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Teaching Allah and Xenu in Indiana

February 28, 2012

Last month, the Indiana State Senate approved a bill that would allow public school science teachers to include religious explanations for the origin of life in their classes. If Senate Bill 89 is approved by the state’s House its co-sponsor, Speaker of the House Dennis Kruse, hopes that this will open the door for the teaching of “creation-science” as a challenge to the theory of evolution, which he characterized as a “Johnny-come-lately” theory compared to the millennia-old creation story in Genesis: “I believe in creation and I believe it deserves to be taught in our public schools.” In this bill Kruse is challenging the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1987 decision in Edwards v. Aguillard that the mandatory teaching of a bible-based creation story in Louisiana public schools was violative of the first amendment and therefore unconstitutional (by a vote of 7-2, with Rehnquist and Scalia dissenting). “This is a different Supreme Court,” Kruse defiantly said in an interview. “This Supreme Court could rule differently.”

The language of the bill, however, was expanded by the Indiana State Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson, a democrat, and includes the possibility of teaching the creation stories of religions other than Christianity. “The bill was originally talking about ‘Creationist Science,’ and I thought that was a bit of an oxymoron,” Simpson told the Village Voice. “I wanted to draft an amendment that would do two things. First, it would remove it from the science realm. And second, school boards and the state of Indiana should not be in the business of promoting one religion over another.” The bill now includes the following proviso: “The governing body of a school corporation may offer instruction on various theories of the origin of life. The curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.”

Scientology? Yes, Scientology has an origin story. Here it is. Imagine this account being taught in public school science classes in America: Around 75 million years ago Xenu, the ruler of a Galactic Confederation of 76 planets, transported billions of his people in spaceships to a planet named Teegeeack (Earth). There they were placed near volcanoes and killed by exploding hydrogen bombs, after which their souls, or “thetans,” remained to inhabit the bodies of future earthlings, causing humans today great spiritual harm and unhappiness that may be remedied through psychological techniques involving a process called auditing and a device called an E-meter. This creation myth, formerly privy only to members who had achieved Operating Thetan Level III (OT III) through auditing, is now well known via the Internet and a widely-viewed 2005 episode of the animated sitcom television series South Park.

The absurdity of teaching religious origin stories in a science class could not be more poignant, but if there is any remaining doubt imagine the teaching of Islam and Allah in American public schools. There are, in fact, not multiple origin stories. There are only two: science-based and everything else. And legal precedence dictates that it is both inappropriate and illegal to force science teachers to teach non-science-based origin stories in science classes. Even before the U.S. Supreme Court voted against the teaching of creation-science in 1987, in 1981 the constitutionality of Arkansas Act 590, which required equal time in public school science classes for “creation-science” and “evolution-science,” was ruled illegal by the federal judge William R. Overton on the grounds that creation-science conveys “an inescapable religiosity.” Overton noted that the creationists employed a “two model approach” in a “contrived dualism” that “assumes only two explanations for the origins of life and existence of man, plants and animals: It was either the work of a creator or it was not.” In this either-or paradigm, the creationists claim that any evidence “which fails to support the theory of evolution is necessarily scientific evidence in support of creationism.” Overton slapped down this tactic: “evolution does not presuppose the absence of a creator or God and the plain inference conveyed by Section 4 [of Act 590] is erroneous.” Judge Overton’s opinion on why creation-science isn’t science, and by extension what constitutes science, was so poignant that it was republished in the prestigious journal Science:

  1. It is guided by natural law.
  2. It has to be explanatory by reference to natural law.
  3. It is testable against the empirical world.
  4. Its conclusions are tentative.
  5. It is falsifiable.

Overton concluded: “Creation science as described in Section 4(a) fails to meet these essential characteristics,” adding the “obvious implication” that “knowledge does not require the imprimatur of legislation in order to become science.”

By extension, the lesson to be gleaned from this latest legal battle in Indiana is that knowledge that requires the imprimatur of legislation is not science. QED.

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