News: News Archives
Protecting Science and Religion in South Carolina and Michigan
Writing in The Greenville (S.C.) News, AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner and the Rev. Baxter M. Wynn say a proposed change in South Carolina teaching on evolution could be harmful both to science education and religious freedom in the state.
The commentary, published Tuesday 7 March, says that proposed changes to South Carolina's public school biology standards, now under review by the State Board of Education, are designed to undermine students’ confidence in evolution. That undermines the state’s record of excellence in science education, they wrote, and “resuscitate an unnecessary and artificial conflict between scientific facts and faith.”
Meanwhile, AAAS Chairman Gilbert S. Omenn teamed with Leshner in an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday 8 March to warn that a line slipped into a Michigan education reform is designed to undermine the teaching of evolution in the state.
Leshner is chief executive officer for AAAS and executive publisher of the journal Science. Wynn is minister of pastoral care and community relations at First Baptist Church of Greenville. Omenn, in addition to his position at AAAS, is a professor of medicine, genetics and public health at the University of Michigan.
In both commentaries, the authors warned of the risks arising from seemingly innocuous language proposed for education standards urging students to take a critical approach to evolution. The words are a code language for proponents of creationism and intelligent design who are out to sow doubt about the well-established science of evolution.
The change under review by the South Carolina Board of Education “seems reasonable enough,” Wynn and Baxter wrote, because “it proposes that students should ‘critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.’” But, they add: “Don't be fooled. These same words have become code for those who…seem determined to insert oneand only onetype of religion into science classes.”
“Inserting one religious view into science standards is disrespectful of other faiths,” Wynn and Leshner continue. “Presenting science alongside religion within the science curriculum also would hinder students' efforts to grasp the nature of science versus faith. That's a shame. As President Bush pointed out in his latest State of the Union Address, at a time when America is facing unprecedented challenges we cannot afford to compromise the quality of K-12 science education. We must do all we can to train the next generation of innovators.”
The writers emphasized that there is no inherent conflict between evolution and religious faith. To support that argument, they cited the Clergy Letter Project, signed by over 10,000 U.S. religious leaders, and recent comments by the Rev. George Coyne, the Jesuit priest who directs the Vatican Observatory.
In the Detroit News commentary, Omenn and Leshner note that Michigan's public schools serve children from families representing many faiths and denominations. “If teachers must cover one religion in school, they would have to cover all beliefs,” the authors write. “In no case should such content be forced into the science classroom. If students are confused about the difference between scientific knowledge and faith, science education would be sorely compromised.
“Also, if children don't understand what is and isn't science, they later may be hard-pressed to compete for jobs in an increasingly technology-based economy. As Michigan works to overcome its high unemployment rate of 6.7 percentwell above the national rate of 4.9 percent in December 2005we owe every child the best possible science education.”
To see the full Greenville News commentary, click here.
To see the full Detroit Free Press commentary, click here.
Edward W. Lempinen
8 March 2006