As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development passed SB 89 by a vote of 8-2. I have not yet seen the tally sheet, but that vote suggests to me that all of the Senate Republicans and one of the Senate Democrats on the Committee voted in favor of this measure.
The Indiana Senate Bill
It is very short, stating only: “The governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation.”
It’s a little ambiguous, but it pretty much has to mean that creation science can be taught as science in the classroom. Schools can already teach creationism as part of, say, a class on comparative religions or history or literature or anthropology or philosophy. Courts generally interpret statutes with the idea that the legislature intends them to actually do something and likely wouldn’t interpret this as a mere nullity, allowing schools to do that which they were already permitted to do.
The idea of teaching Creationism as a scientific theory is awful to me, not because I mind critiques of or challenges to evolutionary theory; but because it degrades science to pretend that creationism satisfies the elements of a scientific theory:
A scientific theory is a set of principles that explain and predict phenomena. Scientists create scientific theories with the scientific method, when they are originally proposed as hypotheses and tested for accuracy through observations and experiments. Once a hypothesis is verified, it becomes a theory.
Why am I so protective of science? I suppose I don’t need to be; it’s probably able to take care of itself. But, it has proven to be a powerful tool for understanding the world around us. It’s not the only tool, many will point out. And they are correct. But, in those areas of life that lend themselves to observation and measurement, it has revolutionized human understanding. (I use the term “revolution” advisedly.) So, what is this scientific method? Generally speaking, scientific inquiry is distinguished from other methods of obtaining knowledge by falsifiable hypotheses where the tests yield repeatable results. It is a search for natural explanations for natural phenomena.
You attempt to observe, measure and define the subject of inquiry. You propose hypotheses that might explain the observations and predict behavior. You design experiments to test these predictions. And then you repeat the experiments to make sure the behavior is repeatable. A hypothesis that is not falsifiable, can’t be scientific. (For example, the hypothesis, “God creates every moment independently of the next – any relation one appears to have to the next is entirely through His grace.” is not falsifiable or testable. It could potentially be true, but it’s not scientific.)
These relatively simple principles led to an explosion of human understanding and knowledge. Consider the state of human knowledge in the 16th century when use of the scientific method was getting started to the state of human knowledge today. The advances are mind blowing. Comparatively speaking, the differences between the 11th century and the 16th are relatively small.
Evolution through Natural Selection and “Creation Science”
Charles Darwin came up with a hypothesis that species evolved by means of natural selection. This hypothesis competed with other notions, such as Lamarckism which speculated that progeny inherited particular traits based on use or disuse by the parents. (e.g. if a giraffe stretches its neck for leaves a lot during its lifetime, its kids would inherit longer necks.) Through observation and testing and modification to account for new observations (e.g. discovery of genetics), evolution through natural selection has become a bedrock scientific theory of biology.
Meanwhile, let’s take a quick look at “creation science,” which the Indiana General Assembly presumes to declare as a viable competitor to evolutionary theory.
Creation Science or scientific creationism is a branch of creationism that attempts to provide scientific support for the Genesis creation narrative in the Book of Genesis and disprove generally accepted scientific facts, theories and scientific paradigms about the history of the Earth, cosmology and biological evolution. Its most vocal proponents are fundamentalist Christians in the United States who seek to prove Biblical inerrancy and nullify the scientific evidence for evolution. The main ideas in creation science are: the belief in “creation ex nihilo”; the conviction that the Earth was created within the last 10,000 years; the belief that mankind and other life on Earth were created as distinct fixed “baraminological” kinds; and the idea that fossils found in geological strata were deposited during a cataclysmic flood which completely covered the entire Earth.
It is sort of an effort to retcon the Bible (or maybe they’re retconning scientific observation to comport with the Bible) by those who cannot abide the idea that the Bible might be speaking in metaphor or allegories. Their faith, apparently, is dependent on every part of the Bible being a literally factual, historical document. Objections to “creation science” as science include:
#It’s not falsifiable; no testable bounds can be imposed on the creator.
#It does not comport with Occam’s Razor which disfavors positing a more complicated explanation where one with fewer assumptions will explain the observed phenomenon.
#Because it posits supernatural forces, it cannot be empirically or experimentally tested.
