Good News and Bad News in Indiana’s New Creation Science Law

The news is circulating that Senate Bill 89, which allows for the teaching of “creation science,” has passed the senate and now awaits approval from the house.

There is at least some good news. On the one hand, the proposed law makes no mention of science classrooms, and so there is nothing that directly encourages schools to engage in the unconstitutional and unscientific activity of promoting religion in science classrooms.

As a result of an amendment, however, the proposed law now requires that if a school teaches about religious theories of origins that it must do so fairly and provide a representative survey of a variety of religions. Here is how it is now worded:

Sec. 18. 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.

And so perhaps one can look on the bright side. The law, if it passes, will not legally enable schools to inject religion into science classes, since it is still unconstitutional to do so and the law does not change that. On the other hand, if a school teaches about religion, it needs to cover a variety of religions and not focus all its attention on one. And so the law cannot be used to do any real harm to science education, and might represent a step forward for education about world religions!

Of course, this doesn’t mean that someone won’t be able to try to appeal to this law to justify injecting creationism into the science classroom. But I don’t see that this law as now worded will in any way get such a person off the hook when they are taken to court for doing so.

What do others think?  In its present form, is the law still dangerous to science education? And with respect to teaching about religion, is the law merely redundant or an actual step in the right direction?

  • Brad

    As it’s worded they could still bring religious origin of life theories to the science class. They’d just have to cover multiple religions. I do not see where it prohibits this specifically in the science classroom.

  • http://jamesbradfordpate.blogspot.com/ James Pate

    I’m for the teaching the controversy approach, myself. 

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Brad, given that teaching creationism in science classes is already unconstitutional, I don’t see how this law can be interpreted in such a way as to override that.

    James, I don’t have a problem with the teaching of controversies, but when it comes to biological evolution, there isn’t a scientific controversy, and so one should not mislead students by giving them the impression that there is.

    • Brad

      True. But I suspect someone will try!

  • Cory Taylor

    I suppose another downside of this proposed amendment is that a teacher could “teach all the religions,” but in such a way as to imply the superiority of the YEC creation account to that of the other religions listed. Unless, that is, the amendment has language preventing that sort of thing.

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      There’s nothing explicit in the amendment to prevent someone asserting the superiority of one religious viewpoint over another, but I don’t think there has to be, as that would clearly constitute state promotion of religion that has been found unconstitutional time and time again.

      • Cory Taylor

        The unfortunate thing, though, is that for some people, “scriptural truth” trumps constitutionality. It’s not hard for me to imagine a scenario where a particularly zealous YEC teacher presents young-earth creationism as the superior position, then goes down in a blaze of glory when his/her actions are challenged, while he/she is venerated like a martyr in sympathetic circles.

        • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          That’s true, but I don’t see that as particularly more or less likely to occur if the law passes than if it does not. But again, perhaps I am being naively optimistic.

          • Brad

            Or I’m being naively pessimistic! What with Indiana’s brain drain and wanting to attract tech jobs to the state one would think the legislature would have better things to worry about than this tired old chestnut.

          • Anonymous

            I agree with Cory. We are only asking for religious wars, and one group against another group’s understanding of “sacred values”. Wasn’t this the reason that our Founders wanted to prevent sectarian strife and rifes over the ‘sacred”? and the underming of civil liberties! Civil liberties should always trump religious values, as civil liberties is an inclusive term, for individuals, while religious values are specified….and defined by religious group think. While civil liberties protect a free society, religious values define cultural norms. And when we don’t allow for civil liberties, we define by law our prejuidice.

  • Anonymous

    Is the purpose to make people more “tolerant” through exposing them to other traditions, and at the same time, exposing them to evolution as the context for biology?

    Will this be the way to “re-formulate” America’s understanding of herself in the world? Is this to be “the moral model” that transforms sectarian strife for “world peace”?

  • Gary

    The only way I interprete the statement “The governing body of a school corporation may offer instruction on various theories of the origin of life”….theories of the origin of life can only be set in a biology or science class, in my opinion. Unless they bring it into philosophy or religions of the world…but I don’t think that is a frequently taught subject at high school or lower. So I would expect many lawsuits. Or maybe they can include it in social studies, since that is taught in most high schools. Then they might as well include the Book of Mormon’s view on American history. So there are controversies in American history that parallel the controverises in biology. I can see it in the future…..hot topic when Romney is elected….history, 1800 Utah style.

  • Brad

    If you click through you can see the original 26 states who have signed on to develop new science standards.

    http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2012/02/first_draft_of_common_science.html

    Sadly, I did not see Indiana listed.

