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COMMUNITY VOICE

It's not just atheists who want to keep creationism out of classrooms

Thursday, June 27, 2013 - 12:01 am

The May 22 article “Atheist group claims Ball State prof is teaching creationism” on Page 3L could leave the wrong impression that it is only atheists who reject creationism. The headline and first paragraph misrepresents the contesting group as “an atheist organization” while in fact the organization (Freedom From Religion Foundation) is composed of “freethinkers” including some religious people. Rest assured that there are many religious denominations, religions and religious individuals who not only reject creationism, but have led the fight to keep the religious concepts of creationism from being legislated down everyone’s throats.

With science pre-eminence being key to the United States achieving world economic, political, military and humanitarian leadership, it is counterintuitive now to take anti-science attitudes that threaten to make the USA a “has been” in history books of the future. Religion’s track record of seeking scientific answers and objective truths about the natural world/universe from God through reading Scripture is woefully misguided indeed – the flat Earth, an Earth-centered solar system, creationism and more recently climate-change denial.

Why a religious person would not accept evolution is not understandable – evolution is used daily to cure the sick (diagnose cancer and infectious disease and develop curative pharmaceuticals) and to feed the hungry (increase crop yields and nutritional value). Evolution is therefore a mechanism that helps fulfill these two from among the most widely revered purposes of religious life.

My own United Methodist denomination is resolute in its acceptance of evolution. Its “law book” (The Book of Discipline) clearly states: “We find that science’s descriptions of cosmological, geological and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology.” Not only does the United Methodist Church (UMC) accept evolution, it wants to preserve religious freedom by stating: “The United Methodist Church go(es) on record as opposing the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools.”

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes more than simply stating a principle – the principle must be defended. So in 1981 acting Arkansas United Methodist Bishop Kenneth Hicks spearheaded a multidenominational effort to repeal Arkansas’ law requiring the teaching of “creation science.” The Arkansas Supreme Court decision affirming repeal became a key precedent leading to the similar 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

There are many other denominations that accept evolution. A 1950 Roman Catholic encyclical written by Pope Pius XII states that evolution is not in conflict with theology. A few of the other denominations accepting evolution include the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Presbyterians, Episcopals, Unitarians, Jewish and United Church of Christ. “Americans United for Separation of Church and State” (www.au.org) is an ecumenical organization that serves the American religious and non-religious communities at large through its work protecting religious freedoms in America from unconstitutional incursion of religion-specific dogmas, such as creation stories, into public policy and public classrooms.

After watching the debacle of an Indiana legislative attempt to legalize creation science in the public school classroom, Fort Wayne’s own Plymouth UCC spent its own resources to bring in Dr. Michael Zimmerman, a world-renowned scientist working to bridge the gap created by some in religion between religion and science. It is widely known that the proposed legislation violated Supreme Court and other federal court decisions. Had the legislation been passed, in all probability it would have led to a large wasted expenditure of taxpayer dollars trying to defend the wrongful legislation.

As for Eric Hedin, the Ball State professor in question, there are certain expectations of all professors, whether science, history, music or other fields. Each professor is expected to present what is accepted by the “experts” within a field as the current understandings of that field. Challenges to accepted understandings are always welcomed when presented as challenges and with copious evidence. However, academic freedom is not a legitimate excuse to flagrantly violate widely accepted principles without substantial evidence to support the challenge. For example, it would be ludicrous for a geology professor to state that Noah’s flood created the Grand Canyon based solely on Scripture.

Yes, there are emerging concepts waiting for evidence to support or deny them, especially in the fields of cosmology and astronomy.

I leave it to others to decide if the professor is challenging core principles of physics, geology, astronomy and/or cosmology with or without sufficient evidence. However, there is a long history of creationists not accepting the findings of science, even when science presents overwhelming evidence in support of the findings.

Opponents to creationism, whether religious or not, typically hold their position for two compelling reasons. They see the overwhelming, corroborating evidence from many disciplines supporting the reality of the evolutionary process by natural selection. But even more importantly, they understand that what is at stake is nothing less than their own religious freedom.

Al Kuelling is a resident of Fort Wayne.