The American Scientific Affiliation also plans to publish a guidebook on the teaching of origins.
At its recent annual meeting in Houghton, New York, the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) presented its near-finished guidebook on the teaching of origins and discussed plans for television programs to respond to the popular “Cosmos” series.
The 2,100-member organization of Christian science teachers and researchers began planning the television series two years ago. A number of ASA members felt that “Cosmos” helped propagate a false dichotomy between science and religion. “[‘Cosmos’ host Carl] Sagan said that modern science arose in spite of religious values. That is totally fallacious,” said ASA executive director Robert Herrmann. “He also made some dogmatic statements that are pure religion, a kind of secular humanism, like, ‘This [the cosmos] is all there is and was and ever will be.’ We felt that somebody ought to answer these misrepresentations.”
ASA is planning five one-hour segments, budgeted at approximately $2 million and targeted for a general television audience. The series also would be produced in half-hour programs for use in colleges and churches. Herrmann said the programs would take a “historical developmental viewpoint to show a complementarity between religious faith and the scientific productivity of early people in science.”
ASA member Owen Gingerich, a Harvard astronomer who served as an adviser for the “Cosmos” programs, is expected to be the on-camera host. An editorial board is being assembled, and ASA is raising funds to cover the costs of writing a script. After the script is completed, Herrmann said, “we’ll look for a corporate or foundation sponsor to help with the filming.”
A Teachers’ Guidebook
Further along in production is the ASA’s guidebook for science teachers. Titled Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy, the book is scheduled for publication next month.
The idea for the guidebook was triggered by the 1984 publication of Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences. That book was published in the wake of citizen protests against the teaching of evolution as dogma in public school textbooks. Walter Hearn, editor of ASA’s Newsletter, said the National Academy of Sciences book is “mostly very good, but there were a few dogmatic statements about human origins that irritated religiously sensitive people.” Hearn cited a statement that “the ‘missing links’ [in evolution] that troubled Darwin and his followers are no longer missing.” He also cited the book’s claim that “a succession of well-documented intermediate forms or species” exists leading from early primates to humans.
To write its own guidebook, ASA established a committee, chaired by David Price, a 35-year veteran of teaching science in public high schools and colleges. Price said the committee initially saw its task “as helping textbook publishers find better ways to discuss evolution without turning religiously inclined citizens against science.” After further review of the National Academy of Sciences book, however, the committee decided it would be better to publish a book that “would help the science teacher sort out the problems in the creation-evolution controversy,” Price said.
The scheduled ASA guidebook informs teachers that “most scientists … defend evolution because they regard it as a key biological concept,” while “probably a majority of America’s citizens cherish creation as a basic biblical doctrine. Evolution and creation are often presented as polar opposites, so that if one interpretation holds, the other cannot. In a science classroom, head-on conflict is likely to erupt during almost any discussion of origins.” Among other things, the book advises teachers to turn an argument over evolution into “a discussion that becomes a rewarding educational experience”; to show respect for opposing views; and to consider the “whole spectrum of opinion.” The book further encourages teachers to cite unfounded claims made by evolutionists and creationists.
ASA member Kenneth Olson, professor of science education at the University of Northern Colorado, said the guidebook “deals with controversy from the position that honors the religious convictions of citizens and children while emphasizing the teaching of good science. We’re trying to help science teachers teach good science and nothing more. We’re not trying to sneak in the gospel.” In publishing the guidebook, Olson said, ASA is “tackling a hornet’s nest where there’s lots of emotional feelings about creation and evolution.”
Price said science teachers “are caught between those who say everything happened by chance and the young-Earth creationists who refuse to look at reliable information demonstrating an old Earth. We feel our moderate creationist position can help the teacher.”
A first print run of 25,000 is planned for next month. Five thousand copies will be reserved for ASA members, and the balance will be mailed to high school administrators and biology teachers. A second printing early next year will complete the mailing to all 40,000 biology teachers in the United States.
Approach To Origins
Hearn said ASA is “a peace-making body with a third approach to origins between the young-Earth creationist camp and the secular evolutionists. Our risk is that the young-Earth people will see the book as a sell-out, while some in science will regard us as fundamentalists trying to take over.”
ASA does not take a position on origins, except that members affirm God to be “the Creator of the physical universe” while acknowledging that “the scientific approach is capable of giving reliable information about the natural world.” Many ASA members call themselves “old-Earth creationists” or “theistic evolutionists” who accept the theory that Earth is at least several billion years old. (In contrast, Henry Morris, a leader in the Creation Research Society, has written that 10,000 years “seems to be an outside limit for the age of the earth.”)
