Science in Christian Perspective
Lessons from the Kansas Decision
Robert C. Newman,
Biblical Theological Seminary,
Hatfield, PA 10440,
From: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 52 (June 2000): 81-83. Response: Miller
Most of you, I suspect, heard news reports back in August 1999 on the decision of the Kansas Board of Education regarding evolution. Did you get any clear idea of what happened? From the first, the treatment seemed rather hyped (front-page coverage in the New York Times, articles in European papers), and especially when I learned what the board had actually done. Contrary to the headline in U. S. News and World Report--"Charles Darwin Gets Thrown Out of School"--nothing of the sort occurred. What did happen, and what does it mean?
On August 11, the board voted 6-4 to approve new standards for the teaching (and statewide testing) of science, a typical periodic revision from a previous version of 1995. As usual, a committee of science teachers had been appointed to draw them up, subject to approval by the state board. When the draft was presented to the board, several members took exception to the fact that its language regarding evolution had been strengthened compared to the previous standards. The proposal touted large-scale evolution as "a broad, unifying theoretical framework in biology" and made no reference to any evidence against the theory. Board member Harold Voth, one of the objectors, said the problem was mainly a "difference of opinion on the origin of man. The main issue," he said, "was concern about macro-evolution being taught as fact, not as theory." At public forums in a number of Kansas communities, similar concerns were expressed. When board members and the committee were unable to reach a compromise, the board voted to delete references to large-scale evolution from the standards, as well as references to the Big-Bang theory of the cosmos.
The resulting standards by no means forbid the teaching of evolution, but now they no longer require it. This guarantees there will be virtually no questions relating to evolution in the statewide student competency exams after July 2000. Thus the state board has left it up to local school boards whether evolution will be taught in their areas.
And the powers that be in education, biology, and geology are upset, as the media coverage indicates. Phil Johnson, author of Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, points out: "The reason they are in such a funk is that they perceive a serious public protest against the established religion of scientific naturalism." I think Johnson is right. Much of this impasse is surely the result of a clash between two world views, naturalism--in which "the cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be"--and theism, which views the universe and its contents as the purposeful work of a Mind behind it all. Theists feel that the teaching of evolution as an unplanned, unsupervised, purposeless process is ideological, not scientific, and effectively establishes naturalism as the government-sponsored religion in the U. S. educational system and media.
Many scientists, on the other hand, see any opposition to teaching evolution as meddling by religious people in the proper teaching of science. Yet the refusal of educational authorities to allow discussion in public schools of scientific problems for evolution raises serious questions with this spin on things, and it apparently contributed to the inability of the Kansas Board to reach a compromise with the science committee on the standards. Young-earth creationist John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research, feels that both arguments for and against evolution should be discussed in class, so that students as well as scientists, can evaluate the evidence. So does Michael Behe, Lehigh University biochemist and author of Darwin's Black Box. "Teach Darwin's elegant theory," he said. "But also discuss where it has real problems accounting for the data, where data are severely limited, where the scientists might be engaged in wishful thinking, and where alternative--even 'heretical'--explanations are possible."
So does the majority of the American people, according to an June 1999 Gallup poll, in which 68% approve of teaching creationism along with evolution. Yet this alternative has consistently been refused by the courts, who apparently see religion only when God is mentioned, allowing atheistic forms of religion--like stealth bombers--to pass under the Constitutional radar undetected.
The solution reached by the Kansas Board was by no means ideal, as even several of the board members who voted for it have pointed out. Scott Hill, an animal breeder and board member, felt the original draft was "out of balance," since it presented evolution as a theory of weight and credibility above all others. "If there is evidence to the contrary ... are we supposed to censor it out?" Board chair Linda Holloway said, "Evolution is an important theory, and I don't want any kids to be ignorant of it." Their colleague John Bacon agreed, "I think it's important and that students need to know it, but everything about it, not just evidence for it."
What can be done? John Wiester and the Commission on Science Education which he chairs for the evangelical American Scientific Affiliation have proposed the following statement for adoption by state boards of education:
The State Board of Education and the local boards of education shall ensure that evolution is taught as science, not as ideology. The State Board of Education and the local boards of education shall encourage teachers to make distinctions between the multiple meanings of "evolution," to distinguish between philosophical materialism and authentic science, and to include unanswered questions and unresolved problems in their presentations.
If such a policy were followed, it should be possible for students and teachers of such diverse backgrounds as now characterize the U. S. population to be able to discuss the scientific data relevant to questions of origins in science classes, without needing to discuss what the Bible, the Qur'an, the Bhagavad-Gita, and other religious writings have to say, and without feeling that the teachers were indoctrinating the students. Christians, of all people, should have the least to fear from such an arrangement, as our God tells us that he has made his creative activity clear for all to see, and that he will help us if we will try to be as concerned about the truth as he is.
If such a policy is unacceptable to the authorities in public education, they will have no one but themselves to blame for the continuing hemorrhaging of students from their schools to private institutions and home schooling, and for the eventual redirection of government as well.
Information on the Kansas decision comes from EOS, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union (24 Aug 1999): 377, 381, 387 and World Magazine (11 Sept 1999): 14-17.