Wednesday, May 03, 2000

Bill on evolution returns

Teaching pros, cons is intent

By Michael Hawthorne
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Public school teachers would be required to teach the pros and cons of evolution under legislation introduced Tuesday in the Ohio House.

        While the bill's chances of passing this year are minimal, legislative hearings could draw a spotlight to Ohio as Americans continue to argue about what children should learn about human origins. Similar debates are taking place in Kentucky and Indiana.

        Like Kentucky, Ohio's suggested science curriculum for public schools steers clear of the word evolution, referring instead to the term “change over time” when outlining how the subject should be taught.

        “I've got kids ready to testify they were taught that evolution is a fact,” said sponsoring Rep. Ron Hood, R-Canfield. “The only thing I ask is if you teach evolution, teach it as a theory.”

        Mr. Hood's bill (HB 679) is only a paragraph long but would require teachers to use evidence both “supporting or consistent” with the theory of evolution, as well as evidence “not supporting or inconsistent.”

        Similar legislation died four years ago under pressure from scientists and teacher unions. Mr. Hood said he decided to try again after the Kansas Board of Education voted last year to erase virtually all mention of evolution from that state's science teaching guidelines.

        The evolution theory, advanced by Charles Darwin, maintains that humans, other animals and plants evolved from earlier, less complex forms of life.

        His 1859 book, The Origin of Species, is regarded as one of science's classic studies. It triggered a furor that continues to this day because it countered the traditional Christian belief that God created all the world's creatures.

        Ohio is debating the issue again as a Florence, Ky.-based group, Answers in Genesis, prepares to build a Creationist Museum near the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport. The museum is to include displays that show dinosaurs and humans living togeth er, which the theory of evolution contradicts.

        Ken Ham, the group's executive director, said students should be provided with information about both sides of the debate so they can decide for themselves what to believe.

        “It's amazing they would need legislation to tell teachers to do that,” Mr. Ham said. “The evolutionists shouldn't be worried if they are so sure their theory is fact.”

        Teacher unions contend that Mr. Hood's bill would violate the constitutional separation of church and state by introducing religious values into classrooms.

        “It's unfortunate he's decided to do this again,” said Michael Billirakis, president of the Ohio Education Association, the state's largest teacher union. “We should be talking about what we can do to help get more resources to our teachers and students instead of arguing the Scopes Monkey Trial one more time.”

        Famed lawyer Clarence Darrow, an Ohio native, defended teacher John T. Scopes in 1925 as the evolution debate gripped the nation. Mr. Scopes was convicted of defying a ban on teaching evolution in Tennessee's public schools, but later was freed on a technicality.

        With Ohio legislators planning to spend most of the summer campaigning for the fall elections, there likely will be no action on Mr. Hood's bill this year.

        Said House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, R-Reynoldsburg: “That's not anywhere near the top of our agenda.”


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