Publisher's viewpoint stirs reaction

by Steve May

I was happy to hear from two well-known voices on a subject I wrote about, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s decision to certify for many Louisiana public science classrooms the religious dogma of “creation science,” the exquisite oxymoron of some of the religious right.

First came a letter to the editor, published in the Jan. 21 edition of The Independent Weekly, from my longtime friend of over three decades, George Graham, who in a respectful and thoughtfully delivered response basically let me have it for what he essentially considers a message of intolerance and “an attack on the spiritual foundations of our community.”

Some of the key elements of his message included comments like, “I am part of the silent majority of our community that is tired of the constant attacks on our beliefs,” and “The Independent has always preached tolerance … but your words do not have tolerance for my beliefs as a Christian or anyone in Acadiana who shares them.” He went on to say that I have used my “bully pulpit to attack the spiritual foundations of our community.” Last, he expresses his hope that we practice what we preach (tolerance).

To my friend I offer this: Tolerance is a quality in short supply around here and elsewhere in the world, particularly in the worlds of religion and culture. It is, as George points out, something we do preach at The Independent. And we hope we are perceived as a consistent voice of it. The tolerance I speak of, however, is within the realm of how we treat and respect the views, opinions and ideas of others. It is within a world of civility and compassion, and particularly within the world of religion, that we should all struggle toward this virtue. But where tolerance should find no safe harbor is in the world of science. Science is a world of probing and the provable where viewpoints and theories must survive the severe scrutiny of peer review and testability. There is precious little tolerance in science. Our ancestors were taught not too many centuries ago the sun revolves around the earth. The world of science no more tolerates this view today than it does the notion that the earth was invented 6,000 years ago and that dinosaurs then began to roam the earth.

In his letter, my friend takes umbrage with use of the term “psuedo-science” in reference to “creation science” or “intelligent design,” but that’s precisely how the world of serious science routinely refers to it. Unfortunately, however, this has stopped neither our Legislature nor our Rhodes Scholar governor from passing a law allowing its teaching in our public schools. But as it’s said about those who forget history, well, it will soon be reminder time. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case over the Louisiana Legislature’s attempt to pass a law providing for the teaching of “creation science” alongside the theory of evolution in its public schools. Its decision? The Court had, well, no tolerance for it. Few, if any, legal experts following this latest attempt to slip by the court’s decision give it much chance either.

Those interested in the issue may also be aware that our neighbors in Texas decided last week to strip similar language from their schools’ science classes. Although divided on the issue, the Texas State Board of Education voted to abandon a longtime state requirement that “weaknesses as well as strengths in the theory of evolution” be taught in high school biology classes.

With regard to George’s last comment about my “attacking the spiritual foundations of our community,” I respectfully remind him and his fellow believers they do not even speak for all Christians, let alone those of other faiths, and that while science is a realm apart from religion, millions of Americans practicing Christianity have comfortably found harmony bridging their religious views and the knowable world of science that includes the theory of evolution. I am no more a scientist than my friend or his fellow believers. But I do have a simple view of this topic: when it comes to science we should teach our public school children whatever the best science available is — not what some wish it were.

The other opinion I mentioned? The Advocate, likewise, has now weighed in on the topic of the BESE board’s slippery handling of “creation science” and “intelligent design” in public schools in a Jan. 17 editorial titled, “Creationists show clout.” It’s worth reading — no matter where you stand on the issue.