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University of New Mexico History Department

The faculty of the History Department at the University of New Mexico objects to the new Content Standards in Science for New Mexico's public schools (K-12), adopted by the State Board of Education (SBE) in August 1996. Our objection centers on
  • The Standard's deletion of all specific references to biological evolution
  • The Standard's encouragement to teach alternative theories through "critical scientific analysis of theories of biological origin based on direct observations, investigations, or historical data that accounts for the present form and function of objects, organisms, and natural systems."
We urge the SBE to reconsider the Content Standards in Science, to restore the specific references to biological evolution, and to refrain from encouraging teachers to include non-scientific theories of biological origin in science classes.

Discussion

While the Standards adopted by the State Board of Education in August 1996 do not explicitly encourage the inclusion of "scientific creationism" in New Mexico's public school science classes, this is clearly the intent of the last-minute revisions to the Standards. Boardmember Roger X. Lenard, one of the architects of the new Standards and a self-described anti-evolutionist, has written that the Standards provide "a rigorous, principled environment where various theories about the age of the earth and t he universe and biological origins will be studied" (Albuquerque Journal, 21 September 1996, p. A9). State schools Superintendent Alan Morgan, a supporter of the new Standards, has stated that they are designed to affect

"schools that are focusing on one view, one theory, and one set of facts ... because those systems aren't helping students develop critical analytical skills. So if science classes discuss only the theory of evolution, there may be trouble." (Albuquerque Journal, 31 August 1996, pp. A1-A2).

Superintendent Morgan also stated that many people believe that there is a "modicum, if not more, of scientific evidence to support creationism" (Ibid.).

There are many good reasons not to allow, much less encourage, the teaching of non-scientific theories like creationism in public school science classes. The technical and practical arguments against the practice have been articulated very well by scientists and scientific organizations around the state since the SBE adopted the new Standards.

However, rather than repeat the many scientific objections to the Standards, we, as a faculty in the humanities, would like to offer a different argument against them. We oppose these Standards for reasons that are based not on the technical issues involved, but on our belief in the value of liberal arts education and its ability to illuminate diverse and distinct ways of studying and understanding the world. Our argument is two-fold.

First, to include creationist ideas within a science curriculum is a serious and detrimental distortion of the historical definition of science in the western world. As it has evolved since Greek antiquity, and especially since the scientific revolution of the 17th century, science has come to refer to a method of articulating certain kinds of explanations about natural phenomena. Historically, scientific explanations have exhibited several characteristics. They tend to be mechanical in nature. They often tend to include descriptions that can be articulated using mathematics. And, they have always been devoid of supernatural agents. In this regard, all forms of creationism, with their implicit reliance on a supernatural creator, are non-scientific by definition, regardless of any appropriation of scientific or science-like language. Calling one form of creationism "scientific" does not make it so, because it still entails the action of a supernatural deity or deities.

It is important to realize that our desire to protect the integrity of science as a distinct intellectual discipline is not an attempt to elevate science above all other intellectual endeavors; quite the contrary. Science is one way of knowing the world ; it is not the only way of knowing, and it is certainly not the only way of knowing everything. Indeed, in the grand scheme of human thought and action, the domain of science is modest — the realm of natural phenomena. Science, as it has developed historically, will not and can never tell us anything about the nature of beauty, or the attributes of justice, or the qualities of goodness. There are many ideas and many truths (like the belief that all people are created equal, or that they have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) upon which science must remain mute. Supernatural creation stories may, in fact, be true; but science, as only one way of knowing, will never tell us this. Science is simply not equipped to speak on supernatural issues, and it would be a mistake to try to force it to do so.

The second part of our argument addresses why it would be a mistake to try to change the definition of science to include supernatural entities. To insist that religious creation stories be considered scientific (and included in science classes) would reinforce the dangerous myth that science is the only way of knowing. Other ways of knowing the world — through art, or literature, or philosophy, or religion — are valuable and meaningful in their own right; treating them all merely as science would diminish their status as important and alternative methods of understanding by forcing them to surrender to the criteria of one particular intellectual discipline. It is precisely because we should not subsume all other ways of knowing under science that we should keep religious or literary stories distinct from it.

In short, we should actively keep non-scientific or religious creation stories out of the public school science curriculum in order to maintain the intellectual integrity of science as well as the intellectual integrity of all other disciplines. Such ideas can and should be examined critically, with value and honor, in humanities or social science classes that focus on the disciplines of history, philosophy, comparative religion, or literature.

On these grounds, in addition to the many others being voiced by the scientific community, we urge the State Board of Education to reconsider and revise the new Content Standards for Science.