Proposed “truth in education” legislation by Republican state Sen. Dennis Kruse of Auburn won’t mention the terms “creationism” or “intelligent design” or “evolution,” but don’t doubt for a second that this is one more attempt to force a religious debate into science classrooms. The General Assembly should have none of it.
His previous attempt was more straightforward. It would not have mandated creationism to be taught along with evolution, but it would have allowed school districts to mandate it. The bill actually made it out of the Senate but was killed in the House because of concerns over legal challenges. Those concerns were more than justified given that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that teaching “creation science” in public schools is unconstitutional if the purpose is to “advance a particular religion.”
The current effort is more creative. The legislation would allow students to question teachers and demand proof if they think something isn’t true. At that point, Kruse told the Indianapolis Star, “the teacher would have to come up with some kind of research to support that what they are teaching is true or not.” The burden on teachers would be great. “It’s just another thing to add to the myriad of hoops teachers have to jump through” is the way it was put by Nate Schellenberger, a former biology teacher and president of the Indiana State Teachers Association.
And make no mistake how that “search for truth” is meant to be used. Similar bills have been passed in Louisiana and Tennessee, and they have been used so far to encourage students to question scientific theories and protect teachers who teach creationism. It’s also easy to imagine students gaming the process and creating all sorts of havoc. OK, teacher, prove we actually landed on the moon. And, oh, while you’re at it, prove it isn’t made of green cheese.
This is a big mess waiting to happen. And if the experience in Louisiana and Tennessee is any indication, there will be exactly the same kind of lawsuits there would be if a creationism bill had passed.
As we have said here before, it would be wrong to keep religion out of schools altogether. Our society has suffered in recent years by the misguided efforts of some people to chase all religion from our public spaces, as if a creche in a park or a Bible on teacher’s desk would somehow corrupt us.
But that does not mean religion and science can co-exist in the same classroom. Science is about discovering what can be known, by testing hypotheses with experimentation. A theory stands until it is disproved. Religion is about faith in something beyond easy comprehension, and beliefs can never be proven or disproved – you either have them or you don’t. To equate religion and science is to diminish them both.