Saturday, February 04, 2012

Indiana Embarrasses Itself

So it's a presidential election year. That means that most people could be forgiven for losing track of the particulars of local politics. It's even more true in Indiana, where the state legislature has only recently concluded an acrimonious standoff over a controversial piece of "right to work" legislation which has dominated the local political consciousness for nearly two years. Maybe that's why a number of us were caught flat-footed by the passage on Tuesday by the Indiana state senate of Senate Bill 89, a pro-creationism bill that, if passed by the state house and signed into law, would provide a opening for Indiana public schools to be flooded with intelligent design flummery.1

Some rather optimistic observers have noted that the bill was recently amended from this:
The governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation.
to this (emphasis added):
The governing body of a school corporation may offer instruction on various theories of the origin of life. The curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.
This change was reportedly an attempt by Democratic state senator Vi Simpson to hamstring the bill by making it less attractive to the Republicans in control of the state legislature, but in my mind it's a dangerous gambit. Some hardcore Christians in Indiana may balk at at talk of Islam or Hinduism in the state, but make no mistake: Governor Mitch Daniels, while not as ostentatiously religious as some of his fellow Republicans, is likely gearing up for a 2016 presidential run, if not a play for VP in November. If SB 89 makes it to his desk, he'll sign it into law no matter what form it takes as a nod to his conservative base.

Frankly, if the bill does make through the house and onto the governor's desk, the language intended to sabotage it may actually make it more destructive. By throwing a
bunch of religions into the mix, it just makes it easier for a teacher so-inclined to pass evolutionary theory off as an unimportant side note. It's not hard to envision what this new curriculum would sound like:

"Well, see, there's these folks called Scientologists who think an alien created life on earth, and then there's that Darwin fellow what with the monkeys and all, and the Hindus probably think there was an elephant guy or something. Now if you'll open your bibles we'll get to the true story of the origin of life as written, in English, by Jesus Christ Himself...."

Heck, even the language in the bill doesn't result in a half-assed glossing over of a bunch of creation stories with evolutionary theory tossed into the mix, the situation could still end up just as bad, if not worse. That is to say, even if every creation myth listed and evolutionary theory are all given equal time in the classroom, you
still end up with a bunch of mythology and nonsense drowning out the actual science in science class!

There's still a chance that the Indiana House of Representatives may not take up the bill. House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, has reportedly stated that what is taught in science classes should not decided on by the state legislature. Bosma also stated that the bill may represent "someplace we don't need to go" in light of the U.S. Supreme Court Ruling against intelligent design in famous
Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District ruling in 2006.

Regardless of whether SB 89 passes into law or not, Indiana has embarrassed itself on the national stage by flirting with the introduction of creationism into its public schools.

1.) On second thought, is anyone that surprised that a Republican-controlled legislature would trot out a creationism-in-schools bill transparently pandering to its conservative base during an election year?


LadyAtheist said...

I am definitely embarrassed to be an Indiana resident. If it weren't for my job I'd be out of here in a heartbeat.

Deep down, fundies know that exposure to other points of view will weaken their hold on their children, so the revisions may make them back off. If it passes and rural schoolchildren learn that their fairy tale is just one of many, there will soon be lots more atheist children.

Skippy the Skeptic said...

Regarding the bit about children learning that "their fairytale is just one of many", I'm not sure I agree in this particular instance. I had a social studies class in (a Kentucky public) high school which included a comparative religion unit. It was prefaced by the teacher saying something to the effect of "We all know which of these is true, but have to talk about them all." I guess what I'm trying to say is that an agenda-driven teacher can twist any curriculum to leave children with the desired impression.

In any event, fluff is fluff and mythological creation stories have no place in a science classroom.