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Faith and Science 

Religion has no place in science classes. For some reason, this simple dictum is lost on state lawmakers, who, in the name of exposing children to competing viewpoints, want to inject faith-based theories of creation into science curricula across the state — as an "alternative" theory to evolution. This, like the long-debunked movement behind "scientific creationism," is nothing more than an effort to teach religion under the guise of science. It is wrong. It is as wrong as passing a law that says Christian schools should teach the notion that Jesus didn't really die on the cross — that he merely "swooned" and was later revived — as an alternative theory to the Resurrection. More than anything else, the debate over "intelligent design" (the new name for creationism proffered by anti-evolutionists) underscores the rationale for a bright-line separation of church and state.

For years, Louisiana public schools have taught the scientific theory of evolution in biology classes. No one's faith has been shaken as a result. Indeed, many scientists maintain that evolution and creation are not mutually exclusive concepts, although one is based on scientific fact and the other on religious faith. But that's not how proponents of Senate Bill 733 see things. They openly cast the "Louisiana Science Education Act" as a vehicle for encouraging "critical thinking" by way of exploring the "competing theories" of evolution and creation. Expose children to all these ideas, they say, and let them decide for themselves — as if all these ideas were equally grounded in scientific fact. They are not.

After all the hard work that Gov. Bobby Jindal and lawmakers did to improve our state's image by passing tough new ethics laws and lowering business taxes earlier this year, the last thing Louisiana needs now is to portray itself to the world as an intellectual backwater. The notion of separation of church and state is so fundamental to our system of government that the Founding Fathers — most if not all of whom were men of deep religious convictions — embedded it in the First Amendment, which begins, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Over the course of more than two centuries, American courts have affirmed the notion that government should stay out of matters of religion and faith, and churches should stay out of politics. This constitutional precept has served our country well.

Now comes state Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, who originally introduced Senate Bill 561, the dubiously titled "Louisiana Academic Freedom Act," which ostensibly was designed to "help students develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues," including evolution. The Louisiana Family Forum, which advocates creation science, asked Nevers to sponsor the legislation.

Nevers' bill made it out of the Senate Education Committee, whereupon he rolled it into Senate Bill 733, which he renamed the Louisiana Science Education Act. The bill's language changed so that its stated purpose now is to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review scientific theories being studied including evolution, the origins of life" and others. Local school boards could opt into the program, but the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would be required to "allow and assist" its implementation. There is perfunctory language stating that the law is not to be construed to promote any religious doctrine, but everyone knows the real intent of SB 733 is to introduce religion into public school science classes under the guise of competing "theories."

There is a world of difference between everyday use of the word theory, which conveys an idea or a hunch, and scientific theory, which, according to the journal Science, "is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment." Many scientists believe in evolution yet remain religious. Students can do likewise, but they should not get their science and their faith in the same public school classroom.

It is sad to watch our Legislature kowtow to those who want their own religious beliefs to shape public education. History has taught us how dangerous that can be. Centuries ago, the Inquisition placed Galileo under arrest for recognizing that the sun did not revolve around the earth. Here in Louisiana, we need only look back to 1987 to see what happened the last time the Legislature tried to inject religion into science class. The courts struck down the law that required "scientific creationism" to be taught alongside evolution. No doubt the Louisiana Science Education Act will meet the same fate — at great cost to taxpayers and to recent efforts to improve Louisiana's image.

Instead of wasting taxpayers' money enacting and defending SB 733, lawmakers should put money toward increasing the number of science teachers and truly supporting science education.


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