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Evolution Supporters Develop Strategy to Counter Creationism

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Washington--Scientists, educators, clergymen, and civil libertarians representing an array of national organizations have agreed to work together to develop information for people who are interested in countering creationism movements.

The agreement resulted from a meeting here attended by representatives of the National Education Association (nea), the National Council of Churches, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Humanist Association, among others.

Wayne A. Moyer, executive director of the National Association of Biology Teachers (nabt), organized the meeting, which was held at the nea headquarters.

'Community of Interest'

A second meeting on the subject of creationism was held the same week under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences.

Mr. Moyer said last week that although it is doubtful a formal coalition will result from his meeting, participants agreed to form a "community of interest" concentrating initially on three projects.

The first is to prepare a response to a recent debate, sponsored by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, that is expected to be shown on prime-time television later this year.

The debate, held at Liberty Baptist College in Lynchburg, Va., pitted creationist Duane T. Gish, associate director of the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego, and evolutionist Russell F. Doolittle, a protein chemist at the University of California at San Diego.

The debate was said to be a disaster for the evolutionism side. According to observers, Mr. Gish was well-organized and convincing. On the other hand, Mr. Doolittle, as he later acknowledged, was ill-prepared and ran out of time just as he was beginning his defense of evolution.

Rebuttals To Be Distributed

Participants in his meeting, Mr. Moyer said, agreed to prepare rebuttals to creationism arguments for distribution to local papers and radio and television stations.

The groups represented also plan to compile6and distribute a catalogue of publications, policy statements, and critiques of creationism and to establish a stronger anti-creationism communications network among interested associations and their members.

Debate Discussed

Participants in both the nabt session and the National Academy of Sciences meeting believe that the Falwell debate underscored how ill-prepared supporters of evolution theory are to counter arguments of creationists.

"We allowed one lone academician to go into this debate on their turf, in their auditorium, with their audience," Mr. Moyer said. "We should have taken the thing a lot more seriously."

William B. Mayer, who is the director of Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, a private non-profit educational corporation in Louisville, Colo., and a scheduled witness for the anti-creationism side in the upcoming trial involving Arkansas's new creationism law, believes it was "foolish" of Mr. Doolittle to be involved in the debate in the first place.

"Scientific issues are not going to be solved that way," he said. ''They [debates] don't settle anything. The thing they do is give creationists requisite publicity."

But such debates will continue to occur, and participants in the nabt meeting agreed that it is important to provide adequate material to local pro-evolutionism educators and citizens who will face opponents armed with such creationist manuals as The Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter.

'Committees of Correspondence'

Participants in the meeting heard what to them was encouraging news from a University of Kentucky anthropologist who described the defeat of a creationism proposal before the Fayette County, Ky., school board, and from Stanley Weinberg, a retired biology teacher from Ottumwa, Iowa, who has set up anti-creationism "Committees of Correspondence" in 37 states.

Mr. Weinberg coordinates the network, which supplies local communities with background materials and names of people in the area who can provide expert advice and testimony.

He set up the committees one year ago, he said, to start a grassroots movement against local and state pro-creationism movements.

According to Mr. Moyer, one of the goals of the nabt is to "provide these naturally forming coalitions with information."

Sizable Scientific Communities

The Kentucky vote, and another prominent victory for evolutionists last year in Livermore, Calif., occurred in towns with sizable scientific communities (because of the presence of the University of Kentucky and the University of California's Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, respectively).

But evolutionists worry that in localities without such representation the evolutionism case will either go unargued or be presented by people without the qualifications or the information to do an effective job.

Mr. Mayer also said he is worried that most high-school biology teachers will not be able to defend evolution adequately if they are called upon to do so.

"Teachers are very poorly trained to defend theories and ideas," he said. "They are good with facts, but teacher preparation in general has been weak in theory."

Mr. Moyer admits this is a problem. "Evolution has been very poorly taught for the last 80 years. Teachers are having to work very hard to catch up in these areas."

The nabt sponsors workshops for teachers interested in improving their knowledge of evolution. For further information contact Wayne A. Moyer, nabt, 11250 Roger Bacon Drive #19, Reston, Va. 22090.

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