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TOPEKA, Kan. (BP)–The creation-evolution debate has begun to stretch beyond the confines of the classroom, manifesting itself in the political arena.
Both the Republican and Democratic presidential frontrunners, in the wake of the Kansas State School Board’ s anti-evolution vote Aug. 11, have said they support exposing school children to evolutionary theory and biblical creation as explanations of how life began.
Even more important than the views of those vying for the White House is the opportunity to bring the century-old creation-evolution debate to the forefront of the national consciousness, said Hal Ostrander, associate dean and professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’ s James P. Boyce College of the Bible, Louisville, Ky.
“ The recent Topeka topsy-turvy provides biblical creationists with the newly spawned opportunity to take what’ s happened to date a step further,” Ostrander, a biblical creationist, said. “ And if politicians should decide to help pave the way for even another step or two, then more power to them.”
The Kansas school board, by a 6-4 vote Aug. 11, adopted the nation’ s most anti-evolution science standards by eliminating references to evolution theory on state assessment tests designed to measure student competency in science.
Since then, presidential candidates have been thrown into the fray by questions about their position on the teaching of evolution in public schools.
Republican frontrunner George W. Bush said in August: “ I believe children ought to be exposed to different theories about how the world started.” Bush spokeswoman Mindy Tucker told The Washington Post that while the Texas governor believes that both evolution and creationism should be taught, “ he believes it is a question for states and local school boards to decide.”
Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic frontrunner and strong advocate of science education, has voiced support for teaching evolution as science and creationism as religion — a view described as “ appalling!” by the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, Eugenie Scott, according to a Reuters report.
Beyond evolutionists in the scientific community being incensed by such statements by Bush and Gore, groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and People for the American Way are threatening to file lawsuits against school districts which attempt to teach creation in violation of a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling which overturned a statute that prohibited the teaching of evolution unless creation science was taught.
Ostrander said the scientific community is up in arms over the escalation of the debate because they fear the controversy will expose the weaknesses of evolutionary theory.
“ [T]o out-teach the evolutionists regarding scientific facts is to lay bare for everyone to see the logical and observational inconsistencies inherent to evolutionary thinking,” Ostrander said. “ Christian high school biology teachers can do this presumably better than anyone else. So now they can pursue it, at least in Kansas, with all the verve and expertise they can muster, with other states to follow — prayerfully.”
Evolution, first proposed by 19th-century scientist Charles Darwin, is the theory that all life derived from common ancestors through mutation and adaptation over millions of years.
Creation advocates say Darwinism contradicts the biblical account of the creation of life by God and they object both to the idea of a theory being taught as fact and to the notion that human life evolved from a lower life form such as apes. Creationists also argue that the earth cannot be more than 10,000 years old.
Republican presidential candidates Elizabeth Dole and John McCain have stated the decision to teach evolution should be left to local school boards, while not mentioning their preference.
Steve Forbes has described textbook illustrations of evolution as “ massive fraud” but has stopped short of fully endorsing creationism. “ A lot of what we thought was true, it turns out, science is finding is not true,” Forbes told The Washington Post.
Pat Buchanan said he supports teaching children that the universe was created by God, although he does not object to them learning about evolution as theory, according to a Reuters report. Buchanan said he “ adamantly” objects to teaching “ Darwin’ s theory of evolution of human beings from animals without divine intervention.”
Gary Bauer, who finished fourth in the Republican Iowa Straw Poll in August, has openly criticized the “ elite” reaction to the Kansas school board decision and has said he doesn’ t teach his children they are “ descendant from apes.”
“ Evolution … is taught with the idea that life arose spontaneously and that there is no divine intelligence involved, “ Bauer told The Washington Post. “ I just reject the basic tenet of that theory … and so do most Americans.”
Researchers, meanwhile, in another fossil find sparking a wave of news reports, reported Aug. 26 on fossils of an early ape which, they say, lived more than 15 million years ago in north-central Kenya and which, they speculate, can shed light on the links between early apes and modern apes and humans.
