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A Contention in the Classroom

As the school day began its course, the sun loomed over the gray-hued buildings of Elias High School. The new school year was greeted with nice weather, since it was barely the end of summer when the gates opened to welcome the hundreds of students. Floods of students proceeded their way around campus, each individual headed to their assigned classroom for first period.

Our story, however, is not concerned with the whole of the school, but one particular classroom, one specific course which is of great significance to the scientific community.

The morning passing period neared its closing, and a loquacious collection of students took their desk seats before the bell would ring in Dr. Hallert’s biology class, located in building 1701, at the east end of the campus. Since it was the first day of the new school year, the course instructors duty that class period was to introduce himself and the course before a room full of new faces.

“Well, good morning everyone,” were the first words to greet the students. The students exposed no distinguishable expression other than a mood of anticipation for the new day.

The instructor displayed an equally ambitious mood in launching the class. “I am Dr.Hallert, your teacher this year, and I welcome you to biology. This year, my goal is to teach you the principles of Biology and to immerse you in this field of scientific study. This year we will be studying many areas of biology, including plant and animal anatomy, bacteria, some ecology, microbiology, human biology, and other important ones as well. As part of the class, we’ll do many labs and presentations with each chapter in order to provide you with a hands-on experience with biology. By doing this, I hope to spark an interest within you in biology and even general science for that matter, and maybe studying for such things as tests will be much less boring. Before we begin today, I would like to show you a brief schedule of the lineup for this year.”

After Dr. Hallert finished, he walked over to his computer, sitting atop a desk toward the back of the room where the writing board was installed into the wall. Connected and sitting next to his computer was a projector, which he activated to project the image onto the back wall, and the first slide in a PowerPoint presentation is what the many faces viewed. Gone were the old overhead light bulb projector and a bland colored chalkboard, now replaced by a computer projector and a writing board suitable for pens. Indeed, the features of the room demonstrated the technological progress of the new century, even extending to a newly built high school.

The big white projector screen at the back wall displayed the year’s schedule: for the first semester (a period of two grading quarters) the class would focus on microbiology, classification of the animal kingdom, DNA and genetics, and plant and animal cell respiration and anatomy. For the second semester, the class would be engaged in animal and wildlife biology and anatomy, human biology, and evolution.

Soon afterward, Dr. Hallert turned off the projector and proceeded to give the class the first assignment of the year. “But first, before we launch the year, it is important that we become knowledgeable with the scientific method, so therefore our first chapter will consist of student the scientific method and process.” And with this, the instructor passed out sheets of the assignment before the lecture.

* * *

The second week had come, and open house for the school was to be hosted on Tuesday night. This was a night when parents and their teenage children would come at nighttime to visit their child’s classes and receive a taste of what their children would experience for the year. It was also a good opportunity for the parents to meet the class instructors.

Dr. Hallert was busy with preparing his classroom for the event earlier that Tuesday, just after school ended. Although his room was well decorated before the school year began–including several pictures of scenes of nature and animals on the walls–he was intent on putting up colored animal classification charts that he had his students draw earlier that day. He hoped to showcase the student’s artwork in front of the parents.

That evening, just as the parents of his first period class students were filling the room, he was setting up his projector again to show the parents some sample slideshows. When he was done, Dr. Hallert walked back to the podium to wait for all the parents to take their seats. As he viewed the room, he noticed that only two students from his class were with their parents. This didn’t surprise him, as he knew that the students would probably prefer being at home.

Much chattering was in progress with the parents as more people walked into the room. At this point, he noticed a woman walk toward his position, probably intent on asking the instructor a few questions.

“Hi, I’m Mrs. Belle,” greeted the mother as they both shook hands, and Dr. Hallert returned a similar greeting. “I just wanted to ask you a quick question before you begin. I was wondering, are you going to be teaching evolution to our students this year?”

Upon receiving this question, Dr. Hallert felt a minor disturbance within him. He had been teaching biology for a few years, and he recalled many instances in which the controversy of evolution education had reared its unfashionable head in his profession. Now it was rearing it again, this time manifesting itself in a parent who confronted him. Most significant of the appearance of the woman was a shiny, silver cross hanging from a necklace. It was a religious person who obviously rejected evolution, and this person was not going to be comfortable with her student learning the “evil doctrine” that was evolution.

