BETWEEN THE LINES: Almost a century after the Scopes monkey trial, in which Tennessee high school science teacher John Scopes was found guilty of violating the state’s law against teaching evolution in public schools, the state recently demonstrated that it never learned a damn thing.
In a Christian fundamentalist campaign to impose their extremist religious beliefs on others, the Volunteer State passed a law to allow creationism to be discussed in science classes as a counter concept to evolution that favors the six-day explanation in the Old Testament.
One state senator, who opposed the bill, said the measure “simply dredges up the problems of our past with this bill that will affect our future.”
Critics, such as the ACLU and the state’s teachers union, said that contesting evolution “is miseducation and good teachers know that.”
The measure, which passed late in March by a 3-to-1 margin, protects public school teachers, who choose to teach creationism alongside evolution. However, the setback opens a Pandora’s Box that embraces the denial of other conventions, such as climate change, despite the vast amount of facts supporting it by an overwhelming majority of experts around the globe.
Governor Bill Haslam’s signature was not required for the legislation to be enacted, so he sat idly by and allowed it to become law last week.
Two years ago, conservative Christians targeted “left-wing, academia-influenced” social studies textbooks in Texas. At the time, the state’s 15-member Board of Education — comprised of five Democrats and 10 Republicans, seven who were considered social conservatives — approved changes to not only cast doubt on evolution, but to suggest that the Founding Fathers wanted this nation to be guided by Christian principles, not the separation of church and state that became an essential component of the Bill of Rights.
There are some defensible Judeo-Christian principles, such as do unto others as you would have others do unto you, that are the basis for reasonable laws relating to moral behavior, but in a diverse America, religious values, for the most part, should not impact public education.
Centuries before Darwin, Galileo put science and religion in the proper perspective when he said: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use.”
As the president stressed in his State of the Union speech back in January, this nation lags terribly in students graduating from colleges and universities with degrees in science and technology. Consequently, this campaign by an agenda-directed pressure group at a time when the American economy and global competition to a great extent depends upon those two fields, is irresponsible because, rather than improving science education and giving our children the most up-to-date scientific information possible, it focuses on ancient beliefs that have long been abandoned.
Let’s just hope — and pray, if you think it would help — that this endeavor doesn’t mushroom to hold back educational progress in other states or, worse, give conservative Christian blocs the zeal to attempt to reverse other sound educational theories with which they disagree.
Charles Darwin, whose findings in the 19th century sparked this debate, Clarence Darrow, who defended Scopes, and John Scopes, must be turning over in their graves.
Creationism is plainly a religious tenet with its reasoning on this matter only substantiated by the biblical account. It should not become subject matter in public school science classes — and such a measure wouldn’t stand a chance in hell of ever becoming law in New York or most states. Religious fundamentalists may have the clout to sway elected and school officials in a few Bible Belt states, but, for the most part, the topic deserves to be confined to Sunday morning sermons.
Conservative factions may feel a sense of righteousness as they reject facts behind the theory of evolution and other established scientific evidence, but they have no business monkeying around trying to force their principles into public education curricula. Nevertheless, if they continue to challenge practical science, they just might find on course to sail off the ends of the Earth.
Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes a weekly column called “Between the Lines” on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.