Classroom Evolution

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), October 30, 2005 | Go to article overview

Classroom Evolution


Byline: Jeff Wright The Register-Guard

The controversial concept of "intelligent design" continues to have its day in court, thanks to eight families in Pennsylvania who've sued to have it removed from their local school district's biology curriculum.

But while often viewed as a recent wrinkle in the evolution vs. creation debate, intelligent design is no newcomer notion - just ask the folks in Reedsport who lobbied to have it added to the local high school science curriculum back in 1995.

That's the same year the Springfield School Board balked at approving four new science textbooks because they failed to treat creationism as a legitimate scientific theory alongside evolution.

The Reedsport School Board ultimately heeded a legal opinion that teaching intelligent design in a public school science class would be unconstitutional, and the Springfield board voted 3-2 to adopt the science textbooks.

But 10 years later, the issue hasn't gone away - nationally or locally. In addition to the court dispute in Dover, Penn., the debate rages in Kansas, where the state school board has adopted preliminary science standards that require a disclaimer about the merits of evolution, and other communities across the country.

In Oregon, the issue has surfaced in school board races in Bend, Salem, Portland and elsewhere, and could come into play when the state Department of Education's scientific standards come up for review in 2008, spokesman Gene Evans says.

A flurry of inquiries prompted the Education Department in August to send letters to all 198 school districts, spelling out the science curriculum standards that prohibit teaching intelligent design in science classes. The questions spiked, Evans says, after President Bush opined that schoolchildren should be exposed to "different ideas" on how life evolved.

But interviews with a number of educators at public, charter and private schools suggest that, for the most part, a clear demarcation exists in Lane County and the rest of Oregon: Evolution is taught in the public schools, Bible creationism is taught at some private Christian schools - and few are in the middle advocating intelligent design.

The reason: Scientists view intelligent design - the notion that the world is so complex that it can only be explained by some supernatural entity - as a wolf in sheep's clothing, a way of "dressing up" the religious tenet of creationism.

Many Bible literalists, meanwhile, view intelligent design as "watered-down" creationism - a way of asserting that God created the world without saying "God."

By whatever name - creationism or intelligent design - the concept has wide public support. A Pew Research Center poll, conducted in July, found that a clear majority of Americans, including many who believe in evolution, favor adding creationism to the public school curriculum. One reason why: Nearly four of every 10 believers in evolution say the process was guided by a supreme being.

More than a third of Americans, meanwhile, believe creationism should be taught in the public schools instead of evolution. But enthusiasm for creationism is not as keen in the West - explaining, perhaps, why the debate is less intense here than elsewhere in the country.

Intelligent design has been repudiated by virtually every mainstream scientific organization, including the National Academy of Sciences, which has declared the theory of evolution to be "the central unifying concept of biology."

Intelligent design is the descendant of an earlier "creation science" movement, which also failed as science because it doesn't meet the criteria of a scientific theory - a way of explaining scientific observations that are falsifiable - and has no strong peer-review evidence in its support, scientists say.

But scientists' near-unanimity about evolution isn't widely known by the general public, according to the recent Pew Research Center survey. …

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