God and Darwin

By RICK WORMWOOD  |  February 2, 2006

Julie Raines has been teaching biology at Yarmouth High School for twenty-five years. She’s a very nice lady who received me into her well-lit classroom one afternoon just as a raucous school assembly concluded and the kids poured out of the building. As we sat down under the watchful, unblinking glass eyes of several stuffed birds, she said she had no idea why I would want to talk to her.

I explained how I had come to hear what I’d heard, and then asked her point-blank if it was true. She assured me that it was not. Evolution was a part of her public school biology class, as was mandated in 1997 by the Maine Learning Results. She then produced a textbook and a lesson plan, and there it was. Though I was satisfied with what she currently included in her lessons, I had talked to many former students, and the quiet refusal to teach evolution was definitely part of her reputation. So I asked if it had always been part of her class, and after taking a deep breath, Mrs. Raines admitted that, no, it had not.

She explained how, when she started teaching a quarter-century ago, the state had no set curriculum, and her background had been in other areas. “I was hired right out of college,” she said. “I was more naive than anything else. Teaching evolution was not a big thing in my (college) method classes. Ecology was huge. Evolution was not a major influence. I never did the big unit thing, but there were pieces of it in there.”

She didn’t specifically teach it for the first few years, and then, when she did start, several years into her tenure, evolution came at the end of the spring, in the last few weeks before school was out, and Mrs. Raines remembers several times that school days lost to snow ultimately prevented her from completing the unit. While she had taught evolution in the senior advanced-placement biology class since arriving at Yarmouth, the theory was included in each of her sophomore biology classes by the late eighties or early nineties. The exact date escapes her, but the change had definitely happened before the Clinton Administration.

“One student went to the principal one year, but that particular kid’s class had been taught the theory of evolution. They weren’t there for it because their parents had taken them out of school to go on vacation,” Mrs. Raines admitted, along with the fact that the ideas Darwin developed in the Galapagos Islands were central to her discipline. “We all come into this room with our own background and beliefs, but in biology there is a foundation in evolution.”

That being said, Mrs. Raines also pointed out that scientific knowledge is always changing. She has problems with some aspects of evolution and other theories, including the current one dealing with, as she put it, “The huge jump from reptiles to birds.” But even as she briefly explained Gould’s Theory of Punctuated Equilibrium, and what that meant to both correcting and advancing Darwin’s theory, she did not once try to deny the existence of her faith, and its importance to her life, if not her job. “I don’t make any bones that I believe in God, and that He’s ultimately the creator, but the processes are something that we can’t know everything about. That’s why these aren’t things that I teach, because God doesn’t belong in this classroom.”

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