Louisiana: Do Forrest and the NCSE Really Oppose Religious Instruction in Evolution?

Larry Caldwell

Reading Barbara Forrest’s impassioned plea on Richard Dawkins’ website against the Louisiana Science Education Act, one might get the impression she opposes injection of religion in biology classes (even though the Act isn’t intended to do that).
Indeed, when I followed the link to her Louisiana Coalition for Science “open letter” to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, I found the following statement, with which I agree wholeheartedly:

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is violated when the government endorses a sectarian doctrine. . .

On the other hand, Forrest is on the board of directors of the National Center for Science Education.

As recently reported here, the NCSE partnered with the University of California on the Understanding Evolution website, on which the UC endorses the sectarian doctrine of religious organizations, including the United Church of Christ. By Forrest’s own admission, the UC is in violation of the Establishment Clause.
The truth is that Forrest and her colleagues at NCSE have no problem with government endorsing religious doctrine in relation to evolution, as long as it is a religious doctrine they agree with.
Forrest and her colleague Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of NCSE, also have no problem with injecting religion into biology class. Indeed, NCSE Executive Director Scott authored an article available on the UC Understanding Evolution website in which she recommends that public school teachers initiate discussions of religion in their biology classes.
As an example of a recommended strategy, the article relates the experience of teachers who

have had good results when they begin the year by asking students to brainstorm what they think the words “evolution” and “creationism” mean. . . . Don’t be surprised to find some variant of, “You can’t believe in God” or some similar statement of supposed incompatibility between religion and evolution. Under “creationism” expect to find more consistency: “God”; “Adam and Eve,” “Genesis,” etc. The next step in constructing student understanding of concepts is to guide them towards a more accurate view. . . . After one such initial brainstorming session, one teacher presented students with a short quiz wherein they were asked, “Which statement was made by the Pope?” or “which statement was made by an Episcopal Bishop?” and given an “a, b, c” multiple choice selection. All the statements from theologians, of course, stressed the compatibility of theology with the science of evolution. This generated discussion about what evolution was versus what students thought it was. By making the students aware of the diversity of opinion towards evolution extant in Christian theology, the teacher helped them understand that they didn’t have to make a choice between evolution and religious faith. A teacher in Minnesota . . . had good luck sending his students out at the beginning of the semester to interview their pastors and priests about evolution. They came back somewhat astonished, “Hey! Evolution is OK!” Even when there was diversity in opinion, with some religious leaders accepting evolution as compatible with their theology and others rejecting it, it was educational for the students to find out for themselves that there was no single Christian perspective on evolution. The survey-of-ministers approach may not work if the community is religiously homogeneous, especially if that homogeneity is conservative Christian, but it is something that some teachers might consider. . . . (Emphasis added.)

Despite Forrest’s current public posturing to the contrary, she and her colleagues at the NCSE really believe that a good “science” education should include a healthy dose of religious instruction in biology class.
Perhaps that’s why Forrest’s colleague, Scott, sometimes refers to herself as the “Evolution Evangelist.”