The chairwoman of the Brainerd school board last week challenged the presence of evolution in that district’s biology curriculum. In the process, Sue Kern demonstrated how repeated resistance to the subject wears away at quality science instruction in the public schools.

Kern, at a school board meeting last week, challenged the evolution portion of the curriculum on two grounds: First, the mistaken notion that evolution is “unproven,” and second, the equally mistaken notion that the theory contradicts Christian belief.

The reality is that evolutionary theory has been strengthened over the decades since Charles Darwin began elaborating upon it. It is now the foundation piece of the life sciences, the unifying theory that forms the basis of productive and active research. You would not want medical treatment that is not rooted in evolutionary theory.

Also a reality: Christianity and evolution are not mutually exclusive. Many denominations — Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the LDS — either embrace evolution or at least declare that they are not in contradiction. (Some Lutheran synods and the Southern Baptists disagree.)

But the friction is felt in the public schools. Randy Moore, a biology professor at the University of Minnesota, told the Star Tribune after the Brainerd incident that his regular surveys of Minnesota teachers consistently find that a third either downplay the theory or don’t teach it at all, despite state requirements. “Either for religious or local political reasons, it’s just not worth it,” Moore said.

That’s unfortunate for the students of those teachers, who thus fail to get a well-grounded education in biology. The teachers in Brainerd who defended the curriculum are to be applauded.

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