Wyatt B. Durrette, the Republican nominee for governor of Virginia, says he supports discussing creationism alongside the theory of evolution in the state's public schools, provoking sharp complaints that his position would inject religion into the classroom.
"My view is that I believe in God," Durrette said yesterday in a telephone interview from his Richmond campaign headquarters. "I believe the vast majority of Americans do. I see nothing wrong with mentioning in the text or mentioning in the classroom that God created the universe.
"Clearly evolution is the predominant scientific theory and, therefore, should receive the overwhelming attention," he said.
The Republican's comments on the subject, first reported yesterday by The Charlottesville Daily Progress, drew sharp attacks from Gerald L. Baliles, Durrette's Democratic opponent, the American Civil Liberties Union and others. Some educators disputed those objections, saying that Durrette did not go beyond the provisions of a current state policy that allows teachers to mention creationism and refer students seeking additional information about the theory to sources in "the community."
In the Charlottesville interview, Durrette, a Richmond lawyer, said: "I think a well-rounded education would expose the student at least in some measure to both theories."
"Textbooks dealing with the origin of the universe should include some mention of creationism," he said in a statement released after the interview.
"He's giving a message to science teachers in public schools that creationism ought to be mentioned and taught in some fashion as science in the classroom," said Chan Kendrick of the Virginia chapter of the ACLU. He said the Durrette stance was contrary to several court rulings. "Taking that position when the law is contrary, is irresponsible," Kendrick said.
"I'm not advocating any change in the way things are done in Virginia," Durrette said in an interview yesterday, adding, "I'm not aware of what the state law is."
Baliles, who has quarreled with Durrette over education issues, immediately pounced on the issue, charging that Durrette had created the "impression" that he would favor changing laws to allow greater attention to be given in the classroom to creationism.
"It would seem that Durrette is seeking to rewrite what is a cherished part of Virginia and American history -- the separation of church and state," Baliles said in a statement.
Wayne A. Moyer of the People for the American Way, a group founded by television producer Norman Lear to challenge views taken by the religious right. "It's the most wrongheaded notion I've heard in a long while," said Moyer. "It creationism is not a theory. Creationism is a belief and has no business being in any science class."
"I don't know that he's Durrette going to make much difference," said Del. Dorothy S. McDiarmid (D-Fairfax), chairman of the House Education Committee. She said that Durrette's comments did not appear to go beyond current state policy. "Virginia is quite right in what it is doing now."
"Evolution is based on scientific fact and certainly should be presented to all of the children," said Margaret Marston of Arlington, a member of the state Board of Education. "But the other sides should also be presented. Children should have the benefit of all sides of a discussion to make up their minds. Certainly the scientific emphasis should be the strongest."
The furor over Durrette's statement is the latest in a long controversy in Virginia schools over creationism, a doctrine that disputes the Darwinian theory of evolution and supports the biblical account of God's creation of man.
Last year the Virginia Board of Education approved a biology program for teachers at Liberty Baptist College in Lynchburg that the ACLU said would lead to its graduates teaching creationism in the public schools. The state board, after several hearings, said it found nothing to support the allegation against the school where the conservative Rev. Jerry Falwell serves as chancellor.
Virginia has no law governing the teaching of creationism, according to Callie P. Shingleton, an assistant state school superintendent, but the Department of Education has issued a "position paper" that says: "Science instruction in the public schools is based on only those theories that are acccepted by the scientific community . . . . While science teachers are not trained or expected to provide instruction in other theories, they are obligated to encourage students to seek information not provided in the classrooms from parents and other sources in the community."
Durrette has the "strong view that where possible and where appropriate, local communities should have as much of a say so as possible in textbooks and that sort of thing," said his spokesman, Don Harrison.
Durrette said that in his statements on creationism he was "stating a personal opinion . . . . A governor can have a personal opinion without advocating a change in policy.