Creationism advocates lobby for equal time in classrooms

Saturday, September 3, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS — When some residents in Columbus petitioned the School Board
three years ago to give the Bible’s creation account equal time with evolution,
school officials came up with a novel response.

They created a new class — under the heading of social studies — that
examines all the theories on human origins. Not only did the class cover
evolution and creationism, it also surveyed Navajo beliefs, the Hindu creation
story and a host of other perspectives.

Greg Lewis, the social studies chairman at Columbus East High School, figured
a skeptical public would put his Human Origins class under the microscope.
“Teaching the course was like walking a tightrope,” he said.

In the end, the dissection Lewis expected never came. The course’s treatment
of the issues seemed to soothe the population to the point that, after two
semesters, so few kids were interested in the subject there weren’t enough to
fill a course section.

Such a quiet resolution is unusual in this red-hot front in the culture war.
The debate has been re-energized by President Bush’s recent remark that public
schools — now almost exclusively the turf of Charles Darwin and evolutionary
theory — should also teach “intelligent design.”

Intelligent design is the theory that there is evidence of a guiding hand in
the way the natural world has developed.

The confrontation is evident in Fishers, Ind., where a fledgling advocacy
group is threatening to sue Hamilton Southeastern Schools if the district fails
to give a “balanced and nonpartisan” view of the origins of life — in other
words, to let Darwin’s critics get equal time.

The group, headed by Delaware County resident Alex P. Oren, has a stated
mission to stop “the influence of atheism and immorality” in public schools.
Though his faith motivates his effort, Oren insists he isn’t seeking equal time
for God, just the arguments against evolution. “This is not science versus
religion,” he said. “This is science versus science.”

Oren chose Hamilton Southeastern to file a notice of intent to sue because he
sees the school system as a growing, progressive district in suburban
Indianapolis. A win there, he hopes, will ripple across the state.

Concerning the Fishers situation, First Amendment Center Senior Scholar
Charles C. Haynes said, “The Supreme Court has struck down earlier attempts to
give 'equal time' to critics of evolution. Until intelligent design or other
theories have been accepted in the science community as legitimate scientific
critiques of evolution, efforts to include them in the science curriculum are
very likely to be found unconstitutional.”

Nearly 150 years after Darwin proposed that life evolved through natural
selection, evolution has become the bedrock for modern science. But many people
remain unconvinced it is the ultimate explanation for life.

A Harris poll conducted in June found that nearly two-thirds of Americans
believe human beings were created directly by God. A majority said public
schools should teach evolution, creationism and intelligent design.

As put by Geeta Nevrekar, whose son Vikram is an incoming freshman at
Hamilton Southeastern High: “You have to know both sides. It is better to know,
and then the kids will have to decide which they think is the right one,” she

Karen Rogers, the science curriculum program director for the Indiana
Department of Education, is willing to accept intelligent design or creationism
in classes such as religious studies. But she said it has no place in science
classes because it simply is “nonscientific.”

Evolution, she says, is more than what the street use of the term “theory”
conveys. Rather than just a guess about who is going to win the Super Bowl, it
is something that has been “tested and retested and continues to be supported by
the evidence,” she said.

Rogers contends that intelligent design fails in this regard. “It can’t be
tested,” she said. “So to pretend that it could be would not be helping students
see the distinction about what is science and doing what science truly

Conflicts between evolution and creationism have tended to arise after
concerted efforts to bolster science education in America, said Glenn Branch,
deputy director for the National Center for Science Education, a not-for-profit
group based in Oakland, Calif., devoted to keeping the theory of evolution in
public schools.

The landmark Scopes trial in 1925 came after a push for improved education
following World War I, Branch said. When America went on a science binge
following the Soviet launch of Sputnik, similar controversies arose.

The current catharsis, Branch said, is a response to the standards-based
education reforms that have shifted control of curriculums from local schools to
the state and national level — including through Bush’s own No Child Left Behind

“When you get competent educators together to write standards, they are going
to include evolution,” Branch said.

He insists intelligent design must show that it is more than “repackaged”
creationism by producing scientific papers that can be subjected to peer

“There’s been no significant challenge to evolution,” Branch said.

William Dembski, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a leading
advocate of intelligent design, disagrees. The Seattle-based institute promotes
what it calls a “positive vision of the future” on a wide variety of issues.

Dembski, who also is the head of the Center for Science and Theology at the
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said the idea of
evolution through a purely natural selection requires its own leap of faith.

There are examples in nature of organisms that have so many interrelated
parts they couldn’t possibly have existed in a reduced form, he said.

“We need engineering concepts to understand these systems,” he said.
“Evidence for trial and error tinkering is just not there to account for

However, a study by the National Human Genome Research Institute found that “humans and chimpanzees share an almost identical genetic inheritance,” USA TODAY reported last week. The newspaper said the scientists who conducted the DNA study called the findings a confirmation of Darwin's theory of evolution.

“Reading these two genomes side by side, it's amazing to see the evolutionary changes that are occurring,” said Robert Waterston of the University of Washington, as quoted in USA TODAY. “I couldn't imagine Darwin looking for stronger confirmation of his theories.”

Intelligent design has enough support in Kansas it appears likely to wind up
in the state’s science curriculum. A school district in Pennsylvania made
intelligent design a part of the curriculum and was promptly sued. That case is

In Indiana, Oren freely acknowledges that his challenge to Hamilton
Southeastern is motivated by his belief in the biblical account of creation. And
for him, the stakes in the fight for public schools couldn’t be higher.

“For many kids, this is where it begins,” he said. “The choice between God or
no God often comes right here.”

Tags: , , ,