Dear Indiana, Religion Doesn’t Belong in Science Class

When I was 13, my family moved to Indiana. And while none of us enjoyed living in the state all that much (in fact, we’ve all since left), I have few complaints about the quality of education I received while there. My science classes were wonderful and prepared me well for my science writing career.

But I worry that, two decades later, current Indiana students will not get the same great science education I received, especially if the state makes law a bill, SB 89, recently passed by the state Senate. The bill states:

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.

Teaching how various religions address the origin of life isn’t much of a problem if done in a history or comparative religion class, but that probably wasn’t the intent of this bill. As first written, the only theory mentioned was creation science–Judaism and all the other religions were only added in amendment.

The bill provides no guidance to schools and there is nothing to prevent them from interpreting this as a go-ahead to teach creationism in biology class, as an “alternative” to evolution. Well, nothing except the First Amendment to the Constitution and a 1987 Supreme Court decision. But that hasn’t stopped school districts in the past from trying to insert religion into science class, and I doubt it would in this case either. And until school districts are sued and the courts rule against them, kids are shortchanged in their science educations.

I would hope that science teachers in Indiana and elsewhere handle the evolution/creationism debate the way my high school biology teacher did: On the day he began teaching the evolution chapter, he started by acknowledging that there were different beliefs but stated that they didn’t belong in a science class. He then invited anyone who wanted to discuss those alternate theories to speak with him after class.

I don’t know if anyone ever took him up on that offer, or if he dealt with phone calls from angry parents in the evenings. But what I do know is that he didn’t let any of that interfere with educating his students about one of the most important concepts in biology.

And that’s why teaching evolution is so important. Evolution is the basis for all biology. If Indiana and other states want to produce students who go on to become doctors and biochemists and any other number of scientists and inventors and job creators, they need to make sure that those kids learn about evolution.