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Columbia Missourian

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

By David Rosman
January 30, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

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.