On Wednesday, three Reform Jewish leaders testified in Austin, Texas against a language change in the school curriculum which would require teaching “strengths and limitations” of scientific theories. Texas’ current curriculum requires teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories. Testimonies from two of the rabbis is excerpted below:
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, said:
“I strongly oppose the revised version where the strengths and limitations of scientific explanations could be evaluated. It seems to me that discussing the limitations of widely accepted, sound scientific theories, such as the theory of gravity, the theory of relativity, or the theory of evolution would take up valuable class time that could be better spent ensuring that our children receive the best scientific education at a time when our country is falling behind the rest of the world in scientific achievement….
Rabbi Ana Bonnheim, Assistant Director for Education at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Greene Family Camp, said:
“On the surface, teaching about the ‘strengths and limitations of scientific explanations’… may not seem like teaching religious beliefs. Yet…When science teachers answer questions about evolution and origins of life by pointing to the divine or supernatural, they are incorporating religion into science classrooms.
“For me as a rabbi, science and religion are not at odds … Moses Maimonides … who is perhaps the greatest philosopher of our tradition, was also a physician. He taught that scientific inquiry can lead to more thoughtful religious questions and better educated religious individuals. The place for the quiet discussions about spirituality in science is not in public schools but around the kitchen table, in religious school classrooms, or in a clergy member’s office.
“Sadly and painfully, my Jewish ancestors had a long history of persecution in places where there was no separation of church and state. When we permit religious beliefs to be taught in our state schools, we begin to blur the line that keeps religion and government separate. We are so fortunate to live in a country that respects individuals of all faiths. It is essential to maintain the boundaries that will protect religious groups of every faith.”