Thursday, March 4, 2010

Teaching Climate Skepticism in Schools?

Separation of church and state is one of the most important—albeit overly neglected—aspects of the United States Constitution. However, a large faction of usually conservative Christians over the past 200 years has fought hard to back religious rituals, practices, organizations, and even teaching with public policy. (This is especially ironic because of the same group's professed interest in keeping government from 'overstepping its bounds.')

Science and religion, of course, do not always align. It is harmful enough to public policy when lawmakers ignore scientific findings for their own political benefit. But according to the New York Times today, many Republican state legislators are extending the push for religiously motivated teaching in schools to extend from anti-Darwinism to anti-climate science, under the false pretense of providing 'balance to science education.' If this isn't government overstepping its bounds, I don't know what is.

These lawmakers are correct that scientific theories are not proof of anything; in fact, theories can be disproved, but never proved. However, this does not mean that our schools should expressly teach impressionable children about theories and concepts that have been thoroughly rejected by sound science and are motivated by religion, and even worse, politics.

The theory of gravity, of course, is also only a theory. The theory that the earth revolves around the sun, just a theory. Does this mean we should back off teaching them in our schools? Tell kids that the sun may in fact revolve around the earth, and that objects may fall because God doesn't want anything to reach the heavens without His permission?

It's frightening enough to have evangelical government officials trying to counteract—or even eliminate—the teaching of evolution in public schools, but trying to do the same with climate science, motivated strictly by political ideology, is morally shameful. The scariest quote in the Times article comes from Kentucky State Representative Tim Moore:
“Our kids are being presented theories as though they are facts,” he said. “And with global warming especially, there has become a politically correct viewpoint among educational elites that is very different from sound science.”
I admire his use of the term "educational elites" as a substitute for "people who are experts in their field and know a hell of a lot more than I do on these subjects." Clearly this USAF Admissions Liaison Officer, NRA member, and Sunday school teacher is the perfect person to be making assertions about "sound science." Sadly, attacking scientific education at its most inchoate level may be the perfect way for Tim Moore and other anti-intellectual ideologues to undermine solutions to important problems in the long run by making reckless political maneuvers in the short run.

Images: Church and state cartoon (

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