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Biology Teachers Focus Debate on Values, Issues

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u Las Vegas--They spoke surprisingly little of a lack of federal funds and adequate resources for teachers.

Instead, the nearly 1,200 biology teachers who gathered here last week for the national convention of the National Association of Biology Teachers (nabt) discussed the scientific foundations of topics that have raised heated moral debates with which they must deal as teachers and scientists.

At the top of the list are abortion and the debate between creationists and evolutionists.

"Biologists haven't prepared the public to deal with biological facts," said Garrett Hardin, professor emeritus of human ecology at the University of California at Santa Barbara and chief executive officer of the Environmental Fund. "We can't solve ethical problems without understanding the biological framework in which students' thinking should take place."

Teachers Responsible

Teachers are responsible for helping students understand the debate between those who view divine creation as a scientific theory and those who believe the theory of evolution based on Darwin's research, Mr. Hardin said. Teachers can provide students with a basis for making decisions--without debating social issues--by simply teaching the biological life cycle, he added.

There is a simple answer to the question of when life begins, Hardin said, whether the question comes up at a Congressional hearing or in a classroom.

"Life never begins; it comes through the passing on of cells," he explained. "It did begin once, about three and one-half billion years ago, but the very appearance of life destroys the fact that life will ever begin again.

"There is no right or wrong," he continued. "It is a definitional question. There is only agreement or disagreement."

Mr. Hardin advised biology teachers not to avoid religion. "I recommend that you read the Bible," he said. "It will astound your opponents. Most of them do not read the Bible, they merely revere it."

Biologists at the meeting heard colleagues outline several approaches to treating the issue of creationism versus evolutionism in the classroom. None of the speakers advocated ignoring the claims made by the creationists.

Frank R. Zindler, associate professor of biology at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown, N.Y., said he requires his students to read material distributed by the Institute for Creation Research, a California-based group spearheading the drive to enforce the teaching of creation theory in the nation's schools, as well as a text describing evolution and natural selection. One of the reference books he suggests is the Bible.

To complete the course, students are asked to write a critique of the theories of evolution and divine creation. The exercise encourages students to reason logically, Zindler explained.

Discussions about organizing symposia on the issue stressed the need to "mantain the integrity of science" and to conduct such sessions on a educational basis rather than as a debate. Jerry Resnick, nabt president and assistant principal of Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., recommended that teachers subscribe to the free mailing list of material distributed by the Institute for Creation Research to keep abreast of creationist arguments. Its address is 2100 Greenfield Dr., El Cajon, Calif., 92021.

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