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October 1999

The recent decision of the Kansas State Board of Education to remove evolution from the state’s K–12 science curricula has caused quite a stir. Far more, I suspect, than the members of the board even anticipated. The flurry of letters and editorials flooding the op-ed pages of national and foreign journals, newspapers and magazines denouncing the decision is a plea for reason from both scientists and nonscientists.

Creation scientists insist that divine creation should be taught as science, yet not be subjected to the scrutiny of the scientific method, empirical evidence or reproducible results. Fortunately, their theories just don’t hold up. Planned objectivity and a willingness to change one’s opinion in the face of new observations are the essence of scientific investigation. And the label “scientist” doesn’t turn someone into a godless automaton bent on corrupting the morals of our children. It’s so frustrating knowing that there really isn’t a conflict: The belief in a creator and the use of the scientific method to examine our world are not mutually exclusive. The real issue is believing vs. understanding.

Maxine Singer, a molecular biologist and president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, offered one of the more eloquent opinions in an Aug. 18 letter to The Washington Post. She clearly outlined the difference between believing in a concept and understanding it. No individual (not in this country at least) is required to believe everything he reads or hears. Thus it is possible to understand an idea, a concept or an opinion without believing in it. However, to be an educated person today it is necessary to understand, or at least to be familiar with, the concept of evolution. As Dr. Singer said so clearly: “The goal of science education should be an understanding of the theory of evolution; the students can decide whether or not to believe it.”

In light of the recent discussions, we at Geotimes felt it necessary to respond. We invited six leaders in the geocommunity to comment on the situation in Kansas. They include James W. Skehan, a Jesuit priest and director emeritus of Boston College’s Weston Observatory; John W. Geissman, a professor at the University of New Mexico and chair of an American Geophysical Union (AGU) committee defining AGU’s position on creation science; M. Lee Allison, state geologist of Kansas; Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education; Linda Selvig, an educator in the Idaho public school system and current president of the National Earth Science Teachers Association; and Fred Spilhaus, executive director of the American Geophysical Union. Their opinions add clarity and calm to the fray. In addition to our invited authors, monthly columnists David Applegate and Michael Smith lend their perspectives on the evolving situation in Kansas. Their collective message is clear: It’s time for us to add our voices to the chorus of reason. We need to get more involved at the local level and show our neighbors that scientists are not high priests in a secret club, but regular people. And that science is merely a method for looking at nature with strict rules and many opportunities for self-correction.

Our second feature is an in-depth interview with U. S. Geological Survey Director Charles Groat. Having been on the job now for a year, Dr. Groat has started implementing new programs aimed to smooth and synchronize the operation of the world’s premier geoscience research organization. Government Affairs Director David Applegate and Geotimes Managing Editor Kristina Bartlett ask Dr. Groat a series of insightful questions that highlight an innovative and evolving science center.

 Good reading.

Victor V. van Beuren, Editor, Geotimes

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