The Real "Religion" that Shapes Science Education Policy

Scientists from Brazil and elsewhere are “rattled” over the appointment by the Bolsonaro administration of Benedito Guimarães Aguiar Neto to head the federal agency known as CAPES. As an agency within Brazil’s Ministry of Education, CAPES is responsible for awarding scholarship grants to graduate students at universities and research centers.

What is it about Aguiar Neto that has them so rattled? He is an intelligent design (ID) proponent – and we all know what that means: the oppressive encroachment of spurious religious beliefs on an institution of perfect objectivity: science. Carlos Joly, a biodiversity researcher at the University of Campinas complained that the appointment generates “insecurity” about how education programs will be shaped, since CAPES exerts influence even on primary and secondary school teachers.

Indeed, it is understandable that anyone would have concerns as to how religious or philosophical biases might shape education policy. The appointment of Aguiar Neto, and his alleged advocacy for implementing intelligent design in Brazil’s basic education curricula, would certainly not mark the first time seemingly “religious” presuppositions wielded influence. For nearly a century, outdated and untenable views regarding the origins of life – namely evolution - have prevailed in primary, secondary, and post-secondary curricula in the U.S. The staying power of these views is fueled by the religious fervor of its dedicated priests in the academy.

While it might appear scientifically unorthodox and irreverent to cast Darwinism as a religion, consider how “religion” is defined by Merriam-Webster: “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, or practices,” and, “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.” What is little known to U.S. students being taught evolution as “fact,” is that it has been challenged on the merits of its “good science” by well-credentialed, yet disregarded members of the academy since the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859. While these challenges have persisted to the present day, the faithful scribes serving evolution have dutifully managed to keep these out of our children’s textbooks, and completely out of popular media (as loyal adherents to the cause).

The most significant challenges to Darwinian thought today come not from its religious opponents, but rather scientists who are sympathetic yet see problems with it. Stephen Meyer, in Darwin’s Doubt – The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design states, “a steady stream of technical articles and books have cast new doubt on the creative power of the mutation and selection mechanism,” (these being the sacred tenets facilitating biodiversity). In spite of these numerous and unremitting critiques, Meyer adds, “. . . popular defenses of the theory continue apace, rarely if ever acknowledging the growing body of critical scientific opinion about the standing of the theory.”

What can account then for Darwinism’s staying power in the face of such challenges, past and present? Perhaps its resilience is due in no small part to those monk-like scientists, cloistered in the ivory halls of the academy, operating the levers of U.S. education policy, clinging onto its “system of beliefs with ardor and faith.”

Evolutionary biologist Antonio Carlos Marques of the University of Sao Paulo’s Institute of Biosciences decried Aguiar Neto’s appointment, stating, “It is completely illogical to place someone who has promoted actions contrary to scientific consensus in a position to manage programs that are essentially of scientific training.” Oddly, if the institution of science was governed completely by consensus, Darwinism never would have seen the light of day. Ideally, theories that best explain the data constitute excellent scholarship in science. In this regard, Darwin’s theory fails yet again, as his notions of gradualism and common ancestry contradicted the physical evidence proffered by the fossil record in 1859 and today – as argued by scientists with much greater credentials than St. Charles.

Perhaps Aguiar Neto’s “bias” towards intelligent design stems from his impressive credentials as an engineer scholar (holding a master’s degree from Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB), a doctorate from Technische Universität Berlin). Could it be his extensive training compelled him to recognize the evidence for design in natural systems? Contrary to the opinion of the ID movement’s detractors, the design hypothesis does not stem from religious fervor, but rather from a reasoned and sensible explanation that best fits the data.

To the engineer’s credit, he has been quoted as merely advocating that ID be introduced as a counterpoint to the theory of evolution (as opposed to calling for the abolition of evolution’s teaching). Such a move does not bespeak the actions of intolerant, blind and dictatorial religious fervor. On the other hand, the demand on the part of Darwin’s ministers that evolution – with all of its intellectual challenges – continues as the only theory taught for life’s origins, does. With this in mind, who should really be afraid of the encroachment of “religion” on science?

Emily has had a lifelong appreciation for science, teaching, and research. She graduated summa cum laude from California State University, Fresno with a BS degree in molecular biology and a minor in cognitive psychology. As an undergraduate, she conducted summer research in immunology, microbiology, behavioral and cognitive psychology, scanning tunneling microscopy and genetics; she also published research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and co-authored a chapter on scanning tunneling microscopy. She is currently completing a Master’s degree in Instructional Design and Technology at University of Cincinnati and a Certificate in Apologetics with the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Emily has had the joy of teaching high school chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, anatomy & physiology, and pre-engineering classes over the last thirteen years. As a former Darwinian evolutionist, Emily enjoys stating the case for intellectual agency, considering the arguments posited by the intelligent design movement as much more credible than those proffered by Darwinists.

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