Gore Shocks Scientists With Creationism Statement
By Alan Elsner, Political Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vice President Al Gore shocked scientists Thursday with a statement from his office that local school boards had the right to teach creationism, although he personally favored the teaching of evolution.
``The vice president favors the teaching of evolution in public schools. Obviously, that decision should and will be made at the local level and localities should be free to decide to teach creationism as well,'' said Alejandro Cabrera, a spokesman in the vice president's office.
The statement, in response to an inquiry from Reuters, came a week after Republican presidential front-runner George W. Bush supported the teaching of creationism in public schools alongside the theory of evolution.
Several hours later, Cabrera called Reuters back to clarify that ``the vice president supports the right of school boards to teach creationism within the context of religious courses and not science courses.''
When told of Gore's initial statement, Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, responded: ``My God, that's appalling!''
``I understand politicians like to compromise and that faced with one group who say two plus two equals four and another group that says two plus two equals six, will tend to arrive at a position that says two plus two equals five. Unfortunately, sometimes the answer has to be four and this is one of those times,'' she said.
Bush, the governor of Texas who leads the field for the Republican presidential nomination by a wide margin, said last week in New Orleans he favored exposing children to different theories of how life began.
``I believe children ought to be exposed to different theories about how the world started,'' Bush said, in response to a question about a decision earlier this month by the Kansas Board of Education to delete virtually any mention of evolution from the state's recommended science curriculum and standardized tests.
Bush's spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said: ``He (Bush) believes both creationism and evolution ought to be taught. He believes it is a question for states and local school boards to decide but he believes both ought to be taught.''
Harvard University chemistry professor Dudley Herschbach said he was shocked by the Gore and Bush statements and found them very disappointing.
``It ought to be the birthright of our children to be taught honest science that is not tangled up with politics and religion,'' he said.
Evolution, first set forth by the 19th-century scientist Charles Darwin, is the theory that because there are certain similarities in all forms of life on Earth, that all life evolved from common ancestors.
Opponents of the theory say it contradicts the biblical account of the creation of life by God and object to the notion that human life evolved from a lower life form.
Francisco Ayala, a geneticist at the University of California, Irvine, said the United States was making itself a laughing stock in the world.
``If we don't teach our kids good science, they will be handicapped later in a world that depends on science and technology,'' he said. ``I am disturbed at this political trend. It is potentially terribly damaging to our children.''
Among other Republican presidential candidates, publisher Steve Forbes and Sen. John McCain of Arizona both said the decision of what to teach in schools should be left to local authorities and took no position on the issue. Conservative Pat Buchanan said he supported teaching children that the universe was created by God, although he did not object to them learning about evolution as a theory.
``What I do object to is to teach Darwin's theory of evolution of human beings from animals without divine intervention. I don't believe in that and I adamantly object to that,'' he told Reuters in a telephone message.
Republican candidate Gary Bauer, who is vying with Buchanan for the support of conservatives, said on MSNBC: ``Polling data shows Americans want both ideas exposed to children. I think that makes a lot of sense.''
Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the issue was becoming a litmus test for some conservative Christians who were a powerful constituency in the Republican Party.
``When we have candidates saying we ought to turn public schools into Sunday schools, we have a big problem,'' he said.