First Person Life

2006-01-19

GET RELIGION OUT OF THE SCIENCE CLASSROOM!

Well, the New York Times chose not to print my Op-Ed piece. I could possibly submit it elsewhere, but I'm not sure it's worth the effort. So, I've decided to publish it here.

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With the debate regarding teaching “Intelligent Design” essentially over, perhaps it is time to take a serious look at the remainder of the science curriculum of our nations public schools to assure that religious dogma is not being improperly imposed upon our children.

The teaching of “evolutionary science” in our nation's schools is not an attempt to train our children to carefully observe their world and think critically. Instead, it brings with it underlying beliefs which are no less religious than a belief in an unnamed intelligent designer. In both cases, the processes which gave rise to the universe as we now know it are neither measurable nor observable and thus are not properly termed “science.”

The scientific establishment denies that this view of the world is a religious explanation because “evolutionary science” does not include revealed knowledge or a metaphysical or supernatural realm inhabited by souls, spirits, angels, gods, etc..

This falsely sets up religion and science as engaged in separate quests seeking truth about different realities. Under this view, religion is the quest for understanding metaphysical or supernatural reality and science is the quest for understanding nature or physical reality.

The truth is that the fundamental differences between religions are not the statements they make about the metaphysical realm but those things that are taken on faith. What differentiates religions are those things that are believed to be true in the absence of definitive proof. A religious tradition attempts to explain observations of the real world based upon the underlying beliefs of the tradition.

The National Science Education Standards developed by the National Academy of Sciences for use in our schools state, “the general idea of evolution is that the present arises from materials and forms of the past,” and this “accounts for the present form and function of objects, organisms, and natural and designed systems.”

This description of “evolution” is a religious statement. It dogmatically asserts that the material world is eternally existing and self-perpetuating. Faith in this underlying concept is the foundation of “evolutionary science.”

Like most religions, “evolutionary science” is internally consistent. If you accept the underlying presuppositions, the remainder of the system fits properly into place. According to “evolutionary science,” the history of the earth as extends back 4.5 billion years with life coming into existence 4 billion years ago.

All of this is asserted based upon observations made in the last 450 years as understood through the lens of faith “that the present arises from materials and forms of the past.” Any idea which draws this underlying assumption into question is marginalized and declared “unscientific” heresy. Being founded upon dogmatic assertions, “evolutionary science” qualifies itself as a religion, but not science. According to the National Academy of Science, “anything that can be observed or measured is amenable to scientific investigation.” However, the supposed 4.5 billion year history of the earth cannot be scientifically investigated without relying on assumptions about the processes giving rise to the universe as we know it. Whether the assumptions assert a specific metaphysical reality that brought the universe into existence through divine creation or “that the present arises from materials and forms of the past,” is irrelevant. In either case, it is an assumption that can be neither observed nor measured and is therefore not amenable to scientific investigation. It must be taken on “faith” which is the hallmark of any religious system.

Such a religious viewpoint should not be allowed into public schools and imposed upon our children. As the court in Kitzmiller v. Dover properly observed when it quoted previous decisions, “Families entrust public schools with the education of their children, but condition their trust on the understanding that the classroom will not purposely be used to advance religious views that may conflict with the private beliefs of the student and his or her family.” We should honor the trust that parents place in public schools.

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Matthew Dent holds a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Religious Studies from Concordia University in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is currently pursuing a Masters of Divinity at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His personal blog can be found at: http://firstpersonlife.blogspot.com

--- NOTES FOR THE EDITOR

(1) The assertion that:
"The scientific establishment denies that this view of the world is a religious explanation because “evolutionary science” does not include revealed knowledge or a metaphysical or supernatural realm inhabited by souls, spirits, angels, gods, etc.." is a summary of the position quoted in: "Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science" page 54, published by: The National Academy of Science PDF at: http://www.nap.edu/catalog/5787.html

(2) Quotation of the definition of "evolution" can be found in numerous publications of the National Academy of Sciences. Most notably: National Science Education Standards - page 130 [PDF at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/4962.html]

(3)Quotation from the court opinion can be found on page 36 of the decision.

UPDATE - 1/19/2006 3:20 PM - changed "Kitzmer" to "Kitzmiller".

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