Home-schoolers learn to argue against evolution
Home-schoolers learn to argue against evolution
State convention in Harrisburg includes lecture on creation.
By MELISSA NANN BURKE - York Daily Record/Sunday News - 5/16/2008 - original
About 13 percent of Americans say they believe in evolution, and 11-year-old Nathan Tasker was feeling ready to take them on last week.

He attended a seminar at the convention of the Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania that taught him how to defend his belief in biblical creation and Noah's flood.

While his and other home-schoolers' parents shopped for curricula and sat in workshops, he and 200 other home-schoolers heard a lecture critiquing the evidence for evolution.

Convention organizers said parents could use the seminar to count as instructional hours under state home-schooling standards.

"I'm one of the kind of people that likes facts," said Nathan, a fifth-grader who is home schooled in Conewago Township, Adams County.

"I like seeing all the evidence, like the different layers (of sedimentary rock) caused by the flood."

The presenter, Mike Snavely of Jonestown, Lebanon County, drew the rapt attention of the teens and preteens at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg.

"People say, 'I don't believe in evolution.' But they don't know why," Snavely said in an interview. "They ask me how to answer a co-worker who says we evolved through random mutations."

Snavely's seminar arms them with answers, he said.

He questions the significance of the fossil record and observations of natural selection, which scientists say support Darwin's theory that life on Earth evolved from a common ancestor more than 4 billion years.

Evolutionary scientists say there are no credible scientific critiques of evolution -- no more than there are credible alternatives to the theory of gravity. While its details are debated, evolution is unassailable in scientific circles.

The American public thinks differently. Gallup polls have shown nearly half of U.S. adults don't believe evolution, and a third are unhappy schools teach it.

Conservative Christians who reject evolution have tried over the last decade to push alternatives to evolution into the curricula or remove it entirely.

Dover Area school board officials lost a court battle in 2005 over their attempt to introduce ninth-grade students to an alternative to evolution. A federal judge said intelligent design was a religious idea that may not be mentioned in public-school classrooms.

Snavely has a Bible college degree but no formal training in the sciences. (Creation is not science, he said.) Since the mid-1990s, he's presented his seminars at churches, Christian schools, summer camps and military bases.

He said he learned what he knows from talking with experts, some of whom belong to the small camp of scientists who find evolution implausible.

Snavely spent an hour Friday explaining his skepticism for the basics of evolution. He read from a biology textbook and highlighted the verbs and qualifiers that he said cast doubt on Darwin's theory.

"Most scientists today believe that life could have risen from non-living matter," he read.

"One of the things that galls me about evolution is not just that it's taught but that it's taught as fact. Look at these words: 'may have,' 'could have,' 'probably,' 'possibly.' Do these sound like knowledge words? No, they sound like guessing words."

Science is among 14-year-old Hannah Bernhart's favorite classes. Before Snavely's seminar, she had already studied evolution to better understand what "our opponents" believe, said the ninth-grader from Elizabethtown.

She knows some Christians view the Bible differently and accept evolution. That's confusing to her because the Bible clearly says God created man in his present form, she said.

"I believe the reason most people believe in evolution is they don't want to believe the Bible," she said.

Eighth-grader Nate Brown, 14, of Gardners, Adams County, shook his head in disgust as Snavely explained the many questions evolutionary scientists can't answer about how life began.

"I've always looked at evolution skeptically," Nate said.

"Creation is probably one of the most attacked parts of our faith and that's the basis of all life. If you can be able to defend how life started and know it's true, that's pretty powerful."