Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, August 2, 2001
School Board divided over adding Creationism theory

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

A proposal that could crack open the door to teaching creationism in Hawai'i public schools has met with mixed reactions from members of the Board of Education and local religious leaders, although it has provoked an academic and religious controversy in the state.

Education officials, who appear to be struggling to decide whether and where creationism should become part of the curriculum, are expecting a lengthy debate tonight when they open the floor to members of the public who want to testify on a plan to change the performance standards for science education.

The Board of Education will consider allowing teaching that there are multiple theories of origin besides evolution the basic principle of teaching the life sciences in Hawai'i from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The issue of evolution versus creationism pits the theory that living things evolved from earlier species against the biblical theory that God created humans essentially in their current forms. Although it is hotly debated in some areas on the Mainland, the issue has not been dealt with in Hawai'i until now.

The board office has been deluged with phone calls about the proposal. A packet of e-mails, letters and faxed testimony will greet members before the meeting. University of Hawai'i science faculty members have fired off letters and organized petitions against the proposal, and the Hawai'i Citizens for the Separation of State and Church has promised a federal lawsuit if the board approves the new language.

Constitutional battleground

Although the possible change was welcomed by some church leaders, others cautioned the school district from entering into an arena that could become a constitutional battleground.

"From what I know about it, I don't think it fits the criteria of what science is," said Reynold Fujikawa, minister at the Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin Ho-nolulu temple. "I think religion is important, but to put religion into the public schools in any form really endangers the separation of church and state. It's hard to have all of the viewpoints represented equally and fairly."

Board member Denise Matsumoto suggested the proposal at a committee meeting last Thursday. It would emphasize biological evolution as a theory among theories. It also would require that high school students be taught that there are multiple theories of origin.

Archie Campbell, a former public school science teacher and pastor of Oahu Christian Center, said students have a right to an authentic debate of scientific theories.

"I am a Christian. My world view is based on a benevolent God who created," Campbell said. "I still value the scientific method. I challenged the students to test everything they are told. I am really in favor of putting both theories out there, testing them and seeing what we come up with. Nobody would argue that teaching students to do empirical research is a bad thing."

Pastors support inclusion

Campbell said there is factual evidence to support creation science.

"There has never been a missing link discovered," he said. "That's why it's called the missing link. No one has ever found transitional species."

Rev. Sam Sherrard, senior pastor at Leeward Community Church, also said he supports the idea of teaching creation science in the classroom.

"I think it is fair, to any thinking person, to consider the idea of intelligent design," he said. "To say there isn't any creative act is to deny truth itself, or logic. I would like to see it taught as an option. This is not just something believed by people who are not educated."

But board member Karen Knudsen, who voted in favor of the proposal in the committee meeting last week, said the public debate over the issue has caused her to reconsider.

"I think we need to go back to the original language," Knudsen said. "I'm sorry I didn't catch the full gravity of this."

The theories of origin that have a basis in religion should be kept in the social studies curriculum, she said. "We've had social studies teachers calling us saying, 'We talk about that. Don't take away our material.' Most folks don't object to teaching any of this, but not in science class."

Mike Young, minister at First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, said the teaching of creationism would go against the majority religious perspective in Hawai'i. He said Catholics and most mainstream Protestant denominations have no problem with the teaching of evolution.

"They would not only be establishing religion, but they would establish the religion of the narrowest group of Christians," Young said. "The pope has accepted evolution for God's sake. The first chapter of Genesis is not a description of God's technique."

'Keep it in the home'

Board member Marilyn Harris said she wants the board to return to the original language. "In Hawai'i we're good at going off on irrelevant trails when something needs to be accomplished," she said. "We need to teach science in science. If anyone would like to place this in the schools, which I'm not sure we want to, there would have to be another area to do it in."

Board member Lex Brodie said the board should concentrate on other more important issues.

"Just right off the cuff, my first thought is, let's not let religion in our schools," he said. "Keep it in the home. We have so many other things that we should be doing that are much more meaningful than this."

However, board member Keith Sakata said there is room for other theories. "If it's designed to introduce new information to students, I'm not quite sure what harm it would be for them to get different theories," he said. "I know there is concern, but I think it is something we can work out."

The Board of Education will discuss the issue and accept public comment starting 7 p.m. in the Queen Lili'uokalani Building.