Cobb mulls teaching evolution alternatives

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Creationist Cults

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 8/15/02

Cobb mulls teaching evolution alternatives

By MARY MacDONALD
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer

Evolution may be on the way out as the only theory on the origin of life taught in Cobb County's schools.

The school board is considering a policy that would allow science teachers to introduce alternative theories on the beginnings of life, including what one board member called "scientific creationism."

All students in Cobb high schools already have biology texts that carry disclaimers saying biological evolution is theory, not fact. Now several board members say they are responding to parent and community pressure and want the district to start teaching alternative ideas in science class. The board unanimously asked its attorney Wednesday to craft a policy that keeps the district within legal bounds.

"The courts allow for multiple teachings," said board member Lindsey Tippins. "We need to put that in our policy and allow that in our classrooms." Scientific creationism, Tippins said, is the idea that life has evolved not through happenstance, but in a purposeful way. What distinguishes scientific creationism from creationism?

"I don't know that it is any different, to be honest," he said.

The possibility of religious-based ideas being introduced to students as scientific theory angers biologists, who say students need a better grounding.

"It's putting creationism and religion into the science classroom," said Ron Matson, assistant chairman of the department of biological and physical science at Kennesaw State. "They are clouding the issue as to what science is and what it is not. You cannot scientifically disprove that God did something."

The issue that has divided Americans since 1925, when John Scopes was tried in Tennessee for teaching Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, arose in Cobb this spring.

As the district prepared to upgrade its science and health texts for the first time in seven years, several dozen parents opposed to biological evolution urged the board to reject three biology texts.

The books emphasize Darwin's theory, which holds that all living things developed from earlier forms through slight variations over time and that natural selection determines which species survive.

Parents advocated the teaching of alternative theories, including "intelligent design," which holds that the variety of life on Earth results from a purposeful design, rather than random mutation, and that a higher intelligence guides the process.

The school board responded by keeping the biology textbooks but approving an insert that says: "This textbook contains material on evolution. 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."

The response only partly satisfied some parents, who wanted at a minimum what the board is now considering -- allowing teachers to explore controversies surrounding evolution.

Public schools are prohibited from teaching creationism as a theory on the origin of man, said board attorney Glenn Brock, because it is based in religious belief.

But he and some Cobb board members say alternative theories can be introduced in class, and the debate covered as long as a particular religious position is not advanced.

The district's policy should reflect community standards, said board Chairman Curt Johnston. And in the past several months, he's heard more from the anti-evolution side.

"The policy we develop should be a reflection of the community standards, and what people feel is fair and reasonable in teaching theories," Johnston said. "The people on the creation side of the debate have been getting better at making their case in a scientific fashion."

Board member Teresa Plenge agreed. "There is validity in creation science theory as well. Both should be presented."

Board member Laura Searcy said the district needs to determine if the alternative theories are science-based.

"Science ought to be taught in school," she said. "Religion ought to be taught at home. The conflict comes in what is valid science."

) 2002 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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