A Texas-sized battle over scrapping a longtime requirement that Lone Star State students be taught weaknesses in the theory of evolution has split politicians, parents, and professors who teach biology at the state's Christian universities.
"I hope to reach others on the weightier matters of the Resurrection, hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven while I work out how evolution does not have to conflict with Christianity," said Daniel Brannan, a biology professor at Abilene Christian University.
Brannan joined hundreds of scientists in signing a 21st Century Science Coalition petition that supports new curriculum standards for the state's 4.7 million public-school students. The petition states that "evolution is an easily observable phenomenon that has been documented beyond any reasonable doubt."
Among other petition signers were science professors from Baylor, Hardin-Simmons, McMurry, and Texas Christian—all Texas universities with Christian ties.
But other Christian biology professors have aligned themselves with the Discovery Institute in signing a petition titled "A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism."
"We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged," declared the hundreds of dissenters, including biology professors from Baylor, Lubbock Christian, LeTourneau, and other Christian universities.
The state board of education has given preliminary approval to new standards that remove wording that schools teach evolution's "weaknesses." A final review of the new standards was scheduled for March.
Proponents of focusing on evolution's strengths say their goal is simple: Teach science in science class. But dissenters say that teaching science requires including weaknesses, since new information constantly arises from research.
LeTourneau biology professor Amiel Jarstfer said he testified before the state Board of Education in January that "good science is based on continuous questioning and critique.
"I would side with Newton in that I believe that the existence of a Creator gives me reason to search for order in the universe," Jarstfer said. "The more I study molecular cell biology, the more I am in awe of the majesty of the Creator."
While many took sides, some—including Jim Nichols, chair of Abilene Christian's biology department—declined to sign a petition.
"[Petitions] too often oversimplify causes," Nichols said. "I suspect [the curriculum debate] is really more of a political/religious showcase than something that will really affect public education.
"I and many others live relatively comfortably in both camps and tire from attacks from both sides," he added. "With all the real problems in the world, this is a serious waste of energy to keep beating on this topic."
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Previous Christianity Today stories on evolution include:
The Evolution of Darwin | The scientist's problem with God did not spring from his theory. (January 22, 2009)
An End to the Creation/Evolution Wars? | Hugh Ross incorporates common sense into the debate in Creation as Science. (April 12, 2007)
Creation or Evolution? Yes! | Francis Collins issues a call to stand on the middle ground. (January 16, 2007)
Your Darwin Is Too Large | Evolution's significance for theology has been greatly exaggerated. (May 22, 2000)