Let’s not allow science to be sandbagged by religion

Reprinted with permission from the Columbia Missourian

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST

Columbia, MO – Let’s talk about science.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon talked about science in the State of the State address last week, wanting to expand science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education so Missouri’s children can be ready for tomorrow’s work force.

Science is pretty simple if you get down to basics. Ask a question and conduct background research concerning the problem. Develop a hypothesis, test that hypothesis through experimentation. Develop a theory concerning future events of a similar nature. Repeat.

Each test is not to prove the theory correct but to search for why it may be false. That is an extremely simplified explanation of the scientific method.

One question that has been tested, retested and evaluated for error is Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Yes, it is “just a theory,” but what a theory it has turned out to be, one that proves correct regardless of the tests thrown at it. From microbiology to paleontology to astrophysics, the theory has not been deemed false, with one exception.

That exception is the relationship of Darwin’s theory of evolution to the biblical creation stories. Individuals who believe and promote intelligent design or creationism or any other biblical-based theories of the origins of our universe, none of which can stand the test of the scientific method, are fighting what is now an uphill battle. Yet the battle against good science continues in our fair state.

Reps. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, and Andrew Koenig, R-St. Louis County, are young, well-educated men. They are professionals who should understand what it means to have a well-educated populace.

Yet, these men have decided to introduce a bill in the Missouri House of Representatives that would allow parents to remove their children from classes about evolution. HB 1472 goes further.

It would require a school district or charter school to notify a parent or guardian that evolution will be taught and how it will be taught, adding a notification that the parent can remove the child from such education. The basis for this proposed law appears to be the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

But HB 1472 is a slippery slope that the Christian conservative movement has submitted to thwart the scientific inquiry of youth. If good science is ignored for mythology, what else will be ignored by those who believe their religion is being threatened?

Will we start to teach that we live in an Earth-centered universe that is only 6,100 years old completely ignoring the physics and geology that prove otherwise? That man and dinosaur lived together although we know through scientific research and study that this could not be the case? Are we to return to the Dark Ages in Missouri and allow our surrounding states to surpass us in the education of the future?

For starters, HB 1472 would not pass the Lemon test. In Lemon v Kurtzman, 403 US 602 (1971), the Supreme Court said a law concerning religion needs to meet the following tests:

  1. The action must have a secular purpose.
  2. The action must neither advance nor inhibit religion.
  3. The action must not result in “excessive government entanglement of religion.”

As of this writing, this bill seems to be going nowhere, and I urge the Speaker of the House to keep it on the back shelf.

If Darwin’s theory were removed, even by proxy, from the curriculum, what’s next? Copernicus’ heliocentric model?  After all, since 1543, it’s only been a “model.”

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About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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