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Schools ponder creation, evolution

How we got here is a fundamental and contentious topic for humans.

Wednesday, August 22, 2001

How we got here is a fundamental and contentious topic for humans. If and how the theory of evolution and the biblical creation explanation should be presented in schools have been debated since Tennessee’s 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial.

The dialogue expanded when some scientific findings – including geologic layers and the genome project – were interpreted to support each side’s arguments.

Religious beliefs cannot be taught as fact in public schools, but many feel religious explanations should be mentioned.

There is resistance to making this approach mandatory, though. Hawaii’s Board of Education recently rejected a proposal to require alternate explanations to be taught if evolution was presented in science classes and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a similar Louisiana law in 1987.

Many people argue that evolution is a theory that should not be taught.

The Kansas Board of Education removed macroevolution – evolution from one species to another – and the Big Bang theory from its recommended curriculum in 1999, but restored both this year after much criticism.

Views are mixed in this region, Steve Nierman, Ironton Area Ministerial Association president and pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, said.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe exclusively in divine creation and disapprove of teaching human evolution from primates, William Thompson, an elder at the Ironton congregation, said. They do not argue for change, though.

Others in the religious community believe religious and scientific explanations are not mutually exclusive – that one does not disprove the other.

The Roman Catholic Church is one organization that has decided its religion does not prohibit acceptance of the evolution theory, which is presented in science classes at Ironton’s St. Joseph High School.

"I don’t think science proves or disproves God," Nierman said.

The theory of evolution can be treated as explanation, Nierman said, adding that although he is not a scientist, he sees no contradiction of the Bible by science or the theory of evolution.

Many disagreements result, Nierman said, when people become philosophers of science, using scientific findings to advocate a position outside of science’s realm.

Still, many evolution advocates and religious groups believe the explanation they favor solely is correct.

None of the local school district representatives contacted were aware of any problems or objections to the way they treat the issue.

In Ohio there is no policy on ideas about the origin of life and the earth. However, proficiency tests all Ohio students need to pass include questions requiring a knowledge of biological change over time.

One Ohio legislator tried to change the current system in the 1999-2000 session to require teachers to present evidence both supportive of and contradictory to the theory of evolution. This bill, written by Rep. Ron Hood, did not move past the education committee.

Amid all the controversy, many local educators try to let students form their own opinions on the subject while teaching the necessary concepts.

"It’s handled as a debate in my classroom," South Point High School teacher Lisa Cooke said.

Her students research both sides and have formal debates on this and other controversial issues in science.

"I do believe that to not expose children to ideas is wrong," Cooke said.

Cooke added that in class she does not support either side to let students to make their own informed decisions.

Nierman said he liked the idea of the debates.

Multiple theories also are discussed at Rock Hill and Fairland high schools.

At Chesapeake High School teachers focus on science as a way of knowing. If this topic is raised teachers address it scientifically, and further questions are referred to a family member or religious adviser, Chesapeake Curriculum Coordinator Theresa Adkins said.

"Teachers try to be respectful of all students and all their beliefs," Adkins said.

However these ideas are presented in schools, people continue to have different opinions about the origin of life, and Cooke’s classroom is not the only site of debates.