Creationism for Indiana Schools?
Are Indiana public schools going to start teaching religion? It looks like a realistic possibility. As the Democrat-controlled Washington state Legislature advances a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, a Republican-controlled Indiana Senate committee has approved a bill that would allow creationism to be taught in Indiana public schools, further showing the stark religious and ideological divisions within the United States. But, as many ULC wedding officiants, priests, and ministers will agree, creationism doesn’t belong in public school science classrooms, and there are several reasons why: creationism isn’t science, it teaches the story of only one religious tradition, and it is best suited to the field of comparative religion.
With regard to the first of these, creationism shouldn’t be taught in public school science classrooms because, well, it simply isn’t science. Naturally, the senators backing the bill, Senate Bill 89, will contest this. According to Dan Carden of NWI.com, “[s]tate Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, who voted for the measure, said if there are many theories about life’s origins, students should be taught all of them”. This, of course, assumes that the theory is scientific to begin with, and should therefore be compared with other scientific theories. But it isn’t scientific, says John Staver, professor of chemistry and science education at Purdue University: “Creation is not science”, Carden reports him as saying. “It is unquestionably a statement of a specific religion.” Staver is right: creationism is the doctrine of the legally ordained minister, not the research scientist. Evolution is a scientific theory, which means it follows the principles of the scientific method, while creationism is not. The science classroom is supposed to teach students to compare scientific theories with other scientific theories, not to compare scientific theories with religious theories. Therefore, the public science classroom should not be teaching students to compare evolution with creationism.
Besides, even if we do teach creationism in public school science classrooms, whose creation story should we teach? The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America bars Congress from passing any law respecting an establishment of religion, and decades of judicial opinion have interpreted this to apply to individual state legislatures as well, the reason being that conflict arising from religious preference can occur at either the state or federal level. Besides, the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution requires states to provide every citizen the equal protection of the law, so it is unfair as well as unconstitutional to ask students to study the Christian creation story, but not the creation stories of Hinduism, Buddhism, Native American religions, paganism, indigenous religions, or any other world religion. This is why people choose to become a minister, not a public school teacher. We might resolve this dilemma by teaching all religious creation stories in public schools, but this is logistically impractical, if not impossible, so it is simply more realistic to bar the teaching of any religious creation story in public schools. Passing a bill to teach creationism in Indiana would be unfair and unconstitutional, then, because it would violate both the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
This last point begs the question, how, then, does religion fit into public school curricula? After all, we might argue, it is impossible to avoid any mention of religion, because it is such an intimate and influential part of the human experience. To understand ourselves better as human beings, then, we must address issues of religion in some form or another. It is true that a discussion on human nature requires mention of religion, but it is not true that it requires the subjective endorsement of religion, as many people who get ordained online in a nondenominational church will already agree. For example, a history lesson on the profound social transformation taking place in Europe in the sixteenth century would be incomplete without mentioning the role of religion, but this does not require the teacher, school district, or government to endorse religion. And while it is unrealistic to teach all religious creation stories in a science classroom, we might still be able to find a place to do so in a comparative religion classroom–the only caveat is that no religion must ever be endorsed over another religion, and religion must never be endorsed over non-religion. So, even if Indiana does find a way to weasel Christian creationism into public school social science classes, it cannot be subjectively endorsed.
To sum up, creationism cannot be taught in public school science classrooms in Indiana or anywhere else in the United States, because it isn’t science to begin with, it is unfair to teach one creation story and not another (and unrealistic to teach all of them), and it belongs in comparative religion classes, where all religions are treated equally and objectively. As many of our own ULC ministers and pastors already know, the Universal Life Church Monastery has always held the position that religion should never have any legal or official influence in any tier of government in the United States, in order to prevent religious conflict and to show respect for the unimpeded advancement of science in its own right. Perhaps you agree, but perhaps you don’t. We are always open to hearing your thoughts on these issues, so feel free to make them known on the ULC Monastery Facebook discussion page or our social network for ministers.