Creationism in the classroom in North Little Rock 

A social studies class at Lakewood Middle School teaches religion with evolution.

click to enlarge FROM THE PRESENTATION

In Honnye Athanasiou's social studies class at Lakewood Middle School, the World History unit on the Stone Age began last week with a presentation on evolution and creationism. The three-day lesson, which presents various arguments expressing doubt about evolution from a creationist perspective, has at least several Lakewood parents alarmed, and according to local civil liberties advocates, it violates the First Amendment.

"My [child] told me that the teacher was teaching him about creationism," said a parent of a student in Athanasiou's class (the parent asked not to be named out of concern of drawing attention to his child in the class). "He knew what he was being taught was pretty inappropriate. I asked him about it, and it sounded pretty religious to me for a public school. I asked him if he would get a copy of the power point presentation. The teacher said something to the effect of, 'Why are you wanting this? Are you trying to get me in trouble?' "

Eventually the teacher agreed to provide a copy to the parent. The power point, titled "Evolution v. Creation," is divided into sections — 17 slides each — titled "A Historical Perspective," "Arguments for Evolution" and "Arguments for Creation." You can see the full power point here.

Critics say that the presentation essentially amounts to a brief against the theory of evolution, with an inadequate explanation of the science behind evolution on the one hand, and on the other hand, arguments and claims against evolution that have been widely debunked in the scientific community, though students would not know that from the power point presentation. The section on historical perspective is dominated by a history of Christian thought and sprinkled with quotes on the value of religious belief. The "Arguments for Evolution" section includes a quote from evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins stating that his belief in evolution led him to atheism.

"It's full of misrepresentations and bad science, and the substance of one religious tradition's creation story is presented as the only objection to the science," said Anne Orsi, a spokesperson for the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers. "I can see talking about it briefly in a social studies class — to tell the students that there is a controversy among people who are fundamentalist believers in a certain branch of religion. ... They can examine why those people might be upset and why there has to be so much litigation over it. But this presentation goes way too far. It actually attacks scientific theory, and does so without correctly explaining the science behind it. It actually misrepresents the science. The teacher is using a back door method to 'teach the controversy' in direct violation of [case law both in Arkansas and nationally]."

Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, called the power point "nothing more than a form of Christian apologetics, an attempt to prove the existence of God, the Christian God, with 'reasoned' argument. This is not just about evolution versus creation, and it is certainly not evenhanded. I wish more people understood that the reason we have religious liberty here is that we don't allow government (here, a public school) to teach religion. But the sad truth is that many people don't want religious liberty: They want their religion to dominate. And that's what we have to be wary of.  That's how you wind up with a state religion and religious persecution."

The parent with a child in Athanasiou's class said that according to his child, Athanasiou herself clearly seemed to come from a creationist perspective as she presented the power point. "The power point jumped out at me as edging these kids toward doubting science and thinking there's debate in scientific areas where there's really not debate," the parent said. "I would think the science teacher would have some un-teaching to do because of this history lesson."


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