US states mull laws allowing religion in science class

March 16, 2017
Several US states are considering laws which would give teachers latitude to present science "that may cause controversy" as a debatable theory

Angela Garlington feels alone in the way she teaches science at a high school in Odessa, a Texas city populated by oil field workers.

When she teaches evolution, the of how Earth's creatures evolved over billions of years, Garlington approaches it as a theory on par with creationism, the belief that life on Earth was created by God as described in the Bible.

"I simply tell my students (that) as educated young adults they have a right... to choose what they believe," said the teacher in her late 40s.

"I don't have any idea if my colleagues will teach both sides of a controversial issue, but I always have and probably always will."

Texas state legislators are now considering a bill introduced in February that would offer teachers like Garlington some legal protection, by giving them latitude to present science "that may cause controversy" as a debatable theory.

Texas is one of eight US states where such laws have been proposed since the beginning of the year. South Dakota, Oklahoma, Iowa, Alabama, Indiana, Florida and Arkansas are the others.

The bills are the latest salvo in the debate in the United States over how science is taught in schools and whether religious beliefs should be considered in the classroom.

Forty-two percent of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form some 10,000 years ago, according to a 2014 Gallup poll that showed little change since the study was launched three decades earlier.

Another 31 percent believe that humans evolved from less advanced life forms, under God's guidance, while 19 percent believe God had nothing to do with the process of evolution.

'Don't you believe in God?'

The issue is particularly emotive in conservative southwest Texas, where Kimberly Villanueva teaches at a middle school in the small, cotton-farming town of Stanton, about 45 minutes east of Odessa.

"I had children last year get up and leave the classroom when we taught plate tectonics and evolution," she said.

"Don't you believe in God?" she recalled the students asking her.

Under current law, Villanueva is not allowed to answer that question or defend her beliefs.

Should the Texas bill become law, Villanueva believes she would at least be able to have discussions that would keep students in the classroom and "open (their) minds to scientific possibilities as well."

Critics of the bills in Texas and other states charge that they are an attempt to circumvent constitutional limitations requiring separation of church and state. They say the bills give teachers the ability to introduce religious theories as alternative explanations to science.

There have been multiple court cases dating back decades on teaching creationism in US schools.

Around 70 bills addressing the issue have surfaced across the United States since 2004, according to Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education.

The recently-proposed bills aim to head off potential court challenges by giving teachers the option of teaching religious theories in science class, rather than a mandate that they do so.

But such legislative attempts have to date had mixed success.

Louisiana enacted such a bill in 2008 and Tennessee followed suit in 2012.

But in conservative South Dakota and Iowa this year, similar bills did not succeed.

Two introduced in the Iowa legislature died in committee, failing to advance for a full debate.

'Science in science class'

Detractors say these laws boosting teachers' options can sow confusion in the classroom and bind the hands of school administrators.

"Allowing the teacher to teach creationism would risk the possibility of a lawsuit from a parent objecting that it's unconstitutional to teach creationism," Branch said.

"Stopping the teacher from proceeding would risk the possibility of a lawsuit from the teacher."

The South Dakota bill died in the state legislature in a matter of weeks, thanks in part to the opposition of David Evans, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association.

"We strongly support teaching science in science class and are strongly opposed to teaching other things in ," said Evans, whose group crusaded against the bill with a letter-writing campaign.

But Garlington says she has not faced any backlash for the way she blends science and religion in her Texas classroom.

And she believes the bill, should it become law, would embolden more teachers to adopt her methods.

"Until it becomes a standard, I don't think (creationism) will be taught in classrooms," she said.

Explore further: South Dakota bill leaves evolution skepticism up to teachers

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6 comments

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rogerdallas
5 / 5 (4) Mar 16, 2017
Bad idea. Religion and science don't mix, and can never be reconciled, for many good reasons. The approaches to knowledge are not even remotely compatible. Besides that, how do you decide what the "religious" model should be? Should we offer Hindu creation mythology? Native American? Norse? Bantu? Christian? If it's outside of science, it's all pretty much crap. We don't need to be teaching kids crap.
gkam
2.6 / 5 (5) Mar 16, 2017
Oh boy!

I can hardly wait for the Wiccans to get their turn, along with Hindus, Zoroastrains, Holy Rollers, Buddhists, Scientologists and snake-handlers!

"Science" is gonna be fun!
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (4) Mar 16, 2017
They should allow religion in science class. Kids need a good laugh.

"I simply tell my students (that) as educated young adults they have a right... to choose what they believe,"

Yeah. But they don't have the right to choose what is fact and what isn't. That's not how the universe works. Such an attitude can get you killed at the next zebra crossing.
Science isn't stuff you believe in or don't believe in. If you think that then you haven't understood a thing about what science is (namely: The whole point of science is that it is EXACTLY not that)

As long as you confine your choice to stuff you make up in your own head? Fine. You're not at odds with reality then. But if you do science (and if you use stuff that is based on science) then you should be prepared from some accusations of hypocrisy if you pander about this 'belief' BS.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (4) Mar 16, 2017
They should allow religion in science class. Kids need a good laugh
@AA_P
i disagree - science isn't about opinion, it's about facts that can be validated by evidence

to introduce an authority figure spreading a belief in a course that is designed to promote fact based argument is like introducing a pedophile to the babysitting pool

also - this is a direct violation of the US Constitution as there is a separation of church and state, and this is directed at sharing christian beliefs, not satanism, Pastafarian, Druidism, Moonies or anything else

i can laugh at the promotion of delusion in a science class, and you can... but to a child in the development state learning the scientific method it sends a mixed message

if this passes, it's a state sponsored religion - so they should teach Science in all TX churches to compensate for their transgression and violation to equalize the problems it will cause
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) Mar 16, 2017
i disagree - science isn't about opinion, it's about facts that can be validated by evidence

Well, I was thinking that kids would see the obvious contradiction pretty fast - especially in a class that is supposed to teach critical thinking skills.

(of course I was being a bit sarcastic. Religion shouldn't be taught in science class. It should't be taught in school. Heck, it shouldn't be taught anywhere for that matter. Teaching made-up stuff is just wrong.)
StudentofSpiritualTeaching
5 / 5 (1) Mar 18, 2017
42% of US Americans believing in irrational nonsense. This is scary. What does it tell about the education system?

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