Commentary and Opinion

MAURER: Politics prevail over wisdom

March 3, 2012

Mickey Maurer“Suppose you were an idiot.
And suppose you were a member of the Indiana Senate.
But then I repeat myself.”
(with apologies to Mark Twain)

Last month, when House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, referred Senate Bill 89 to the Rules Committee, it sounded the death knoll for the latest legislative attempt to mix science and religion in the same soup and ladle it to our children.

The bill, which would have allowed schools to teach creationism along with evolution in science classes, drew widespread media coverage and triggered condemnations from scientific organizations in this state and across the country. Some national observers said that the Senate’s action was an example of stunning stupidity.

Bosma killed the bill to avoid the possibility of a lawsuit for the state, given the likelihood of a court challenge. His rationale was that the bill was directly on point with a U.S. Supreme Court case that had already ruled it unconstitutional.

Bosma is a bright lawyer and a skilled legislator. He has ably delivered Gov. Mitch Daniels’ agenda. That is why I am surprised and distressed with the dictum in his decision. He said in typical political double negative fashion, “I didn’t disagree with the concept of the bill.” With this confirmation of his right wing conservative chops, he missed an opportunity to demonstrate wisdom. Instead, he laid bare his lack of understanding of the concepts of science and religious theories and their place in the education of our children.

A scientific theory starts with a hypothesis around which evidence is collected—verifiable and repeatable observations. Although many would say it has not been confirmed in all respects, there is a tremendous amount of evidence to support the theory of evolution. Creationism is also a theory, but not a scientific theory. There is absolutely no evidence to support the theory of creationism. Creationism seeks a supernatural explanation and must be taken on blind faith. It is not science.

The bill’s author, Sen. Dennis Cruse, R-Auburn, said, “I believe in creation and I believe it deserves to be taught in our public schools.” That is what I would have expected from Cruse, but not from Bosma. Religious belief and faith is important to many and should be encouraged. It’s OK to believe in creation, Senator Cruse, but it should not be taught in science class. If taught at all, it could be taught in classes on comparative religions or perhaps literature.

Classrooms should be places to develop critical thinking skills and encourage logical analysis and open and objective discussions of scientific theories. In an op-ed piece for the Indianapolis Star, Duane S. Nickell, president of the Hoosier Association of Service Teachers Inc., points out that when every question can be answered by invoking supernatural explanations, scientific inquiry comes to a screeching halt. How then can Indiana realize its potential of becoming a center of excellence for scientific achievement?

Religious right groups are manipulating religion to further their intolerant political agendas. The goal of many Christian fundamentalists is to break down a foundation of our democracy—the separation of church and state—in order to superimpose their moral values on all citizens.

In Indiana, the agenda is to ban stem cell research, constitutionally prohibit gay marriage, engage in sectarian prayer in the very halls of government and now to teach our students to equate the study of science with theories that can only be supported by faith. One only needs to listen to the rhetoric of presidential candidate Rick Santorum to confirm this mission.

If the conservative religious right wants to pray, I suggest they go to church and thank God for the constitution of the United States that protects us from their unwarranted incursions into our freedoms. I have faith too—faith that Brian Bosma will get it right next time.•

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Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal.  His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mmaurer@ibj.com.

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