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An open letter to the Indiana legislature

The Indiana Senate has approved this bill:

The governing body of a school corporation may offer instruction on various theories of the origin of life. The curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.

I’ve heard a few complaints from Hoosiers about this, including teachers. One high school science teacher has asked me to post this open letter on the subject; they’ve asked that I not include their name, which is sad in itself. Not only is the legislature passing stupid laws, but the environment is so oppressive that the science teachers who are expected to implement it cannot speak out against it, for fear of losing their jobs. Indiana, you suck.

At least I don’t have to worry about the politicians of Indiana gunning for my job, so I can post this letter for my correspondent.

Honorable Representatives of the state of Indiana,

I am quite dismayed to learn of the passage of SB 89 which will give Indiana school boards the authority to require the teaching of various origin stories in public schools. There are several reasons I feel this is an inappropriate action for our state to take.

First, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in 1987 in Edwards v. Aguillard that balanced treatment of creationism and evolution violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Then in 2005 the U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania ruled against the inclusion of Intelligent Design in the science curriculum. As Judge Jones wrote, “To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions. The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy.” Now it appears that the citizens of Indiana are being poorly served. If this becomes law, our citizens will have to foot the bill for the lawsuits that will certainly ensue.

Second, I appreciate Indiana’s need to educate our citizens about the beliefs and cultures of our planet’s people. Our students would greatly benefit from learning about the multitude of worldviews that exist, in a philosophy or comparative religion class. Such understanding would make our citizens better prepared for international commerce and political discourse. I do not believe that SB 89 was introduced for this reason, however. The implication is that the introduction of various religious beliefs would take place in the science class room. As a biologist and science teacher, I understand the evidence for evolution is as strong as the evidence for any other theory we teach. I also understand that religious belief is based on faith, which by definition requires no evidence. I do not comprehend how exposing my students to ideas based, not on evidence, but faith could constitute good science education. When I read that this bill will allow school boards to require the teaching of “theories from multiple religions”, I interpret this to indicate that a school board may specify which religions may be taught. Two constitutes “multiple”, so if a school board so chose, they could require teachers to teach Christian and Jewish creation ideas only, which are essentially the same. This would not serve to enlighten students on the diversity of ideas, but to reinforce ideas that either they already hold or that they will find in conflict with their beliefs. In either case, it could set students at odds with each other, while not teaching any science at all.

If I am misinterpreting the spirit of this bill, please change the language to indicate that this is not to be applied to science classes, and/or specify which religions’ views must be taught if the local school board chooses to require this. In my opinion, if this is to be done in any way consistent with spirit of the Establishment Clause, all religious views must be taught. In this case, teachers will not be able to cover the state science standards in 180 days and also teach religion.

Third, the misunderstanding of the word theory in the bill is a sad indication of the ignorance of the authors. In science, the word “theory” does not mean an “idea”. A theory is an explanation for how something happens, based on a great deal of research which has been reviewed, published, tested, re-tested, accepted by most scientists in the field, and not yet disproven. No religion has a “theory” of the origins of life that meets the criteria we require to give an idea the full weight of the title “theory” in science. I would be happy to speak with any representative who would like to learn more about what the theory of evolution actually says and what evidence supports it.

Sincerely,

Indiana High School Science Teacher

(Also on Sb)

Comments

  1. says

    Our students would greatly benefit from learning about the multitude of worldviews that exist, in a philosophy

    Can we PLEASE stop recommending they pawn the creationists off on philosophy classes? Creationism is not good or serious philosophy and there is a whole lot of desire from the fundamentalists to use philosophy classes as places to teach the garbage presuppositionalist epistemology meant to inoculate students against scientific facts. I don’t trust the people who want creationism in schools to be writing a philosophy curriculum (or a world religions one for that matter).

  2. says

    Unlike many of those other legislators, however, Kruse seems to be aware that legal precedent, in the form of Edwards v. Aguillard, prohibits the teaching of creation science in classrooms. Instead, he hopes that some school district in his state will shoulder the cost of returning the issue to the Supreme Court, which he thinks may choose to ignore precedent and revisit Edwards.

    http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2012/02/indiana-senate-passes-bill-putting-religion-in-science-class.ars

    The sponsor KNOWS it’s illegal and hopes to suck money out of the public school system to try getting Edwards v. Aguillard overturned.

