Wise thinking on faith

March 19, 2000|By Jim Sollisch

THE ABILITY to hold two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time is generally considered to be a sign of intelligence.

So the good news from a poll just conducted for the organization People for the American Way is that more than two-thirds of Americans are highly intelligent. The poll finds that 68 percent of Americans agree with the statement, "A person can believe in evolution and still believe that God created humans and guides their development."

This finding should be applauded. It's comforting to know there are so many people out there who haven't dug in their heels and turned fanatic on life's big, philosophical questions.

The survey's second finding is what bothers me: Seventy-nine percent of Americans support the teaching of some form of creationism in our public schools. It's a big step to go from believing that God created humans to teaching creationism as an alternate theory to evolution in public school. And it's a step in the wrong direction since it carries us backward over the wall separating church and state.

It's difficult to couch a theory that contains a Supreme Being in scientific terms. It's just as tough to cast it in a nonreligious light.

God is the language of religion: a language protected by the First Amendment. Last time I checked, our government was making no effort to block the teaching of creationism in churches, synagogues or homes. No attempt is being made to limit the way those theories and belief systems can be taught. No governmental body is providing religious leaders with guidelines or curriculum requirements.

And that's the way it should be: Keep government out of religion and religion out of the schools -- no matter what any survey finds.

What if a survey concludes that a majority of Americans believe in the concept of Hell as a literal place? Hey, it's not such an unlikely scenario. Should we require public schools to add Hell to the maps in our children's geography texts? My religion, Judaism, teaches that a kosher diet is the best one. Muslims favor a similar diet that avoids pork and doesn't mix meat and milk. Should this be taught along with the food pyramid in the nutrition units our children learn in school?

If these questions sound rhetorical, that's because they are. Their answers are self-evident. As our mothers always told us, there is a time and a place for everything. Evolution and science in public school; creationism, or black magic, for that matter, on private property.

Many well-meaning people will no doubt take the results of this survey as evidence that it's time to compromise on this issue that has divided Americans since the Scopes Monkey Trial 75 years ago. After all, 8 out of 10 Americans can't be wrong.

Well, they can be wrong. Dead wrong. There's been a compromise in place for more than 200 years. It's called the First Amendment. And the compromise works like this: Our government won't tell any religious group what to teach in private, and no religious group will tell our schools what to teach in public.

And you are free to hold both ideas, creationism and evolution, in your head at the same time. After all, it's a free country.

Jim Sollisch is a commentator for National Public Radio's "Morning Edition."

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