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Teaching Allah and Xenu in Indiana

by Michael Shermer, Feb 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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35 Responses to “Teaching Allah and Xenu in Indiana”

  1. Nyar says:

    Xenu is the best galactic emperor we have ever had, no matter what the Scientologists in the lame-stream media say.

  2. Willy says:

    Damn clever of the democrat. Not only does it get the idea out of the science classroom but it makes the silly christian creation story look as silly as it is by teaching it alongside all the other silly creation myths.

    And what can the creationist do? If he tries to get it into the science classroom he likely fails for the reasons discussed above. If he opposes teaching the other myths he appears to be bucking religious freedom.

    Nice.

  3. Max says:

    If they teach the Xenu story, they risk being sued by the Church of Scientology.

  4. BillG says:

    My first thought, those theocractic a-holes! However, why not educate our youth on these creation myths? Pseudoscience 101. Expose it all, reveal the fatous dogma, failed sci-fi writers and how legends gain traction.

    • Ryan says:

      We often do teach these subjects and creation myths in our public schools. In humanities classes like social studies where they belong. These sorts of legal challenges are about banning science from science education or forcing non science topics to be taught as scientific fact.

    • Greisha says:

      It would be a nice lesson in critical thinking, but I am afraid it will conflict with the First, assuming you are talking about public schools.

      • Mario says:

        There is a TED talk by Dan Dennett regarding the teaching of religions in schools and why he suggests it should be done, which I’m totally up for…it is called Dan Dennett’s response to Rick Warren

  5. MadScientist says:

    Personally I wouldn’t want anyone to waste the kids’ time by teaching any of that malarkey.

  6. Beelzebud says:

    In Illinois a very similar thing happened that had to do with religious displays in the state capitol building during the holiday season. A christian group demanded they be allowed to set up a nativity scene. Other people, using constitutional arguments, managed to also erect a Jewish menorah, a statement by an atheist group, and a Festivus Pole, among other displays.

    http://www.pantagraph.com/news/local/article_aa430d60-ddf5-11de-b98a-001cc4c03286.html

  7. jwthomas says:

    Surely there’s a Pastafarian creation myth – um – story that can be taught beside the others, but despite my devotion to the noodly one I’ve never heard what it is. Unless someone here knows a different story I ‘d go for creation as a result of sex between the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Russell’s Teapot.

    • tmac57 says:

      What turned me off of Pastfarianism was the baptism…7 minutes in boiling water!Bloody hell!And don’t get me started on the anointing with marinara sauce.

    • Nyar says:

      Yeah, you have heard it jwthomas, remember a mountain, a tree, and a midgit?

    • brad says:

      You haven’t been reading “The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster”. It details the progress of His activities over the five days of creation, including hitting the ol’ Beer Volcano in between.

    • Bryant Platt says:

      Q: How do Pastafarians believe our world was created?

      A: We believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the world much as it exists today, but for reasons unknown made it appear that the universe is billions of years old (instead of thousands) and that life evolved into its current state (rather than created in its current form). Every time a researcher carries out an experiment that appears to confirm one of these “scientific theories” supporting an old earth and evolution we can be sure that the FSM is there, modifying the data with his Noodly Appendage. We don’t know why He does this but we believe He does, that is our Faith.

    • tmac57 says:

      To quote from the Holey scripture:
      “Ruote durum,semolina al dente”

  8. Tassie Phil says:

    I was interested to read about the Scientology story of creation, except it does not tell us how the bodies of the ‘future earthlings’ came about.

    “thetans,” remained to inhabit the bodies of future earthlings”

    Did they use evolution?

  9. Gary says:

    My fellow skeptics may be surprised to learn that ca. 1955 the Indianapolis School Board mandated that descriptions of the major religions be taught in our 8th grade classes.

    The major religions were represented by those children of that faith so, being Jewish, I and the one or two other Jews, described Judaism (after checking with our rabbi). Religions without a representative in the class (e.g. Hinduism, Islam) were chosen from the overabundance of Protestant students whose denominations were already spoken for.

    The apparent motive was to teach mutual understanding and tolerance and I don’t recall any controversy about this at the time but, then again, I was only 12.

    • Gabriel says:

      Gary, that was a good thing your school did. I went to Catholic school from 1 – 12 grades and we learned a lot about the other world religions. And it does help with understanding and acceptance.
      But it was never remotely confused with science nor was it allowed anywhere near the science classes. And that is where this issue in Indiana is different. The cultural myths need to stay in the arts, social sciences and humanities.

  10. Robert Tobin says:

    As though American brains aren’t being filled with too much Religious Bullshit, they want to fill them with this stupid BULLSHIT

  11. Kenneth Polit says:

    With this kind of crap being taught in school we will be a third world nation in no time.