Most important to Dr. Hallert was the issue of addressing the question. He did not want to flatly promulgate his support of evolution and his teachings of it, for fear that it may initiate undesired friction with the parents. However, neither did he think of stating that he didn’t teach evolution and that he did not support it. This latter option would have been a complete lie. He found an appropriate answer.

“That’s a good question. I do teach evolution, and the chapter comes up later this school year. I know there are those of you who do not accept it. Please keep in mind that it is state law for me to teach this chapter, but I have no intent on brainwashing the students. My goal is to teach them the chapter, not to change them.” He hoped this would be satisfactory enough for the parent.

“Ok, I suppose that’s fine,” the woman replied. “I just wish that they would honor God in teaching science and teach Creationism instead of evolution.” Dr. Hallert merely lightly nodded his head in response, even though he clearly disagreed with the woman’s opinions. She believed Creationism while he accepted evolution. She was religious while he was not. It was not time, however, to further feed the controversy. It was time to present a good, positive demonstration before the group of parents.

The woman returned to her seat, and Dr. Hallert was ready for his introduction.

* * *

January, later that year. Our story now concerns the arrival of the evolution chapter in the biology class, and it would be this month in which the chapter would begin. In the previous months, the year had gone very well. The many labs the class experienced were fun, and the students enjoyed them. In addition, the grade average for the class was relatively high, at about an A minus. If anything was the case, the students certainly enjoyed the class enough to do well in it.

The morning passing period was under way. The day was Monday, mid January, and that day the class would begin the evolution chapter. Here was the day that the instructor and some students had been expecting all year. Some looked forward to it, while others did not. Some were curious about the subject, since many students had only vaguely been aware of the issue of evolution. Others had little interest in studying something that they rejected. Thus is the dichotomy of the biology classroom congregation.

All the students were in their seats by the time the bell rang. Soon the instructor was passing out copies of the evolution chapter packet, and the class was asked to turn to the chapter in their textbooks.

One particular student, Andy, sat to the far left of the classroom. He viewed the packet and he turned to the textbook page as the instructor designated, but it was the rest of the class that soon attracted his eyes. Andy was one of the few students who held a considerable interest in science; it was an interest he had withheld since he was a little boy. The way things work and the reasons behind it have always fascinated him, and this fascination only cultivated over the years to shape his desires for a career. Even before studying biology, he had wanted a career in the field. As a person with a deep interest in science and in reason, he wholeheartedly accepted evolution, for indeed the evidence supported the theory to an overwhelming level.

As Andy moved his eyes from one direction to another, he was interested in the expressions that other students might display. On some students he could indicate the presence of minor frowns, perhaps demonstrating dislike for what they were given. He had been waiting for the chapter all year, since he enjoyed studying controversial subjects. He was also aware of the difficulties that the theory of evolution had long endured since its beginnings. Having read the courtroom drama, “Inherit the Wind,” he was already introduced to the subject. The subject was now at hand before him.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the room sat Melissa, one of the rejecters of evolution. The packet passed out to her lay flat on her desk, and she was scribbling on the cover. She drew the face of the Biblical Satan next to the title “Evolution,” or at least the face of the character as she imagined it. The hand that was not writing was pressed under her chin, as she was leaning her head on her hand with the elbow on the table. Accompanying this was a look of disgust, a sour appearance–precisely the appearance Andy was searching for. Melissa, being a very religious individual, had her mind open only to the Biblical count of Creation, and it was unfortunately closed to even consider alternative explanations of the universe.

“All right, class, listen up,” Dr. Hallert began as he stood at the front of the room. “Today, we are going to be starting the new chapter which is evolution. But before we do, I think I need to provide an oral disclaimer before I continue. I know that there are some of you who are religious and those of you may not be happy about learning evolution. Please remember that it is state law for me to teach this, and thus I am acting accordingly. By teaching this chapter, I have no intention of brainwashing anyone or changing anyone’s minds or offending your beliefs. I know some of you accept Creationism as the true hypothesis and that you reject evolution. Let me say that there is basically no evidence for Creationism, but there is a profusion of evidence for evolution, as I will show you in this chapter. For this reason, I think you should study the evidences and take them seriously; be open to new ideas, even ideas that you may not be superficially comfortable with. My paramount objective is to teach you this theory, and I will make sure this is done.”

Dr. Hallert looked around the class, absorbing the sight of an amalgam of expressions. He could tell that some appeared to be bothered, while others didn’t have any response.