  3. you_monster says

    I wish these fucks would just be honest and attempt to amend the separation clause out of the constitution.

  4. says

    What’s missing from that bill is “critical analysis” of creationist BS.

    If that were demanded (along with effective enforcement) every time creationism is mandated, there’s no way these bills would ever pass.

    Just imagine Hindu myths and Genesis myths being treated similarly–although science class wouldn’t be the place for it-social studies or some such thing would be more appropriate.

    The last thing these people want is equal treatment of their ideas.

    Glen Davidson

  5. you_monster says

    The curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.

    Hmm, “not limited to”, eh? Time to move to Indiana to preach the true gospels of the FSM and reformed church of the FSM (which would satisfy their “theories from multiple religions” requirement).

  6. HappyHead says

    @Daniel
    I don’t know – when I was in High School, I did take a philosophy class that covered creationist dogma as part of the material, and it was a very good class. Specifically, it was a Philosophy of Science class, and the teacher brought that material in to demonstrate (in extreme detail over two weeks) exactly why no creation myths fulfill any of the requirements to be considered actual science. (I liked the Norse ones best, they held up just as well as the Christian ones.) Then we spent about a week doing the same examinations regarding the theory of evolution (surprise! It passed.), followed by a few days looking at gravity, which was surprisingly boring, despite all of the one-liners. Gravity sucks.

  7. Epinephrine says

    Indiana High School Teacher is absolutely correct to assume this is about creationism and not comparative religion. The bill’s (http://www.in.gov/legislative/bills/2012/IN/IN0089.1.html) synopsis reads, “Teaching of creation science. Provides that the governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation.”

    That’s a creationist bill.

  8. stevebowen says

    Would it be unconstitutional to have comparitive religion classes in high school? In the UK we still have “religious instruction” but it is essentially, these days, about civics, diversity and culture.

  9. unbound says

    Nice catch Alareth (#2). These idiots aren’t even trying to be coy about it anymore. The ignorant are getting louder which is just encouraging these legislators to try every stunt they can think of.

  10. says

    stevebowen,

    unlike in the UK, there is separation of church and state in the US (establishment clause), which comes down to a prohibition of religious instruction, unless it is from a neutral and academic perspective. So if it’s truly comparative, it might be ok, if it’s just masquerading to be comparative, it will probably be thrown out in court.

    I’d like to see the justification of teaching a comparative religion class in biology though. If it comes down to ID, then it should be thrown out again.

    Basically: once this goes into effect, people can start suing

    (IANAL)

  11. Alverant says

    I don’t like the language of this bill. It doesn’t say how many creation myths must be done (as already pointed out repeating the same one twice would qualify) and how much time is spent on it (ie 2 weeks on ID, 5 minutes on Hinduism) nor how it is presented (as fact, as belief, as myth) and it does not allow for a critical analysis of each one. It’s a bill begging to be abused to preach creationism in class.

    #8 The problem in the US is that many christians feel that if their religion isn’t being promoted and held above all others then it is being discriminated against. If the christian creation story was given equal time with Gaia theory and each one was analyzed for evidence (or lack there of), there would be an uproar of claims of “anti-christian bigotry” because tax payer funded schools dared to critize christianity.

  12. wcorvi says

    I don’t have such a problem with this, though I agree it should not pass. I ‘teach to the controversy’ in my science class the same way sundae school teaches to the controversy:

    “Here’s what creationism (IDism, scientology, etc) says, and here’s why it’s ridiculous, not science, and not possible.”

    I had an interesting experience while teaching in a university in the bible belt. Student approaches me with a dilemma – he’s from the Walnut Ridge Baptist church, came to college to major in Earth Science, and to come out with, “well, I came with an open mind, but after hearing geology lectures, realized they are full of holes.” His dilemma? After hearing geology lectures, he saw that creationism is full of holes. He was asking me what to do about that. . . Interesting.

