Last year the State of Ohio, USA, took center stage in a national battle over evolution in state schools. Ohio passed strongly worded science standards that teach evolution as fact (see “Intelligent Design” Whimpers out in Ohio), but confusion remained about a vague amendment that students should learn “how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.”
Now local school districts are trying to sort out the confusion.
Intimidation of teachers
John Freshwater, a teacher at Mount Vernon Middle School, located in rural Ohio, was summoned to a meeting to explain why he was teaching his eighth-grade class about flaws in evolutionary theory. The reason for the meeting was a high-school biology teacher whose evolutionary views were being challenged in class by one of Mr Freshwater’s former students.1
After the meeting, Mr Freshwater went before the Mount Vernon school district’s Science Curriculum Committee to propose a clarification of the curriculum standards to allow critical thinking about evolution in the classroom. When the committee rejected his proposal without comment, he appealed to the district school board.
Failed appeal to the Mount Vernon school board
The key sentence in Mr Freshwater’s proposal to the school board reads:
“It is the intent of this board that to enhance the effectiveness of science education and to promote academic freedom and the neutrality of state government with respect to teachings that touch religious and nonreligious beliefs, it is necessary and desirable that science which seeks to explain the origins of life and its diversity (origins science), be conducted and taught objectively and without religious, naturalistic, or philosophic bias or assumptions … .”2
After hearing two hours of public statements on 12 May 2003, the board rejected Mr Freshwater’s proposal by a vote of 4-1. One board member suggested a compromise, but the board voted to wait until its June meeting to consider the new proposal.
In a written statement, the school superintendent, Jeff Maley, acknowledged that both sides had similar goals—teachers should be objective and “nonreligious” in discussing scientific controversies—but both sides were not yet able to reach agreement.3
One of the board members said he voted against Freshwater’s proposal because students will still be taking state proficiency tests, which will surely include the new, evolutionary science standards: “Did they change any of the proficiency standards they hold us to in light of the standards changes? No,” he said.4
Plenty of confusion to go around
The whole debate in Mount Vernon displays the same confusion that marred the State’s debate. One woman at the board meeting said she believed God created an awesome universe, but “the religious beliefs of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus do not belong in a science classroom, and neither do mine.”5 One man said intelligent design (see The Intelligent Design Movement) “is a marvelous religious idea, but to make things as simple as possible—you teach science in science classes and you teach what isn’t science somewhere else.”
This false division between “science and religion” overlooks the vast difference between modern operational science (which builds better planes and fights disease in the present) and origins science (which seeks to understand non-observable, non-repeatable events of the distant past). Origins science requires us to make assumptions based on worldviews that we accept a priori, and we must use these beliefs to sift evidence and determine what’s true about origins. (See Q&A: Religion.) Molecules-to-man evolution is based on a naturalistic, materialistic worldview that excludes God and rejects His revelation; the alternative view accepts the possibility of a Designer and Creator.
The debate is also marred by the misleading terms “microevolution” and “macroevolution”. The board member who offered a “compromise” suggested that students learn only the generally accepted views of evolution (e.g. microevolution), but if this is not a satisfactory compromise, she suggested leaving the study of origins to grades 10-12. “The majority of people would agree with evolutionary theory,” Dr Marjorie Bennett said, “as it relates to natural selection regarding small-scale biological events such as the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria or successful plant and animal breeding programs.”
This is the same confusion that Ohio’s standards failed to clarify. The debate is not about natural selection at all, which creationists accept wholeheartedly (and believe occurred even faster than is generally accepted today).
The continuing debate in Ohio shows just how difficult it is to find a political solution to a fundamental, social disorder that is afflicting the US and the world. Naturalistic, humanistic philosophy has become so ingrained in the culture that few people even recognize when schools are forcing their anti-God beliefs—as facts—on students, while they try to exclude any alternative, Bible-based beliefs. As long as the debate continues to ignore the foundational disagreement over worldviews, the problem will not go away.
While AiG supports efforts to increase academic freedom, we want to challenge the church to strike at the root of the problem, which is the rejection of the authority of God and His Word, thus leading to the evolutionary worldview undergirding our schools and society. The church needs to join together—under the power of the Holy Spirit—in consistently upholding the biblical worldview, founded on the Genesis account of a six-day Creation, Adam’s Fall and a worldwide Flood, while attacking the anti-biblical foundations of the humanistic worldview, including belief in millions of years of death and suffering before sin.