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UNM Scientists Join Evolution Debate

By Elaine D. Briseño
Journal Staff Writer
    The University of New Mexico science departments have entered the debate in Rio Rancho over a district policy opponents claim opens the door for religion in science class.
    Chairs of the UNM biology, chemistry, earth and planetary sciences, physics and astronomy, anthropology and mathematics and statistics departments have signed a letter telling Rio Rancho Public Schools the policy "should be abolished."
    Rio Rancho High School SciMatics academy head Dan Barbour said Thursday that the policy has disrupted classes.
    He said in one instance, students took up class time in anatomy and physiology class debating evolution and intelligent design. The next day, in the same class, a student brought the Book of Mormon and wanted to discuss his beliefs on the topic.
    A chemistry teacher also reported a student bringing in a Bible and demanding to discuss intelligent design.
    In all instances, Barbour said teachers told students it was not the appropriate time for such discussions. Barbour said because of the low morale, he worries some of his teachers will quit.
    "I'm very nervous," he said. "They (teachers) may not leave the school immediately but it depends on how the policy is implemented. If it is not science they are teaching, I am going to be looking for a lot of teachers."
    The Rio Rancho school board adopted the policy by a 3-2 vote on Aug. 22, touching off a firestorm of debate.
    The policy allows for discussion of alternative ideas during the teaching of evolution, which generally occurs during a student's sophomore year.
    Board members who supported the measure have strong Christian ties and opponents accused them of trying to introduce intelligent design into the curriculum.
    Intelligent design is the idea that life forms are too complex to be explained solely by Darwinian evolutionary theory.
    In a letter mailed to RRPS Superintendent Sue Cleveland on Thursday, the chairs of the UNM science departments state, "The policy is a means to facilitate the introduction of completely non-scientific ideas like 'intelligent design' and unscientific 'evidence against evolution' into the public schools science classrooms, and we reject such attempts."