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      We do appear in the sidebar as seeking to require that our students learn to write in cursive, though…

  • Pingback: PatheosProgXn

  • Patrick Elliott

    The real joke of all this is that they insist on claiming that the science of evolution is a “wild guess”, then contradict themselves with, “But we have this wild guess of our own, which we think is true instead.” But, all things considered, as a non-believer the two things I know bloody well you *never* want to do if you want to make sure you end up with Christians, instead of deists/agnostics/atheists, is a) actually have them read the whole bible, cover to cover, instead of, “carefully guiding them”, through only the parts you think are important (which is what churches do), or  b) show anyone how many myths there are out there, any one of which makes just as much sense, if any, and leads to, “Yeah, but… why should this one be real, and the rest nonsense?

    This is the only way they can, legally, get the Bible into a classroom, since it isn’t even all that good literature, and even its own contents, in the NT where influenced by Roman and Greek myth (the OT doesn’t mention a dang thing about heaven or hell, and even has some places where it comes darn close to saying that you don’t go anyplace at all, once you die, for example, but the Romans had Hades and the underworld). Unfortunately, if they are at all fair about how they present any of those other myths… they don’t leave any good reason to believe one over the others. And a few of them are actually more sane, like one pagan one which posited a void, from which their goddess gave birth to a whole universe, and her own male counterpart, in a big explosion (if I remember the gist correctly). Sounds, even to me, a lot closer to what science says than the silly, “God made trees and some other stuff, and then went, “Oops! I guess that photosynthesis thing won’t work unless I add lights too!” lol

  • Anonymous

    I really don’t get the point. This just seems like ever so much pandering, and doesn’t seem to change what is actually permissible in any way.

    It seems like “look at me, I question evolution like a ‘good christian’ so vote for me!” and nothing more. I can’t wait till we stop glorifying this particular bit of prideful ignorance.

  • http://fred5.myopenid.com/ fred5

    There is at least some good news. On the one hand, the proposed law
    makes no mention of science classrooms, and so there is nothing that
    directly encourages schools to engage in the unconstitutional and
    unscientific activity of promoting religion in science classrooms.

    And the bad news is that Senate Amendment 0089-4 which hasn’t been considered yet does just that.  For your perusal I offer you 0089-4 (PDF file) in all its glory.

    Source

  • http://historical-jesus.info/ Bernard Muller

    Two remarks:
    a) I do not think the Catholics and most protestants are required by their churches to believe in the creation in 6 days, and Adam & Eve. It is my impression the official position of the Catholic church is to accept evolution and the big bang. If it is the case, then a painstaking distinction will have to be made denomination by denomination.
    b) According to 0089-4, the one who will “teach” the religious creation stories has to be a certified sciences teacher. Then from where this teacher would have learned about them? Not in sciences classes in university, I hope. In any case, this credited sciences teacher could not be acting as a professional on this. I certainly can see many lawsuits coming out if the law is passed.
    PS: the solution might be that the teacher will be required to read word by word a carefully worded text approved by secular and religious authorities. But still … 

  • A.J.

    James F. McGrath said: “I don’t have a problem with the teaching of controversies, but when it comes to biological evolution, there isn’t a scientific controversy, and so one should not mislead students by giving them the impression that there is.”

    There is a growing body of evidence that challenges the validity of Darwinian Evolution, so I believe it is premature to assume that science is conclusive on the subject. This allows for much controversy, especially considering the advanced science being done under the Creation worldview.
    What is misleading is the notion that Evolutionism is a science, when in point of fact it is a worldview.

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      If you are referring to the fact that evolution as a scientific understanding has moved far beyond the specifics of Darwin’s views, then yes, of course it has. But it sounds like you may be repeating the claims of groups like the proponents of Intelligent Design, who claim that there is a growing body of evidence against evolution per se, when in actual fact this is not the case. And the claim that there is advanced science being done “under the Creation worldview” is in fact laughable, since one of the major criticisms of both the ID and the YEC positions is that few of the proponents of them do genuine scientific research, much less publish it, still less have it found persuasive when critically evaluated by their peers.

    • Anonymous

      re: 
      There is a growing body of evidence that challenges the validity of Darwinian Evolution, so I believe it is premature to assume that science is conclusive on the subject. This allows for much controversy, especially considering the advanced science being done under the Creation worldview. 

      please present just one element of this advanced science.

      science is never conclusive, it is always provisional. but even though evolutionary theory is provisional and will be shown to be wrong in some details in the future, there is no room to squeeze young earth creationism into those gaps.

      but please, present one of these elements of the growing body of evidence that challenges ET.