Herrmann said he hopes the guidebook and the proposed television series will help ASA build credibility. “We want to be a voice which people take seriously …,” he said. “We want to say to Christians and non-Christians, ‘Let us put aside confrontation and reason together.’ ”
By James C. Hefley in Houghton, New York.
Twenty-nine members of Congress have sent a letter to Egypt’s ambassador protesting the arrests of ten Christians. The congressmen called on Egypt to “release the Christians who have been imprisoned and to end any discrimination or punishment based on religion or belief.” Six of the jailed believers are Egyptians who converted to Christianity from Islam in the 1970s. The remaining four are North African converts from Islam who were attending a Campus Crusade for Christ training center in Egypt.
The Associated Press quoted sources who said the converts were being held under a 1972 law that provides imprisonment of up to five years or fines of up to $750 for “defaming” Islam, Christianity, and Judaism “in a way that threatens national unity.” Egyptian Christians say the law is used to prevent Christian missionaries from converting Muslims. Egypt’s constitution guarantees “freedom of creed,” but it also affirms Islam as the state religion.
“We consider these people to be prisoners of conscience,” said Carline Windall of Amnesty International, a London-based human rights organization. “The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights declares that everyone should have the right to freedom of religion, and Egypt ratified the covenant on January 14, 1982.” Human rights organizations are asking Americans to contact the nearest Egyptian consulate or embassy to seek the release of the imprisoned Christians.
Admitting a Drug Problem
Several recent articles in the government-controlled press have acknowledged that drug abuse is a growing problem in the Soviet Union.
An article in the Communist Youth newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda called for intensified action against drug abuse. The article’s author, A. Mostovoi, said the drug problem has increased with the reduction of liquor sales as part of Mikhail Gorbachev’s war on alcoholism.
“With the restrictions on the sale of liquor, there began the production of surrogates in many cities,” Mostovoi wrote, including antistatic laundry compounds, glue, and certain medicines. He added that carloads of youths descend on poppy fields near the city of Kuibyshev to obtain seeds, which serve as the source of opium and other derivatives. The Moscow city youth newspaper, Moskovsky Komsomolets, said drug addiction in the Soviet Union stems from inadequate upbringing in schools and in the home.
Meanwhile, the Soviet government announced that its campaign against drunkenness has resulted in a 35 percent decline in the sale of alcoholic beverages during the first six months of this year. Antidrinking measures introduced last year included a 50 percent reduction in the number of Moscow stores selling vodka, and a reduction in their operating hours. In addition, liquor is no longer served at many government receptions.
Backing Religious Instruction
Church and government leaders alike were shocked by survey results indicating that parents and students overwhelmingly support religious education in Italy’s public schools.
The Italian Education Ministry asked parents and public school students over age 14 whether they wanted schools to continue religious instruction classes for one hour per week. After last year’s accord between the government and the Vatican canceling Catholicism as the state religion, Italy’s public schools are no longer obligated to provide religious instruction.
The survey indicated that 95 percent of parents and 94 percent of students wanted to retain catechism classes. Before the survey results were announced, observers predicted a resounding defeat for religious instruction. A poll by Doxa, Italy’s foremost public opinion pollsters, had shown that weekly attendance at mass has fallen from 69 percent of the population to 28 percent during the last three decades, and that only 8 percent of young people take weekly Communion.
Temple Mount Controversy
A group of prominent rabbis has issued a formal call for the construction of a synagogue on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, an area sacred to Muslims and currently forbidden to Jews.
The call was issued after a meeting led by former chief rabbi Shlomo Goren. The rabbis said they have a 1967 survey map of the Temple Mount that shows the location of Solomon’s Temple, Herod’s Temple, and the Holy of Holies.
Jews are barred from the Temple Mount because Jewish law prohibits them from entering areas that were formerly covered by the first and second temples. However, the rabbis said their survey map shows the exact location of the original temples. As a result, they said they could identify an area of the Temple Mount where it would be permissible under Jewish religious law to build a synagogue.
“The only place that has absolutely no shadow of a doubt is in the south,” Goren said. “There is room for a synagogue that could hold a thousand people.… We must establish a … permanent place of prayer on the mount. It is a desecration of God to enter the mount under the authority of an Arab guard.”
Jerusalem city officials said efforts by Jews to pray on the Temple Mount or to build a synagogue there could lead to violent conflict between Jews and Muslims. The Temple Mount includes the Dome of the Rock, the third most-sacred site in Islam, which is under the control of Muslim religious authorities.
“The Muslims will never permit any Jew to pray [on the mount] or any council to establish a synagogue in the area,” said Sheik Saad al-Din al-Alami, the head of the Supreme Muslim Council in Jerusalem. “The Muslims are prepared to die for this.”
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