Creationism in Georgia
Evolution furor heats up
Critics, including former President Jimmy Carter, say state looks silly

, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 1/31/2004 - original
Georgia copied almost all the biology standards developed by the American Association for the Advancement for Science. These sections related to evolution were left out of the state's proposed curriculum:

Introduction that was omitted
* History should not be overlooked. Learning about [Charles] Darwin and what led him to the concept of evolution illustrates the interacting roles of evidence and theory in scientific inquiry. Moreover, the concept of evolution provided a framework for organizing new as well as "old" biological knowledge into a coherent picture of life forms.

Points that were omitted
* The basic idea of biological evolution is that the Earth's present-day species developed from earlier, distinctly different species.
* Molecular evidence substantiates the anatomical evidence for evolution and provides additional detail about the sequence in which various lines of descent branched off from one another.
* Natural selection provides the following mechanism for evolution: Some variation in heritable characteristics exists within every species; some of these characteristics give individuals an advantage over others in surviving and reproducing; and the advantaged offspring, in turn, are more likely than others to survive and reproduce.
* The theory of natural selection provides a scientific explanation for the history of life on Earth as depicted in the fossil record and in the similarities evident within the diversity of existing organisms.
* Life on Earth is thought to have begun as simple, one-celled organisms about 4 billion years ago. During the first 2 billion years, only single-cell microorganisms existed, but once cells with nuclei developed about a billion years ago, increasingly complex multicellular organisms evolved.
* Evolution builds on what already exists, so the more variety there is, the more there can be in the future. But evolution does not necessitate long-term progress in some set direction. Evolutionary changes appear to be like the growth of a bush: Some branches survive from the beginning with little or no change, many die out altogether, and others branch repeatedly, sometimes giving rise to more complex organisms.
Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science.
* To read the entire document, go to Diversity of Life

Georgia political leaders said Friday that they're embarrassed that the state is at the center of a furor over evolution.

Former President Jimmy Carter said the state school superintendent's efforts to remove references to evolution from science curriculum standards will handicap students and damage Georgia's reputation.

"As a Christian, a trained engineer and scientist, and a professor at Emory University, I am embarrassed by Superintendent Kathy Cox's attempt to censor and distort the education of Georgia's students," the former president declared. "Nationwide ridicule of Georgia's public education system will be inevitable if this proposal is adopted."

Cox, who could not be reached for comment on the issue Friday, proposed editing out the word "evolution" as part of a massive revision of the state teaching curriculum. The teaching plans for high school biology and sixth-grade Earth science would replace references to "evolution" with "biological changes over time," a phrase that scientists describe as meaningless.

A spokesman for Cox responded to Carter by saying, "We respect his opinion, as we do all Georgia citizens. We want Mr. Carter, as well as Georgia citizens, to understand we're not imposing a ban on evolution from textbooks or the classroom."

At the state Capitol, some lawmakers denounced the proposal Friday.

"You're talking about a major change in public education in Georgia," said Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, a Democrat. "It appears Superintendent Cox finds the word 'evolution' too controversial to be discussed. She prefers a more nebulous term."

State Rep. Bob Holmes (D-Atlanta), chairman of the House Education Committee, said the proposal will make Georgia look foolish on a national scale. "We have one black eye from the flag. This will give us another black eye," he said.

Holmes said he couldn't understand why the argument over evolution is continuing. "It seems to me this thing had been resolved 70 years ago during the Scopes monkey trial," he said. In that landmark trial, in Tennessee in 1925, Clarence Darrow defended high school teacher John Scopes in the first court case to pit the theory of evolution against the biblical story of creation.

Although legislators may get no vote on whether Cox's decision stands, Holmes noted that the House and Senate "provide funds for everything they do."

Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, has tried to stay out of the fray, saying it's not his place to get involved.

"I trust the superintendent and the [state] Board of Education," Perdue said in an interview. "The superintendent is perfectly capable of making those kinds of curriculum decisions."

Derailing concepts?

In defense of the revised curriculum, Cox said this week that "evolution" is a "buzzword" that has the potential to derail teachers' efforts to teach the major concepts of biology. At a news conference Thursday, she said she wanted to avoid inviting public misconception about evolution instruction in the public schools.

"By putting the word in there, we thought people would jump to conclusions and think, 'OK, we're going to be teaching the monkeys-to-man sort of thing.' Which is not what happens in a modern biology classroom," Cox said.

Cox, a Republican elected in 2002 to the state's highest school post, said the proposed curriculum covers all the essentials for teaching evolution without using the word itself. And teachers are still free to use the word in their classrooms, she said.

The standards include lengthy sections on the nature of science, genetics, heredity and other aspects of biology, all lifted from benchmarks set by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. But the revised curriculum does not include most of the national benchmarks on the evolution of living things. Omitted are the explanation of natural selection -- how organisms with inherited advantages are more likely to survive and reproduce -- and statements such as "Life on Earth is thought to have begun as simple, one-celled organisms about 4 billion years ago."

Jo Ellen Roseman, director of the AAAS' benchmark program, said Georgia's proposed biology curriculum is "a significant improvement" in most areas but flawed in regard to evolution. She said she expects scientists, educators and the business community to push for stronger standards for evolution in the final draft of the new curriculum.

After a period for public comment closes in March, Cox said, she will reconvene advisory committees of teachers and curriculum experts. The superintendent's final recommendation is to go to the 13-member state Board of Education in May.

A healthy debate

Several state school board members said Friday that they would not publicly voice their opinion on the changes until the public comment period ends. But some, including board Chairwoman Wanda Barrs, a former middle school science teacher, said the debate is healthy.

"Conversations about this are not threatening to me," said Barrs, who taught evolution and used the term in her classroom. "I felt confident enough in my personal beliefs and also in scientific data to be able to communicate the scientific data and not be threatened by it."

Peggy Nielson, a board member from southwest Georgia, said the existing curriculum is inadequate. She emphasized that the draft is only a proposal. "It is not adopted. And it needs careful scrutiny by all academics and individuals concerned with students being productive citizens in the 21st century," she said.

Religious leaders also weighed in on the controversy.

Pastor William Sheals of Hopewell Baptist Church in Norcross suggested that a true Christian cannot believe in evolution.

He said evolution -- and creationism -- should be taught in public schools to help students understand science. But don't remove the word "evolution" from the curriculum and pretend that you're not still teaching it, Sheals argued. "You're still teaching the fact that man evolved from an ape."

Rabbi Hillel Norry of Shearith Israel, a Conservative Jewish synagogue in Atlanta, called the proposal to remove references to evolution absurd.

"This is an effort to force the public to conform to the ideas and comfort level of only one segment of the population: those that are biblical literalist," Norry said.

Staff writers John Blake, Rhonda Cook, Dana Tofig, Tom Walker and Maria Saporta contributed to this report.