TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

Local News

August 14, 2012

State lawmakers want evolution taught as theory, not fact

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis

CNHI News Service

Some Kentucky lawmakers are up in arms about an end-of-course exam for high school biology students which they contend requires the teaching of the theory of evolution as “fact.”

During a meeting of the Interim Committee on Education, some Republican lawmakers told representatives of the ACT Educational Services, which designed the test, that Kentucky does not want to teach evolution as fact.

“There is no science to it,” said Ben Waide, R-Madisonville. “There is just no scientific evidence to support evolution as scientific fact. But if you hear it over and over enough, you think it’s true.”

Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, the general manager of a Christian radio station, said he’s done “a lot of research on” the subject. He said that research bolsters his belief in the “irreducible complexity” of the universe and he objects to teaching evolution as fact.

“My concern is our students are indoctrinated into one way of thinking without any sort of intellectual freedom,” Wilson said. “The evidence doesn’t support evolution.”

Ginger Hopkins, vice-president of ACT Educational Services, told the lawmakers the test is designed to measure high school students’ readiness for college biology courses and that is done by asking college professors what those students need to know to take their college courses. She said ACT takes no position on the question of evolution.

Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, asked if lawmakers had any say in the design or inclusion of questions on the test. Hopkins said ACT can design a Kentucky specific test if that is what lawmakers want, but again said the test, as currently worded, reflects what college professors teach and expect students to understand.

“I presume you’ve heard this from other states as well, haven’t you?” asked Givens.

“Very rarely,” said Sara Clough of ACT.

“It’s just not that common, really,” added Hopkins. Both answers seemed to surprise the lawmakers.

Committee Chairman Sen. Ken Winters, R-Murray, said the questions were prompted by calls the senators received from teachers who complained the wording of the test “requires them to teach evolution as a fact.” Winters said he hasn’t seen the test question. “I rely on the teachers.”

But Terry Holliday, Kentucky Commissioner of Education, told the committee, “We believe the assessment (test) and the studies within this assessment are based on evolution as a theory, not as fact.”

He also said he has communicated that to several superintendents who posed the same question lawmakers were asking. He later provided a copy of a lengthy e-mail to Hart County Superintendent Ricky Line in which he explained the meaning of the word “theory” in science as “a very precise term” used to describe “a wide variety of independent observations.”

In the email Holliday says the everyday use of the word “theory” by non-scientists to describe an “idea” which the speaker views as “little more than a guess” is substantially different than what a scientist means by the word.

Sen. Vernie McGaha, R-Russell Springs, a retired educator, asked the ACT representatives why creationism “can’t be treated the same” as the theory of evolution. Hopkins again answered that the goal of ACT is to design tests to reflect what high school graduates will be expected to know when they enter college.

McGaha said if the test isn’t changed, “this is going to cause a lot of furor in this state.”

After the meeting, Holliday said the courts have consistently ruled that creationism is a religious concept or belief and not science, so it can’t be taught as science.

That was also the point of Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, the House Education Committee Chairman. He said “there’s a lot of science in it” (evolution) and it should be taught in science classes while other theories of the universe which are more religious in concept should be taught in comparative religion courses — not in science courses.

Holliday told the committee he would like a follow-up meeting with the committee “to discuss the science.”

Winters later said lawmakers won’t object to the test so long as it’s made clear to students that evolution is only a theory and not a fact.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort

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