Scholars Debate Creationsit Theories
It was evolution versus Eden last night in a panel at the Graduate School of Education's Askwith Lecture Hall, as proponents of creationism and evolution sparred about modes of teaching science in public schools.
The panel, entitled "Creationism in Schools," was sparked by the recent decision by the Kansas Board of Education to remove the teaching of evolution from that state's mandated curriculum.
On one side of the debate were creationism advocates Ken Ham, the founder and director of Answers in Genesis, a pro-creation organization; and Russ Humphreys, a physicist at Sandia Laboratories and an adjunct professor for the Institute of Creation Research.
Speaking in support of the theory of evolution were Graham Bell, a professor of Genetics at McGill University, and Brian Alters, head of the science education program at McGill University in Montreal.
The controversy over the teaching of evolution regained national prominence in August when the Kansas board eliminated science curriculum standards in cases where biology, geology and astronomy would be in conflict with the Bible.
The Board did not mandate the teaching of creationism, but rather left the decision of what to teach up to local school boards and individual teachers.
Ham said that the book of Genesis should be taken as literal history, not a cultural metaphor.
"The Bible is what it claims to be: the word of God written down for us," Ham said.
Ham said that, although today's students learn that scientific evidence supports evolution, there are other ways of interpreting the same data.
In particular, Ham said that genetic evidence may not show how the first plants and animals evolved into the wide variety of life on earth today.
Ham said he acknowledged "great variation within a kind" of plant or animal--that it was reasonable to believe that one kind of dog could evolve into many different kinds of dog.
However, Ham said he could not accept the transition from one species to another, quite different species.
Humphreys supported Ham's claims by pointing out faults in the fossil record. He cited a lack of transitional fossils and questioned whether the evolution of life, from simple to complex, was actually represented in the data.
He also presented an alternative view of the history of plate tectonics. This history supported his viewpoint that God created the world between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago, but diverged widely from current scientific doctrine, which estimates the age of the world in the billions of years.
Hump hreys showed a computer model of this alternate plate tectonics, which included, at one point, the continents moving apart from each other at a rate of two meters per second. He called this process "a continental sprint, not a continental drift."
Alters and Bell attacked education programs which allowed creationism to be taught as having no solid scientific base.
"The scientific consensus around evolution is overwhelming," Alters said. He asked what would happen when high school students, trained in creation science, were released to the rest of the world.
They would find no creationist articles published in scientific journals, no research grants for creation science, and few university-level teaching positions for creationism.
Alters said that according to the National Academy of Science, "Creation science is not science."
Regarding this announcement, Alters questioned, "Should K-12 school boards be deciding what is science?"
Bell said evolutionary theory can both explain patterns in nature and predict future events.
"Evolution is a successful theory, and unsuccessful theories do not last long in science," Bell said.
The debate then turned to more education-centered issues, with the creationists arguing that students benefited from hearing more than one perspective on certain doctrines.
"We would like students to hear about world views," referring to the application of Christianity as a "complete world view."
Humphreys advocated the "two-model approach" to education, one that would incorporate multiple theories regarding the origin of life, while Alters argued that creation and evolution should not be on equal footing.
"I don't believe you can have proof or disproof when it comes to origins," said Ham. "There are scientific aspects and there are faith aspects."