Kentucky legislators assailing evolution

Legislators in the Kentucky state senate are concerned about the presence of evolution in the state science standards and associated end-of-course testing. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader (August 14, 2012), "Several GOP lawmakers questioned new proposed student standards and tests that delve deeply into biological evolution during a Monday meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Education. In an exchange with officials from ACT, the company that prepares Kentucky's new state testing program, those lawmakers discussed whether evolution was a fact and whether the biblical account of creationism also should be taught in Kentucky classrooms."

State senator David Givens (R-District 9) told the Herald-Leader, "I would hope that creationism is presented as a theory in the classroom, in a science classroom, alongside evolution," while state representative Ben Waite (R-District 10) went so far as to dispute the inclusion of evolution. "The theory of evolution is a theory, and essentially the theory of evolution is not science — Darwin made it up," Waide was quoted as saying. "My objection is they should ensure whatever scientific material is being put forth as a standard should at least stand up to scientific method. Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny."

But Vincent Cassone, chair of the University of Kentucky's biology department, told the Herald-Leader, "The theory of evolution is the fundamental backbone of all biological research. ... There is more evidence for evolution than there is for the theory of gravity, than the idea that things are made up of atoms, or Einstein's theory of relativity. It is the finest scientific theory ever devised." David Helm, president of the Kentucky Science Teachers Association, declined to comment, but referred the newspaper to the National Science Teachers Association's statement on evolution, which "strongly supports the position that evolution is a major unifying concept in science and should be included in the K-12 science education frameworks and curricula."

In a subsequent editorial headlined "Keep religious beliefs out of science class if we want Ky. kids to compete," the Herald-Leader (August 16, 2012) observed, "It is unlikely that the pleas by Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, and others that creationism or other unscientific, faith-based beliefs about the origins of the universe and its species should be taught along with evolution will gain enough traction to change Kentucky's standards," adding, "Parents will always be free to teach their children as they see fit in their homes. But religious beliefs cannot be substituted for, or equated with, scientific understanding in public schools. At least, not if we want our children to compete on a national level."

Previous legislative activity aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution in Kentucky's public schools includes House Bill 169 in 2011 and House Bill 397 in 2010, both based on the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act; both bills died in committee. Kentucky is apparently unique in having a statute (PDF; Kentucky Revised Statutes 158.177) on the books that authorizes teachers to teach "the theory of creation as presented in the Bible" and to "read such passages in the Bible as are deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of creation." Yet the Louisville Courier-Journal (January 11, 2006) reported that in a November 2005 survey of the state's 176 school districts, none was teaching or discussing "intelligent design."

Updated on August 16, 2012, by the addition of the fourth paragraph.