“Well, now that this is over, let’s look at what we have,” Dr. Hallert continued, turning on the computer projector which revealed the chapter presentation on the big screen.

For the duration of the lecture notes, the evolutionary theory was introduced to the class. This included a brief summary on the life of Charles Darwin, a summary of advances in the theory, and one example of evolutionary adaptation. The first tangible evidence presented on evolution was a summary of the evidence from paleontology. This evidence is based on the changing from primitive, ancient organisms to the advanced modern organisms from common ancestors. The instructor presented a chart explaining that the deeper scientists dig into layers of rock, the more primitive the fossil is found. In addition to this was the evidence from biochemistry, in which all living things share nearly identical genetic codes. One striking example was a chart showing that the genes for humans and the genes for chimpanzees were practically identical. Yet another evidence presented in the class was that of geographic distribution, in which Darwin found a species of birds at the Galapagos Islands that were nowhere to be found elsewhere in the world. These and other evidences were crystallized before the class.

As the period concluded, it seemed that some had seen validity of the evidences, while others were still shut off to the idea. Despite the strongest evidence, little knowledge was able to penetrate the impermeable membrane of the fundamentalist religious mind.

After the bell rang to proceed to the next period, a small handful of students from the class lagged behind in leaving the room. As the few friends were waiting for each other to grab their things, they then proceeded out. But not before a question was fired at Dr. Hallert: “Hey, Dr. Hallert, so if evolution is true, that means I am going to evolve tomorrow? Ha! What, am I going to be a wolf?” This obviously sarcastic question was followed by laughter from the group.

However, there was another student who stalled before leaving as well, and that was Andy. With textbook in hand, and backpack strapped around his shoulders, he commented loud enough for Dr. Haller to hear: “Don’t be bothered by them. Of course they will not take the chapter seriously since they choose to be voluntarily ignorant of the evidences. The fundamentalists have already decided their minds, that God did it, and that there is no questioning this fact. I’m sure you have students like this every year.”

Dr. Hallert was pleased to hear from him. “Indeed I do. I’m at least fortunate to enjoy the presence of freethinking students such as yourself. See you tomorrow.” And with this, Andy went to his next class.

* * *

Later that same day, Andy was sitting with some of his friends at lunch break. Andy and his friends were sitting on one of the lawns spread out in the center of the campus. All the buildings sat close to the perimeter. The group sat in a circle, facing each other. As each person was busy consuming food, they were engaged in conversation. Today’s topic: evolution. Just earlier the evolution lecture in biology class had been the interest of the group.

“Man, that was funny. Did you see some of the reactions? Melissa and some others had some unhappy looks on their faces. I think I even heard Jamie sighing heavily when Dr. Hallert was speaking,” noted Danny.

“Well, what do you expect?” Andy commented. “The deeply religious people are not going to take it seriously. They’ve made up their mind that their god has created the world, just like I said to Dr. Hallert.” He then took a drink from his soda.

“You know, I’ve been wondering. Why do so many people reject evolution? Why do all those religious institutions attack evolution? We saw today the overwhelming evidence for evolution, but apparently it isn’t enough for some. I’m aware that those people who reject evolution may prefer their cherished religious beliefs, but I prefer logic and reason. I prefer to accept something when the evidence is in support of it.” Danny displayed more of his inquisitiveness.

Another person in the group, Nathan, decided to provide some comments of his own. “I think I have a good idea why so many people feel bitter about evolution. Evolution is a subject that hits personal strings. Evolution addresses such questions as to our origins and where we came from. These are meaningful questions to humans, and especially since most humans hold a religious belief that states the universe as only a few thousand years old. Other fields of sciences, such as physical laws and chemistry, do not address such emotionally charged issues. So long as science studies the speed at which bodies move, among other things, I doubt there will be much conflict. But when it declares theories that are contradictory to traditional beliefs, then there is trouble.”

“That’s a very relevant point, Nathan,” Andy agreed. “That’s why it’s so difficult to teach people with that mindset new theories about the world and about life.”

Chris was another person with the group. He had merely been listening to the conversation, but now he felt the need to speak up. “Well, it seems to me that you guys are being to critical of religious beliefs. I know many people that are religious who accept evolution. Look at the Catholic Pope, he declared that he embraced evolution.”

After Chris’ statement, Danny objected. “See, that’s another problem I have. How could anyone accept a god and religion and still accept evolution? The Bible has a young earth depiction of the beginning, and it states that the universe was simply created by the Christian god in a few days. This is in direct conflict with evolution, which states that life evolved over eons of time. Fortunately, the evidence points for the latter.”

“Well, I’ve heard one rebuttal from religious people,” Chris replied. “I’ve heard many Christians say that the ‘days’ mentioned in the Bible really represent eons of time.”

“Ha, yeah, sure!” fired back Danny. “A day and millennium are so much alike, are they not’ Please, it only demonstrates the fact that the Bible is open to so many degrees of interpretation, I wonder why anyone would accept it. It would be easy, then, for a believer to chose to believe what he thinks looks good in his religion while discarding the bad aspects of his holy text. Complete nonsense.”

“I would certainly agree with you then,” Chris responded. “My point was that there are religious people who accept evolution, even if we can see the irrationality of it. Certainly, though, there are many religious people who reject evolution, just like we saw today. I even heard that Craig was going speak out against teaching it at this school.”

“What do you mean?” Andy inquired. “What precisely is he planning to do?”

“I heard that he was going to speak at the next school board meeting, which is tomorrow night. I think some of his friends will be accompanying him to support his efforts.”

“I can’t believe that,” Andy stated, expressing irritation in his tone. “It’s one thing for someone to reject evolution, but now he’s campaigning against it? Well, I think I’ll have my say as well.”

“What are you planning to do?” asked Danny.

“If he’s going to prepare a statement in the presence of the school board against teaching evolution, then I’ll take the liberty to defend it. I’ll stand up for science and reason.”

With Andy’s declaration, the group finished eating their meals, since lunch period was nearing and end for the day. Andy began thinking of what he would say at the board meeting the next day.

* * *

The school board meeting was being held at the conference room in the administration’s office building. In this large building were the principal’s office, the counselor’s office, the activity director’s office, and many others. The showdown at the meeting that night–the showdown of science and reason versus faith and pseudo-science–was to be hosted in the conference room, in front of a lineup of school board members.

Craig, the student whose objective was to argue against teaching evolution, sat in a chair at one of the tables in the room. Some of his friends were with him, providing support for what he was about to engage in.

At another area in the conference room sat Andy, who waited patiently for Craig to argue his case. Once this was done, Andy would take to the front of the large room to speak before the board members. Andy had a sheet of binder paper and a pen with him, for the purpose of writing down the major points of Craig’s argument so that it would help him formulate his own statements. This strategy was known as “flooding”–a technique he learned in Forensics class.

Minutes later, the board members were settled in their seats, prepared to listed to both students. Craig stood up out of his seat and proceeded to the front of the room. Resting his arms on the podium provided for him, he began to speak.

“Hello, and thank for your time and for allowing me to come to this meeting. I am here to argue against the teaching of evolution that is occurring at our school. I oppose teaching it elsewhere as well, but my focus is on our school now. While I know that it is state law to teach evolution, I think it is absurd that they are.

“Tell me, do you really think that evolution is true? Look at the so-called evidences that they say for evolution is true. I’ve heard that the deeper we go into rock layers, the simpler the organisms are. Even if this is true, how does this point in the favor of evolution? Wouldn’t this piece of evidence point out that some animals were buried while others were covered at different levels in the rock?

“And look at the evidence deemed ‘comparative anatomy.’ My teacher argued that many organisms appear similar in anatomy, such as limbs and other body parts. How do we know they evolved into this? Why can’t we just as well say that God was the one who designed it this way? It in no way proves evolution.

“Also look at the idea that only certain kinds of animals are found in certain parts of the world. How do we know that this was due to natural selection? Why couldn’t these animals simply be placed there by God? They also say that genes, or whatever, are nearly identical between humans and monkeys. Come on! What if God just wanted it this way?

“But never mind this. Even though there is much to show that God could have very well done all this, He is simply ignored in our classroom. Why is this? Why should evolution be favored over God? Just like I have shown you, we could easily see God as the person behind all these processes. I think it is very presumptuous to say that evolution is correct and to neglect the word of God. At the very least, if evolution is to be taught, at least have God in the textbooks as well. If you do not, you are only doing a disservice to education. Thank you.”

Once Craig finished his speech, he walked back to his seat. His friends that were with him greeted him with compliments. The group appeared to be confident of its position.