  12. Ken says:

    The National Science Teacher’s Association holds their annual conference in Indianapolis early April. NSTA’s position statement on the teahing of evolution states the following (the full statement is here: http://www.nsta.org/about/positions/evolution.aspx )
    “..Science teachers should not advocate any religious interpretations of nature and should be nonjudgmental about the personal beliefs of students.
    Policy makers and administrators should not mandate policies requiring the teaching of “creation science” or related concepts, such as so-called “intelligent design,” “abrupt appearance,” and “arguments against evolution.” Administrators also should support teachers against pressure to promote nonscientific views or to diminish or eliminate the study of evolution. …”
    Game on.

  13. aqk says:

    Sorry, Michael, but once again, its turtles.
    All the way down.

  14. Huxley says:

    Does it mandate that the origin stories are thought in science class, or just in any class?

    Also; does it require that these myths are thought with equal respect? Couldn’t the teacher just say “…but some idiots believe it was Xenu, or adam/eve” etc?

  15. JB Crabbe says:

    I welcome the discourse of creationist speculation (not theory or hypothesis because it is not testable)just not in a science classroom (for the same reason). I don’t see where in the bill it states that it must be taught in science classrooms. Why do I welcome creationist speculations? Because it sharpens the evelotionary perspective and it reveals the the ridiculous nature of creation idea, especially from the scientology angle. If we don’t speak about it, then we cannot learn about it. It could be a dangerous and slipper slope, but it also has the potential to educate more deeply about the profound logic of evolution by natural selection – by way of contrast. The Democrat is clever.

  16. Roger says:

    Another great case for eliminating government education. Let people educate themselves and their children however they wish. Using the power of government to push a one-size-fits-all program has failed. The government schools can’t even teach good science without the added confusion of religion being thrown in for PC.

  17. Bobbler says:

    Only, so long as they teach several world creation myths together..   I actually like the idea of teaching creation myths in science class..  Young people have more of a capacity (more often than adults) to notice there are more than one belief system, and to therefore become skeptical (rather than brainwashed onto a particular religion)..   Also, these myths offer a good segue to teach about hypotheses and theories, and where creation myths fit (or dont fit at all) into the scientific method of hypotheses and theories..  

    The only problem I see, is this is probably the camels nose under the tent to teaching only one religions creation only..  

    Besides, what more sure way to finally get religion out of the science classroom, than to have atheists, scientists and skeptics embrace the idea?

    Bobbler

  18. Jackson Moon says:

    Michael is on top of the situation as usual.

    Among rational, scientifically minded how is it possible this is even a discussion?

    Oh, wait! I forgot! MOST people are not of that mind set!
    Also -you excluded two of my favorite myth makers -the Gnostics and the Taoists.

    The more we know the less we know. So, uh, who set up all those “things” that the critical thinker calls the laws of nature? Were they just always “there” (no such place). My point being that it is probably not possible to fully comprehend why those limitations were imposed. Therefore I respectfully conclude – It’s Miller Time!

  19. Luis Ocampo says:

    Fortunately , here in California, my son has teachers who encourage critical thinking. Wouldn’t a parent have the right to oppose having his/her children been expose to this bullshit?

  20. Tommy says:

    We are also required to teach unsuspecting children that they can become a scientist and actually have a reasonable chance for a career in science. Listen to Michio Kaku’s commentary, The Secret Weapon of American Science, (http://bigthink.com/ideas/190540) concerning our science solution of importing scientists. It brings home the truth of what a myth a productive career in science can really be.

    I do see a role for teaching a historical progression on the origins of the universe and ourselves that includes religious and cultural beliefs and the way in which science has contributed to a more realistic understanding of nature. Of course this is not what these laws are about.

  21. Joe in Sydney says:

    I think this proposal is an excellent idea.
    I wouldn’t teach it in science classes, but teaching it, as some have already pointed out, exposes the various “theories”. This was a great influence on me moving away from my religious upbringing, where I only heard one story. When I began to travel and learn more about all the various stories, my eyes were opened. The scientology story is no more absurd than the six-day story (odd that god needed a rest, isn’t it?). So being exposed to many stories could counteract the “only one way to believe” messages students may be getting at home and church.

  22. Kenn says:

    I suspect instructors will unconsciously bias their teaching with their own perspectives. Students can sense what the teacher believes

  23. Chris Howard says:

    Does Indiana have to teach everyone’s creation myt… Er, I mean “theory?” Because I am a former Hoosier, and an ardent Aesopean. I demand that Indiana teach the literal interpretation of “The Fox, and the Grapes!” Hurumph!

  24. Don Winters says:

    Personally I prefer Prometheus and Zeus but if we are going to study Joseph Campbell we should probably wait until college and take it as an elective. I thought teaching creation had already been settled by SCOTUS. As long as Indiana’s politicians are being ridiculous they may as well include Heaven’s Gate along with Dianetics.