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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Students, science teachers lash out at evolution-as-theory bill in Concord

Ten-year-old Jackson Hinkle, of Nashua, spoke quietly but forcefully to legislators Tuesday, outlining his thoughts against teaching evolution as a theory in New Hampshire public schools.

Jackson, a student at Charlotte Avenue Elementary School, was among several students and science teachers who testified against House Bill 1148 at a public hearing Tuesday morning in Concord.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jerry Bergevin, R-Manchester, and it would “require evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists’ political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.”

Bergevin spoke for the bill Tuesday in front of two texts and one video that he cited as support of his legislation. The texts were “The Black Book of Communism” by several European authors and “Icons of Evolution” by Jonathan Wells, while the DVD was titled “Darwin’s Deadly Legacy.”

During his testimony, Bergevin talked about past nations that have supported atheism, totalitarian governments, past communist leaders and dictator’s regimes like those of Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, and he said organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are “part of the culture of death in America.” He said through the lies of evolution taught in public schools, the system has achieved aristocracy.

However, Bergevin was the only person to speak in favor of the bill. Jackson, along with several others, testified that science is a neutral subject and evolution is an established theory supported by thousands of scientists.

Jackson said the bill is moving down a slippery slope, and if teachers have to open up the religion conversation in science class, they would have to be educated in other religions and theories as well.

“Teachers would have to learn about hundreds of possible theories,” he said, equating the teaching of “Christian Creationism” with other ideas like the “Invisible Pink Unicorn” and the “Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

“I strongly believe these sort of debates need to be reserved for a religion class. It doesn’t belong in a science class,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s mother, Gillian, said the boy was insistent on speaking out against the bill. She didn’t have to push him into it at all, she said.

“This is who he is,” she said. “He’s very passionate; he goes deep into subjects.”

Jackson was planning the trip to testify in Concord all the way back in January. He stuck with it, even when he found out it meant he would miss the annual Valentine’s Day party at school, Gillian Hinkle said.

He wasn’t the only one taking a day off from school to speak against the bill.

Matthew Lounsbury, a senior at Kingswood Regional High School in Wolfeboro, said he thought the bill was redundant.

“Evolution is a theory; a theory is only the analysis of compiled data,” he said.

He said the other side of the spectrum – creationism – is not taught as heavily in schools because of its ties to religion and the separation of church and state, but it is still covered nonetheless.

Lounsbury also made a point to announce his Christian faith and his belief in evolution because the second part of Bergevin’s bill “makes the assumption that those who believe in evolution are atheists,” he said, which is wrong.

Former Manchester teacher Dale Roy also testified against the bill, adding that it would be “inappropriate” for teachers to talk about their religious beliefs in school. She said science is “morally neutral” and doesn’t take a stand on positions.

John Godfrey, of the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association, said evolution is a theory, but it has been backed by thousands of scientists, not just Charles Darwin. It’s well established, he said, and teaching “other explanations” would be akin to physics teachers asking to teach magic or “Defense Against the Dark Arts,” a fictional class made famous in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books.

“Alternatives do not hold up to the scrutiny of the scientific community,” Roy said. “Until they do, they should not be taught.”

Mark Joyce, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, said the bill would be “poor public policy” and clashes with New Hampshire’s concepts of local control.

State law and past court decisions have reserved judgment on curriculum issues, he said, and all decisions are generally made by local elected officials.

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or ckittle@nashuatelegraph.com.

Also check out Kittle (@Telegraph_CamK) on Twitter.