Science and religion in Louisiana

I’ve written more than a dozen posts in this blog on the clash between science and religion, as well as more than two dozen on Christians and Muslims using their beliefs to bully and control others. In the United States no field is more fraught with an entanglement of these two phenomena than public education. Exacerbating the matter is a combination of Americans’ abysmal understanding of science and fundamentalist Christians’ dogged defense of their literal interpretation of religious texts.

I collect examples of science ignorance on the part of political and religious leaders, some of which have been shared in this blog. I also collect instances of religious leaders’ misuse of government authority in order to impose rules of their faith on others; that is paired with an inclination of government officials to side with religion in general or with specific religions against citizens of other philosophical persuasions. The result is a governmental stamp of approval either given to or withheld from proponents’ positions on religious matters, a violation of our Founders’ wise caution against mingling of government and religion.

As to Christians’ relentless influence, often in violation of court decisions against whatever mix of religion (well, their religion) and politics they advocate, I’ve selected a single example out of hundreds to show here: Louisiana Senate Resolution 33, introduced just 15 days ago (March 20, 2018). This is a commendation to a former state senator, Bill Keith, for “his support and endorsement of teaching creationism in public schools.”

Keith sponsored Louisiana’s Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act in 1981 while he served in the senate. In 1987 the law was found by the U. S. Supreme Court to be unconstitutional (Edwards v. Aguillard). However, thirty-one years later it remains on the books, even while other obsolete laws have been removed. It is a dead letter serving only (I assume) to demonstrate that God, not the Supreme Court, is in charge in Louisiana. The chief sponsor of the Keith resolution is Democrat John Milkovich. Milkovich has complained that the effect of not requiring creationism in the schools is that, as he was quoted in a 2016 Associated Press story, it “creates a situation where only the secular review of creation is taught.”

Creationism is not a belief of all Christians, but of many or most fundamentalist Christians. Teaching creationism has been judicially recognized as teaching religion, not science. A 2009 Pew Research Center study found that 97% of all scientists accept the theory of evolution by natural selection, quite enough to consider it to be the scientific consensus.

Louisiana politicians have not only refused to rescind the Balanced Treatment law, but have openly encouraged schools to follow it even though it is void. A Slate inquiry by Zack Kopplin (“The Bible v. the Constitution”) found that “Louisiana students are reading Genesis in science class . . .to learn the creation point of view.” Last month’s resolution makes it clear that, even with the former law declared unlawful, the senate takes whatever opportunity comes up to signal its attitude on “creation science.” Despite the inclusion of creationism in science instruction (!), creationism is not recognized by scientists as science. It would be informative to discover how much the shoe-horning of religion into a science curriculum degrades schools’ ability to teach science.

Here is Louisiana Senate Resolution No. 33. I’ve put some phrases in bold font to draw your attention, but otherwise what appears below is what the Louisiana Senate passed last month. (As an aside, you’ll see in the resolution that former Sen. Keith once reported that his son had been ridiculed by a teacher for his belief in God. I do not support ridiculing a minor as a way to teach what separates religion and science.)

SLS 18RS-745 ORIGINAL

2018 Regular Session

SENATE RESOLUTION NO. 33

BY SENATOR MILKOVICH

A RESOLUTION

To commend former Louisiana state Senator Bill Keith on his support and endorsement of teaching creationism in the public schools.

WHEREAS, Bill Keith served as a Louisiana state senator from 1980 until the expiration of his term in 1984, representing District Thirty-nine in Caddo Parish; and

WHEREAS, born in 1934 in Oklahoma, Bill Keith was a journalist who worked for the now defunct Shreveport Journal as an investigative reporter; and

WHEREAS, upon being elected to the Louisiana Senate as a resident of Mooringsport, Louisiana, in Caddo Parish, Bill Keith, a Democrat, was a particular proponent of a state law requiring balanced treatment in the instruction of creationism and evolution in public schools; and

WHEREAS, Mr. Keith received national attention for legislation he introduced which required equal emphasis in public school science instruction to creation science and to evolution; and

WHEREAS, Bill Keith recalled that his interest in the matter developed in 1978 when his then thirteen year old son came home from school to report that a teacher had ridiculed the teen’s belief in God as the creator of human life; and

WHEREAS, the bill passed both houses of the legislature, was signed by then Governor David Treen, and was entitled the “Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act;” and

WHEREAS, the act required that scientific evidence for creation-science, the view of abrupt appearance of organisms in the fossil records, whenever related material on evolution was presented in science class instruction; and

WHEREAS, Senator Keith’s legislation did not require or allow instruction in any religious doctrine; and

WHEREAS, Keith’s legislation was subsequently overruled by the United States Supreme Court in a 1987 decision in Edwards v. Aguillard with the court holding that the law was specifically intended to advance a particular religious doctrine; and

WHEREAS, in 1983 Senator Keith was defeated for a second term for the District Thirty-nine seat by Democrat and owner of J. S. Williams Funeral Home and insurance companies, Gregory Tarver; and

WHEREAS, Mr. Keith left Louisiana shortly after his term ended and moved to east Texas where he published a weekly newspaper in Marshall, Texas, and he began his career as a writer of fiction and nonfiction, including his 2009 book “The Commissioner: A True Story of Deceit, Dishonor, and Death”, a study of Shreveport Public Safety Commissioner George W. D’Artois who held office in the city until his death in 1977.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Senate of the Legislature of Louisiana does hereby commend former Louisiana state Senator Bill Keith on his support and endorsement of teaching creationism in the public schools.

 

 

About John Bruce Carver

I am a U. S. citizen living in Atlanta, Georgia, having grown up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, graduating from Chattanooga High School. I served in the Electronic Security Command of the U. S. Air Force before receiving a B.S. degree in business/economics and an M.Ed. in educational psychology, both at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I then completed a Ph.D. in clinical (and research) psychology at Emory University. I have two daughters and three granddaughters. An ardent international traveller, I have been in over 70 countries for business and pleasure. My reading, other than novels, tends to be in history, philosophy, government, and light science. I identify philosophically as a secular humanist, in complete awe of the universe including my fellows and myself. I am married to my best friend, Miriam, formerly of the United Kingdom and Canada.
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