After Knox County school board members wrapped up a long discussion of the contentious biology textbook Monday night, they and the sizable crowd that had turned out for the board's workshop meeting were given a rare treat: some homegrown creationism, courtesy of Powell resident and longtime anti-evolution activist Robert Gentry. Gentry, whose website outlines his intricate if bewildering study of "the radioactive decay of primordial polonium," has fought a long, lonely battle with the scientific establishment. (It was detailed in a Metro Pulse cover story on creationism some years back.) At Monday night's meeting, he urged the school board to ban the book in question--Asking About Life--not only because its characterization of biblical creationism as a "myth" was offensive, but because "the evolutionists have buried the evidence of creation." He repeated a challenge he has made many times over the past several decades to debate any "evolutionist" on "national TV." He noted that so far, none have taken him up on it.
But on the whole, the meeting didn't seem to go the creationists' way.Several other speakers, including two science teachers, urged the board to keep the book. And Farragut parent Julie Gautreau told board members, "I don't think the word 'myth' is the least bit objectionable, and I was raised a Roman Catholic and still respect and try to follow the teachings of Christ. Christ himself spoke in parables, telling stories to illustrate spiritual truths. I wonder if anyone has considered the possibility that the Creation story was a kind of parable, more like an allegory, and would you accuse me of blasphemy or bigotry if I suggested so?" Several teachers in the audience applauded when she was done.
There was also the small matter that the original motion to ban the book at last month's meeting by board member Cindy Buttry was apparently not even legal. Deputy Law Director Martha McCampbell said that to "ban" something actually means to remove it from public circulation, not just from the curriculum--something the school board has no power to do. Buttry said she would withdraw her motion, but added, "That doesn't mean I won't make another one."
But a voting majority of the board seemed to warm to a substitute motion proffered by board Chair Indya Kincannon. It would retain the textbook until the school system has the money to make its next round of science text purchases. Becky Ashe, executive director of instruction, noted that a newer honors biology book has already been approved, but there hasn't been money to buy new books for several years. Under questioning from the board, Ashe said the new book does not use the word "myth" in talking about creationism. But, she said, "They don't call it science." Robert Gentry will probably not be pleased.
(The board is scheduled to vote on the textbook issue at its monthly meeting on Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the Main Assembly Room of the City County Building.)