Too much evolution for superintendent of schools

The superintendent of schools of Hart County, a small county in the middle of Kentucky, has written to the Kentucky Board of Education, complaining about the emphasis on evolution. Specifically, Ricky Line, the superintendent, writes in a long and somewhat rambling letter,

I have a deep concern about the increased emphasis on the evolution content required in the new End-of-Course Blueprint (Blueprint). After carefully reviewing the Blueprint, I find the increase is substantial and alarming ….

I have a very difficult time believing that we have come to a point in education that we are teaching evolution_, not the theory of evolution_, [sic] as a factual occurrence, while totally omitting the creation story by a God who is bigger than all of us. I do not believe in macroevolution, and I do believe in creation by our God. …

The Blueprint requires both the teaching and student mastery of the form of evolution called macroevolution, defined as evolution occurring on a large scale, e.g [sic] at or above the level of species, over geologic time, resulting in the formation of new taxonomic groups…. Teaching the Blueprint requires students to believe that humans … evolved from primates such as apes and, subsequently, were not created by God ….

The proposed standards and accompanying End-of-Course exam would require many science teachers to sacrifice their values merely so that students can pass the test and course ….

I take no issue with the teaching of microevolution, the documented proof that a species changes over time, just as humans are taller on the average than they were 50 years ago. I also take no issue with macroevolution being taught as a theory.

The Commissioner of the Kentucky Board of Education, Terry Holliday, responded with a clear explanation of how science works:

In science, a theory is a statement of general ideas that explains many observations by natural means. To a scientist, the word “theory” is a very precise term to identify a concept that has great utility in explaining phenomena in the natural world. Ideas only rise to the level of a theory in science if they have withstood much scrutiny and are exceptionally useful in explaining a wide variety of independent observations. Any theory can be altered or replaced if new observations or new scientific evidence cannot be adequately explained by it. In science, facts never become theories. Rather, theories explain facts. No theory is immune to revision or replacement should new evidence surface. There is a substantial difference between the “everyday” meaning of the word “theory” and the scientific meaning of the word. An idea is often labeled a theory for the purpose of painting it as little more than a guess. This use of “theory” demonstrates a lack of understanding of the scientific meaning of the term. Referring to biological evolution as a theory for the purpose of contesting it would be counterproductive, since scientists only grant the status of theory to well-tested ideas.

He went on to explain why science is not a system of belief and further that

Since college and career readiness is our goal for all students, we would be doing them a disservice by denying them the opportunity to learn science concepts required to obtain that goal. Evolutionary theory is one of the foundational components of modern biology, and it most certainly plays a significant part in college biology coursework.

Mr. Line is unrepentant; according to an article that will appear in tomorrow’s Lexington Herald-Leader,

My argument is, do we want our children to be taught these things as facts? Personally, I don’t. I don’t think life on earth began as a one-celled organism. I don’t think that all of us came from a common ancestor … [ellipsis in original] I don’t think the Big Bang theory describes the explanation of the origin of the universe.

And, finally, a quote without comment:

[I]t’s interesting that the great majority of scientists felt Pluto was a planet until a short time ago, and now they have totally changed that. There are scientists who don’t believe that evolution happened.

Acknowledgment. An alert reader sent me the letters from Mr. Line and Mr. Holliday, and a Kentucky state legislator verified their provenance.