    • JonSmith

      You “sir”, need to watch the presentation by Dr. Ken Miller (Biology), Prof @ Brown, a Catholic, present one of the results of the Human Genome project. [ youtube.com/watch?v=zi8FfMBYCkk ] 4m23s running time. This knowledge dates prior to ~2006.

      Particularly, you’ll want to pay attention to 2:42 & 3:44 . Evolution is fact. Full stop. Human evolution is fact. Full stop.

  • A.J.

    James, Evolutionism and Creationism are both worldviews, not scientific disciplines.

    Science under the Creation worldview is subject to the same rigors as science under the Evolution worldview.. and much peer reviewed science has been completed by Creationists.

    My issue here is the presupposition that Darwinian Evolution has been “proved” by science, which it has not been.. not one transbaramin fossil or form has ever been validated. So to use such language is misleading, and could be construed as an abusive form of indoctrination if it is not presented carefully with the opposing points of view which is what the legislation being processed in Indiana is all about.

    Or are the proponents of Evolution afraid to have an open discussion in our classrooms?

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      A. J., please do not move the goal post. The issue is not “evolutionism” as a worldview but the biological understanding of the evolution of life on this planet. That is all that should be in a biology class. Young-earth creationism and other pseudoscientific views should not be in science classes any more than Holocaust denial or Jesus mythicism should be in history classes. This is not about fear, but a desire not to have bunk peddled to children as though it had evidence in its favor.

      Passing peer review doesn’t mean something is right, it just means that it has offered something that has follows scholarly methods and so is deemed worthy of publication and discussion. ID proponents have produced some such publications, which have received a lot of critical response. YEC hasn’t even done that. None of this represents an overturning of one of science’s best-documented conclusions.

    • Anonymous

      re:
      Or are the proponents of Evolution afraid to have an open discussion in our classrooms? 
      this is a foolish gambit. young earth was disproved conclusively nearly 200 years ago with the discovery of deep time in geology. creationism was disproved conclusively with the rise of molecular biology from 1953-1980. human beings are continuous with the great apes biologically. the only option for creationists is that God directed evolution or that He created progressively so that it looks like evolution at work. there is no young earth creationism science.

      you don’t want anyone else’s creation story in science classrooms, only yours, do you really want every creation story given the same status? what are you afraid of? not enough time left in science class for any real science? that is a real fear.

    • Anonymous

      re:
      Evolutionism and Creationism are both worldviews, not scientific disciplines.

      is the science of evolutionary theory a worldview?
      no, science is deliberately, by design, truncated. it falls short of supplying many of the elements needed to construct a functional worldview.

      for example, science really doesn’t do values or morality. there are values inherent in doing science, but it doesn’t postulate a morality from those, to do so falls prey to hume’s naturalist fallacy, turning is into ought. but people can and do create their worldview using science as a tool or example.

      this is what is confusing AJ, scientism as a worldview. the issue is methodological vs philosophic naturalism. as a simple guide, science does not make sufficiency claims. as it “nothing but” or “everything must”. science is always probabilistic, as far as we need, given the current understanding etc. it can rule out things. the earth in not 6k years old but rather 4.5B or there abouts. 

  • A.J.

    James F. McGrath said: “The issue is not “evolutionism” as a worldview but the biological understanding of the evolution of life on this planet. That is all that should be in a biology class.”
    While I appreciate your right to an opinion, it is bigoted against the Creation worldview.

    I do not believe that our science classroom should teach error. Because of this, it is profitable for our teachers to be well educated in ALL points of view that pertain to any particular subject so that appropriate distinctions can be made.. and real facts can be identified. Without this process, much error may be propagated such as the notion that the earth was flat, and was the center of the universe.

    An open discussion on origins is necessary.. it is unwise to reject any point of view out of hand.

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      No viewpoint should be dismissed out of hand. They should be dismissed if they are at odds with the evidence, and even more so if they lie about the evidence, as promoters of young-earth creationism do. Charlatans should not be given free access to our children to peddle lies to them.

    • JonSmith

      ” it is unwise to reject any point of view out of hand. ” Except when it’s patently absurd.

      I assume you have at least a high school vocabulary? Google for these articles:

      [Summer 1985] National Center for Science Education, Vol 5, No. 2: New Proteins Without God’s Help[Jul 2006] National Geographic: Lizards Rapidly Evolve After Introduction to Island[Apr 2008] National Geographic: “Instant” Evolution Seen in Darwin’s Finches, Study Says[Jul 2009] Time Magazine Science: The Incredible Shrinking Sheep of Scotland[Nov 2011] Discover Magazine: Microraptor – the four-winged dinosaur that ate birds

      The “error” is letting unsubstantiated claims (that basically boil down to ancedototal evidence, tautology, argumentum ad divintas/populum, argumentum ad baculum/consequentiam & lack of understanding of the scientific method) be presented as valid & equal to applied sciences, in a thinly-veiled gambit to influence & manipulate our children.