  13. peterh says

    That letter perfectly exemplifies Carl Sagan’s “Science as a Candle in the Dark.” I would suggest any legislator anywhere considering such blinkers on our already-floundering educational system be required to read Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World, Random House, 1996, ISBN 0-394-53512-X

  14. footface says

    The backwardness and legal inadvisibility of this bill notwithstanding, I think it’s awesome.

    “The curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.”

    This sure makes it sound like a science teacher could say, “Listen up, class: Christians say God made the Earth in 6 days. Scientologists say an evil space guy put people in volcanoes and dropped atomic bombs on them. The Ojibwe say a dog went bald and turned into the first person. Now let’s spend the rest of the year talking about what scientists say about life on Earth and how humans came to be.”

    It would make Christians’ pet beliefs look even sillier.

    Sure, the teacher would probably end up in jail, but still.

  15. raven says

    I wish these fucks would just be honest and attempt to amend the separation clause out of the constitution.

    They are. Many or most of the fundie xians are xian Dominionists who openly hate the US government and US constitution and want to destroy both.

    I’m sure Kruse and the christofascists of the Indiana legislature would be ecstatic to gain control of the government and rule in the name of jesus the king, who always seems to be absent.

    The first thing they would do is loot the treasury. Jesus, or at least his followers, always need more money.

    Then, on to the fun part, the slaughter of the heathens, pagans, atheists, and scientists.

    Enslavement of women, Canaanites, and anyone else who looks like an easy target.

    And finally, the traditional pasttime of xians, sectarian warfare with tanks and fighter jets.

  16. Active Margin says

    This really is depressing. It doesn’t feel like one step back and two steps forward anymore.

  17. supermental says

    @Daniel Fincke:
    Yup.. creationism and ‘intelligent design’ are both utter nonsense. They don’t even belong in a RI class (Religious Indoctrination).
    They belong in a Religious History class, which would be a complete waste of time.

  18. mcwaffle says

    Does anybody know Scientology’s actual cosmology? I know all about Xenu creating thetans by nuking aliens, and the re-education space stations that show movies of Jesus etc… But before Xenu’s space empire rose, how did the universe/the Earth begin?

    It’s also possible that Mr. Hubbard just never thought of that and nobody’s ever noticed or cared. I’m actually tempted to say it’s actually consistent with scientific theories on the origin of the solar system and the universe, just with a bunch of crap about space aliens and ghosts thrown in on top…

  19. says

    Looks like their little poll is backfiring on them. Not votes outstrip yes votes close to nine to one. Pretty nice considering our part of the state is possibly the most Fundy part of Indiana. Sadly Kruse is my state senator and he keeps winning by landslides.

  20. quatguy says

    It must be nice to live in a state where there is apparently no economic crisis, no unemployment, no environmental degredation and no crime and they feel comfortable-enough to be able to spend their time coming up with this crap. Indiana must be paradise on earth. The people of Indiana must be so happy!

    There is no way in hell this law will ever fly and they will have wasted huge sums of money on lawyers and short-changed their kids education in the mean time. I believe that a good percentage of run of the mill Americans do not realize that the future of their country depends (in large part) on the quality of the education that their children receive, and that millions of kids in other countries are receiving far better K-12 educations. Where will that put America in the future? How will America compete on the world stage and advance the fields of science and technology? China is coming up fast and is already leading in a number of categories where America once reigned supreme. Correct me if I am wrong (maybe it is just a rumour?), but at one time, I believe that the United States was capable of sending people into space? It sounds far fetched I know. Only Russia and China are capable of doing that now.

    If the average hoosier had a better education themselves, perhaps they would run their state legislators out of town on a rail for coming up with stuff like this. Perhaps the current situation is a result of a snow-ball effect resulting from poor K-12 science education going back 20-30 years?

  21. jjgdenisrobert says

    Well, since no religion has a theory of life, then it’s quite easy, isn’t it? You can’t teach any religious *idea* about the origin of life, since the text of the law explicitly uses the word “theory”. no?

  22. autumn says

    @stevebowen,
    I went to a public high-school in the US, and my English Lit teacher spent a couple of days making sure that the class understood a few specific stories from the Bible. She made it very clear that she was not endorsing or dismissing these stories as holy writ, simply that we would not have a good grasp of much of English literature without understanding them.

