Published Online: November 16, 2004
Published in Print: November 17, 2004, as Evolution Stickers Go on Trial in Ga.

Evolution Stickers Go on Trial in Ga.

A familiar debate over the origins of life—this time centered on a science-textbook sticker—is playing out in a Georgia courtroom, where parents are challenging their school district’s written description of evolution as “a theory, not a fact.”

That fight was unfolding last week in Atlanta, not long after similar questions about the teaching of evolution arose in districts in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The Georgia parents filed a federal suit against the 102,000-student Cobb County district in an attempt to remove a sticker that is being affixed to textbooks for some middle and high school science classes. “This textbook contains material on evolution,” the sticker says. “Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.”

To some parents in the district, that disclaimer amounts to an improper endorsement of religious beliefs. “They’re misleading people,” argued Kathleen Chapman, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and the mother of a high school student. “The theory of evolution is not a hunch. It’s a fact.”

Cobb County district spokesman Jay Dillon declined comment on the suit, under way in the U.S. District Court in the state capital. The stickers, he said, are not aimed at encouraging the teaching of creationism, but rather at allowing for discussion of a variety of theories. Cobb County’s school board voted in 2002 to attach the stickers to the textbooks.

Evolving Arguments

Battles erupt periodically across the country over challenges to the teaching of the theory of evolution. Espoused by Charles Darwin, it postulates that organisms, including human beings, have evolved over time, through genetic variation and natural selection.

Evolution is broadly accepted by the scientific community as the most credible explanation for the origins of life. A 1999 report by the National Academy of Sciences, for instance, stated that creation science “is in fact not science and should not be presented as such in science classes.”

John H. Calvert, a managing director for the Intelligent Design Network, an advocacy organization in Shawnee Mission, Kan., said the Cobb County sticker was “important, even necessary” in promoting diverse views. “Should evolution be taught? Sure it should be,” he said. “It is the reigning ideology. But it should be taught as theory, not as [dogma].”

Intelligent design is the general belief that intelligent causes have played a role in the origin of life.

In the 3,600-student Dover, Pa., school district, meanwhile, the school board last month approved science standards that say students will be made aware of “gaps/problems” in Darwin’s theory and be exposed to the belief in intelligent design.

Also last month, the Grantsburg, Wis., school board approved a policy that students be taught “various scientific models/theories of origin,” according to a statement by the 1,100-student district. The policy is not aimed at promoting creationism, it said, but to encourage “academic freedom” and critical thinking.

Eugenie C. Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, said her Oakland, Calif.-based organization has heard of a rising number of complaints about school boards’ attempts to encourage the teaching of creationism.

In response to court decisions preventing them from promoting creationist beliefs, she said, some school boards are now seeking to suggest there are doubts about evolution theory. “You get a little further away from frank religious advocacy,” said Ms. Scott, whose organization champions the teaching of evolution.

PHOTO: Parents in Cobb County, Ga., are contesting the school district’s decision to place a disclaimer on new biology textbooks. The trial, in federal court, was under way late last week.
—Kent D. Johnson/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Vol. 24, Issue 12, Page 9

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