Evolution, creationism still great debate

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 22, 2005

In 1508, Michelangelo began painting the ceiling of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel, adorning its interior with frescoes capturing images from the Bible.

One of the more popular paintings is that of the bearded figure of God, surrounding by angels, an outstretched hand reaching towards His creation, Adam.

In 1859, a British scientist named Charles Darwin published &#8220Origin of the Species,” a blasphemous theory to Christians, which purported that man evolved from apes and was not created whole by some mythical God as depicted on some chapel ceiling.

160 years later the battle still rages. From the lowest to the highest court in the land, evolution vs. creationism is the heated argument that won't go away.

&#8220I do think it's going to be a debate we'll still be talking about for years to come,” said Butler County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney. &#8220It's a politically charged issue for both sides and unfortunately schools get in the way.”

A case currently gathering national attention is Kitzmiller vs. the Dover Area School District in Pennsylvania. Parents filed suit, claiming the school promoted intelligent design - the idea that an intelligent being had a hand in creating life - over evolution.

In Alabama, biology textbooks come stamped on the inside with a disclaimer stating that evolution is a theory and not a fact. The labels have been in place since 1996 and have gone through several revisions but still remain. And that's become a sore spot to evolution proponents in Alabama. When revised standards were adopted for the Alabama Course of Study: Science (ACOSS) earlier this year, John Schweinsberg of the Alabama Citizens for Science Education protested, telling the Montgomery Advertiser that teaching evolution was &#8220as basic to biology as the periodic table is to chemistry. Teaching biology without evolution is like teaching chemistry without the periodic table.”

Looney said in all his years in public education he has never had a parent or student challenge the disclaimer (see full text of page *). He said the disclaimer has changed through the years because the state board has changed.

&#8220I've worked in four or five school systems and it's never been opposed,” said Looney. &#8220We teach the theory of evolution as a theory, which is one of a multiple of science theories we teach.”

However, Looney said he has had teachers use certain methods of teaching not in line with state requirements.

&#8220I have had teachers use chapter and verse out of the Bible for instruction, which is seen as an advancement of religion,” said Looney. &#8220And that's not allowed.”

But Looney said some teacher's shy away from using the Bible entirely, fearful of violating church and state statutes and opening the school system up for a lawsuit.

&#8220A lot of people think it's not legal to use the Bible in a classroom setting,” he said. &#8220But that's not true. You can use the Bible as it relates to history but it can't be the sole resource for instruction. You have to be somewhat selective on how it's used.”

In 2004, Sen. Wendell Mitchell (D-Luverne) said he tried to &#8220level the playing field” introducing a bill that would allow teachers in Alabama to teach students both the theory of evolution and creation. The bill, entitled the Academic Freedom Act, was reintroduced in 2005 and passed the senate but died in the house.

Mitchell said the bill's main opposition was from an Alabama atheist group, but the real reason it died was because of a backlog of legislation to be considered. Plus, the senate was late in passing both the general fund and education trust fund budgets this year.

Mitchell said he expects the disclaimer in Alabama biology textbooks could eventually be challenged, similarly to what's happening in Pennsylvania.

&#8220There's lots of people who take the position that evolution is a fact,” he said. &#8220This subject speaks to the very root of our existence. I believe that God created man and earth and I think it deserves to be taught as much as evolution. If you're going to teach one point of view, you need to teach all points of view.”