Column: Let there be light

By Dan Mollison

In the beginning, we believed that God created the heavens and the earth, and it was good. But then someone exposed scientific evidence suggesting that perhaps we came not from God, but rather from hairy beasts in the jungle that swing around and occasionally pluck insects off each other and eat them. And a lot of people became very uncomfortable.

When the theory of evolution was first unveiled, a national debate ensued concerning whether it should be taught to our children. And even after the 1968 Supreme Court case of Epperson v. Arkansas ruled that it is unlawful for a state to eliminate ideas from a school’s curriculum solely because they conflict with the beliefs of certain religious groups, this controversy is still raging in Kansas today.

The Kansas Board of Education voted yesterday to approve the insertion of phrasing into statewide teaching standards that will encourage students to question the theory of evolution’s legitimacy. Regardless of the decision’s implications, though, it’s clear that when students are prevented from having open and unbiased access to information from all sides of a debate, they are the ones who come up short.

Rather than directly attempting to remove evolution from Kansas’ school curricula, anti-evolution board members maneuvered around the Supreme Court’s decision by proposing to insert phrasing that would encourage students to question evolution’s validity. The decision has also altered how science is defined in Kansas state standards by allowing for non-natural explanations of scientific phenomena. Supporters of the changes assert that evolution shouldn’t be blindly accepted and taught to students because they do not see enough evidence proving the validity of the theory of evolution.

This is clearly a difficult situation for both sides of the conflict. After all, having every educator in the state wholly endorse either theory would pose a severe challenge to the credibility of the opposing viewpoint. But since the main focus of both groups has been merely to discredit the opposition rather than seek a real compromise, it seems that this whole argument has been motivated by personal beliefs – and each group’s desire to perpetuate their own ideology – rather than by a sincere interest in finding a solution that is truly best for students.

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The truth is that we can never know how the world began. We can guess, we can reason, we can look at the evidence available to us and speculate, but there is no way that we can definitively know how life was sparked on our planet. And since all the evidence that we have to point to is speculative, every theory that we have developed about our origins is simply a matter of opinion. The question being debated in Kansas is not about which side holds the most legitimate beliefs. It’s really a debate over which opinion should be officially endorsed.

Because neither side can prove that they have the “right answers,” the fairest and most beneficial solution to this problem would be to impartially offer students all the information that we do know about our beginnings and let students develop their own personal beliefs about how life began. By exposing students to different belief systems than their own, they would be forced to critically examine how they developed their own views. Recent findings in educational philosophy have shown that it is better to teach students how to think rather than what to think. If Kansas schools included an honest debate on these theories rather than simply choosing to deem one invalid and toss it aside, they would be offering students an excellent opportunity.

Don’t just take it from me, though. Consider Kansas high school junior Kate Taylor who argues: “When we actually get in the real world, we’re going to see everyone else’s opinion. You’re going to have to adapt for other people … we’re having so many problems with funding, they should be spending their time getting that worked out, not this.” And consider the words of junior Suleyman Shah, who believes that “it should be taught both ways. Let students speak out.”

Adults can be so silly sometimes.

Dan Mollison is a junior in LAS. His columns appear every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected].