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Counter Evolutionary, Pt. II

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Many attribute much of the recent anti-evolution activity to the Institute for Creation Research.

Scott and others attribute much of the recent anti-evolution activity to the Institute for Creation Research, a San Diego-area think tank founded in 1970 by creationist Henry Morris, who sought to use scientific methods to prove such biblical events as Genesis. (He once said, "Creationism is the basis of all real science, of true Americanism ... and Christianity.") In 1972, the institute's newsletter declared that the organization's goal was to establish "a grassroots movement across the United States to demonstrate how creation can be taught in the public schools." In 1988, the center launched its popular "Back to Genesis" seminars, where citizens are reportedly urged to challenge the teaching of evolution in schools. According to People for the American Way, the center's efforts "are devoted to the twin tasks of poking holes in the theory of evolution and propping up quasi-scientific arguments supporting the biblical story of Creation."

William Hoesch, a spokesman for the ICR, responded, "Yes, we do poke holes in the theory of evolution. It ought to be considered a joke that fish can be turned into a human being." He denied, however, that the center is part of a concerted effort to rid the nation's schools of Darwinism. "Give me a break," he said. "As if we have a strategy for taking over America. That's the epitome of absurdity." He added: "Yes, we are upfront that we are Bible-believing Christians, but because of that, we are automatically assumed to have a religious agenda. That's an easy way to dismiss us. The fact is, there are credible, rational grounds to doubt the theory of evolution."

The anti-evolutionists even have their own textbook, titled Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins, by Percival Davis and Dean Kenyon. The product of a Texas organization called the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, the book purports to give students "a much-needed opportunity to explore the evidence and arguments that caused some scientists to doubt contemporary Darwinism." Eugenie Scott called the book, which advocates intelligent design theory, "terrible science. It's just awful." At least two states, Alabama and Idaho, considered the book for statewide approval but then rejected it. After those setbacks, according to Scott, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics sent out a mailing encouraging a "quiet army" of parents and other citizens to urge local school boards to approve the book.

The word "creationism" is rarely heard these days. Instead, anti–evolutionists push such concepts as "abrupt appearance theory" and "intelligent design theory."

Strategy or no strategy, anti-evolutionists are influencing the manner in which Darwin's theories are taught. Two years ago, in Tangipahoa Parish, La., the school board adopted a policy requiring science teachers to read a disclaimer whenever evolution is presented in textbooks, workbooks, pamphlets, or other written materials. The disclaimer states, in part, that the teaching of evolution is "not intended to influence or dissuade the biblical version of Creation or any other concept."

Last year, the Alabama state board of education voted to place a disclaimer in all biology textbooks used in public schools; it asserts that evolution is a "controversial theory" accepted by "some scientists." It adds: "No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered as theory, not fact." Governor Fob James, who endorsed the statement, used his discretionary funds to purchase and send more than 900 copies of an anti-evolution book, Darwin on Trial, by Phillip Johnson, to all biology teachers in the state.

Last May, in Cobb County, Ga., a science-textbook committee made up of administrators, teachers, and parents asked the publisher of a 4th grade science textbook to remove the final chapter, "The Birth of Earth," because it did not include Creation as a possible theory for the origin of the universe. The publisher, Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, agreed to delete the offending chapter.

This year lawmakers in Georgia, Ohio, and Tennessee tried to pass anti-evolution legislation, but none of the bills succeeded.

Attempts to regulate the teaching of evolution have been less successful in statehouses. This year alone, lawmakers in Georgia, Ohio, and Tennessee tried to pass anti-evolution legislation, but none of the bills succeeded. The Tennessee law, introduced by Tommy Burks, a Democratic state senator, would have allowed districts to fire teachers who present evolution as fact rather than theory.

"In many cases, cooler heads ultimately prevail," says Wayne Carley, the executive director of the National Association of Biology Teachers, which in 1995 adopted a three-page position statement in support of the teaching of evolution. "That's what happened in Tennessee."

Danny Phillips' complaint to the district about the videotape and textbook was passed on to a six-member curriculum review panel, made up of teachers, administrators, and citizens. They looked at the materials and then, on May 13, met with Danny to discuss the matter further. "I presented my case," Danny said, "and I presented a packet of information so they would have a deeper understanding than I could give in a 15-minute speech." Wheat Ridge High science teacher Linda Burton defended the video and the textbook to the panel.

On June 21, Danny received a letter from Superintendent Wayne Carle, who explained that the review committee had agreed "that the introductory comments in the video are poorly stated and scientifically refutable. The statements assume a factual rather than a theoretical basis." The panel recommended three possible solutions: Instruct teachers to show the video without the introductory comments, ask the video's producer to supply a modified version, or select an alternative video on human reproduction. As for the textbook, the panel rejected Danny's request that Biological Science: An Ecological Approach be withdrawn. Carle concurred with the panel's recommendations.

Danny had won a partial victory, but the controversy was far from over. A group of Jefferson County science teachers, angry that one of their favorite teaching tools was about to be censored or eliminated, met and came up with a compromise proposal that would allow teachers to use the video but provide them with a study guide on how to discuss students' views on the origin of life. (They could still choose to skip over the introduction if they wanted to, but it would be their choice, not district policy.) The proposed study guide would advise teachers, "Be sure to have students look at specific points from both scientific and nonscientific perspectives."

Carle, although he had already sided with the curriculum review panel, seemed willing to go along with the teachers' proposal. But, by now, the school board, which has final say in such matters, had decided to get involved in the debate.

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