Oklahoma residents who are defenders of the principles of progress, those of logic, reason, empiricism and science, should be appalled at the educational legislation that has recently passed in their state. By a vote of 9 to 8, the Oklahoma Common Education Committee passed the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act, which, though it sounds innocent enough, will allow by its ambiguous wording the teaching of pseudoscience like Christian Creationism as part of the public school science curriculum.
Before going any further, I would like to clarify that I am in no way against the personally-held beliefs of anybody who subscribes to Creationism. Under the First Amendment, every citizen has a right to say and believe what they want in their personal lives.
But this right does not extend to teaching factual inaccuracies to students in a science classroom of a publicly funded school. Because whether or not you choose to believe in Creationism, the fact of the matter is that there is not a shred of credible evidence to support it, or the creation myths of any other religion for that matter.
The theory of evolution, on the other hand, is supported by virtually all of the world’s biologists and premier scientists and an extraordinary amount of evidence, and while consensus is not necessarily proof of fact in science, there are no current alternative theories in academic circles. Similarly, the age of the Earth is accepted to be approximately 4.5 billion years from evidence obtained by the radiometric age of certain rocks and meteorite samples, not the 10,000 years that most Creationists postulate.
With such overwhelming evidence to support it, one would think that the American public would largely accept evolution as fact but according to the most recent Gallup polls on the subject, more than 40 percent of the US population rejects evolution and believes that God created life in its present form at some point in the last 10,000 years. This case of societal cognitive dissonance probably stems largely from a misapprehension about what is actually meant by the word “theory” when it is used in a scientific context. Colloquially, the word is used loosely for just about any idea, but in science, a theory is an explanation based on a set of general principles or already proven hypotheses. In other words, it is not a word that is used lightly; theories are accepted as fact unless radical new evidence emerges that can disprove the logical string that led to the conclusion.
It is this fundamental misunderstanding of scientific vernacular and the scientific method (hypothesize, test, observe) that leads people like state senator Josh Brecheen, the sponsor of the bill, to push for education on “differences of opinion about controversial issues.” He believes that evolution is just one community’s opinion on how life developed on Earth and that his own opinion is just as valid, even though one is backed up by concrete scientific evidence while the other is supported by the stories of a more than two millennia old text that many scholars doubt were ever supposed to be taken literally. People have a right to believe whatever they want, but only science belongs in a science classroom.
Despite not believing in the literal interpretation of the Creation story myself, I sympathize with those who feel as if their beliefs are being persecuted. There is oftentimes rhetoric used in the anti-religious community that seeks to belittle those with more fundamentalist beliefs, when efforts would be far better spent attempting to educate and enlighten. In addition, there exist the hints of censorship when people (like me, in this article) attempt to prevent the teaching of certain factually incorrect principles in an inappropriate setting. To that, I would say that I do not necessarily oppose the teaching of creation myths—Christian or otherwise—in a public school as long as they are taught as part of literature or history. They are, after all, important parts of the history of our Judeo-Christian culture, and a familiarity with them is fundamental to our understanding of the past. Let’s just make sure that in the present they are taught in the proper context.