Monkeying with evolution; Debate over scientific theory could affect what kids are taught; Just for kids; KIDS NEWS


Charlie Pierce of Hutchinson High School in Kansas has taught evolution in his biology class for close to 20 years.

But starting this school year, Pierce was no longer required to include evolution -- a fact that distresses him and other Kansas science teachers. "We're going back to the 1880s," Pierce said.

Last summer, the Kansas Board of Education voted to remove from the state's curriculum all references to evolution, the belief that life formed over billions of years, with humans and apes sharing a common ancestor.

Charles Darwin's 140-year-old theory is meeting stiff opposition from supporters of creationism. The Bible-based theory states that God created the Earth and humans in six days.

With the debate heating up again, some scientists are adamantly defending their viewpoint. They argue that evolution is a cornerstone of biology. Without it, they say, kids won't be able to understand more advanced scientific concepts.

Conservative Christians, the staunchest supporters of creationism, say there's plenty of scientific evidence to refute Darwin's theory and to support their belief that a higher intelligence created life as described in the book of Genesis.

Still, many Christians, including Pope John Paul II, disagree with creationists. In 1996, the pope stated that evolution "is more than just a hypothesis" and that it's compatible with Catholic faith.

In recent years, creationists have opted for strategies that would limit the teaching of evolution, with some success. In Kansas, they influenced decision-makers to remove questions about evolution from standardized assessment tests.

Last year, Kentucky deleted the word "evolution" from its classes, and Illinois made a similar move two years ago But some states are going the opposite direction. In October, New Mexico made evolution the sole theory taught in its schools. And last month, West Virginia's Kanawha County school board rejected an effort to lift its ban on teaching creationism.

Meanwhile, many kids don't see it as a black-and-white issue. In a recent poll for Seventeen magazine, 80 percent of kids said schools should teach evolution. But half of those kids also said they want to see evolution taught along with creationism. Only 21 percent of the kids polled felt evolution shouldn't be taught at all.

c 1997 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight-Ridder/Tribune, Inc.

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