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Cajun Culture Wars: Another Victory for LouSEA Science Education

On June 2, 2011, Mark Guarino reported in the Christian Science Monitor that the Louisiana Science Education Act managed to survive a recent legal challenge in the Louisiana legislature. Sadly, that does not bode well for science education in Louisiana, or in the other states that are considering similar legislation.

The Louisiana Science Education Act (or LouSEA) was enacted in 2008 and masquerades as an attempt to enhance critical thinking in the schools. The provisions of LouSEA* enable science teachers to introduce supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials in order to facilitate an objective analysis of scientific theories “including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

While at first blush LouSEA appears to be an effort to promote science in the schools, a closer reading reveals that LouSEA is naught but a thinly-veiled attempt to subvert the federal ban on teaching religion in the public education system. Let’s begin with LouSEA’s contention that critical thinking is contingent upon an “open and objective discussion of scientific theories…” Anyone who has even the slightest acquaintance with scientific principles should recognize this as a self-evident statement. Open, objective debate is a central pillar of scientific philosophy. Always has been, always will be. Given that no one advocates open, objective debate more zealously than scientists, one may wonder why Louisiana legislators felt compelled to reaffirm such a conviction in their LouSEA law. It is here that LouSEA begins to reveal itself as the anti-scientific initiative that it truly is.

For scientists, open, objective debate means that all ideas have a right to receive a fair hearing in the pursuit of scientific truth. However, it must also be understood that, in the hyper-critical atmosphere of scientific debate, ideas that fail to withstand the acid test of rigorous scientific scrutiny will be unapologetically debunked. Thus, if someone wishes to propose that the moon is made of green cheese, they are entirely at liberty to do so. However, green cheese theorists should not expect a warm, cuddly embrace from scientists. Rather, serious scientists would be duty-bound to tear such a cockamamie theory to shreds. It’s nothing personal. The facts simply fail to support lunar cheese theories, and good scientists are not going to countenance nonsense simply because cheese-enthusiasts might get their feelings hurt.

In the realm of science, that’s what open, objective debate means: in the struggle for existence, only the fittest ideas survive. Ideas that cannot withstand scientific scrutiny go extinct. That’s how science progresses. Good ideas outlive bad ideas. Typically, the distinguishing factor between good vs. bad ideas is factual support. Good ideas tend to be supported by a preponderance of prevailing evidence, whereas bad ideas are not. In brief, that’s why scientists support evolutionary theory and repudiate creationism. The facts overwhelmingly support evolution.

However, under a false guise of “scientific objectivity,” LouSEA endeavors to validate creationist critiques of evolutionary science by stating that LouSEA “…shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.”

Methinks ye doth protest too much.

In other words, LouSEA contends that, even though theology does not hold water in the realm of scientific inquiry, it is not legitimate to discriminate against religious beliefs in science classrooms. Further, LouSEA implies that Louisiana’s schools can do a better job of teaching science by permitting science teachers to promote religion in the classroom. LouSEA is decidedly incorrect on both scores.

To begin with, it is important to establish that it is not just legitimate to discriminate against religious ideas in science classrooms, it is essential! This prejudice is validated in part because federal law prohibits religious indoctrination in the public schools. More importantly, however, faith-based religious dogmas lack even the pretense of the rational, empirical explanatory power of science. Consequently, all science teachers worth their salt should openly discriminate against religious doctrine in their classrooms. Religious explanations for “evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” are wrong–often embarrassingly so. Thus, explicitly protecting religious instruction in Louisiana’s public schools, as LouSEA unequivocally does, serves as a means to legally promote outmoded, illogical, unscientific ideas in science classrooms.

That being the case, it is astounding that LouSEA could exist as long as it has without having undergone a serious court challenge. Certainly, the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision established a clear, contemporary legal precedent with which to prevent theological obfuscation of science education in the public schools. No doubt, LouSEA can and should be struck down as the kindred theological contrivance that it is.

There is nothing to be gained by tip-toeing around these issues. In the culture wars, there are winners and losers. Faith-based dogmas are antithetical, and inferior to critical, open-minded scientific inquiry. As such, in the war of ideas, theology has perpetually lost ground to scientific perspectives that provide demonstrably superior explanations for the natural phenomena that make up the empirical universe. Contrary to LouSEA’s assertions, theology does not enhance critical thinking in science classrooms. Instead, it propagates the reverse by inspiring blind obedience to faith in defiance of the facts that parade before our very eyes–this is a point of which I suspect LouSEA’s sponsors are only too well aware. LouSEA is simply the latest in a long history of misguided attempts to undermine science through the wrong-headed application of theology. LouSEA needs to be officially recognized as such and curtailed forthwith. Until it is, all the kids in Louisiana’s schools who deserve much better are going to get stuck with (you guessed it) a lousy science education.

*Click here to read LouSEA’s original wording: http://www.legis.state.la.us/billdata/streamdocument.asp?did=503483

About Timothy McGettigan

Tim McGettigan is a professor of sociology at Colorado State University – Pueblo. The Socjournal is an outstanding resource for all things sociological. Too often, the media examines social issues from a singularly economic perspective. If you really want to understand how the social world works, it's better to use a broader, clearer lens. In this column, I will discuss a variety of forces (technological, scientific, political, cultural, and, yeah okay, economic) that are currently reshaping the globe. Whether or not the world is changing for the better is an open question — and, thus, it's a question that I look forward to debating at length in this column.