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February 14. 2012 11:08PM

Testimony heard on evolution education bill

CONCORD — A hearing for a bill that would require the teaching of evolution as a theory, not scientific fact, drew heated testimony Tuesday.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jerry Bergevin, R-Manchester, told the House Education Committee panel that his concerns about evolution went beyond its claimed unsoundness as a theory.

“Nations that supported atheism and evolution destroyed more human beings than any others in history,” Bergevin said, referring to the Nazis, Soviets and Chinese communists.

“Evolution,” he added, “is the air supply of atheism.”

House Bill 1148 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.”

No one testified in support of Bergevin's bill, however, it did face several opponents, including representatives from the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association and the N.H. School Administrators Association — as well as Jackson Hinkle, a 10-year-old student from Nashua.

This bill “would be a blow to our educational system, which is already in a bad state,” Hinkle told the panel in a quiet voice. “If evolution was not presented in the scientific sense, but rather the colloquial, people would be denied modern scientific information.”

Another student, Matthew Lounsbury, a high school senior from Wolfeboro who is a member of the Legislature's Youth Advisory Council, said his group had voted unanimously to oppose the bill.

“We feel it's redundant,” he said. “Every high school senior remembers that evolution was taught as a theory. But the same point can also be applied to the theory of gravity.”

John Godfrey, of the science teachers group, emphasized that a scientific theory means more than just an idea, that it has to undergo rigorous scrutiny and testing.

“Evolution is at the extremely well-established end of the spectrum of scientific theories,” he said.

He added that the section of the bill concerning theorists' viewpoints on atheism was “a little bewildering.”

“It's absolutely impossible to compile such a database, and there's no use doing that,” he said. “Should we also say that (the scientist) was white or Christian? What does it matter what one's political persuasion is, as long as they do good science?”

Under its current minimum standards for public schools, the N.H. Department of Education requires local boards to include within high school biology curricula the teaching of “organic evolution and patterns and products of evolution, including genetic variation, specialization, adaptation and natural selection.”

HB 1148 is the second bill to come before the Education Committee that could affect the teaching of evolution. House Bill 1457, heard by the committee last week, requires that science teachers instruct students that proper scientific inquiry “results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established.”

Members of the committee asked no questions and made almost no comments during the hearing, except to praise the students for participating.

The Catholic Diocese of Manchester is not taking a position on the bills.


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