State extends comment period on evolution debate in high school science standards

Diane Douglas

Diane Douglas

PHOENIX -- Arizonans will get a bit more time to weigh in on the proposed new science standards for high schools, including the bid by Diane Douglas, the superintendent of public instruction, to eliminate several reference to "evolution.''

The move came after the program on the Department of Education web site to take comments crashed on Sunday and remained inoperable into Monday, which had been the final day for people to respond. The new deadline is now noon on Thursday.

Dan Godzich, spokesman for the Department of Education, said the state's own "antiquated'' computer system could not handle such wide-open surveys. So the agency instead turned to some outside software.

That, however, didn't help, with Godzich saying it was unable to handle the multiple responses that were coming in. Or, as he put it less technically, it was "wimpy software.''

The decision to reopen the comment period comes just a day after Gov. Doug Ducey came out in opposition to the proposal, saying evolution should remain part of the science standards for public high schools.

"I believe in God,'' the governor said.

"I believe God created humanity,'' he continued. "And I believe there are evolutionary forces at work in nature.''

More to the point, Ducey said he does not see religion and evolution as mutually exclusive.

"So evolution will remain part of the education curriculum,'' he said, with schools free to teach various religious theories elsewhere of how life on earth developed, like courses on literature or history of religion.

Ducey said he went to Catholic schools at least part of the time he was growing up.

" 'Intelligent design' wouldn't have been words that were used when I was in school,'' he noted. That phrase only became more popular among proponents in the debate over science in the 1980s.

"It would have been the story of creation,'' said Ducey, born in 1964. But he said that religious doctrine was kept separate.

"Evolution would have been part of the science curriculum,'' he said.

Douglas proposes to eliminate requirements that students be able to evaluate how inherited traits in a population can lead to evolution. Replacing that last word would be "biological diversity.''

Elsewhere, Douglas seeks to repeal language that student develop the understanding of how "adaptations contribute to the process of biological evolution.'' Instead that verbiage would read "how traits within populations change over time.''

And a reference to the "mechanism of biological evolution'' would be supplanted with "change in genetic composition of a population over successive generations.''

Also gone would be any reference to the "Big Bang'' theory of the creation of the universe.

Godzich said the comments, including those yet to be received now that there is additional time for responses, will be reviewed by the standards committee which will make recommendations to Douglas. But he said what ultimately gets forwarded to the state Board of Education will be entirely up to her.

"She's the elected official,'' he said.

Ducey's comments were mild in comparison with some that came in through the web site before it crashed.

"Stop denying our kids a full education with your religious agenda!!!'' read one comment.

The synopsis of responses does not spell out who made them, though individuals actually need to identify themselves before they can comment.

"We should only be covering evolution in school,'' reads another. "Creationism should be kept separate from schools.''

And another says that omitting the Big Bang theory "just makes you look stupid.''

Overall, in the 2,233 responses made before the system crashed, there were more than 700 references to evolution, though some were duplicate. And while the vast majority were critical of what Douglas was proposing, there were exceptions.

One person suggested that those revamping the standards view a DVD series from the Institute of Creation Research called "Understanding the Mysteries of Genesis.''

"This professionally produced series rationally and unemotionally presents the case for intelligent creation, with the author of that creation Jesus Christ,'' the comment reads, saying the material does a respectable job of countermanding "de facto 'standards' of evolution and godless big bang theories.''

And another the exclusivity of teaching evolution needs openings for intelligent design and perhaps something called "atomic biology.''

A web site operated by the Atomic Biology Institute says it is based on the super-intelligent physical work necessary to find, sort, select, count and precisely place the right number of atoms to build and maintain all living cells.

"This is a Godly science,'' the web site reads, saying at humankind lacks the intelligence to assemble the molecules needed by cells.

"Therefore, super intelligence (far greater than that of mankind), is essential to cause life,'' the web site rules. "That rules out Darwinism as the cause of life as they have no intelligence to use.''

Douglas has said she is not seeking to replace the teaching of evolution with creationism or it more modern counterpart of intelligent design despite her own personal belief that the latter should be taught in public schools.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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