia University researchers Theodosius Dobzhansky’s and Howard Levene's 1948 “Genetics of Natural Populations. XVII. Proof of Operation of Natural Selection in Wild Populations of Drosophila Pseudoobscura.”

This is just a sampling of the thousands of reliable research studies supporting the science of natural selection. To say that there “are no plausible mechanisms or present-day experiments to prove the naturalistic origin of the first independent living organism” is false.

If creationism or intelligent design or any other manifestation of the biblical creation stories is to be taught in our schools, let it be in a comparative religion or religious philosophy class. But do not pass intelligent design off as science.

Yes, I am an atheist, and I can foresee the deluge of angry responses this column would generate. However, if your personal religious beliefs support the creation stories as fact, that the Earth is between 6,000 and 10,000 years old, that man and dinosaur live together, so be it. I am not out to convert you. Your beliefs are yours. But do not force your religion on our future and make Missouri the laughing stock of the world.

If Mr. Brattin and his cohorts would simply read the state constitution, they will find, “…no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs…” This was mandated by popular vote and supported by this same legislative coalition. Maybe Brattin should abide by his own rules.

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Michael Williams January 30, 2013 | 11:06 a.m.

A couple of things:

(1) No "deluge of angry responses" from me. I'm Christian AND an ardent evolutionist with no difficulty being both.

(2) I agree that creation or "intelligent design" should not be taught in public K-12 schools except as part of a specific, elective course on religions. Neither of these ideas are "science". Private schools can do what they want.

(3) I'm of the opinion that our poor performance in the sciences is NOT due to the intrusion of religion into science as Rosman implies. Rosman assigns this intrusion as a first (and continuing) cause of all ills, and I disagree. Rather, I think the problem is multivariant, including but not limited to:

(a) There is no national hard effort...much like President Kennedy gave us. There is no enthusiasm among the populace, especially in our youngsters, for things not known. We have turned inward and there is no vision.
(b) Science is hard and many of our citizens no longer like "hard." We are a "now" nation unencumbered by personal discipline and enamored with immediate gratification and success, unwilling to put in the years required to do hard stuff well. Over our history, we fought like hell to climb Mazlow's pyramid and, now that we're at the top, we like resting upon our laurels. Our "arrow" is pointed down.
(c) Lack of religion in our private lives has led to a loss of direction and personal control, eventually resulting in (b) above. All past/current societies have demanded a referee, something greater than themselves that provides guidance and direction. Atheists are always a minority within larger religious groups; they cannot exist alone because there are no fixed rules except those thought up by ever-changing individual brains. Unfortunately for atheists, the State as God has always proved a abysmal failure. Even worse for them, they find themselves judged mainly by a society comprised of the religious.

(Report Comment)
Kip Kendrick January 30, 2013 | 12:33 p.m.

You can call Mr. Brattin to let him know how you feel: 573-751-3783.

As a Christian, I am absolutely opposed to teaching creationism in public schools. There is no place for it in Science. Creationism can continue to be taught by religious institions.

(Report Comment)
David Rosman January 30, 2013 | 6:16 p.m.

As I predicted, the response to my essay would be harsh, I have received more than 20 emails on my personal account as of 6:00 pm, allow me to add one major proof to my position. The topic of whether or not Intelligent Design is a science or it is religious based was taken up in United States District Court in 2005 as Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. ( Judge James Jones III, a President George H. Bush appointee work the following conclusion:

“The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s [Intelligent Design] Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.

Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator….

[The court’s] conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach [Intelligent Design] as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.”

(Report Comment)

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