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Thursday, April 01, 2004

Keep religion out of the class-room! (sort of)

John West of the Discovery Institute has this fascinating piece at National Review Online.

Here's the first paragraph of West's piece:

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is on the front lines of the battle to keep religion out of the nation's science classrooms. A group whose self-described mission is "Defending the Teaching of Evolution in the Public Schools," the NCSE routinely condemns anyone who wants to teach faith-based criticisms of evolutionary theory for trying to unconstitutionally mix church and state.

I checked to see what exactly the NCSE says about keeping religion out of the classroom. West's description of NCSE's claimed views seem to be pretty accurate.

For example, the NCSE explains their origin this way:

Groups of scientists, teachers, parents, clergy and interested citizens banded together to oppose "scientific creationism." They had many reasons for doing so: They wanted to maintain the integrity of science education, so that their children would not be taught factual nonsense and a distorted view of how science works. They worried about separation of church and state, because "scientific creationism" is in reality a restatement of Biblical literalist religious doctrine. Parents and clergy who were not literalists were concerned that their own religious views would be undermined in public school classrooms.

And this is what the NCSE says their religious position is:

NONE! The National Center for Science Education is not affiliated with any religious organization or belief. We and our members enthusiastically support the right of every individual to hold, practice, and advocate their beliefs, religious or non-religious. Our members range from devout practitioners of several religions, to atheists, with many shades of belief in between. What unites them is a conviction that science and the scientific method, and not any particular religious belief, should determine science curriculum.

But, it turns out, this posturing is total hypocrisy. As West reveals, NCSE is perfectly willing to allow "particular religious belief[s]" to "determine science curriculum" as long as they are the right religious beliefs.

But in an ironic twist, it now turns out that the NCSE itself is using federal tax dollars to insert religion into biology classrooms. Earlier this year, the NCSE and the University of California Museum of Paleontology unveiled a website for teachers entitled "Understanding Evolution." Funded in part by a nearly half-million-dollar federal grant, the website encourages teachers to use religion to promote evolution. Apparently the NCSE thinks mixing science and religion is okay after all ? as long as religion is used to support evolution.

The purpose of the "Understanding Evolution" website is to instruct teachers in how they should teach evolution, and the federal government (through the National Science Foundation) came up with $450,000 for the project. As might be expected, the science presented on the website is rather lopsided. Although there are vigorous arguments among biologists about many aspects of neo-Darwinism, teachers aren't informed about those scientific debates, ignoring guidance from the U.S. Congress in 2001 that "where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist."

But the strangest part of the website, by far, is the section that encourages educators to use religion to endorse evolution. Teachers are told that nearly all religious people, theologians, and scientists who hold religious beliefs endorse modern evolutionary theory, and that indeed such a view "actually enriches their faith." In fact, teachers are directed to statements by a variety of religious groups giving their theological endorsement of evolution.

For example, educators can read a statement from the United Church of Christ that "modern evolutionary theory... is in no way at odds with our belief in a Creator God, or in the revelation and presence of that God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit."

Read the whole article.


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