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Archive for Sunday, May 1, 2005

Faith and science

Kansas needs both faith and science, but not in the public schools.

May 1, 2005

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Faith is a wonderful thing. It is a belief in concepts or ideas that can't necessarily be seen or proven. It is a personal principle that guides an individual's life in many ways.

Science also is a wonderful thing, in some ways more limited than faith because it's based on things that can be observed and tested. Science is an exploration of human experience, an effort to explain through questions and experimentation the world around us. It's less personal than faith, more objective.

Science doesn't have all the answers, but scientists base their conclusions on observations and ideas that have been tested, examined and accepted by other scientists using established scientific criteria. Faith requires no proof or peer review. Each person's faith is his or her own. It's what he or she believes whether anyone else shares that exact belief or not.

The accepted principles of science and biology can be taught. So can the principles of various organized religions along with the role they play in history and in today's world. The varied and intensely personal principles of faith are formulated through families, churches and experience, but they should not be part of a public school curriculum.

That separation is at the heart of the current debate in Kansas over what public schools should teach the state's young people about the origins and evolution of life on Earth. Science classes in our schools can and should focus on what human scientists have learned and observed about our world and universe, not on the myriad individual beliefs that people value but cannot prove.

There is much that remains unknown, and many Kansans choose to turn to their faith to explain phenomena that science cannot. They look to their churches, their synagogues, their native elders and many other sources for guidance in forming their personal beliefs. Those beliefs can go far beyond what is taught in a science classroom, but that doesn't diminish the value of learning what dedicated researchers have observed and discovered about our world.

It is completely appropriate for students to examine in a religion class the principles and even the creation beliefs of different world religions. But it simply isn't academically sound to do what some members of the Kansas State Board of Education apparently favor, which is to give equal weight in the state's science curriculum both to the untestable Christian story of creation and to the conclusions of scientists who have explored our world and collected observable data. Such a move not only would ignore the academic examination and review of the science curriculum but also would disrespect all other faith-based creation beliefs.

Science, biology and faith are important and are, in many minds, compatible, but they are different realms. Science seeks to systematically learn about our world; faith allows each of us to have beliefs that we feel intensely even though we may not be able to prove them to someone else.

Valid concerns have been raised about how the Kansas educational system will be viewed or how the state's image or future as a center of bioscience research will be affected if schools are forced to abandon the teaching of evolution. The basic issue at stake, however, is the constitutional separation of church and state that protects both our common governmental structures and our individual beliefs. Accepted principles of science should be taught in our public schools. Individual matters of faith and religion should be examined and formulated outside government-funded classrooms.

Hopefully, members of our state school board will recognize why that separation is a wise choice both for faith and for science.

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