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Evolution on Trial

Ignorance of science hazardous to next generation

The Charlotte Observer, Nov. 10, 2004

In Cobb County, Ga., a trial is under way. The nature of the dispute draws a smile: disclaimer stickers about evolution placed on public school textbooks. But the overriding question is serious: how evolution should be taught in public schools.

The fundamental issue is intellectual honesty in public education. That's a fight worth fighting.

The Georgia lawsuit arose after a school board in a suburban Atlanta school district placed stickers inside the front cover of science books used in middle and high schools. Here is what they said:

'This textbook contains material about evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.'

That warning seems harmless, but it must be viewed in a larger context. Across America a debate rages over whether schools should also acknowledge an alternative view of development of life on Earth - the biblical view. Certainly that view should be respected, but it should not determine what is taught in school as science.

In fact, though not all of Charles Darwin's ideas about evolutionary mechanisms have held up, much in biology makes no sense without evolution. As with all science, knowledge evolves as new discoveries are made, but discoveries haven't discredited the fact of evolution. A community that sends its young people into the world ignorant of that fact does them no favors.

Cobb County is expected to argue that the purpose of the stickers is to teach tolerance, not discount evolution or endorse religion. But the act of adding a disclaimer is a way to discredit a high school biology text used by more than a million students in all 50 states. It's part of a nationwide effort to chip away at evolution. Witness the push in Texas last year to revise textbooks to include evolution's so-called 'flaws.'

The record in places like Iran and Afghanistan speaks clearly. When religious beliefs dictate what the schools teach as fact, the honest search for knowledge is endangered. That's what the conflict in Georgia is about.