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Religion in the Public School Science Lab

High school classroom: ID 99967216 © Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime.com
Teacher addressing pupils in a high school science lesson

[Originally published in 2016 as An Atheistic Religious Viewpoint vs a Theistic Religious Viewpoint]

COPE (Citizens for Objective Public Education, Inc.) was incorporated in 2012 with a specific mission to promote objectivity in public school curricula regarding religious content, so the teaching is religiously neutral.

Religion, defined as beliefs about ultimate causes and the meaning of life, includes both theistic and atheistic beliefs. According to U.S. courts, religious content must either be omitted or presented in a religiously neutral manner. COPE is particularly concerned when public schools present ideas that clearly favor an atheistic religious viewpoint while excluding a theistic religious view.

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In 2013 the Kanas State Board of Education adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). COPE then examined the proposed learning objectives and found they did not present Darwinian evolution in a religiously neutral manner. A legal complaint was then filed against the Kansas Board of Education a few months later. According to court records, some of the problems that COPE objected to about NGSS were:

  • The explanations for origins begin in kindergarten and continue throughout the thirteen-years students are in public schools.
  • Students are required to learn a non-religious explanation for origins, with no alternative explanation offered.

Actually, the court’s use of the term “non-religious explanation” is a misinterpretation of the claims of COPE. The explanations ARE religious, but they are not based on Christianity or, for that matter, any other major religion. They are religious explanations based on the religions of atheism or materialism.

The term used by COPE, and the term the court should have used, is “non-theistic religious explanations.” When the court misinterpreted the standards as “non-religious,” this caused them to wrongly conclude that the NGSS standards are non-religious.

If an explanation is ruled to be non-religious, it does not violate the First Amendment religious neutrality principle. If all explanations of origins are non-theistic and religious (as, in the case of atheism and materialism), schools are definitely not being religiously neutral. There is no place in the Next Generation Science Standards for any explanation of origins except for random, materialistic natural processes that completely ignore the possibility of an intelligent creator.

This means that schools following NGSS are teaching an exclusively atheistic worldview.

According to court records, “COPE does not object to teaching evolution or origins science. It proposes that various biological origins theories, including evolution, should be taught objectively to generate a religiously neutral effect.” COPE’s remedy for teaching origins science is twofold: (a) to scientifically challenge some of Darwin’s proposals and allow students to examine both its strengths and weaknesses, and (b) to include evidence that suggests a teleological (purposeful design) explanation for biological origins based on scientific evidence.

The COPE vs Kansas Board of Education suit eventually was appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2015. The Tenth Circuit ruled that the concerns of the parents were only hypothetical or impending, and thus the injury was not sufficient to give them standing (the right to file suit). COPE noted that in actuality, non-theistic religious standards (standards based on atheism) are already being implemented throughout the state.

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The judges further noted, “School districts retain control to shape and adopt their own curricula.” This agrees with Kansas Law, which states that curriculum standards shall (not) be construed in any manner so as to impinge upon any district’s authority to determine its own curriculum. Both NGSS and Kansas law say that teachers may go “beyond the standards to ensure their students’ needs are met.”

The judges stated, “But nothing prevents school districts from adding to or altering the Standards as they develop curricula. And the Standards themselves encourage districts to teach the limits of scientific knowledge.”

Included in the court records is this comment:

Because the Standards expressly recommend objective curricula, and the committee advises districts to add to the Standards, districts may choose to delve deeper into the limitation of the scientific method or to teach alternative origins theories.

The judges were trying to say that teachers and school districts already have the authority to go beyond the standards to meet the needs of their students. They have the right to determine their own curriculum. They have the right to discuss the limitation of the scientific method and to teach alternative origins theories. Their logic was that with all these freedoms within the school system, there is no way to predetermine whether or not COPE students would be injured by NGSS.

Unfortunately, this kind of logic does not reflect the coercive nature of state academic standards. In actuality the state expects the districts to comply with the standards, and the main enforcement tool is the statewide academic assessment system. Statewide tests are based on the state standards, so the districts must ensure that students understand the standards well in order to score well on state scorecards. If they score poorly, the districts are typically subject to penalties and other state interventions.

The judges’ comments make it sound like the districts really do have choices. In reality, they generally comply with state rules to avoid problems.

So, left in place is the existing policy of only presenting evidence in support of Darwinian evolution with no opportunities for students to examine the strengths and weaknesses of evolution, as found in the scientific literature. Nor are there opportunities to examine the scientific evidence for an intelligent creator. Although this is tempered with the possibility that school districts have the legal right to add to the Standards and teach alternative origin theories, from a practical viewpoint, the districts follow state policy to avoid the consequences of noncompliance.

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Most university-level science faculty, along with national science and science education leaders, tend to be unified in accepting Darwin’s ideas of a common ancestor for all life and the gradual evolution of every living thing.

Darwin’s gatekeepers fight vigorously to maintain Darwinian evolution in public schools as the only explanation for our origins. They often resort to legal suits to force dissenting parents and teachers to maintain the “official” version of origins, which is Darwinian evolution. The Tenth Circuit was being quite optimistic to believe that students would not be influenced by the excessive teachings of Darwinian evolution from kindergarten to twelfth grade. They were being naïve to think that school boards would not meet stiff opposition from a science curriculum dominated by an atheistic religious viewpoint.

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Written by Dr. Carolyn Reeves

I taught junior high school science for thirty years before retiring. After reading evidence for a worldwide flood, I was convinced that not only was the flood real history, but the Bible was God’s inerrant, infallible, inspired Word. I coauthored a series of elementary science books published by MasterBooks, and later produced videos for all of the investigations. I have written several articles and anthologies for Christian publications. I maintain my own website, Underground Paradigm, where I write articles pertaining to a variety of topics that support biblical teachings. My husband, Jim Reeves, and I have three children and fourteen grandchildren. We are active members of a local Mississippi Baptist church.
I have three degrees: B.S. (major in biology and minor in chemistry); Master of Combined Sciences; and Doctor of Education.

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