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CULTURE DIGEST: Kansas may teach controversy about evolution; Air Force Academy investigated over evangelism

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Another debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools is underway in Kansas, where the state’s board of education is hearing testimony from scientists who say students should be taught that there is a controversy over evolution.

The hearings, which began in front of a three-member subcommittee May 5, come as the state board considers changes this summer in the standards used to test Kansas students on science.

Observers say this could be the biggest stage yet for the emerging movement known as intelligent design, which contends that the universe is best explained as the product of an intelligent designer rather than of naturalistic evolution.

Supporters of teaching that there is a controversy provided testimony from scientists who said modern Darwinian theory relies too heavily on unproven reasoning. An early witness was Jonathan Wells, a senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a national think tank that regularly poses scientific challenges to evolution.

Wells said evolutionary theory “has left the realm of science” and instead has become a given, leaving many conclusions unproven, The Washington Post reported. Another witness said an essential goal of the hearings is to prove there is a scientific controversy about evolutionary theory and the criticism should be added to Kansas’ school curriculum.

Among the proposed changes to the teaching guidelines would be a shift in the definition of science, The New York Times said. Instead of “seeking natural explanations for what we observe around us,” the new standards would define science as a “continuing investigation that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena.”

Those who oppose the changes chose not to testify but only to cross-examine the other side’s experts. While boycotting the hearings, pro-Darwin voices have offered public rebuttals after each day’s testimony outside the meeting.

“I am profoundly disappointed that they’ve chosen to present their case in the shadows,” board member Connie Morris told the Associated Press. “I would have enjoyed hearing what they have to say in a professional, ethical manner.”

The Kansas State Board of Education reviewed the same teaching standards in 1999, and the conservative majority deleted most references to evolution. But conservatives were replaced in the following elections, and in 2001, the board adopted the current standards, which describe evolution as a key concept for students to learn before graduating high school. Yet another turnover in board members has yielded another conservative majority, which is why observers believe the intelligent design advocates have a good chance at winning.

In related news, a federal appeals court has denied the Cobb County school board’s request to delay an order to remove evolution disclaimer stickers from science textbooks in Marietta, Ga. In January, a federal judge said the stickers clearly have a “secular purpose” but are unconstitutional and must be removed. The school board had requested the delay while appealing the judge’s decision.

AIR FORCE INVESTIGATED FOR PROSELYTIZING — The U.S. Air Force has announced plans for a task force to investigate the religious climate at the Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs, Colo., after Americans United for Separation of Church and State issued a 14-page report alleging a “systematic and pervasive religious bias and intolerance at the highest levels of the Academy command structure.”

The report claims that during basic training, cadets who declined to attend chapel after dinner were organized into a “Heathen Flight” and marched back to their dormitories, according to The Washington Post May 4. Americans United also said mandatory cadet meetings often began with explicitly Christian prayers and that numerous faculty members introduced themselves as born-again Christians and urged students to become born again.

But Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi wrote May 9 that the Americans United report “should leave any rational people scratching their heads.”

“Could there be problems at the academy? Certainly. But this AU report was based on, according to a news report, interviews with 15 cadets and staff — 15 out of 4,000 cadets — who spoke to a Yale Divinity School group invited by the academy. The Yale group spent a grand total of a week on campus,” Harsanyi wrote, adding that “not a single name appears anywhere” in the report.

ODESSA BECOMES HOTSPOT FOR BIBLE CLASSES — After the local school district unanimously approved an elective course in biblical literacy in late April, a law expert from the University of Alabama is predicting Odessa, Texas, could become the new battleground for putting God back in the nation’s public schools, according to The Dallas Morning News.

“This is ground zero in the next culture war,” Alfred Brophy, a law professor who teaches American legal history, told the newspaper. “They’re introducing a religious curriculum into the schoolhouse, but it’s subtle. It’s the camel’s nose poking under the tent.”

Odessa school officials said they are intent on ensuring the proposed course meets educational and constitutional requirements.

“This will be an academic elective on biblical literacy, not a devotional,” superintendent Wendell Sollis told The Dallas Morning News. “We have no intention of proselytizing.”

The effort to teach biblical literacy in Odessa’s public schools began when a local citizen, John Waggoner, organized a petition drive and collected more than 6,000 signatures in support of such a class.

“We just tapped into something people are very passionate about,” Waggoner said. “… The Bible is such a foundation of all that we have in this country, it just makes sense to educate our children about it.”

Waggoner added that the Bible class will be “the most heavily moderated course in the school’s history” and he doesn’t want to subject the school district to a constitutional conflict.

Elizabeth Ridenour, president of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, told The Dallas Morning News that the curriculum her organization promotes is designed to help students understand the Bible in the context of its influence on culture and the arts, not as a devotional book.

“How in the world could you understand what’s going on in the Middle East today without introducing the Bible and understanding the background? How can [students] understand Michelangelo’s ‘Moses’ or Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ without knowing about the figures that inspired those works of art?” she said.

DINOSAUR MUSEUM PRESENTS BIBLICAL VIEW — The newly-opened Museum of Earth History in Eureka Springs, Ark., is being touted as the only one of its kind in the United States to present the earth’s history in a literal biblical fashion, complete with research replicas of dinosaur skeletons on par with those at the Smithsonian.

More than 14 life-sized skeleton skulls and fossil plates are meant to attract a variety of visitors from scientists to school children, according to a news release by the Creation Truth Foundation, which funded part of the endeavor.

“The museum relays the biblical story of beginnings in a three-part series of breathtaking scenes,” the foundation said in the statement. “Beginning with the creation story in Genesis and continuing through the flood to the Tower of Babel and global ice age, each section of the exhibit features dinosaur fossils presented in stunning settings with original murals. The exhibits provide a unique blend of religion, history and science for viewers.”

For more information about the museum, visit www.moeh.org or call 866-566-3558.

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  • Erin Curry