      The philosophical burden of proof is on those asserting their claims, not those questioning it.

  • A.J.

    James F. McGrath said: “No viewpoint should be dismissed out of hand. They should be dismissed if they are at odds with the evidence, and even more so if they lie about the evidence, as promoters of young-earth creationism do.”
    I am glad we agree that hypothesis should be rejected when the evidence is found to be contrary, and I would add if the evidence is missing.

    Also, I find your stereo-typical characterization of “young-earth creationsim” to be prejudiced. I can cite many examples of evolutionary misrepresentations such as Ernest Haekel’s embryo drawings and the many refuted ‘missing links’ such as Piltdown man.

     So as we agree that various worldviews are beneficial to our classrooms, I would expect that you would reconsider your approach to this particular legislation as it promotes diversity and exploration in contrast to bigotry and prejudice.

    Anything else would be uncivilized.. wouldn’t you agree?

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      My only prejudice is that of someone who was once a young-earth creationist and came to realize that he had been deceived.

      If we evaluate a viewpoint only by those instances in which there have been hoaxes, deceptions or distortions, no viewpoint will survive. The question is whether the overwhelming paleontological, homological and genetic evidence points consistently to a particular conclusion. It does.

  • A.J.

    You said: “The question is whether the overwhelming paleontological, homological and genetic evidence points consistently to a particular conclusion.”

    I agree that these avenues of research present certain conclusions, with the caveat of which worldview assumptions you apply.

    For example: The Creation worldview observes the DNA molecule via genetic observation as a causal information transmission system. As such, the information carried in our DNA then requires an intelligent source to specify the information which is used to reproduce the system itself. This irreducible complexity cannot be formed by any natural process as the laws of thermodynamics have shown.

    So while we can argue whether or not this evidence is logically correct, it remains that the particular conclusions that these evidences point to is based upon our individual worldviews.

    “My only prejudice is that of someone who was once a young-earth creationist and came to realize that he had been deceived.”

    I would be interested in hearing more about this.. would you consider a private conversation elsewhere?

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      A.J., there is no need for a private conversation since I have spoken publicly about this matter on my blog for years and have no hesitation in continuing to do so. Please do begin by reading what I have already written on this subject, so that I won’t need to repeat myself, and then we can take it from there.

      As for worldview being important, indeed it is. The scientific enterprise is based on following the evidence where it leads and accounting for it as simply and as parsimoniously as possible as far as the positing of ad hoc assumptions is concerned. Young-earth creationism, on the other hand, starts with a dubious reading of Genesis and denies or twists the evidence to conform to its pre-existing viewpoint. If someone cannot assess that following the relevant evidence in Biblical studies, history, biology, geology, and any other field as being preferable to starting with some viewpoint and finding ways to make all the evidence seem to agree with it, then there will indeed be a gulf between their approach and that of scholars and scientists that it will be hard to bridge.

    • Anonymous

      re:
      For example: The Creation worldview observes the DNA molecule via genetic observation as a causal information transmission system. As such, the information carried in our DNA then requires an intelligent source to specify the information which is used to reproduce the system itself. This irreducible complexity cannot be formed by any natural process as the laws of thermodynamics have shown. 

      this is really nonsense. laws of thermodynamics don’t apply to just living systems but to the system they are part of. our sun supplies the energy for life to exist. 

      this intelligence must be involved in dna because it’s so complex is basically an argument from incredulity. essentially the yecist wants us to throw up our hands at the sheer enormity of the task and ask for God’s intervention. nonsense, the idea is ratcheting. there are stable intermediate steps, the whole shebang is not put together in one fell swoop. yecism is fundamental a science killer, a curiosity stopper with the phrase “god did it”.

      • JonSmith

        Agreed. The complexity of a system does not imply divinity, yet one w/ the inability to understand the science does not grant the right to invoke the fallacy of argumentum ad divintas.

        Evolution is fact. To say otherwise is tantamount ~350 yrs ago saying Earth is flat.

  • jkvc

    Dr. McGrath, you may think that the bill does not target the science classroom, but if not, explain this: 
    http://www.in.gov/legislative/bills/2012/PDF/SAMF/MO008903.004.pdf

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I didn’t mean that no one would construe it in that way or seek to have it applied in that way. I was just referring to the explicit language of the bill.

      Do you know whether Senator Simpson’s motion which you linked to passed?


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