Pacific Northwest heats up with evolution controversies!

  Although the Pacific Northwest of America is often portrayed as a region of "open mindedness" and "toleration," two instructors who refuse to teach evolution as fact are seeing their jobs placed in jeopardy because of the intolerance of evolutionary zealots.

In Bend, Oregon, community college instructor Kevin Haley has been teaching his students that the theory of evolution has many grave scientific problems. Even though he does not teach creation (which he has the academic freedom to do if he wants--see below), some colleagues and humanist activists in this central Oregon resort area are clamoring that he be disciplined or even terminated. The student who brought her complaint to school authorities admitted that Mr. Haley did not teach creation, but because he "implies" creationism (according to the February 18 edition of The Oregonian newspaper), she argues that he should stop his critique of evolution! (By the way, Mr. Haley's former department head told The Oregonian that Mr. Haley is "an excellent teacher" and "generates curiosity and stimulates thinking.")

To the north in Washington State, Roger DeHart is being hounded by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) because he not only exposes the scientific difficulties of macro-evolution to his high school biology students, he also offers an alternative view of origins for their consideration: "intelligent design." As reported in the national newspaper The Christian Science Monitor (February 8), Mr. DeHart does not even refer to the Bible or any particular religious belief system in his instruction. He simply presents a second scientific model of origins: i.e., that the wonderfully designed living systems in the world suggest a designer. Therefore, the so-called "church/state separation" issue does not even come into play here because Mr. DeHart is certainly not engaged in "establishment of a religion."

In addition to the obvious fact that the two instructors are not establishing a religion, they have both the academic freedom and court rulings on their side. The so-called "civil liberties" group the ACLU, however, argues (especially in Mr. DeHart's case) that the teachers' critiques of evolution fly in the face of a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision about presenting Biblical creation in public schools. The application of that court ruling to these teachers is preposterous for three simple reasons: 1. what the court actually ruled in 1987 was that no state could force public school instructors to teach Biblical creation--this is totally irrelevant to the two situations in the Northwest where no one is forcing instructors to teach creation; 2. furthermore, the court stated in 1987 that teachers possess the freedom to present alternative views of origins as long as no particular religion was being advanced; and 3. both are not teaching Biblical creationism anyway!

For the sake of academic freedom and tolerance of opposing views, especially with a topic as controversial as origins, students should be exposed to the arguments both for and against macro-evolution. What could be more fair, especially in a region of the country which prides itself in free and open inquiry?

Published: 11 February 2006