Joined: Oct. 2005
Why is DaveScot linking to this editorial from the Daily Herald? It's not helping his case.
| Tuesday, January 24, 2006|
In our view: Confusing religion with science
To listen to some senators in the Utah Legislature, schoolchildren are being indoctrinated in a strange religion. It is called science, and some senators believe they have the antidote.
Senate Bill 96, sponsored by Sen. D. Chris Buttars, passed on Monday and now moves to the House, where it is being sponsored by Rep. Jim Ferrin of Orem. The bill would require science teachers to tell students that there are several theories on the origin of life.
While the bill does not mention "intelligent design," "divine design" or any other euphemism for creationism by name, the implications are clear: A number of legislators want to push religion into the public schools by force of law. Among those voting for the bill were Parley Hellewell, Curtis Bramble, Mark Madsen and John Valentine.
The fig leaf that provides cover for a legislative enactment of religion in Utah is the notion that teachers impose speculative secular views on students and need to be ordered how by the legislature how to teach. Bramble even goes so far as to suggest that the body of scientific ideas concerning the origin of life and the nature of humanity represents a religion of its own, unsupported by fact, and so it's fair to enact law that forces faith-based views into the classroom. In weighing unprovable concepts, why should our children be fed only secular views that are no more valid than faith?
"Sen. Buttars's bill is only asking that teachers not impose their religious beliefs in this theory on him or upon others, especially upon those who rely on these same teachers to tell them the absolute truth," Sen. Allen M. Christensen, R-North Ogden, said during debate. He also dropped this revealing phrase: "It falls to us as legislators to ensure the truth is taught."
While we understand the lure of symbolic legislation in a state largely populated by religious conservatives, we had hoped our senators might have been a little more circumspect. S.B. 96 (see accompanying text), wants to control instruction concerning "origins of life." Oddly, it is laced with the word "theory." Some form of the "theory" appears in virtually every governing sentence of the bill, sometimes more than once.
The trouble is that there is no scientific theory on the origin of life. There is only speculation, which is something else altogether. A theory arises from a set of observable facts that support one another and suggest a possible cause. Speculation, on the other hand, is based on nothing. It is pure conjecture.
We could end the discussion right here and say that S.B. 96 may be nothing but unenforceable nonsense, since the public schools couldn't discuss an actual theory of the origins of life if they wanted to. None seem to exist. The chemical composition of living things is well established, but what makes them come to life remains a mystery.
And yet in S.B. 96 the Senate suggests that there are current scientific theories (note the plural noun) that deserve a full and fair vetting in the course of a science class. Bombarded by multiple theories about the origins of life, children might become confused about "absolute truth," to use Christensen's phrase. So S.B. 96 orders the public schools to "stress that not all scientists agree on which theory regarding the origins of life ... is correct."
Only Utah's Legislature could come up with such an Aristotelian conundrum. We therefore invite our senators to elaborate on any of the genuine "theories" to which this bill refers. The Herald will provide space on this page for the effort. Please list in detail the scientific observations and measurements that support any, or all, of the theories to which your bill makes reference. We're ready to be enlightened.
Without such guidance, we will continue to be disappointed that our senators passed a bill forcing teachers to combine faith and genuine scientific theory in the public school curriculum.
The dictionary reports that the word "religion" is associated with "belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe" or "a personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship." We think the government would be wise to stay out of this. Unfortunately, S.B. 96 nudges God into science class, using code words like "theory," as though one's belief in God were as externally valid as any scientific pursuit. But the proposition that God exists, that he created the universe and gave life to man is not a theory -- it is faith. It may be true, but it is not science. Misapplying scientific words to what amounts to a faith-based argument is ultimately not constructive. It is dishonest.
While many people believe they have empirical evidence for their faith, the standard of measurement is purely personal, not scientific. That is why there is so much disagreement in the world over religion. That is why James Madison argued so eloquently to keep religious doctrines out of secular laws. And that is why a new government in Iraq that is based on religion is likely to fail.
Other language in S.B. 96 is perhaps more troubling than the overt reference to theories about the origins of life. The bill ambiguously directs schools to present alternatives to what it calls "the origins or present state of the human race." Any attempt to find a concrete meaning in this semantic mush is difficult, but we can clearly see the intent -- and the danger. Buttars and his Senate colleagues want to push creationism into the public school curriculum. In truth, this is an attempt to insert a state-endorsed brand of religion into secular life.
Masquerading as a way to balance the curriculum (as though this were really needed in Utah), S.B. 96 enshrines psuedo-science in law. This is wrong. Decisions on curriculum should be left in the hands of professionals charged with oversight of the schools, not seized by a group of part-time politicians who attempt to think deep thoughts once a year.
Mostly, however, we believe all this is a colossal waste of time. Our legislators should spend their limited days on Capitol Hill doing something that will make a real difference to Utah.