Evolution vs. Creationism: Can Both Theories Be Taught in Oklahoma Schools?

Thursday, December 2nd 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

It's one of the most heated issues in American education: creationism versus evolution in public schools. The controversy gained more steam in Oklahoma this month after the Oklahoma Textbook Committee ordered an evolution disclaimer be put in all science textbooks used in the state. The News on Six recently took a look at both sides of this emotional debate.

It's the greatest mystery of human existence. How the universe came to be and how it has changed over time. Man has pondered, studied and argued the question for hundreds of years. But in 1859, the publication of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection shook the worlds of science and religion, creating bitter division and intense emotional debate between church leaders, teachers and scientists.

The controversy eventually entered American public schools, as supporters of the creation theory of origin argued to allow their view to be taught to children alongside the theory of evolution. "I think the basic issue is that God did do the creating," said Oral Roberts University’s dean of education Dr. David Hand.

Others see it differently. "When you teach creation science, which is really biblical literalism dressed up in a lab coat, you are promoting a religious ideology,” said the National Center for Science Education’s Dr. Eugenie Scott. “You can't do that in public schools." Scott lectures around the country on the creationism vs. evolution classroom controversy. He points to a number of Supreme Court decisions on the issue including Edwards-vs.-Aguillard, which ruled that teaching creation science endorses religion, a First Amendment violation. "You know that this is a matter of sensitivity to all," Scott said.

The argument heated up in Oklahoma recently after the Oklahoma Textbook Committee, appointed by Governor Frank Keating, ordered placement of a disclaimer about evolution in all science textbooks used in the state. The governor supports the disclaimer, saying it's best to offer as many viewpoints as possible in the classroom. "What was included in the book was really quite thoughtful,” he noted. “It said, ‘It would be inappropriate to say you couldn't teach evolution, just as it would be inappropriate to say you can't teach creationism.’"

The Oklahoma Science Teachers' Association members voted to reject the disclaimer on the grounds that, to them, it’s bad science. But Mary Stewart, one of the designers of the state science curriculum, says evolution isn't usually presented in Oklahoma schools as Darwin might have put it. "There's evolution in just about every type of science,” she explained.
“Because evolution is a slow change over time, that is actually how scientists today define what the word evolution means."

Stewart also says there are aspects of evolution in most high school science courses and even in a few elementary science units. But she says it doesn't usually relate to what many think of as "evolution" and it doesn't dominate science teaching in Oklahoma. "When you talk about change over time and then we look at the history of science, you can say there is evolution present,” Steward noted. “However, it is not predominantly present.”

National science leaders say the controversy exists because evolution opponents don't understand that it's a statement about history and doesn't require disbelief in God.
"Because evolution is a science, it can't say anything about ultimate cause,” said Stewart. “Evolution can't say that God did it, there is no God, or that God didn't do it. It's a statement about what happened. It’s not 'whodunit.' People don't really understand this,"
she explained.

The News on Six asked Tulsa area schools to find biology students willing to talk about the creationism versus evolution debate. If the teenagers' views reflect the majority of their peers, most teens believe both views should be taught. "It's only fair to the students,” said Sapulpa High School student Blake Lawson. “The Christians feel oppressed in my school, I think." Jennifer Poole, a student at Edison High School says she thinks it's great that they're putting the disclaimers in the books and that they think evolution is a theory.

The students said the controversy isn't a major issue in their schools, and their teachers never forced evolution down their throats. "Our biology teacher taught evolution, but she also taught creationism and offered both sides of it,” said Metro Christian Academy student Zion Spencer. “I thought the way she taught it was good, because it helped me to make the decision for myself."

Rusty is a student and a Christian, but opposes the textbook disclaimer and creationism in the classroom, saying it violates the United States Constitution. "If a person believes in creation, they don't believe in it because they've seen carbon dating or because they've read a science book about how it actually happened,” he said. “They believe in it because they have faith that there is a God who provided for them and was a powerful enough God that He could create everything."

As a religious educator preparing future teachers, O-R-U’s Hand supports Oklahoma's textbook disclaimer. "I have feel that this statement they want to put in, does no harm and in fact reflects the issue we are addressing,” he said. “That is the challenge of the diverse issues in evolutionary thought." Hand says it's interesting that evolutionists won't tolerate other explanations of natural history, since schools should reflect the diversity of our world. "I think this should be an issue that's looked at, tolerated and considered part of the diverse situation," he explained. “However, those who want to bring creationism into the classroom may strongly reject evolution's teaching. A part of our reasoning is that we do not believe man evolved from a lower form of mammal like an ape or a monkey,” Hand continued, “because it strikes at the very heart of the learner which is the child, and we believe that the child is made in the image of God."

Dr. Hank Knight, chaplain at the University of Tulsa says you can't tell someone they can't teach anything about creation, especially about Genesis to children. He thinks we as a society have set ourselves up for this kind of confrontation. Knight says both sides have taken such extreme positions and that they're both missing the common ground that exists between them. He says both evolution and creationism belong in the schools, evolution in science classes, creationism somewhere else. "The need is to be able to have a place to study this, but it's not science,” said Knight. “It should come in some sort of course where we look at how people understand the world, and how they give themselves to the world."

Even some evolutionists say education can find the common ground that exists between science and religion. "The compatibility of evolution with religion is the best kept secret in this whole controversy", noted Scott. “That Catholics and mainline Protestants accept evolution as the way God did it."