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Religion and Education in Iowa

Teaching the bible... teaching evolution Americans United for Separation of Church and State posted an article on Facebook today about a public school in Iowa that dropped two new classes in order to avoid any potential legal trouble. One class was a bible class and the other was a critique of evolutionary theory. The Des Moines Register has the full article.

There aren’t any details on the classes, so I can’t see exactly whether the bible class was going to teach about the bible or teach the bible. Those are very different things. However, the inclusion of the class to critique evolutionary theory tends to indicate that the bible class wasn’t going to be an impartial view of biblical literature.

The story aside, what I found more interesting were the comments following the article.

They started out innocently enough with statements like these.

“Use the time to schedule just a little more history teaching. It couldn’t hurt and might help explain the middle East and other troubled parts of our world.”

“Schools are for learning reading, math, and history. Church is for religion.”

“Seems like another attempt to introduce a specific religion into the public schools. Makes me wonder why these individuals feel church, television, radio and door to door are not enough.”

Those sound reasonable to me, especially the last one where it’s pointed out (not nearly often enough in general) that religion is promoted so heavily in other venues that it seems redundant at best to include it in public schools.

Another great comment was this one by “Brandieport.”

With math, science and writing being so important to high school graduation rates and college admission, it seems to me that more electives should be dedicated to core subjects and less to religion, unless there is a variety offered. Why not teach a “religions of the world” course that allows the kids to see the diversity of thought that lies just over yonder hill.

I think a “Religions of the World” course would be a great elective for public schools, but I doubt that would fly, especially in more fundamentalist parts of the country. Some fundamentalists are terrified enough that their children might hear about atheism, much less other religions!

The majority of the comments toward the beginning are mostly rational and only mildly politically charged. However, as the thread progresses, a bit of religious ideology starts to rear its head. It starts mildly with this comment by “aackso” (sic).

[…] I am a young Conservative that has shaped many of my political beliefs based on my personal relationship with God and the Bible as they have made very clear declarations on a number of topics (abortion, taxes, the needy, etc). I do believe whole heartedly in the 3rd Amendment preventing the establishment of a religion, but I also believe in the next phrase protecting “the free exercise thereof.” I believe that Schools should present Christian based Creationism in the same classes that they teach Evolution, they can coexist. I believe that History classes should feature Christianity as it has effected as many cultures over the last 2000 years as anything. […]

Shaping political “beliefs” on 2000-year-old mythology is bad, okay? …and the second amendment is the one that prevents the establishment of religion… and the “free exercise thereof” part means I shouldn’t have your religious beliefs shoved down my throat in any government-sponsored venue (that includes public school). The worst offense in this passage, however, is the statement that Christian-based creationism should be taught in the same class as evolutionary theory… and that they can co-exist. So much for aackso’s support of the second amendment.

Let’s be clear. Christian-based creationism is not science. Period. Since it’s not science, it shouldn’t be taught in a science class. Evolutionary theory is science… one of science’s most heavily supported theories, with over 140 years of evidence-based research… and it does belong in a science class.

Nor can creationism and evolution cannot co-exist. They cannot. They are diametrical opposition. Claiming that humans were created by magic in their present form can, in no way, be reconciled with the idea that humans evolved from more primitive animals over millions of years. That book is closed (or should be).

Another exchange (sic)..

nateborland says: “I wonder how we, as a species, got so far down the path of believing in a mystical being instead of paying attention to the nature around us. […]”

fourputt responds: “Paying attention to the nature around us leads many to believe in a higher power. The beauty and majesty of the earth and the solar system is too profound to be an accident.”

SLSTC expands: “Obviously Christians do pay attention to nature around them, considering they believe God is the one who created this nature. Nature is truly amazing! And when truly observing nature, it’s hard to believe that it could have ocurred by any other means. It’s too intricate, and too profound to have just ocurred by “accident.” Observing nature only further confirms my personal belief.”

This is such a common refrain to hear from theists that it doesn’t frustrate me anymore (mostly). It just makes me sad. It’s a perfect example of how religion is a curiosity-killer. Once you have the all-purpose solution of “God did it,” there’s no reason to look any deeper… no reason to find out about how things work… no reason to discover all the delicate, internal workings of living things and how they’re all directly connected to the workings of other living things… no reason to explore knowledge… no reason. It’s an excuse to willingly sit in blissful ignorance of the world around us. It cheapens life. It cheapens the almost unfathomable level of amazement that this world can provide. Religion tells us to disregard the millions of years of beautiful evolutionary complexities that show the interconnectedness of all life on Earth… and to just say it was magic.

Most of the comments were actually good, rational statements and it was nice to see. It’s a refreshing change from the average comment threads on religiously-charged news stories.

But then “mrspigglewiggle” chimes in with more silliness later in the conversation.

That’s sad, they can teach evolution as fact when it was Darwin’s religious views, they should be able to present both sides in a rational manner. I though scientific fact meant that something had to be observable, the only One there at the beginning of the world was God. I don’t understand how they can present something like evolution as fact when there obviously wasn’t anyone else there. hmmmmmmmmmmm

Thankfully, she receives a well-justified smack down in the following three comments, starting with a return volley of mock silliness by “ponders” where he says “Were you there to observe God? hmmmmmmmmmmmm.” It gets better from there.

I didn’t follow the entire comment thread, but for the amount I did read, there seemed to be a fair number of rational folks fighting back against those spouting religious ideology… and debating other good points among themselves. It was nice to see that, in contrast to the average comment thread following religiously-charged news stories.

Kudos to rational Iowans.

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