Friday, December 19, 2014

Separation of Church and State keeps Creationism out of Schools.

It may make Rick Santorum want to throw up, but separation of church and state has been important in keeping religion out of public school science classes.

Separation of Church and State keeps Creationism out of Schools.

The separation of church and state – apparently a sickening idea to Rick Santorum - has been an important factor in keeping creationism out of public schools. This may be among the many reasons the creationist candidate says publicly that the idea makes him want to throw up. Read the New York Times account here. What I found most extraordinary wasn’t the nausea but this statement:

“What kind of country do we live in that says only people of nonfaith can come into the public square and make their case?” Mr. Santorum said on the ABC News program “This Week.”

What kind of a looking glass world is he living in? In the world I inhabit, the public square is dominated by people of faith. When was the last time we had a president who admitted to doubting the existance of God? 

In Sean Faircloth’s book, “Attack of the Theocrats” the author notes that of 535 members of Congress, only one has come out as a nonbeliever. This is surprising considering that non-believers make up about 17 percent of the U.S. population. Faircloth works for the Richard Dawkins Foundation, and he sent me a copy of his book after I met him and professor Dawkins earlier this month. It’s an interesting book, delving into what Faircloth sees as a pro-religion bias in American public life.

What does this have to do with science? The separation of church and state came up in this column, which was one of my first in this series. It included an interview with Judge John E. Jones, who famously ruled over a 2005 trial in Dover, PA where he deemed it unconstitutional to teach so-called Intelligent Design in public schools:

Jones said he wasn't required to rule whether I.D. constituted good science, only whether its promotion in public schools amounted to endorsing a particular religious view. But he realized the two questions were connected. His decision might have been different if I.D. had been a solid, powerful, well-tested, widely accepted theory that just happened to coincide with Christian teachings. But it wasn't.

Jones used several criteria to distinguish science from nonscience, including testability and acceptance in the scientific community. But it was another, less familiar criterion that proved crucial in deciding whether I.D. was science.

That is what is known as "methodological naturalism" - one of the few jargon terms he used in his decision. It's simply a rule for doing science that excludes the invocation of gods or other supernatural entities.

 

About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at fflam@phillynews.com. Reach Planet of the at fflam@phillynews.com.

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