Creationists: Some small minds have yet to evolve

August 22, 1999|By Susan Reimer

I THOUGHT WE HAD settled this long ago. This creationism vs. evolution argument. I thought evolution, with dump trucks full of evidence on its side, had declared victory and left the creationists to rant among themselves and pull their children out of public schools.

Apparently not.

Having failed (thanks to the Supreme Court) to shoe-horn their theory into schools under some kind of misguided fairness doctrine, creationists have changed their tactics. They now aim to diminish the teaching of evolution, and in Kansas they have succeeded.

The Kansas Board of Education, ignoring its own science teachers, edited evolution out of the curriculum. The board did not ban its teaching, but evolution will no longer be represented on the statewide assessment test, and we all know that kids, and teachers, don't bother with stuff that isn't going to be on the test.

The impact of this decision goes beyond individual school districts, which may or may not accede.

In the future, science teachers will cross Kansas off their list of places to work and science and technology firms will do the same.

And the kids who come out of Kansas high schools and want to pursue science will have to prove to college admissions officials that they are educated, because "decent with modifications" is not just a unit in biology. It is its essential underpinning.

The governor of Kansas, Bill Graves, called the board's vote "a terrible, tragic, embarrassing solution to a problem that did not exist," and lots of scientists and educators who don't live in Kansas are embarrassed, too.

"International colleagues just laugh at you," says Dr. Paul Sniegowski, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Pennsylvania. He teaches biology at the undergraduate and graduate level, and researches the workings of evolution at the genetic level. The Kansas Board of Education has essentially voted that he doesn't exist.

Like me, he can't believe we are still arguing about this.

"Creationism is one of those theories that we don't bother with anymore," he says. "We stopped talking about this in the 19th century. We've moved on. Our only questions now are how does evolution occur, by what model, what are the rules."

Sniegowski and his fellow biologists often try to demonstrate evolution to the disbelieving by using the example of bacteria, which has managed to adapt to the assault of antibiotics to the point where those antibiotics are no longer effective in treating the disease bacteria cause.

"It is a spectacular example. If we had understood evolution better, we might have been able to take some precautions. We might not be facing this now."

Likewise, Sniegowski is sure that those Kansans who require antibiotics don't believe that the scientist who developed it explains its effectiveness by invoking the name of God and saying, "I don't know how it works. I guess it's just a miracle."

It is the same with kids.

Just like the bacteria, they won't learn anything if you send them to school with a built-in resistance to ideas with which you might disagree.

And kids are not educated by an act of God. It might seem miraculous sometimes, but in fact it is a long, slow process accomplished by professionals.

Creationists should let the science teachers do their job. And save their theories for the family dinner table.

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