Wednesday, August 1, 2001

fight looms

The Board of Education has
to decide whether to teach the
biblical version in science classes

By Treena Shapiro

Board of Education members are expecting a hot debate at their meeting tomorrow over what should be taught in the schools about the origin of the human race.

The issue at hand is whether to admit alternatives to Darwin's theory of evolution into the science curriculum in the public schools.

The Regular Education committee on Thursday approved opening up the science curriculum to other theories, prompting heated discussion over whether public school science teachers will have to teach the biblical theory of creationism as part of the state science performance standards.

Kauai board member Sherwood Hara said he has been informed by board secretaries that many people have signed up to testify at the meeting. One secretary suggested, "Why don't you bring your sleeping bags?" he said.

Most members contacted yesterday supported teaching various religious versions of origin, but not as part of the science curriculum.

Member Denise Matsumoto said yesterday that she also opposes mixing religion and science, but she wants to introduce other theories so that students will know that evolution was just one of multiple theories, not a fact.

"The way (evolution) was presented (in the standards), it was just so matter-of-fact," she said.

Faith-based beliefs have a better place in social studies, drama and the arts, Matsumoto said.

In the science classes, she suggested teaching theories about the development of fossils, as well as the old earth theory and the new earth theory, both of which are creationist models of evolution.

Board member Karen Knudsen, a member of the committee who approved the change to the performance standards, said the "healthy discussion" that followed has led her to reconsider her position.

"I think that there is clearly room for discussion of origin, but in another subject area," she said.

To open the door to multiple theories would not mean just adding creationism, but various other religious theories of origin as well, thereby taking class time away from "hard science."

Board members Michael Nakamura and Lex Brodie both said they were opposed to introducing religion into the state school system.

Marilyn Harris, who was not present at the committee meeting, said she believes the original wording of the performance standards should be maintained. "To me this is not a religious question. To me this is a question of scientific proof. Science is something you can prove or disprove, but (creationism) is not something you can prove or disprove, so this is not science.

"If somebody wants to put it into another curriculum, that's another story altogether," she said. "It could be philosophy, it could be comparative religions, it could be history. There's all kinds of areas you could put them into, but science isn't one of them."

Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu said students should be taught to recognize and respect multiple beliefs and explanations regarding the formation of the universe and life on Earth.

"I would expect them to be taken up in their appropriate place," he said.

He said it is unfortunate that so many people think the goal for some of these theories is scientific validation. "What's most valuable about faith-based explanations is that they explain things in a way that science cannot possibly. The real strength is that it's not science."

Evolution is taught in science classes because it is the singular, presupposing scientific theory of our time, but it is not taught as fact, LeMahieu added.

Board Chairman Herbert Watanabe said he has received at least 30 e-mails opposing the introduction of creationism into the science curriculum. "It will be a very hot discussion. Whether or not it will go through will be another matter," he said.

The board will meet at 3:30 p.m. in the Queen Liliuokalani Building boardroom. It will vote on recommendations for board actions, including performance standards, at 7 p.m.

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