Debate on Teaching Evolution Resurfaces

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Philosophers dissected the age-old dispute over teaching evolution in biology classrooms Monday as lawmakers prepared to debate its latest manifestation at the Statehouse.
( [email protected] ) May 17, 2006 10:05 AM EDT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Philosophers dissected the age-old dispute over teaching evolution in biology classrooms Monday as lawmakers prepared to debate its latest manifestation at the Statehouse.

A House committee will consider Tuesday an amendment that establishes how textbooks, software and other instructional materials are selected to require they "critically analyze" the subject matter.

It is the latest tactic by conservative lawmakers who want students to learn about problems in the theory of evolution.

"I feel like we've got textbooks out there that are not appropriate," said Rep. Bob Walker, R-Landrum. As a member of the Education Oversight Committee, Walker has led an effort to convince the state Board of Education to change wording in the evolution curriculum.

Biologists, who say an understanding evolution is crucial to learning how organisms became what they are today, say "critical analysis," as proposed by Walker and others, is a backdoor way to inserting intelligent design into the curriculum. Intelligent design is the theory that life is so complex that there must have been a designer, namely God.

The evolution debate is likely to continue on at least two other fronts after Tuesday's meeting. A one-year provision in the Senate's version of the budget, which is set to be debated in a House-Senate committee, calls for all instructional materials to include "critical thinking." Also, the academic standards panel of the Education Oversight Committee, rebuffed by the Education Department in its latest effort to adjust the biology curriculum, is meeting next Monday. It is set to discuss how to resolve the impasse between the two agencies, which must agree on new standards.

A panel of philosophers and professors from other disciplines gathered at the University of South Carolina on Monday to discuss the evolution debate, and how it has played out in the state.

While there was little debate in the room about the merits of evolution itself - they appeared to universally support it - there was consternation over how academics should respond.

Laura Walls, a USC English professor who specializes in literature and science, said a student once told her she had caused a "religious crisis" in the student's life by teaching evolution. His family and minister taught creationism, and he did not know which to believe.

"Part of me wants to say, let's clear up all this ignorance," she said. But instead, she says she told the student to keep his religious views separate from his scientific views of life. "How do we help them through this?" Walls said.

Florida State University philosopher Michael Ruse, in town for a guest lecture Monday night, also said the issue was more complex than trying to prove antievolutionists wrong.

"I can't help feeling we're sitting around praising ourselves for being enlightened people," he said. "It's not about gaps in the fossil record. It's about morality."

Rep. Ronald Townsend, R-Anderson and chairman of the House Education and Public Works Committee, said he expects changes to the textbook bill Tuesday.

"I think there's enough concern about the way that language is for us to look very closely at it," he said.

Walker, whose subcommittee passed the bill last month, said one new proposal was to remove the term "analysis" from the textbook requirement, leaving the phrase "textbooks ... shall emphasize critical thinking in each academic content area."

Walker said he sees no difference in the language himself, but that it may resolve the concerns of opponents of the proposal.

Rep. Ken Clark, R-Swansea, voted against the proposal in subcommittee and says he will vote against it Tuesday.

"I believe that teaching of the Bible should be done in the home or in Sunday School," said Clark, who has taught Sunday School for 30 years. "The whole thing in my mind is really based on this idea of getting creationism and the Bible pitted against evolution. I happen to believe in both."

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