Government Affairs Report: The Age of Rocks Versus the Rock of Ages (1/00)

The following column by GAP Senior Advisor John Dragonetti is reprinted from the January 2000 issue of The Professional Geologist, a publication of the American Institute of Professional Geologists . It is reprinted with permission.

For some inexplicable reason there are those who believe that science and religion cannot co-exist. This appears to be a fundamental premise among those on school boards who favor the removal of the almost universally accepted theory of evolution from the classroom. If anything is to be taught in its place, these same people argue that it should be creation science.

The Kansas School Board Decision
In August, the Kansas State Board of Education voted to remove any mention of macroevolution, the age of the earth, or the origin and early development of the universe. The Creation Science Association for Mid-America assisted in the development of the position. As a result of the decision, evolutionary theory will no longer appear on statewide standardized tests, and the state’s 350 school districts will have to decide on whether or not to teach evolution.

Other States Act
While many considered the Kansas action an aberration, subsequent decisions at the state level  reveal that the opposition to the theory of evolution is not an isolated phenomenon. Consider the recent Oklahoma State Textbook Committee vote to require a disclaimer in new biology textbooks stating that evolution is a controversial theory.  This follows a revision in the standards of the Kentucky Education Department replacing the term evolution with the phrase “change over time.”

The Positions
Many of those opposing evolutionary theory believe it is in conflict with religion, and support creationism or the more recent concept of creation science. For the most strident, creationism is not restricted to the belief in a creator but is rooted in the concept that the universe was literally created in its present form in six days. Some creationists believe that creation should be taught as a science in the schools as an alternative to evolution.

A most perplexing aspect of the creationist position is that it not only conflicts with mainstream scientific thought, but it is also contradictory to the positions of most Catholic, Protestant and Jewish denominations.  It therefore appears that those responsible for removing evolution from educational standards are not just in discord with mainsteam scientific thought but also with conventional religious  thinking. The theory of evolution does not address the creation of the universe nor does it suggest the nonexistence of God.

The Need for Science Education
The issue is clearly another indication of the level of scientific literacy of the general public. To raise this level, it is necessary for those of us in the geoscience community to become involved in local and state government where the decisions concerning scientific education are resolved. Unless we become active in the war against the proponents of creation science, more state boards may follow the examples of Alabama, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Kentucky. Many scientific organizations have already joined the fray including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Science Teachers Association, the National Center for Science Education, the American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America, and the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, all of whom have taken official positions in opposition to creation science.

The American Geological Institute has been involved in discussions with scientific organizations such as the American Physical Society, the American Institute of Physics, the American Chemical Society and others to develop targeted approaches on the issue.  In the early 1980s, in the midst of an earlier controversy over teaching evolution in the public schools, AGI issued a statement which is still valid today. That statement was “Scientific evidence indicates beyond any doubt that life has existed on Earth for billions of years. This life has evolved through time producing vast numbers of species of plants and animals, most of which are extinct. Although scientists debate the mechanism that produced this change, the evidence for the change is undeniable. Therefore, in the teaching of science we oppose any position that ignores this scientific reality, or gives equal time to interpretations based on religious beliefs only.”

It is clear that the actions of scientific societies to keep science in the classroom, though laudable, are insufficient. Creationists have been willing to spend the time necessary to publicize their beliefs, and it is important for the geoscience community to set the record straight. We all need to become active on local school boards and appropriate state organizations to convince the public that science and religion are not in conflict within the realm of evolutionary theory. After all, it is creation science that is the oxymoron.

This article is reprinted with permission from The Professional Geologist, published by the American Institute of Professional Geologists. AGI gratefully acknowledges that permission.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by John Dragonetti, AGI Government Affairs.

Posted January 10, 2000

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