Evolution vs. Biblical creation: The conflict continues

M.A. Johnson (michaelj@america.net)
Mon, 12 Apr 1999 23:01:01 -0400

Of interest ... or not

Evolution vs. Biblical creation: The conflict continues
By KATE BEEM - The Kansas City Star

The honeymoon could be over for the Kansas Board of Education.

Last year, disagreement over math curriculum standards resulted
in a 5-5 vote and deepened a moderate-conservative rift on the
board.

This year, the board, with five new members but the same
moderate-conservative split, announced an effort to avoid such
deadlocks.

But new science standards that the board will receive Tuesday
could disturb the peace, pitting board members' beliefs against
what they want Kansas students to learn, and putting the state
in the middle of a national debate over what constitutes science.

The problem can be summed up in one word: Evolution.

In the new science curriculum standards, evolution is presented
as one of five unifying concepts that cut across the scientific
disciplines. The standards are important because they will spell
out what students in Kansas public schools learn and are tested on.

Some Kansans have urged the board to reject the standards because
evolution goes against their beliefs that God alone created Earth
and its creatures.

Celtie Johnson of Prairie Village says evolution is the belief of
a religion called humanism that seeks to glorify man. The fact that
it is taught in public schools shows how pervasive the religion is,
she said.

"It'd be nice if we got to a point where both theories could be
equally investigated, and let the chips fall where they may," said
Johnson, who spoke to the state board in March.

Many scientists and teachers have asked the board to focus on the
overwhelming consensus among scientists that biology, and other
aspects of science, cannot be understood without first understanding
evolution.

"I see this as an attack on science in general, not just on biology.
And that sort of worries me," said Adrian Melott, a University of
Kansas physics professor who also spoke to the board in March.

The board may discuss the standards during its meeting Tuesday in
Garden City, Kan., but members won't vote on them until May at the
earliest.

Some board members have said they won't vote for the revised science
standards, which would require that students understand evolution
regardless of their religious beliefs. Others think compromise could
come quickly if the board agrees to leave evolution out of the
standards and allow school districts to settle the debate as they
see fit.

But cutting and pasting science to keep everyone happy creates its
own set of problems, said Steve Case, director of the Kansas
Collaborative Research Network at KU and a member of the committee
that wrote the science standards. "It's pointless to have standards
because it wouldn't reflect science," he said.

The Scopes trial

More than 70 years after Tennessee science teacher John Scopes was
convicted of violating the state's law against teaching evolution,
the debate over the theory continues across the country.

The science community says evolution is the common thread running
through the life sciences. The National Academy of Sciences said
last year that evolution must be taught in public schools if
children are to understand biology.

But over the last five years, the National Center for Science
Education in Berkeley, Calif., has logged scores of complaints
from parents and educators worried about attacks on evolution
education.

Consider:

Earlier this year, the Melvindale-Northern Allen Park School
Board in suburban Detroit decided to supply some of its libraries
with books that raise questions about the validity of evolutionary
theory.

In 1995, the Alabama Board of Education approved a plan to place
disclaimer labels inside science textbooks. The labels explain
that evolution is a theory and that text statements about the
origins of life should be considered as such. A Christian publisher's
textbook called Of Pandas and People has grown in popularity. The
book, and others like it, subscribe to the theory that the world
and its living creatures came about by "intelligent design."

U.S. courts have repeatedly struck down state laws requiring that
the theory of evolution and stories of how God created the universe
be presented on an equal footing in science classes.

Science is a constantly changing body of information, and theories
are frameworks for more research, Case said. Scientists can't know
exactly what happened in the past, but they can look at what's
going on now and extrapolate, he said.

"People want absolute answers, and science doesn't provide them,"
Case said.

Tom Willis, president of the Creation Science Association of
Mid-America, spends his time away from his Cass County blueberry
farm speaking out against evolution. He and a group called the
National Committee for Excellence in Science Education are trying
to help the Kansas board rewrite its science standards to exclude
evolution.

Willis said evolution can't be repeated or tested as other
scientific theories are. Evolution is based on the supposition
of what happened many years ago, so it's not provable, he said.

"I believe that history is only available to us in detail if you
have a reliable witness," Willis said. "If you believe a reliable
witness, then there's no evolution. The testimony in the Bible
goes against it."

Public hearings

State board members received a draft of the standards in January.
Later that month, public hearings were held across the state. In
some locales, such as Salina, Kan., the hearings were packed with
evolution opponents. Turnout was lower in other places, including
Olathe.

Board members Scott Hill of Abilene and John Bacon of Olathe, both
conservatives, said they can't agree to the standards as they're
written. Hill said the standards focus too much attention on
evolution. Bacon wants to include other theories of how life began,
and moderate member Sonny Rundell of Syracuse has said he would
consider that.

Conservative board member Steve Abrams of Arkansas City, Kan.,
believes evolution should be included in the standards but not
in the way it's presented in the revised standards.

The strong feelings over evolution have surprised Janet Waugh, a
moderate board member elected in November from Kansas City, Kan.
She said she thought the court cases striking creationism from
public schools and supporting evolution had settled the issues.

Val De Fever, a former teacher and moderate board member from
Independence, Kan., said she believes evolution is valid because
it is based on a theory that is observable.

But as she considers the views of her more conservative colleagues,
she believes a compromise might prevent the standards from becoming
hostage to a political battle with religious overtones.

Mary Douglass Brown, a conservative from Wichita, said she could
go for a compromise, too.

"Because I sure don't want it to come down to a donnybrook over
it," she said.

All content 1999 The Kansas City Star