Whose 'Science' ? ; State Reviews of Classroom Science Requirements Are Prompting Further Debate about 'Creation Science' vs. Evolution

By Craig Savoye, | The Christian Science Monitor, February 8, 2000 | Go to article overview

Whose 'Science' ? ; State Reviews of Classroom Science Requirements Are Prompting Further Debate about 'Creation Science' vs. Evolution


Craig Savoye,, The Christian Science Monitor


On the 10th day of science class, Roger DeHart taught "creationism." His critics thought he should give it a rest.

For more than a decade, the biology teacher at Burlington-Edison High School, north of Seattle, taught a two-week section on evolution. On the last day, he would talk about a branch of creationism known as "intelligent design." The theory holds that the sheer complexity of life defies the science of chance and points to an intelligent architect.

The local school board backed him unanimously when the approach became publicized in 1998. But the threat of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union - on the grounds that "intelligent design" is religious and therefore illegal to teach - changed all that. A new superintendent told him to drop the discussion and will allow him only limited criticism of evolution.

"I take issue with it being a religious thing," Mr. DeHart says. "I never mentioned God. I said: here's the controversy, you decide."

For much of the century, faith and science have fought a tug of war inside the classroom. Science has largely prevailed in recent decades, as DeHart found. But what some see as a rearguard action by creationists may be changing that. As states review science- curriculum standards, more educators are pushing for - and winning - a voice for the biblical account of how the universe was formed.

Last summer, the Kansas Board of Education voted to excise most references to evolution from the state's science curriculum and no longer require knowledge of evolution to pass state tests. This sparked anti-Darwinian brush fires of varying intensity in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and New Mexico.

Nearly a dozen states are scheduled to review science standards during the next two years, including bellwether Texas.

"The battle is only beginning to heat up," says Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Berkeley, Calif.

Caught in the middle are students who have questions about faith even as they prepare to enter a "real world" where scientific understanding is increasingly a prerequisite for success.

"I allowed students to write either a position paper on evolution or one on intelligent design, giving five best evidences," DeHart says of his approach. "Or they could choose to have a debate. Now they can't do either. The students are the losers here. Where is freedom of speech when they're censoring someone? Is that what they want to teach?"

The fallout from Scopes

The publication of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" in 1859 produced controversy but not much teaching of evolution in schools - until the events leading up to the famous Scopes trial in 1925, which found teacher John Scopes guilty of teaching evolution in violation of Tennessee law. His conviction was later overturned on a technicality.

The practical impact of the trial was that Darwin all but disappeared from schools for several decades. But in the 1960s, a post-Sputnik push for better science education led to the inclusion of evolution in textbooks. Hard on its heels came the movement toward creation science. Defined as belief in the scientific accuracy of the biblical creation story, the movement emerged in the 1970s and grew in influence until 1987. A Supreme Court decision that year restricted the teaching of creation science with religious intent in public schools.

But in the 1990s, the movement regained confidence. For one thing, it developed a new strategy that focuses on winning elections and working with officials at the local level. The result has been local fights that sometimes turn nasty even as they remain beyond the national spotlight. The Kansas decision last year, some say, is the bubbling up to the state level of this approach.

Creationists have also tapped into a rich vein of concern. A 1997 Gallup poll showed that 45 percent of adults believe in a biblical version of creation, another 39 percent believe that humans evolved over time but with divine assistance ("theistic evolution"), and just 10 percent believe in evolution absent divinity. …

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