Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Bible meets biology in an Oregon classroom

Transcript of today's show:

After only eight days on the job, part-time teacher Kris Helphinstine was fired from Sisters High School in Oregon. In the biology class he taught, Helphinstine referred repeatedly to the Bible and gave a PowerPoint presentation that linked evolution, Nazi Germany, and Planned Parenthood. School officials were swift in his termination. In his defense, Helphinstine said, “My whole purpose was to give accurate information and get the students thinking.” [source: New West]

Listen to the 1-minute broadcast of this story [mp3]

Sound Off: Science & Faith. Our point/counterpoint regulars Shelley (the voice of science) and Peter (the voice of faith), comment on the story.

The Voice of Science: Shelley Greene, Ph.D., comments:
The swift response of school officials at Sisters High School in Oregon reminds me of Judge Jones’ unequivocal response that intelligent design is indeed creationism in pseudo-scientific clothing. This tells us too, unfortunately, that classroom teachers need to be watched. The most unassuming new hire may have an agenda of zealotry lurking in their lesson plans. Our schools have by necessity become policed -- students are searched for drugs and hidden weapons; now it seems, teachers must be surveilled for surrepitious propaganda activities.

Those who think they can bring religious belief and dogma into the scientific climate of a biology classroom do know better. They know they're crossing a line, and they know where that line lies. Their intent and purpose are to push that line, and push and push, budging it ever more to their benefit. Their goal is nothing less than to confuse our understanding of science and, in the cacophony, infuse their Bible-based notions as equal or superior.

It would have been interesting to see the faces of Mr. Helphinstine's students when he presented slides of the Nazi cross dissolving into the Planned Parenthood logo. Are high school students sophisticated enough to know when propaganda is being thrust upon them? Let this event be a lesson to all about 1) the growing reach of religious zealotry into academia, 2) how innocuous it can appear to the unwary eye, and 3) how these educational hi jinx should be quickly and permanently dealt with. I wonder what Dembski and his friends at the Discovery Institute think when some lunatic claiming to be on “their side” stirs up a negative news story like this.

The Voice of Faith: Peter Williamson, M.Div., comments:
Although the appropriateness of his subject matter is questionable, Mr. Helphinstine is being quite obviously scape-goated. The information he presented -- albeit not suitable for such a young audience -- has basis in real events. Evolution theory has been an ideological cornerstone of those who favor eugenics. The nefarious Nazi philosophy was in fact based on Charles Darwin's survival of the fittest. This theory in and of itself is not villainous, but when applied by hateful atheists and those who do not believe in Christian love for one's neighbor, the theory can be twisted to diabolical ends. The Nazis erronneously believed that only they were the fittest, declaring themselves the UberMensch – the Super Race of Super Men. And did the Nazi’s control every aspect of the birthing process, killing thousands of innocent retarded and defective children? Yes, they did and they kept accurate records.

Just as critics of Mr. Helphinstine can claim him as a bizarre example of Bibilical creationism gone wild, the Nazi agenda of the Holocaust could be seen as evolutionary ideas taken to an ultimate perverted extreme. Let us be careful, in our outrage at Mr. Helphinstine, that we not gloss over the horrible history from which his ideas emerged. There are centuries of unjust, unloving, inhumane historical events that deserve our outrage. Let's put our criticism and anger where they rightly belong.