Wednesday, August 15, 2012

GOP lawmakers question standards for teaching evolution in Kentucky

Do State Senator David Givens, (R-Greensburg) and State Representative Ben Waide (R-Madisonville) mean what they say, or is this just more theocratic ranting from the Christian right?

They say they want Kentucky students to be good critical thinkers and the way to do that is to present them with competing "theories" of creation. But if that is true, why do they limit their considerations to Biblical creationism as the only counter to Darwin's Theory of Evolution? 

Why leave out the Hopi Indians theory of Four Creations, or the Cherokee story of Corn and Medicine, or the Hawaiian theory of Birth in the Dawn, or the Wichita theory of the Moon and the Morning Star, or the Pottawatomie Story of creation, or the Seneca's Two Brothers and their Grandmother, or the Jicarilla Apache theory of Creation and the Emergence? They are all very American, by the way, but sadly, not Christian.

If it's critical thinking we're interested in, let's make the studies more catholic and include the Norse Theory of Odin and Ymir, and the Babylonian Theory that Marduk created the world from the spoils of a great battle.

But if Kentucky's science alternatives are to be Christian only, as I suspect is the true interest of the legislators, then we've got some curriculum problems to sort out. Do we go with the Yahweh story or Elohim? Were humans created before animals (Gen 2:4-25) or after (Gen 1:1-2:3) Was man created first (Gen 2:18-22) or were man and woman created at the same time (Gen 1:27)? And just for fun, perhaps the legislators would like our high school juniors to speculate on Cain's wife and whether we should teach incest as a Biblically acceptable practice.

My apologies if my questions seem harsh. We Christians have been challenged by them over the years. And I don't mean to disrespect religion. But I don't mind rejecting religious bigotry.

As humans there is much we don't know. Both science and religion have much to offer the human race in that regard. In the public schools, science should be science, and religion should be religion - each in their proper place.

This nonsense from the Herald-Leader:

Kentucky's Senate Republicans pushed successfully in 2009 to tie the state's testing program to national education standards, but three years later, they're questioning the results.

Several GOP lawmakers questioned new proposed student standards and tests that delve deeply into biological evolution during a Monday meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Education.

In an exchange with officials from ACT, the company that prepares Kentucky's new state testing program, those lawmakers discussed whether evolution was a fact and whether the biblical account of creationism also should be taught in Kentucky classrooms.

"I would hope that creationism is presented as a theory in the classroom, in a science classroom, alongside evolution," Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, said Tuesday in an interview.

The new requirements — college-readiness testing, end-of-course exams and more national norms — are part of Senate Bill 1, a 2009 bill developed and pushed by Senate Republicans to marry Kentucky's testing program to national standards for better comparisons of student success.

"Republicans did want the end-of-course tests tied to national norms; now they're upset because when ACT surveyed biology professors across the nation, they said students have to have a thorough knowledge of evolution to do well in college biology courses," said Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, chairman of the House Education Committee.

Givens said he and other legislators have been contacted by a number of educators with concerns about Kentucky's proposed new science standards, which are tied to ACT testing and are scheduled to be adopted this fall.

"I think we are very committed to being able to take Kentucky students and put them on a report card beside students across the nation," Givens said. "We're simply saying to the ACT people we don't want what is a theory to be taught as a fact in such a way it may damage students' ability to do critical thinking."

Givens said he asked the ACT representatives about possibly returning to a test personalized for Kentucky, but he was told that option was very expensive and time-consuming.

ACT vice president Ginger Hopkins, who appeared at Monday's meeting, did not immediately return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

Another committee member, Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, said he had a problem with evolution being an important part of biology standards.

"The theory of evolution is a theory, and essentially the theory of evolution is not science — Darwin made it up," Waide said. "My objection is they should ensure whatever scientific material is being put forth as a standard should at least stand up to scientific method. Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny."

Givens said he was satisfied with the response by ACT officials and state Education Commissioner Terry Holliday that evolution was being taught as a theory.

State and federal courts have ruled that creationism is a belief, not science, and therefore should not be taught in science classrooms, but instead in comparative religion classes, Holliday said.

"I think the key is we could debate the science of this forever, but we hope our kids understand the theories behind evolution," he said. "We think our kids need to be critical thinkers to be able to reason between the two."

