The New York Times
May 17, 2005
The Evolution of Creationism
The latest struggle over the teaching of evolution in the public schools of
Kansas provides striking evidence that evolution is occurring right before
our eyes. Every time the critics of Darwinism lose a battle over reshaping
the teaching of biology, they evolve into a new form, armed with arguments
that sound progressively more benign, while remaining as dangerous as ever.
Students of these battles will recall that in 1999 the Kansas Board of
Education, frustrated that the Supreme Court had made it impossible to
force creationism into the science curriculum, took the opposite tack and
eliminated all mention of evolution from the statewide science standards.
That madness was reversed in 2001 after an appalled electorate had rejected
several of the conservative board members responsible for the travesty.
Meanwhile, Darwin's critics around the country began pushing a new theory -
known as intelligent design - that did not mention God, but simply argued
that life is too complex to be explained by the theory of evolution, hence
there must be an intelligent designer behind it all.
The political popularity of that theory will be tested today in a school
board primary election in Dover, Pa., where the schools require that
students be made aware of intelligent design as an alternative to
Darwinism. The race pits those who voted last year for that rule against
those who oppose it.
Now the anti-evolution campaigners in Kansas, who again have a state school
board majority, have scrubbed things even cleaner. They insist that they
are not even trying to incorporate intelligent design into state science
standards - that all they want is a critical analysis of supposed
weaknesses in the theory of evolution. That may be less innocuous than it
seems. Although the chief critics say they do not seek to require the
teaching of intelligent design, they add the qualifier "at this point in
time." Once their foot is in the door, the way will be open.
The state science standards in Kansas are up for revision this year, and a
committee of scientists and educators has proposed standards that enshrine
evolution as a central concept of modern biology. The ruckus comes about
because a committee minority, led by intelligent-design proponents, has
issued its own proposals calling for more emphasis on the limitations of
evolution theory and the evidence supposedly contradicting it. The minority
even seeks to change the definition of science in a way that appears to
leave room for supernatural explanations of the origin and evolution of
life, not just natural explanations, the usual domain of science.
The fact that all this is wildly inappropriate for a public school
curriculum does not in any way suggest that teachers are being forced to
take sides against those who feel that the evolution of humanity, in one
way or another, was the work of an all-powerful deity. Many empirical
scientists believe just that, but also understand that theories about how
God interacts with the world are beyond the scope of their discipline.
The Kansas board, which held one-sided hearings this month that were
boycotted by mainstream scientists on the grounds that the outcome was
preordained, is expected to vote on the standards this summer. One can only
hope that the members will come to their senses first.
* Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company