This week we yet again saw evidence that a certain segment of our population is willing to violate Constitutional rights to force their beliefs on others. The incident in question involves a North Little Rock middle school teacher who thought it appropriate to teach their students about creationism.
While supporters of that view have every right in the world to hold those beliefs, they do not have the right to subvert the U.S. Constitution in their zealous crusade to undermine public education. What made this attempt all the more egregious is the fact that it was done by someone hired to be a science teacher.
Jerry Cox, president of the Christian-conservative Family Council, said that in the interest of fairness and tolerance, schools should be open enough to present both points of view.
“As long as you give fair treatment to both sides of the issue, there are court rulings that would indicate you don’t have to censure points of view just because someone considers that religious,” Cox said.
This is the place where Cox and his acolytes attempt to spread doubt. By positioning a religious belief alongside empirically validated theories, he tries to argue for their equal weight. He tries to get the public to believe that they are somehow just dialectic opinions.
Cox is correct in that they are equally valid points of view, but science isn’t about a point of view. Science is about systematically gathering evidence, testing hypotheses, analyzing test results and adjusting one’s theories to fit new evidence. Creationism is about accepting a single monotonic dogma. Supporters often try to cloak it in a veil of science, but it is fundamentally a non-empirical construction.
It does not demean or disrespect religious conviction to hold creationism as separable from scientific theory. People like Cox choose not to understand this because they will not be satisfied until they achieve a complete ideological hegemony. This is his ultimate goal.
When Cox speaks of religious freedom, what he really means is preservation of his “right” to make certain everyone ascribes to the same ultra-conservative religious values as he does. This drive for a theocratic monopoly is the antithesis of the American ideal.
Perhaps more importantly, Cox and his kindred spirits inadvertently lapse into a hypocrisy that they don’t acknowledge. They want all the benefits of science, just as long as they get to cherry-pick what matches their dogma (i.e. rejecting the theories of evolution and human-influenced climate change). They want advances in medicine and technology, just as long as they are allowed to pretend the same natural laws driving those advances don’t apply on a larger scale.
While the American Civil Liberties Union is often the architect of its own baffling crusades, Arkansas ACLU Executive Director Rita Sklar was in, this instance, the voice of balance and reason: “A public school teaching religion is a violation of parents’ fundamental rights to decide and control the religious upbringing of their children. It also hinders the scientific education of our students, which we should be doing … to foster and improve.”
Cox doesn’t see it that way. He doesn’t see it that way because he only feigns a desire for discussion of alternative perspectives. He likely would not countenance detailed discussion of creation/origin stories from other non-Christian traditions.
In the end, Cox may be absolutely correct in his belief that the Christian creation story is the way things happened. Unfortunately, we can’t have a modern, scientifically and technologically progressive society that’s driven by anti-scientific belief. To be sure, a society driven solely by faith is equally valid to one driven by science, but we should be prepared to sacrifice a lot of important things if that’s the road we want to take.