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State panel rejects teaching Creation

Science standards endorse evolution

Thursday, July 12, 2001

By Pamela R. Winnick, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. -- A state education committee yesterday recommended adoption of proposed science standards that strongly endorse the teaching of evolution in Pennsylvania public schools.

The new standards also would eliminate loopholes that critics say encourage the teaching of creationism.

The revised standards have been more than three years in the making and, because they address how students will be taught about the origins of life, have been highly controversial.

The Council of Basic Education voted unanimously to recommend the standards be adopted.

The state Board of Education is expected to approve them today.

An earlier draft of the standards, released last year by the state Department of Education, contained language that would require students in science classes to critically analyze data that "support or do not support" the theory of evolution. They do not mention creationism.

Some in the scientific community have argued that such phrases, along with other language in the standards, was "creationist jargon" that would open the door to the teaching of creationism in public schools.

Language allowing for evolution to be questioned has been removed and language has been added that strongly emphasizes the Darwinian concept of "natural selection," the theory that species change through a series of random mutations.

Yesterday's council vote was not without opposition.

State Sen. James Rhoades, a council member and chairman of the state Senate Committee on Education, said he "could live with the standards," but that they are overly dogmatic and leave no room for debate.

"It's almost as if we don't want to let the light shine in," said Rhoades, R-Schuylkill. "Are we limiting the ability for a mind to be exposed to as much as it can?"

Rhoades yesterday abstained from voting because the Legislature will eventually vote on the standards.

Board of education member Larry Wittig suggested that he might cast the only vote against the standards at today's meeting.

He criticized the standards as "political."

"This smacks of somebody saying we want the biggest mouths closed," he said.

Wittig said he preferred the earlier draft because it encouraged critical thinking.

Evolution, which is commonly covered in public school curriculums, holds that Earth is billions of years old and that life forms developed over millions of years.

Creationism is a biblical-based view that Earth and most life forms came into being suddenly about 6,000 years ago.

Critics say that teaching it in public schools violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

At the federal level, the battle over teaching evolution vs. creationism continues.

Last month, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., introduced an amendment to a Senate education bill calling for "openness" in the teaching of evolution.

"It is the sense of the Senate," said the resolution, which the Senate overwhelmingly passed last month, "that good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science."

Santorum said that science, as currently taught, is itself a religion.

"Science has become a philosophy [that] insists that nature is all there is and that the means of creation must not have included any role for God," Santorum said in a statement.

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