  23. says

    “In my opinion, if this is to be done in any way consistent with spirit of the Establishment Clause, all religious views must be taught.”

    This looks like an attempt to compromise with idiots.

    There should be absolutely no religious bullshit in a public school.

  24. AsqJames says

    Does anyone think there’s a possibility of something like The Royal Society’s Pairing Scheme being replicated in the US?

    This scheme builds bridges between parliamentarians, civil servants and some of the best research scientists in the UK.

    Participating scientists are paired with either an MP or civil servant and the Royal Society supports them by arranging a ‘Week in Westminster’ and reciprocal visits.

    The scheme aims to help MPs and civil servants establish longstanding links with practising research scientists and to help research scientists understand political decision making and its associated pressures.

    There seem to be plenty of religious or faith-based institutions which have regular contact/influence on state and federal legislators, perhaps a little bit of “equal time” might be in order?

  25. raven says

    Does anyone think there’s a possibility of something like The Royal Society’s Pairing Scheme being replicated in the US?

    No way. You are assuming that most people are normal and rational, interested in the truth and wanting to know more about everything.

    The people we deal with are blind, close minded religious kooks who don’t know, don’t want to know, and could care less.

    It’s the same mentality that leads to suicide bombers.

    You would have more success with a cat.

  26. says

    Alareth #2 – Agreed. Hey, you’re a Blender Dude? Cool! I spent 45 minutes last weekend watching how to make a football. I use SolidWorks at work. I like what you’ve done on your webpage.

  27. says

    I actually don’t have a problem with this. As I understand it, a theory 1) fits the known facts, 2) explains them, and 3) makes predictions. So we have the big bang theory and the theory of evolution, and perhaps the theory of abiogenesis for the origin of life.

    And on the other side we have a grand total of zero theories from the religious dickfarts, because what they keep proposing fails to match the facts, explain them, or make predictions. So, yeah, this bill amounts to a whopping pile of nothing.

  28. alost says

    John,

    As the language of the bill makes abundantly clear, your understanding of “theory” differs from how they are applying it. Therefore, your indifference makes no sense – and is dangerous if we are to succeed in pushing back against these thinly-veiled attempts to topple science education across this nation.

  29. says

    Not so much indifference as a heaping plate of contempt. I’m aware we have to push back against it, though, and that it can’t be allowed to pass.

  30. littlejohn says

    Thanks for crashing the poll, guys. It’s currently over 94% “No” and keeps growing. PZ, it must be intoxicating to wield this kind of power.

  31. eddyline says

    95.03% NO, littlejohn. If they listen to the poll, they should table it at least, or remove it from consideration.

    It’ll be struck down in court anyway—it’ll just cost too damn much to do it.

  32. peterh says

    And you can’t vote twice in the poll, (went so far as to close browser/open browser; won’t waste the extra time of rebooting) so its numbers are a reasonable approximation of those who took an interest in the matter. If one reads just the first page of comments, it’s quite apparent the Indiananpolites or whatever-the-hell they call themselves are not taken in by the bill’s cheap trickery.

  33. grumpy1942 says

    A modest proposal.

    Teach creationshit/IDiocy in public school for 1 hour per week.

    Teach evolution in Sunday School for one hour per week.

  34. kc9oq says

    Odd seeing how the Fordham survey gave Indiana a grade of “A-” for their science curriculum.

  35. archimedes109 says

    Yeah, you folks all had your good laugh at the expense of Kentucky citizens, what with their fancy Creation Museum and such. But we’re looking more reasonable all the time.
    Thanks, Indiana!

  36. davidorr says

    Hey all. Not a commenter here usually, but I’m a Hoosier science booster, and figured that if PZ is reaching Indiana people who care about science, I’d share some information for them here.

    With paleontologist Tony Martin, I’ve begun using a #HoosierScientist hashtag. This creationism BS has exposed just how weak the Indiana sci-comm community is (if it can even be called that), so hopefully this will be a small step towards some unity. Four tweeters strong so far!

    I’ve also got a set of anti-creationism in Indiana graphics up at Flickr. I’m putting one in our MFA art show at Indiana University this month, so if any Bloomingtonians are reading this, come by the Grunwald Gallery on campus in a few weeks to check it out.