Andy wrote several things on the sheet of paper he had. He was planning many things to say in refutation. Andy looked at the board members and saw them writing on notebook pads they had. One board member acknowledged Andy and told him that he could speak now. With this, Andy walked to the same podium that Craig had stood at, and was prepared to speak.

“In echoing Craig’s words, I wish to thank you for allowing me to speak tonight. Craig’s purpose was to argue against teaching evolution, or to at least urge you to incorporate his god with the science curriculum. Let me begin by saying that his attacks on the evolutionary theory are based solely on ignorance alone. He has voluntarily paid little attention to the teachings that have been going on in our Biology classroom.

“Take, for example, his argument against the paleontology evidence. He claims that the lineup of primitive organisms to advanced ones means nothing other than that animals were merely piled up. This reasoning is drastically flawed. When one looks at a chart of rock layer model, one can notice distinct differences in the organisms at the different levels in the rock. Deep into the rock, the fossils are seen as clearly primitive. When we observe the fossil samples near the surface of the rock, we distinctly discover the more advanced organisms. The reason for these layers is that, over time, organisms are buried under new rock layers, and new layers are formed over periods of time. Therefore, the older organisms are located deeper in the rock layers than at the surface. One can conclude that this is too large of a coincidence for these organisms to simply be buried in rock layers. The progress from ancient organisms to modern ones is blatantly obvious with this model.

“Craig also argues against the comparative anatomy evidence. The reason this supports evolution is because it shows that all organisms have a common ancestor, a common origin. These life forms are strikingly similar so it supports the idea of a common ancestor. Craig also attacks the evidence of geological distribution. He claims that God could have very well placed these unique animals in unique habitats. Is this a good scientific reason? Of course not. This evidence supports evolution because it clearly demonstrates adaptation in organisms, which is a part of evolution.

“In addition to this, Craig argues that the nearly identical genetic coding of monkeys and humans does not support evolution, but the idea that God wanted it this way. For one, how can we know this? How could this hypothesis be testified? It cannot, because we clearly have no testable way of knowing that his god wanted it this way. The only way to do this would be to confront this god and ask him, or for him to reveal it to us. Of course, no one has ever seen or heard his god, or any other god for that matter. But our concern here is not with the existence of a god, but evolution. The genetic similarities support the idea that humans evolved from primitive monkeys, since today the genes are nearly identical.

“Finally, Craig argues that God should be incorporated into the science classes, especially evolution. You would then be doing a major disservice to education. Putting God in the science course means putting religion in the science course, and religion has no place in science education. The objective here is to teach science, not religion. When you include the god hypothesis, you violate this objective. Therefore, I urge you to let the biology course continue with it’s teaching of evolution and not to put a god with it. It’s up to students like Craig as to whether or not they will accept the material being taught, in spite of the evidence. But it should not be within their ability to decide what will and what will not be taught in our science courses. Please, preserve science education in its entirety. Thank you.”

When Andy finished, he looked over to Craig and the others who were sitting at the table. He could tell on the expressions on their faces that they were not happy over what Andy had argued.

The school board members sat at their long, rectangular table, writing down their comments in their notebooks. After seeing this, Andy proceeded back to his seat.

Once the school board members finished writing, they asked if any more presentations would be made before the meeting. When both Craig and Andy defected from saying “yes” to the question, the board members thanked both for their time, and the meeting was closed.

Noteworthy was the fact that Dr. Hallert had been viewing the whole meeting, observing both Craig and Andy’s arguments. Before Andy left to go home, Dr. Hallert approached Andy and congratulated him for his efforts.

Andy had recently received his driving license, so he drove home after the meeting. As he drove home, he thought more about becoming a biologist.

* * *

“So, how did the meeting go?” Chris asked Andy, who was standing with him in front of the performing arts center building. Chris and Andy were merely accompanying each other before school. They were waiting for the bell to ring.

“I think it went very well. My only concern was to make sure that no changes were to be made to the evolution chapter. It appears that there will not be any, or so Dr. Hallert told me. I was a little afraid of offending Craig, but I wanted to stand up for science.”

“Well, I think it was quite necessary for you to do that. Could you imagine how bad it would be if changes were implemented and Dr. Hallert had to discuss the god hypothesis with the science material? Then I would be the one to speak up,” Chris claimed with a smile.

It was then that the bell rang, and both were headed to biology class. A new day had come, and it was time to focus on the curriculum at hand.