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Grantsburg's Third Try

On December 6, 2004, the Grantsburg, Wisconsin, school board passed a third version of a resolution on its science curriculum by a vote of 6 to 1. Two previous versions of the policy were widely criticized as obvious attempts to require or allow the teaching of various forms of creationism, including "intelligent design," in the district's science classes. The policy states:

Students are expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information. Students shall be able to explain the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. This policy does not call for the teaching of creationism or intelligent design.
Despite the welcome clarification in the last sentence, the singling out of evolution for special attention is still problematic.

"I think it's pretty clear what is going on here," Michael Zimmerman, the dean of the College of Letters and Science at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, anticipating that despite its anodyne wording, the new policy would be used as a smoke screen for introducing pseudoscientific alternatives to evolution or scientifically unsubstantiated criticism of it. He also noted that the school board recently passed a "Student Academic Freedom and Controversial Topics Policy," which, local parents fear, may also so be used. "Will teachers have the academic freedom to say, 'No, this is not science,' if a student hands in a scientific paper supporting creationism?" asked Joel Prazak.

NCSE's Susan Spath told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "This only looks like progress because they started with such an extreme position," adding "We'll have to wait and see what materials are produced" to implement the new policy. Signs are not good, though: at a meeting in late November, the school board allowed a proponent of "intelligent design" creationism to make a lengthy presentation and to screen a videotape, while denying requests to allow a biologist to speak at a later meeting.

On December 16, 2004, the Grantsburg school board received a letter signed by almost 200 members of the Wisconsin clergy urging the board "to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge." "Folks need to know it is not Christians versus non-Christians," said the Reverend Amy E. DeLong of Grantsburg's Central United Methodist Church. In all, about 3000 science professors, religion professors, science educators, and members of the clergy from across the state have signed letters of protest to the board about its antievolution policies, thanks in large part to the efforts of Michael Zimmerman.

Grantsburg Superintendent Joni Burgin is reportedly unimpressed, however, writing in an e-mail to the St. Paul Pioneer Press that "The amount of letters and the number of signatures does not matter. … The school board feels that they must do what is right for Grantsburg students and the Grantsburg community." Concerned residents of Grantsburg are planning to hold a public forum on January 8, 2005, on evolution, creationism, and public education -- and on what is really right for science education in Grantsburg.

TEXT OF PASTORS' LETTER

Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible — the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark — convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey information but to transform hearts.

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rest. To reject this truth or to treat it as 'one theory among others' is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God's good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God's loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

Story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel