Bill would prohibit teaching theory as fact

PEGGY HARRIS
Associated Press Writer
Published Thursday, March 22, 2001

LITTLE ROCK -- A House committee has endorsed a bill to prohibit the use of state money for educational materials that present scientific theories, including evolution, as fact.

The bill, recommended Wednesday to the full House by the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee, prohibits the use of public funds by state and local governments and public schools, zoos and museums for textbooks or materials that include inaccurate information.

In addition, it requires teachers to have their students make notes of what is false information and what is theory when they come across these details in their school books.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Jim Holt, gives several examples of theories or disproven beliefs he says are still taught as fact.

The Republican from Springdale, who is counselor and chaplain to juvenile offenders, asked committee members to consider -- "Should taxpayers' dollars go to fraudulent information?"

The committee endorsed the measure on a voice vote. Only Rep. Barbara King, D-Helena, opposed it. She said afterward that she wasn't convinced that the content of Arkansas' science classes should be legislated.

The bill lists several examples of theories taught as fact. These include ideas about the earth's age, the origin of life, the results of carbon dating and radioisotope dating, and the notion that fossils represent missing links among life forms.

In addition, the bill lists the disproven 19th century belief espoused by German biologist and philospher Ernst Haeckel that human embryos have gills.

A key speaker for the bill, Kent Hovind of the Creation Science Evangelism ministry in Pensacola, Fla., said it was Haeckel's ideas that contributed to the belief by Germans in evolution and the superiority of the Aryan race, leading eventually to Nazism and World War II.

The bill also lists as erroneous the belief by scientists that Neanderthal man is hundreds of thousands of years old. A presentation at a 1958 zoology meeting showed that Neanderthal man actually was just "an old man who suffered from arthritis," the bill says.

A geologist from Arkansas State University and the head of the American Civil Liberties Union in Arkansas spoke against the measure.

ASU assistant professor Robyn Hannigan said the problem of erroneous instruction in the schools could be better addressed by shifting more money and resources to improving teaching staff and by closer scrutiny of educational materials before they are purchased.

ACLU executive director Rita Sklar said the bill was vague and raised First Amendment issues. "Nobody could express an opinion freely without concern that it violates this law," Sklar said.

Sklar said the bill obviously was aimed at promoting certain religious beliefs and removing the subject of evolution from the schools. She noted that a federal judge in 1982 struck down an Arkansas law that required the equal treatment of creation science and evolution.

But Hovind insisted that the bill was not aimed at removing evolution from classroom instruction. Instead, he told committee members it was wrong to teach children that scientists have evidence of evolution.

He said much of the so-called evidence has since been disproven and he offered to pay $250,000 to anyone who could prove the theory.