Last year, Holliday wrote a much-publicized letter to Hart County school superintendent Ricky Line, who complained that the new standards did not identify evolution as a theory.

"Referring to biological evolution as a theory for the purpose of contesting it would be counterproductive, since scientists only grant the status of theory to well-tested ideas," Holliday wrote.

Line said Tuesday that he still hadn't seen any change to the standards.

"When it says evolution as if there is no other option, then over time our students are going to assume that is the only option when there are other options out there," Line said.

The proposed science standards would require students to complete such tasks as:
■ Explain the biological definition of evolution.
■ Differentiate among chemical evolution, organic evolution and the evolutionary steps along the way to aerobic heterotrophs and photosynthetic autotrophs.
■ Discuss Darwin's principle of survival of the fittest and explain what Darwin meant by natural selection.
Vincent Cassone, chairman of the University of Kentucky biology department, served on the committee that developed the standards.

"The theory of evolution is the fundamental backbone of all biological research," he said. "There is more evidence for evolution than there is for the theory of gravity, than the idea that things are made up of atoms, or Einstein's theory of relativity. It is the finest scientific theory ever devised."

David Helm, president of the Kentucky Science Teachers Association, declined to comment, other than the official statement of the national group, which says:

"The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) strongly supports the position that evolution is a major unifying concept in science and should be included in the K-12 science education frameworks and curricula ... NSTA also recognizes that evolution has not been emphasized in science curricula in a manner commensurate to its importance because of official policies, intimidation of science teachers, the general public's misunderstanding of evolutionary theory, and a century of controversy. In addition, teachers are being pressured to introduce creationism, 'creation science,' and other nonscientific views, which are intended to weaken or eliminate the teaching of evolution."
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Anonymous said...

Here we go again. These men, both dolts and anti-intellectuals, have no clue what this type of pro-posed legislation does for our reputation in the USA. Do they not know who John Scopes was and the price the Paducah native paid when he attempted to teach science in Tennessee? Are they unfamiliar with Frank McVey's impassioned defense of theory while lawmakers tried to impose creationism on UK in teh 1920's? I'm concerned about our legislators and their sanity.

labman57 said...

Evolution is a verifiable fact. It is the mechanism through which it occurs -- natural selection -- that comprises the theory.

People who do not understand how science works seem to think that a "theory" is somehow lacking in power and validity. Scientific theories are our best explanation for an event or phenomenon based on the available evidence, i.e., a theory tells us HOW it happens. Theories have generally been subjected to rigorous empirical and/or mathematical testing and represent the consensus of the scientific community, whereas a hypothesis is a possible explanation for a specific observation and has not necessarily been tested yet.

Calling something a theory does not cheapen or weaken it. On the contrary, the term "theory" gives it legitimacy as something that is scientifically testable and that has been rigorously examined either mathematically or empirically to the point that the available evidence overwhelming supports it.

Quantum mechanics, special and general relativity, molecular kinetics -- all THEORIES!

Theories are based on the best empirical EVIDENCE available, not PROOF. There is an incredible wealth of evidence -- both geological and biochemical -- to support evolution by natural selection.

Creationism and ID are faith-based concepts. Their "evidence" consists of the allegories provided in the Bible, nothing more.

Socially-regressive conservative politicians are on a quest to send public K-12 curriculum back 100 years with legislation designed to propagate right wing revisionist history in social studies classes, and proselytize religious ideology and promote corporate-funded anti-environmental propaganda in the science classroom.

Alas, the rest of the nation did not get the memo.

Anonymous said...

To the above. Would you consider being my principal? I'd say half teh principals in FCPS must be creationists. They SCARE me. And I'm a Christian....

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why proponents of this effort to inject religion continue to be so hung up on this one element in science. I mean why not throw the entirity of curriculum spectrum. Why aren't they requiring the bible as part of literature class or seek to apply Christ's socialist (little s) into political government. Miricles could even be studied in medical school and the construction of an ark which could hold pairs of all existing animal species for 40 days examined in engineering school. I too am a Christian but I grow tired of these efforts to impose force Christian agendas on the public schools. Take care of your family's faith in your own home and spread the faith through your churches activities not by trying to force feed it to kids in public schools.