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Room for Darwin and Faith

Classrooms should not be held hostage to either side

August 17, 1999



It's all too easy to jump to conclusions regarding last week's decision by the Kansas Board of Education to remove any mention of evolution from the state's required science curriculum.

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First, it doesn't mean that so-called creationists, with their view that the origin of humans is revealed in the Old Testament, are dictating science education in America. The Kansas decision is just another volley in a controversy that has spanned most of this century. Other states are not likely to take such a step. And even in Kansas, teachers are not prohibited from discussing Darwin's theory in the classroom. Many teachers, as a matter of principle, will probably continue to explore with students concepts like natural selection.

Teachers, however, will be clearly discouraged from doing so by the removal of questions about evolution from state tests that measure their performance.

Second, those who perpetuate this battle on state and local school boards and in legislatures are not simply ignoring self-evident truth. On many questions, like the age of the earth, their arguments are weak. A fossil record that goes back billions of years can't just be wished away.

Yet there are questions about the adequacy of Darwin's ideas to explain all the complexities of life on earth.

And a basic point of creationism - that an intelligent Creator set life in motion and guides it - shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, though the public classroom may not be the right place to discuss it.

A sound approach to teaching biology would include both solid evidence supporting evolutionary theory and findings that raise questions about it. That approach, sadly, is hindered by actions like that taken by the Kansas board. Efforts to exclude all discussion of the subject may please some political constituencies within the state, but they don't serve the board's primary purpose - to teach children how to hone their reasoning skills on vital topics.

Finally, a third point. There often seems to be an assumption in this long national debate that an appreciation of Darwin's ideas on biological life and a religious conviction about the existence and power of God in human affairs can't coexist. That's not true. Many scientists believe in God, and many people of faith don't find their beliefs shaken by evolutionary theory.

Classrooms should not be a battleground between "faithless" science and "unscientific" religion. Neither adjective is necessarily accurate.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society