Darwin Day and the New Campaign to Inject Religion into Public Schools

Ed: Click here for video of the author’s Darwin Day lecture at ID the Future.

As schools and museums celebrate the 199th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday today, a new push is being made to inject religion into the nation’s science classrooms.

But it’s not coming from those you might think.

After years of accusing Darwin’s critics of trying to insert religion into biology classes on the sly, leading defenders of evolution are now campaigning to incorporate religion explicitly into classroom lessons on evolution.

Eugenie Scott, head of the pro-evolution National Center for Science Education, recommends having biology students read statements endorsing evolution by theologians. She further suggests assigning the students to interview ministers about their views on evolution— but not if the community is “conservative Christian,” because then the intended lesson that “Evolution is OK!” might be undermined.

According to biologist Kenneth Miller, science teachers around the nation are already using his book Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution to convince students that evolution and religious faith are compatible.

Ironically, Miller served as an expert witness in the Dover, Pennsylvania intelligent design trial, testifying on behalf of those who wanted intelligent design banished from schools because they thought it was religion in disguise. But Miller apparently has no problem with the overt use of religion in the classroom to endorse evolution.

An educational website called “Understanding Evolution,” meanwhile, encourages teachers to debunk the “misconception” among students that evolution is incompatible with religion. Funded by more than a half-million in tax dollars from the National Science Foundation, the website directs teachers to dozens of statements endorsing evolution by various religious groups, including a declaration that “modern evolutionary theory… is in no way at odds with our belief in a Creator God, or in the revelation and presence of that God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.”

While there are good secular reasons for teaching students about the science of evolution, taxpayers might wonder what business it is of the government to persuade their children that evolution comports with “the revelation and presence of… God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.”

The new efforts to use religion to promote evolution in the schools don’t even come close to following Supreme Court precedents on the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Imagine the outcry that would ensue if the critics of Darwin’s theory proposed using religion to denounce evolution in biology classes? How long would it take before the ACLU was on the scene?

Yet support for the use of religion to promote evolution in schools seems to be spreading.

Last fall, in conjunction with a highly-touted “docudrama” attacking intelligent design, PBS distributed a briefing packet to educators across the country that made a point of including statements endorsing evolution by Jewish and Christian groups.

In January, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report on evolution for teachers, school board members, and others that similarly spent several pages trying to convince readers that good religion supports evolution.

Public schools are certainly allowed to hold objective discussions of competing religious explanations in relevant courses. But that is not what the defenders of evolution are advocating. They are pushing one-sided religious propaganda with the clear intent of changing the spiritual beliefs of students.

Notably, groups like the ACLU that typically champion the separation of church and state have been AWOL when it comes to the classroom promotion of religion by evolutionists. Apparently, religious indoctrination in science classes is okay so long as religion is used to endorse Darwin’s theory.

The hypocrisy of the situation is blatant, but then again, so is the cynicism.

Many of the advocates of using religion to promote evolution in the classroom turn out to be atheists or agnostics. Eugenie Scott, for example, is a signer of a document called the “Humanist Manifesto III” that proclaims the “finality of death” and calls for “a progressive philosophy of life… without supernaturalism.” The biologists of the National Academy of Sciences hold similar views—nearly 95% of them classify themselves as atheists or agnostics according to a 1998 survey.

Even the theists among evolution proponents tend to be less friendly to traditional religion than one might think. Biologist Kenneth Miller, who is usually cited as a traditional Roman Catholic by the news media, insists that evolution is an “undirected” process and that the development of human beings was “an afterthought, a minor detail, a happenstance in a history that might just as well have left us out.”

Regardless of which religious view of evolution is correct, the question is why science classes should be dealing with this issue at all. Do we really want to turn public school science classes into a Darwinian version of Sunday School?

Evolution defenders frequently complain that Darwin’s theory is under attack from people of faith, and perhaps they feel religious instruction is a way to defuse that threat. If so, they are tone-deaf.

If they think some religious people are offended by evolution now, just wait until more teachers start proselytizing for Darwinian theology in the classroom.

We have religious liberty for a reason. Let’s hope evolution proponents recognize that fact before they inspire yet another needless round of polarization in the public schools. For more information about the Darwinists’ push to inject religion in the classroom, check out chapter 10 of my new book Darwin Day in America.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.