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The Competing Influence of Secularism and Religion on Science Education in a Secular Society

The Competing Influence of Secularism and Religion on Science Education in a Secular Society

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The Competing Influence of Secularism
and Religion on Science Education in a
Secular Society

Author: William Cobern
The Competing Influence of Secularism
and Religion on Science Education in a
Secular Society

Author: William Cobern

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11/28/2013

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Teaching Science
 
89
5.
The Competing Inuence of Secularismand Religion on Science Education in aSecular Society
William Cobern 
Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.
Jesus o Nazareth 
It is simply no use trying to
see through 
rst principles...I you seethrough everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To
see through 
all things isthe same as not to see.
C. S. Lewis 
T
he United States is a country in which, according to the Constitution, therecan be no religious test or public oce. On the other hand, we have a Bill o Rights that guarantees the ree exercise o religion. We call this a secular systemo government, and sometimes go so ar as to use Jeersons phrase that there isa “wall o separation” between church and state. For the most part, this secularsystem o government comports well with the Christian teachings based on Jesus’ remark that one should render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar,and unto God that which belongs to God. John Richard Neuhaus once remarked that ours is a
naked 
public square—naked, that is, with regard to religious ideas or commitments. The reality,however, is that the public square abhors a philosophical vacuum, and thus thepublic square o our so-called secular society has never really been completely disrobed. Until the mid 20th century, or better or or worse, the philosophy permeating the public square was loosely that o Protestant Christianity,especially in the institutions o public education. That eectively ended with a
 
90
S
eculariSm
& S
cience
 
in
 
 the
21
St
c
entury
Supreme Court decision in the early 1960s banning prayer in schools. I supposethat ater this decision, many people thought we had arrived where we shouldhave been all along: that is, at a truly naked public square. But I suggest that thepublic square really does abhor a philosophical vacuum, and that today we otennd secularism competing with various religious ideas or prominence. When itcomes to science education in the public schools, I suggest that what we need isa dierent understanding o secularism, i we are to avoid one round o confictater another.
Religion in Public Life
 Jesus o Nazareth, on whom Christianity is based, commands his ollowers: Giveto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. Separation o church andstate would seem a natural outgrowth o such a command. Indeed, Christianchurches since the colonial period have strongly embraced the perspective madeexplicit in the Bill o Rights:Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment o religion, orprohibiting the ree exercise thereo….Given the diversity o Christian churches, and their (or the most part)shared belie that aith is a matter o voluntary acceptance, non-establishment o religion was the key to ree exercise o religion, and it remains so.Those who reject any notion o the transcendent have always been happy to join Christians
1
in their embrace o the rst amendment to the Constitution.For non-believers, non-establishment meant that as modernization proceeded, so would the spread o secularism. According to the twin theory o modernization/secularization, secularization is the expected culmination o modernizing orces:urbanization, rationalization, proessionalization, unctional dierentiation, andbureaucratization;
2
and coincident with secularization is the asymptotic decay o traditional religion, which, without ully disappearing, is nonetheless relegatedto the private spheres o personal lie. Well, perhaps so in Europe;
3
but not in theUSA, where belie in God holds steady, even among many scientists.
4
Accordingto The Barna Group in 2006:
•
71% believe in God when God is described as the all-powerul, all-knowing, perect creator o the universe who rules the world today.
•
7% believe that God is the total realization o personal humanpotential.
5
George Gallup, who has polled Americans about their belie in God since

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