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Friday, March 16, 2012

Evolution-as-theory bill not fit to survive in House

CONCORD – A bill that would have required public schools to teach evolution as a theory, a move often used by proponents of creationism to discredit the science of evolution, was handily shot down by the House of Representatives Thursday, 280-7.

Lawmakers who voted against HB 1148 said the law would have crossed boundaries between state and local control of education.

“Regardless of what you or I believe about the teaching of evolution in public schools, education laws are very clear on this matter,” said Rep. Mike Balboni, R-Litchfield.

Balboni noted that while the state provides curriculum guidelines, it is the responsibility of local school district to provide instruction.

The bill was put forward by Rep. Jerry Bergevin, R-Manchester, who has previously testified to his belief that evolution is an evil idea which has led to genocide and other horrors.

The vast majority of lawmakers Thursday disagreed with telling local school districts what to teach.

“This is the responsibility of the local school board,” said Ralph Boehm, R-Litchfield, chairman of the Education Committee. The committee opposed the bill last month.

Republican House members voting for the bill, along with the sponsor, were Francestown Rep. Harry Hardwick; Manchester Reps. Will Infantine and Connie Soucy; New Hampton Rep. Tyler Simpson; Auburn Rep. Stella Tremblay; and Meredith Rep. Colette Worsman.

Another bill that also targeted the teaching of evolution in public schools, mandating instructions about “proper scientific inquiry” (HB1457), was killed by voice vote last week.

“If we make this a requirement, then what is next? Leave it to your imagination,” Boehm said.

Evolution says all species, including human beings, came into being over billions of years as random genetic mutations and allowed individuals to adapt to changing environments. Mutations that helped individuals thrive have been passed down, slowly building up via “natural selection” to create species seen today.

Since first developed by English biologists Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace in 1860, evolution has grown to become the centerpiece of all biological sciences.

It has also been the source of constant controversy, often due to religious or philosophical objections. Critics say it has become so entrenched that it can no longer be questioned, making it closer to a faith than a science.

Prominent among those critics are Washington state-based Discovery Institute, which had a representative testify in hearings about the two New Hampshire bills.

The institute says that life is too complicated to have developed via evolution and therefore must have been created by some intelligent being or beings. It argues that this idea, usually called creationism or intelligent design, should be taught in science classes alongside evolution.