The same day Sarah Palin told Katie Couric that “science should be taught in science class,” a group of scientists were making that very point to the Texas Board of Education. Is Sarah Palin a closet evolutionist?
Hardly, but it’s difficult to peg her as the sort of strict Creationist many academics and people of faith accuse of trying to undermine the teaching of evolution. Like many people of faith, Palin seems to believe that science and religion are not necessarily incompatible and that a good education should make room for both.
Easier said than done, of course.
The Texas scientists are battling an effort to require public schools to make room for both by teaching the “weaknesses of evolution.” That, according to the scientists, is a back-door attempt, under the guise of “academic freedom,” to require schools to teach Creationism and Intelligent Design in science classes.
“Calling ‘Intelligent Design’ arguments a weakness of evolution is like calling alchemy a weakness of chemistry, or astrology a weakness of astronomy,” Sahotra Sarkar, a University of Texas biology professor, told the Texas Board of Education Tuesday.
Similar “back-door” attempts are being made in several states. In June, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a law that allows teachers to introduce “supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials” about evolution. But other states are putting more emphasis on teaching evolution as “the organizing principle of life science,” as the Florida Department of Education ruled earlier this year.
“Principle” is the word Kouric and Palin both used in their conversation broadcast Tuesday. Kouric asked: “Do you believe evolution should be taught as an accepted scientific principle or as one of several theories?”
Palin responsed: “Oh, I think it should be taught as an accepted principle. And, as you know, I say that also as the daughter of a school teacher, a science teacher, who has really instilled in me a respect for science. It should be taught in our schools. And I won’t deny that I see the hand of God in this beautiful creation that is Earth. But that is not part of the state policy or a local curriculum in a school district. Science should be taught in science class.”
That seems fairly clear. Evolution should be taught as a principle of science, not as a theory alongside others such as Creationism. This is a woman who has said that her father, a public school science teacher, did not teach Creationism in class. She hasn’t pushed the issue as governor.
But Palin clearly believes Creationism should be a part of the classroom discussion. When Palin was running for governor in 2006, she was asked during a televised debate if she thought teaching creationism in public schools was good for students. “I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum,” she said.
In a subsequent interview with the Anchorage Daily News, Palin said discussion of alternative views on the origins of life should be allowed in Alaska classrooms. “I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum,” she said.
It shouldn’t be part of her father’s science class curriculum anymore than evolution should be part of her own child’s Sunday school lessons. For many people of faith, the question isn’t whether science and religion can comfortably coexist, but how.
The best suggestion I’ve read can be found in “An Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science from American Christian Clergy,” signed so far by more than 11,000 clergy across the country.
“We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist,” the letter reads in part. “We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.”
Does that seem so difficult?
Sarah Palin’s public comments on evolution, Creationism and other religion-related matters can be found in a handy online index called Faith 2008, a site hosted by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs.