Monday, May 9, 2011

What Texans Reasonably Expect Of Louisiana

I once had a good job offer at a major university in Louisiana. I turned it down entirely because it would have required me to live in Louisiana. The man who offered me the job, a friend and colleague of mine, asked me forthrightly what the difference was between Texas and Louisiana. I answered, "About 200 years."

That was about 30 years ago, and one could hope things would have changed by now. One would hope that... in vain. Louisiana has put in place something called the Louisiana Science Education Act, R.S. 17:285.1, which requires public schools to allow teaching of creationism and/or "intelligent design" in their science classrooms. The state BOE's discussion made the classic "teach the controversy" argument, which is of course invalid on two grounds:

  • first, a taxpayer-funded public school may not legally, under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, teach any tenet of any religion in any classroom, and 
  • second, a more substantive objection, there is no legitimate sense of the word "science" in which creationism is a science... it is wholly a religious doctrine.

The law also allows schools to include climate change denial in science classrooms... this is less a religious issue than a political one, but the content permitted is just as false.

One 17-year-old student has organized a petition drive, implemented by, demanding that the Legislature repeal the law. It is an open petition, which means you and I may sign it. I have already; I hope you will do so.


  1. I had a teacher in freshman (high school) science who explained several theories on how the universe came to be and ended with "and you can always fall back on what the Bible says". No one questioned him at all and as far as I know, nobody's parents said a word. Then again, that was 1961 and the world was still sane.

    I also remember some wag saying that they will never eliminate prayer in school as long as there's such a thing as Finals Week! I believe that.

  2. Kay, did you attend a public school or a private (religious) school? The latter can say anything they want in the classroom, on their own dime, of course; only public schools are constrained by the First Amendment from using taxpayers' money to fund de facto religious instruction.

    I remember my high school biology teacher beginning the segment on evolution by reminding us that it was "only a theory." I suppose that was a clever way of avoiding conflict, but it was a meaningless disclaimer: scientific theories are far from mere conjectures; they are assemblages of established facts into systems that allow one to explain, often predictively, certain events in the physical universe. Science is not just another kind of religion... it's a method, an approach to acquiring and framing knowledge... and is therefore not amenable to the "your belief is not better than my belief" argument, because science is not a belief system.

    The late great Stephen Jay Gould often titled his public lectures things like "The Fact of Evolution and the Evolutionary Theory of Darwin" (I made that one up, but the idea was often along those lines), and his point was unmistakable: the events which, together, are labeled "evolution" are well-established by the most direct means possible, e.g., digging up fossils; only the causal chains are open to debate. There is never any profit in arguing against demonstrated facts; science is not politics. :-)

  3. Oh, and I forgot to address your wag...

    Nobody... NOBODY... attempts to eliminate that sort of prayer in public schools. I'm a carrrrd-carrying member of the ACLU, and the ACLU would protect the religious freedom of a student to pray before or during a test (probably silently for the sake of not disrupting the concentration of other students) as surely as it would launch a lawsuit against compulsory prayer enforced on all students over the P.A. system.

    Think for a moment about the actual wording of the beginning of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." They can't make laws opposing a religion. They can't "establish" a religion, i.e., designate a religion as the official state religion. They can't establish religious tests for holding office. Basically, Congress simply cannot legislate religion... for it, against it, or one religion over another. Hence the ACLU's well-documented reaction to the situation described by your wag. Private non-disruptive prayer is most certainly constitutionally protected.

    That said, a student would probably be advised to study a bit before the test anyway...



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