The volatile issue of teaching creation science in public schools popped up in the Alaska governor's race this week when Republican Sarah Palin said she thinks creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the state's public classrooms.
Palin was answering a question from the moderator near the conclusion of Wednesday night's televised debate on KAKM Channel 7 when she said, "Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both."
Her main opponents, Democrat Tony Knowles and Independent Andrew Halcro, said such alternatives to evolution should be kept out of science classrooms. Halcro called such lessons "religious-based" and said the place for them might be a philosophy or sociology class.
The question has divided local school boards in several places around the country and has come up in Alaska before, including once before the state Board of Education in 1993.
The teaching of creationism, which relies on the biblical account of the creation of life, has been ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court as an unconstitutional injection of religion into public education.
Last December, in a widely publicized local case, a federal judge in Pennsylvania threw out a city school board's requirement that "intelligent design" be mentioned briefly in science classes. Intelligent design proposes that biological life is so complex that some kind of intelligence must have shaped it.
In an interview Thursday, Palin said she meant only to say that discussion of alternative views should be allowed to arise in Alaska classrooms:
"I don't think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn't have to be part of the curriculum."
She added that, if elected, she would not push the state Board of Education to add such creation-based alternatives to the state's required curriculum.
Members of the state school board, which sets minimum requirements, are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature.
"I won't have religion as a litmus test, or anybody's personal opinion on evolution or creationism," Palin said.
Palin has occasionally discussed her lifelong Christian faith during the governor's race but said teaching creationism is nothing she has campaigned about or even given much thought to.
"We're talking about the gas line and PERS/TERS," she said Thursday, referring to the proposed natural gas pipeline and public employee and teacher retirement systems.
The Republican Party of Alaska platform says, in its section on education: "We support giving Creation Science equal representation with other theories of the origin of life. If evolution is taught, it should be presented as only a theory."
The issue of teaching an alternative to evolution has turned into an issue in the current race for governor in Michigan, where Republican Dick DeVos said he wanted to see students exposed to the idea of intelligent design.
In 1993 in Alaska, several Board of Education appointees of Gov. Wally Hickel considered adding creation science to the board's list of recommended scientific concepts. The idea was proposed by a member of the school board who taught at a private Christian school in Fairbanks. It failed on a 3-3 tie, with one school board member absent.
In 2003 a curriculum reform panel recommended leaving evolution out of the state requirements to avoid controversy. Their recommendation was accepted by the state Department of Education, but the state board -- which had the final say -- reinserted the term.
Current state regulations allow local districts to add their own curriculum beyond the minimum state requirements, said Department of Education spokesman Eric Fry. That would arguably include some form of creation science, he said.
"They couldn't promote religion, but it's OK to teach about religion," Fry said.
But efforts to bring such lessons to the science classroom would likely be subject to the same kind of constitutional challenge that blew up into a national controversy in Dover, Pa., last year. After a six-week trial, a Republican judge appointed by President George W. Bush concluded that intelligent design "advanced a particular version of Christianity" and did not belong in class.
Judge John E. Jones III said Darwin's theory of evolution was imperfect. "However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom."
Palin said she thought there was value in discussing alternatives.
"It's OK to let kids know that there are theories out there," she said in the interview. "They gain information just by being in a discussion."
That was how she was brought up, she said. Her father was a public school science teacher.
"My dad did talk a lot about his theories of evolution," she said. "He would show us fossils and say, 'How old do you think these are?' "
Asked for her personal views on evolution, Palin said, "I believe we have a creator."
She would not say whether her belief also allowed her to accept the theory of evolution as fact.
"I'm not going to pretend I know how all this came to be," she said.
Knowles was asked Thursday if he believed in a creator and, if so, how he reconciled that with evolution. Campaign spokeswoman Patty Ginsburg responded by e-mail: "Tony wants to stick by what he said last night -- creationism has no place in public school classrooms as an 'alternative' to evolution."
Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Billy Toien, the last candidate to answer the question about evolution at Wednesday's televised debate, posed a question of his own to moderator Michael Carey.
"My question is, who intelligently designed the intelligent designer?"
"I'm only the moderator, not a theologian," said Carey, moving on to the next topic.
Daily News reporter George Bryson contributed to this story. Contact reporter Tom Kizzia at firstname.lastname@example.org. HALCRO: "I think anything that is religious-based in, in concept, you know, really should, needs to be taught in the proper channel -- philosophy, sociology. I don't think it should be taught as a science."
KNOWLES: "... The answer is no. The reason why is we don't want politics in our science. We actually want more science in our politics. We don't want to just teach all things because it may be politically correct. We want to teach the best science there is, and there is overwhelming evidence, there's almost incontrovertible evidence that evolution is the science that, that we know. And that's what we should always teach, to never compromise on the principles just because it's politically popular."
PALIN: "Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. "Healthy debate is so important and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both. And you know, I say this too as the daughter of a science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject -- creationism and evolution. It's been a healthy foundation for me. But don't be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides."
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