Gallup polls show that about 44 percent of Americans believe in a strict biblical creation view, according to The Washington Post. About 40 percent believe in “ theistic evolution,” the concept that God guided millions of years of evolution that culminated with humans, The Post reported, while only 10 percent of those surveyed expressed a strict, secular evolutionist view.
Phillip Johnson, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and architect of the “ intelligent design” movement, is an ardent advocate of teaching evolution and creation in public schools.
“ The right thing for the schools to do is to teach the controversy,” Johnson told Baptist Press. “ Of course, students should learn the orthodox scientific position on evolution. They should also learn why it is so controversial and what arguments the critics are making against it. These arguments should be taken from the best critics, and stated fairly. They should not be presented in straw-man fashion. Students should be given enough information so that as they mature they will be able to evaluate the ongoing controversy intelligently.
Johnson recommended a resolution to the controversy in a position taken by the American Scientific Affiliation and founded on “ sound educational grounds and also politically acceptable to the American people.” The ASA, based in Ipswich, Mass., is an organization of 2,500 evangelical Christian scientists from around the country as well as Canada and Great Britain.
According to a prototype resolution which ASA circulates to school officials across the country: “ The State Board of Education and local boards of education shall ensure that evolution is taught as science, not as ideology. The State Board of Education and the local boards of education shall encourage teachers to make distinctions between the multiple meanings of ‘ evolution,’ to distinguish between philosophical materialism and authentic science, and to include unanswered questions and unresolved problems in their presentations.”
John Wiester, chairman of the ASA’ s science education commission, said science teachers are often guilty of failing to distinguish between “ evidence” and “ inference.”
Convinced that asking the right questions is often more important than the answers, the ASA has published a booklet titled, “ Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy,” that challenges teachers to seek answers to the following questions:
1) “ Did the universe have a beginning?”
2) “ Did life on earth arise by chance?”
3) “ Where do the first animals come from?”
4.) “ What is known of the earliest hominoids?”
“ It’ s not authority that counts, it’ s evidence “ Wiester said, taking aim at the popular scientific community’ s “ fraudulent” handling of the evidence of how life began.
Meanwhile, a Louisiana school district’ s “ critical thinking” approach to teaching the origin of life has been rejected by a federal appeals court.
In an Aug. 13 ruling, the Tangipahoa Parish schools may no longer read a district-approved disclaimer before teaching evolution.
The disclaimer stated the “ Scientific Theory of Evolution” should be “ presented to inform students of the scientific concept and [is] not intended to influence or dissuade the Biblical version of creation or any other concept.”
The statement also declared “ it is the basic right and privilege of each student to form his/her own opinion and maintain beliefs taught by parents on this very important matter of the origin of life and matter. Students are urged to exercise critical thinking and gather all information possible and closely examine each alternative toward forming an opinion.”
Judge Fortunato “ Pete” Benavides wrote for the court: “ We conclude that the primary effect of the disclaimer is to protect and maintain a particular religious viewpoint, namely belief in the biblical version of creation.”
Ostrander said as the battles continue over the origin of life, Southern Baptists have “ no excuse for not getting involved in this unique corner of kingdom work. …[I]t’ s a ‘ carpe diem,’ seize the day, kind of thing.”
“ Personally, I believe we should collectively get involved at every level, at the level of primary and secondary public education in our communities, at the level of probing into what our Baptist college and university departments are actually teaching our students,” Ostrander said. “ … Southern Baptists need to realize that the whole creation/evolution controversy, in or out of the schools, runs far deeper than politics alone; essentially, it’ s a spiritual matter over against a scientific one … more explicitly an apologetic [defense of the faith] concern.
“ Evolutionists’ outrage that certain politicians could be so supportive of a ‘ teach the controversy’ approach only demonstrates to careful observers that creationists are doing something right, that a return to well-reasoned models for life origins apart from materialist philosophy is imminent,” Ostrander said.