#It is not open to change in order to explain new evidence. Relying as it does on the Word of God as absolute truth, evidence that runs contrary must be disregarded. “In science, all claims are tentative, they are forever open to challenge, and must be discarded or adjusted when the weight of evidence demands it.”
The legislative introduction of Creationism as science has been tried before and, the Scopes Monkey Trial notwithstanding, has not gone well for the legislation. Notable are the cases of:
Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97 (1968) – striking down laws that prohibit the teaching of human evolution in public schools.
Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987) striking down a Louisiana law requiring that creation science be taught alongside evolution. It allowed that competing scientific theories could be taught along side evolution; but the key to that is scientific – for the reasons mentioned above, “creation science” is not “science.” The court also had no objection to teaching scientific critiques of prevailing thought. So, noting some of the things that evolutionary theory does not explain is fine. You just can’t fill those gaps with Biblical proclamations and call it “science.”
Now, the folks of Indiana are about a generation behind the creation science curve. Since the heyday of creation science, its proponents have tried to make it more sciencey, put some lipstick on the unscientific pig, and called it “Intelligent Design.” But, to no avail. The Dover Area School District in York County, Pennsylvania took a huge financial hit after it lost a challenge to the school district’s decision to require that intelligent design be presented as an alternative to evolution. (Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 400 F. Supp 2d. 707 (M.D. Pa 2005)). Intelligent design, as creation science 2.0, differs from its predecessor in that it calls itself science and pretends that it is not religiously based; but it makes this attempt by attempting to redefine science in a way that would invoke untestable, unfalsifiable supernatural explanations.
After a trial, the Dover court issued a 139 page decision (pdf). The court noted that ID was, at heart, a religious argument and observed that the writings of leading intelligent design proponents reveal that the designer postulated by intellgient design is the Christian God. For purposes of this blog entry, probably this passage by the court gets to the heart of whether Creationism (or intelligent design) ought to be taught as science:
After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. …It is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research. Expert testimony reveals that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena.
The court also did not think much of the Defendants’ protestations that they weren’t advocating that students be taught Intelligent Design itself. No, no! They were merely advocating that the ginned up, non-scientific “controversy” be taught. “This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.”
Dover School District’s prize for serving up this warmed over Creation Science? In addition to whatever it spent on its own legal fees, it was required to pay the legal fees of the Plaintiffs as well. Those fees were apparently in excess of $2 million; but, in the spirit of comity and out of recognition that this was a small school district, the Plaintiffs let it go for a mere $1 million.
What is the Point
So, what is the point of the law recommended to the full Senate by the eight Senators? Why do proponents want to pull down the fence and let school districts wander into the minefield? I suppose I can only guess. It certainly is not out of a deep and abiding concern for open scientific inquiry. Get away from matters touching on religious orthodoxy, and these proponents could not care less about the state of scientific debate. I can’t imagine it’s out of a real desire to promote spirituality. From my perspective, it looks like abuse to the Bible, contorting Genesis into a parody of science. It acknowledges, in word if not deed, fealty to the primacy of science while awkwardly attempting to stuff Biblical creation stories into the architecture of science which was not designed to hold such cargo.
I think what they’re trying to do is, once again, mark territory. There is a vocal subset of Christians who have a dominionist mindset. They want to make it clear that they enjoy cultural dominance. Evolution undermines that feeling of dominance by its strong suggestion that the Biblical creation story is likely not historically accurate. Most believers in the Bible are happy to allow evolutionary theory and Genesis to co-exist by regarding the latter as metaphor or allegory that express theological truths. But, for some, this kind of reconciliation apparently causes psychological trauma of some sort – even when it’s only practiced by others.
But, if this passes, what result are they hoping for? Do they really want science teachers chewing on creation science like a bone; giving their students chapter and verse on the comparative scientific merits of “creation science” versus evolution through natural selection? Even worse, what if schools did not stop at “creation science,” but went on to teach the alternative theory advocated by the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; one third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.
Of course, if the bill does not pass, its proponents will get to enjoy another round of being martyrs, basking in their own self-congratulatory sense of self-righteousness.
This is a horrible idea for Indiana; wrong on science, wrong on the law, and, ultimately, prohibitively expensive for school districts that act on the discretion given under the legislation.