Sunday, January 16, 2005

Update on Dover

The New York Times has a report on the situation in Dover, PA (requires free registration). Once again, this is a misguided attempt by religious fundamentalists to force a school district to teach religious beliefs (intelligent design creationism) as science. Biology teachers there are having none of it:

Jen Miller, who teaches ninth-grade biology, said she saw no conflict between evolution and religion.

"I've never had a problem in my classroom in the way I approach evolution," Ms. Miller said. "Just because I teach evolution doesn't mean that God's not there or that I'm going against the religious beliefs of my students."

Unfortunately, the fundamentalists don't see it that way. For example:

But a growing number of conservative Christians in Dover, like many elsewhere, bridle at what they see as the marginalization of their faith in a country they believe was founded on biblical values. "I think we're coming to place where we're certainly not browbeating people with religion, but that it has just become a normal part of life now," Mr. Sproull, the pastor, said of introducing Intelligent Design to the local high school. "Everyone in the country seems to have freedom of speech but those who talk about religion and God."

"Marginalization" of your faith has nothing to do with it, Mr. Sproull. (I still can't understand how one can view fundamentalist Christianity as "marginalized"—at least politically speaking, anyway— when the President is a fundamentalist Christian and much of the Republican Party is now either fundamentalist Christian or sympathetic to the goals of the religious right and apparently much of the government of Dover is also sympathetic.) Althought it is a First Amendment issue, it is not an issue of "freedom of speech." It's an issue of government establishment of religion (which, by the way, is explicitly outlawed by the First Amendment). That is what Dover is doing by requiring the teaching of a religion-based pseudoscience as "fact." In fact, a school board member who voted against the teaching of intelligent design creationism in class put it best:

"The dispute here isn't between Christians versus non-Christians or non-believers," said Jeff Brown, a former school board member who voted against criticizing evolution. "It's between Christians who are comfortable with the Constitution and those who want special treatment."

Amen. That's putting it way better than I've ever managed to do. In a glimmer of hope, not all devout Christians are on board with the plan:

The Rev. Warren Eshbach, an adjunct professor at Lutheran Theological Seminary in nearby Gettysburg and the father of Robert Eshbach, the science teacher, warned at board meetings about how divisive the issue might prove. Like many fellow Dover residents, he said the biblical account of the origins of humanity should be taught in a comparative religion class, not a biology class.

"Science is figuring out what God has already done," Mr. Eshbach said. "But I don't think Genesis 1 to 11 was ever meant to be a science textbook for the 21st century."

Neither do I, and I am neither an atheist nor a "liberal" by any stretch of the imagination. People who are so supportive of forcing their religious beliefs to be taught as fact in school should contemplate how much they would support the same if a religious group other than fundamentalist Christians were the predominant group. The First Amendment protects all religions.

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