    That’s all. Thanks for keeping people in the loop about this sad state of affairs. Pun intended.

  37. Jeffrey G Johnson says

    The law is absurd, and the motivation for wanting to turn science classes into comparative religion classes is transparent.

    However, it seems they are making a tactical error here. In an effort to appear as if they are not respecting one view above another, they are attempting to make an end-run around the establishment clause and take refuge under religious freedom.

    They must be congratulating themselves for this “enlightened” egalitarian approach that does not condemn their religious rivals.

    But it strikes me that this is an opportunity. It shouldn’t be too hard to produce a mini-lecture that compares the various creation myths of a variety of religions, Christianity included, which reveals their similarities in a way that clearly shows how absurd they all are, and leads into an introduction to the true story of our origins.

  38. clemensadolphs says

    Maybe their poor use of the word theory is a good thing here:

    “Okay, we have to teach theories of origin from different religions. Since they all don’t have theories, only hunches and bad hypotheses, there’s nothing to teach. Done.”

  39. thegoodman says

    @45 I like this angle. Science teachers will likely be delighted to teach any and all scientific theories that exist in regard to the beginning of our universe and the origin of life. The good news is that no religions have been able to produce a theory for either of those topics.

  40. potsandowls says

    We (scientists and scientifically-minded “civilians”) need a new word to replace either evolution and/or theory. After all, evolution is a fact, and the theory of speciation by natural selection explains the facts.

    So how about we say “the observation of evolution is very well explained by the rule of speciation by natural selection.

    Hmmm… even as I write it, I don’t like the way that sounds, but what do you think, Pharyngulanians?

  41. Jerry Alexandratos says

    I can see a big problem with the “let this law go through because no reputable science teacher will teach creationism” idea (comments 13, 17, 25, 33, 39, 44, 45, & 46). You are overestimating the number of grade school, middle school, and high school teachers who are both _not_ fundamentalist Christian fanatics, _and_ willing to risk their careers over fighting the fundie fanatics by teaching only science as opposed to giving in and teaching to the local standards. What about the fundie fanatic teachers who will gleefully mislead their eager innocent students by embracing the new law and teaching them creationist / ID garbage _instead_ of evolution? There is another new generation of kids in a small town who may never get exposed to real science. Not everyone ever leaves their town, never mind going to college. Basic high school science might be as much as they ever get. This guarantees a new batch of non-critical thinking fundie Faux News watching GOP voters. No, folks, this law has to be fought. If for no other reason than the next generation gets to make our laws and pick our retirement homes. *If we’re lucky. If unlucky, they’ll get to cut tax rates for the rich, gut pay & benefits, gut retirement, gut Social Security, gut health insurance, and eliminate health care [not the same thing!]. And that’s for starters. If not “do it for the children”(tm) *gag*, then do it for yourselves.

  42. kaleberg says

    I was going to say that creationism is ebonics for science, but there actually is something to ebonics.

  43. Jeffrey G Johnson says

    kaleberg says:
    4 February 2012 at 12:14 pm
    I was going to say that creationism is ebonics for science, but there actually is something to ebonics.

    There is something to Ebonics because it is the way real people talk and it is integral to a culture. This is based on the descriptive approach to linguistics rather than the prescriptive approach.

    This is possible because language is a fluid contingent human cultural creation. There is no Platonic form against which to compare language in order to determine how ideal or correct it is, although some prescriptivists might think that way.

    But science does have a kind of Platonic form to determine if it is correct or not; we call it objective reality or nature. So science in a sense must be prescriptive rather than descriptive; you can’t invent your own reality the way you can invent your own language.

    Religion is like language, a contingent cultural creation of human beings. If we look at all religions and compare them without asserting one is truer than the others, we are looking at them descriptively. The believer is someone who is prescriptive with respect to religion. They believe one religion is correct, and all others are “grammatical” errors with respect to their one true “language”.

    But suddenly they become descriptive when it comes to science. They assert that creationism is as valid as evolution, and they deserve to be compared as viable alternatives just as one might compare english to chinese.

    So atheists/scientists are prescriptive about science, and descriptive about religion. Believers are prescriptive about religion and descriptive about science.