Religious Leaders Respond to the Link between the Attack on Evolution and Climate Change Denial

04/18/2017 12:21 pm ET

The reality of American science education today is that attacks on the teaching of evolution in public schools are almost always linked with impediments to teaching students about climate change.

Just this month, for example, bills have made legislative progress in Alabama, Florida, and Oklahoma. The intention in each case is to make it easier for science deniers to intrude on the student experience by mixing political ideology with science instruction.

Glenn Branch, the deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, has been very active and effective in pointing out the serious problems with these legislative actions. For example, a bill that was recently introduced in the Iowa House (but that failed to make it out of committee) focused specifically on “instruction relating to evolution, the origins of life, global warming, or human cloning.” Branch noted that the bill “would have required teachers in the state’s public schools to include ‘opposing points of view or beliefs’ to accompany any instruction relating to a handful of topics, including global warming. Astonishingly, the bill did not require that those ‘points of view or beliefs’ have any scientific credibility—only that they be opposed to whatever material is presented in the classroom.”

Similarly, commenting on the proposed legislation in Alabama, Branch noted that "it would send a strong signal that the state legislature approves of Alabama's public school teachers presenting supposed alternatives to evolution, to climate change, and to any of the material covered in the newly revised state science standards." It should go without saying that there aren’t any meaningful scientific alternatives to evolution and climate change. Unfortunately, given the legislative actions popping up all across the country, such a thing can’t go without saying.

With such a tight link between efforts to obstruct the teaching of evolution and climate change it shouldn’t be a surprise that an organization of clergy members founded to promote evolution in public school classrooms and laboratories has just taken a very strong position on climate change as well.

The Clergy Letter Project, a grassroots collective of more than 14,400 clergy members from all corners of the United States representing a host of religions and denominations, just voted to endorse the People’s Climate March. The March, scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C. and in hundreds of satellite locations around the country on Saturday, 29 April 2017, is designed to accomplish a number of critical goals including to:

· Advance solutions to the climate crisis rooted in racial, social and economic justice, and committed to protecting front-line communities and workers.
· Protect our right to clean air, water, land, healthy communities and a world at peace.

Perhaps the simplest benefit of the March will be to bring heightened attention to the issue of climate change itself making it more difficult for people to agitate against it being taught in our public schools. It’s worth once again turning to Branch who makes this point very well:

Effective action on climate change is necessarily going to be a long-term—multigenerational—project. Our children, and their children, and their children in turn, will all need to understand the scientific consensus on climate change in order to flourish in the warming world in which they will live. And the best way to ensure that they do so is to use the most extensive and rigorous system in our society for producing understanding: the public school classroom.

Some might find it surprising that clergy members are among those articulating for high quality science instruction and working to keep ideological biases from corrupting the curriculum of our public schools. In fact, though, thousands upon thousands of clergy are interested in ensuring that we teach our children how to investigate and understand all facets of the world in which we live. They are not fearful of the knowledge gained from scientific study, knowing that it can’t threaten their faith, and recognize that such information, when used appropriately, can help create healthier and more just environments.

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