A state plan to reject several science textbooks on grounds that they fail to explore the theory of evolution was attacked Thursday by creationist groups who accused state officials of bias against religion.
On the other side, several atheists speaking to a hearing of the state Board of Education criticized the same set of science textbooks for bowing to religious pressure and for failing to present a clear account of evolution.
The controversy was touched off by a state education panel that recommended in July that education officials reject more than a dozen science textbooks because they had “seriously omitted” a discussion of human evolution.
“Biological evolution by means of natural selection is a theory that has withstood many severe tests,” the panel said, and it is “held with a high degree of confidence.”
Unless publishers agree to bolster their skimpy accounts of this controversial topic, these books should be excluded from use in California’s public schools, said the panel of teachers and school officials.
On Friday, the state Board of Education must vote on whether to accept the recommendation. State officials and board members said privately Thursday that they had been lobbied by publishers seeking to overturn the recommendation, but most predicted that the board would uphold the hard line taken by the textbook panel.
However, in the jammed public hearing creationists and their allies pleaded with the board to tone down textbook accounts of evolution that conflict with the biblical notion of creation.
“The religious belief of Christian children and of every child must be protected so that parents can feel safe in knowing that those beliefs, doctrines and values will not be disparaged, ridiculed or put down in any science classroom in our state,” said Kelly L. Segraves, director of the San Diego-based Creation Science Research Center.
In 1981, Segraves lost a state court suit that sought to stop the teaching of evolution in the public schools, but he noted Thursday that the court said schools should not present controversial issues in a “dogmatic” way.
Jean Sumrall of Irvine cited several graphs and photos in the science books that charted evolution from amphibians to humans. “This is presented as human history, not as a theory,” she told the board.
The creationists and several students in attendance urged the board to give equal treatment to both theories in the text so that students can decide for themselves. However, other witnesses, identifying themselves as scientists or atheists or both, mocked the idea that religious doctrines and scientific theories should be given equal credence.
“Religion is based on faith and obedience, while science demands questioning and proof,” said John Summers, a physician from Sacramento. “They may call a theory like gravity just a ‘dogma,’ but I’d like some of my creationist friends to test it by climbing up on a platform and jumping off,” he said.