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Bills aim to roll back teaching evolution

Lawmaker says kids must get alternative

To state Rep. Jerry Bergevin, the horrors of the Columbine school shooting and the atrocities of Nazi Germany are linked by the theory of evolution, and that's all the evidence he needs to see that New Hampshire's children shouldn't be taught that it's correct.

Bergevin, a Republican from Manchester serving his first term, introduced one of two bills that will be before the Legislature next year addressing evolution, the first in the state since the late 1990s.

The second bill, introduced by Reps. Gary Hopper of Weare and John Burt of Goffstown, more vaguely calls for science teachers to 'instruct pupils that proper scientific (inquiry) results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis . . . and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories.'

Hopper points to the state constitution and its order that teachers support their students' 'morality and piety' for the justification of his bill.

Evolution as it's currently taught tells students 'life just happens. It's just a byproduct of the universe and they are here by accident,' he said.

'But more and more scientists are coming to the conclusion that it was not even remotely possible that it happened by accident. I want to introduce children to the idea that they have a purpose for being here.'

He would like to see intelligent design - the idea that a creator controlled how early life on Earth developed - taught in classrooms, but hasn't been able to find an example of the philosophy being successfully legislated into schools.

'I want the problems with the current theories to be presented so that kids understand that science doesn't really have all the answers. They are just guessing,' he said.

Currently, science class 'is like having a creative writing class where the students are told what to create,' he said. 'Science is a creative process, not an absolute thing.'

Bergevin is less interested in the science of evolution than he is in the political and religious views of Darwin and his disciples. His bill would require schools to teach evolution as a theory, and include 'the theorists' political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.'

'I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the ideas to be presented. It's a worldview and it's godless. Atheism has been tried in various societies, and they've been pretty criminal domestically and internationally. The Soviet Union, Cuba, the Nazis, China today: they don't respect human rights,' he said.

'As a general court we should be concerned with criminal ideas like this and how we are teaching it. . . . Columbine, remember that? They were believers in evolution. That's evidence right there,' he said.

While some evolutionary biologists claim to be Christians or otherwise religious, 'it changes every six months. What today is evolution is going to be different six months from now.'

But none of that is true, said Eugenie Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, which promotes education of evolution, climate change and the teaching of science as a way of knowing facts about the world.

'Yes, it is the case that scientific explanations change with new data, but at some point you reach the stage where there is an agreement among scientists. . . . You're not improving science education for young people by pretending that well-established ideas are up for grabs. The idea of evolution, that living things have common ancestors, is not being challenged in science today,' she said.

'Neither of these bills are going to advance science education in New Hampshire and neither of them deserve to be inflicted upon the students in your state.'

Legislators in seven other states proposed similar bills this year, and all were defeated. The bills confuse the scientific use of the word 'theory' with the common use, she said.

Bergevin's bill 'should be obviously unacceptable to legislators on its face. They ought to be able to see pretty quickly that this bill is just silly,' Scott said.

'Evolutionary scientists are Democrats and Republicans, Libertarians and Greens and everything. Similarly, their religious views are all over the map, too. . . . If you replace atheism in the bill with Protestantism, or Catholicism, or Judaism or any other view, it's clear to see it's not going to pass legal muster.'

Besides, the bill would present teachers with the impossible task of tracking down information about every scientist mentioned in a textbook or other class material, 'which is pretty dopey,' she said.

Hopper's bill is more broadly worded and could be used to challenge scientific teachings on any topic.

'In a sense that makes it more dangerous,' she said.

Both bills have been referred to the House Education Committee for hearings in early February.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com)

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