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For week ended October 10, 1999 Posted 10 Oct 1999

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Evolution Taught the Mormon Way

Summarized by Eric Bunker

Evolution Taught the Mormon Way
Associated Press 4Oct99 B6
By Hannah Wolfson: Associated Press Writer

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- Since August, when the Kansas Board of Education adopted new testing standards that play down the scientific importance of evolution, including the theory that humans descended from apes and other lower species, Utah has had a particular interest in how and what is taught in the schools to children about evolutionary theory.

In Utah, the state with the highest concentration of any one religious denomination, the issue isn't at all clear-cut. Regardless of how it washing out, critics, and advocates alike say the decision could bring more religion into the classroom.

Utah State standards require public school biology students to learn evolution according to the recommendations of the National Association of Science Teachers. However, in practice, the teaching of it in Utah's mostly Mormon classrooms may be very different.

"In Utah, teachers are cautious, mostly because of they don't feel comfortable teaching something they don't believe in themselves," said Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, a conservative organization pushing to allow more religious thought into public schools. Adding, "And those who do believe evolution understand the culture and know they could have hostility coming down all around them."

In American Fork, students at the private Ensign Elementary School ask about evolution, the teacher just goes to the Book of Genesis and the Book of Mormon. Otherwise, science students don't spend much time studying Darwin's theory. However, that is not a common experience for most students in Utah.

Duane Jeffery, a zoology professor at Brigham Young University, said college level Biology 100 teachers usually explain the Church's position on the subject before teaching the science. It might be simpler to skip over evolution, he said, but because this theory pervades the language and culture of secular science so much, teaching biology without Darwin's theory is like teaching chemistry without the periodic table.

"It's much better that students learn this within the context of faith, rather than seeing it used as a hammer against religion," said Jeffery, who frames the science by telling students that God works through natural law.

Church leaders rely on the First Presidency statement issued in 1931: "Leave biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church."

Brett Moulding, science education specialist for the Utah State Office of Education. says, "I'll occasionally have calls into our office, (on evolutionary theory). We always go back to what is science and what we believe and what we know based on evidence."

Brian Bates, a co-founder of the Ensign School, said, "I think people have to realize that a religious person need not be threatened by error, they just need to know the truth. We don't fully understand God's work and are trying to explain the processes of our world. There's probably some truth in there, (evolutionary theory) and there's probably some error in there, too."

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information