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Science, Faith and School

A bill approved by the state Senate Education Committee this week could introduce biblical creationism in West Virginia schools.  Senate bill 619 states that teachers in public or charter schools “may teach intelligent design (ID) as a theory of how the universe and/or humanity came to exist.”

Intelligent design holds that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”  It argues that Darwin’s theory of evolution has gaps, and that an intelligent designer is responsible for creation. 

There are several problems with this. 

First, proponents of intelligent design argue that it is science-based, but the courts have found otherwise. The most significant case was Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (M.D.Pa.2005).  After a six week trial, U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III, a Republican and George W. Bush appointee, ruled that ID is not science.

“ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community,” the judge wrote.  “It has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.”

In addition, Judge Jones determined that ID was another form of God-centered creationism, just with some different terms. “The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere relabeling of creationism, and not scientific theory.”

Evolution is legitimate scientific theory, one that is the subject of ongoing observable and measurable testing. It is being refined all the time. Intelligent design is essentially a belief that is rooted in faith, in particular faith in the Christian God.

As Judge Jones wrote, “To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.”

Prior to Kitzmiller, the U.S. Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard ruled in 1987 that a Louisiana law mandating the instruction of “creation science,” violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

That clause prohibits the government from establishing a state religion, while the free exercise clause protects a citizens’ right to practice their religion. The courts have ruled repeatedly that the establishment clause keeps the government at arms length in matters of religion. 

Science is cold and dispassionate.  The scientific method seeks rational and provable answers to the endless questions in the natural world.  Religion is a matter of faith and wrapped in mystery that gives life a deeper meaning. Science and faith co-exist, but they are not the same.   

As the Constitution states clearly, people are free to adhere to the faith of their choice (or none at all) but also the government is not going to instruct school children on a faith-based creation story and pass it off as science.

The courts have seen that distinction clearly. So should the West Virginia Legislature. 

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