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Anti-evolution teachings gain foothold in U.S. schools

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  • Chris Ashcraft
    http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/11/30/MNGVNA3PE11.DTL Anti-evolution teachings gain foothold in U.S. schools Evangelicals see flaws in
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 2, 2004
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      http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/11/30/MNGVNA3PE11.DTL

      Anti-evolution teachings gain foothold in U.S. schools
      Evangelicals see flaws in Darwinism
      - Anna Badkhen, Chronicle Staff Writer
      Tuesday, November 30, 2004

      Dover, Pa. -- The way they used to teach the origin of the species to high school students in this
      sleepy town of 1,800 people in southern Pennsylvania, said local school board member Angie
      Yingling disapprovingly, was that "we come from chimpanzees and apes."

      Not anymore.

      The school board has ordered that biology teachers at Dover Area High School make students "aware
      of gaps/problems" in the theory of evolution. Their ninth-grade curriculum now must include the
      theory of "intelligent design," which posits that life is so complex and elaborate that some
      greater wisdom has to be behind it.

      The decision, passed last month by a 6-to-3 vote, makes the 3,600-student school district about 20
      miles south of Harrisburg the first in the United States to mandate the teaching of "intelligent
      design" in public schools, putting it on the front line of the growing national debate over the
      role of religion in public life.

      The new curriculum, which prompted two school board members to resign, is expected to take effect
      in January. The school principal, Joel Riedel, and teachers contacted by The Chronicle refused to
      comment on the changes.

      The idea of intelligent design was initiated by a small group of scientists to explain what they
      believe to be gaps in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which they say is "not adequate to
      explain all natural phenomena. "

      On an intelligent-design Web site (www.intelligentdesignnetwork.org), the theory is described as
      "a scientific disagreement with the claim of evolutionary theory that natural phenomena are not
      designed.''

      Critics such as Eugenie Scott, director of the Oakland-based National Center for Science
      Education, say the Dover school board's decision is part of a growing trend. Religious
      conservatives, critics say, have been waging a war against Darwin in classrooms since the Scopes
      "Monkey Trial" of 1925. Tennessee schoolteacher John Scopes was convicted of illegally teaching
      evolution, but his conviction later was thrown out on a technicality by the Tennessee Supreme
      Court.

      "There's a constant impetus by conservative evangelical Christians to bring religion back into the
      public schools," said Witold Walczak, legal director of the Pennsylvania branch of the American
      Civil Liberties Union. "The end goal is to get rid of evolution. They view it as a threat to their
      religion."

      The intelligent-design theory makes no reference to the Bible, and its proponents do not say who
      or what the greater force is behind the design. But Yingling, 46, who graduated from Dover High
      School in 1976, and other supporters of the new curriculum in this religiously conservative slice
      of rural Pennsylvania say they know exactly who the intelligent designer is.

      "There's only one creator, and it has to be God," said Rebecca Cashman, 16, a sophomore at Dover
      High. She frowned when asked to recollect what she learned about evolution at school last year.

      "Evolution -- is that the Darwin theory?" Cashman shook her head. "I don't know just what he was
      thinking!"

      Patricia Nason at the Institute for Creation Research, the world leader in creation science, said
      her organization and other activist groups are encouraging people who share conservative religious
      beliefs to seek positions on local school boards.

      "The movement is to get the truth out," Nason said by telephone from El Cajon (San Diego County).
      "We Christians have as much right to be involved in politics as evolutionists. We've been asleep
      for two generations, and it's time for us to come back."

      Emboldened by their contribution to President Bush's re-election, conservative religious activists
      are using intelligent design as a new strategy of attacking evolution without mentioning God,
      Scott said.

      "There is a new energy as a result of the last election, and I anticipate an even busier couple of
      years coming on," Scott said.

      She called intelligent design "creationism lite" masquerading as science. The U.S. Supreme Court
      in 1987 banned the teaching of creationism -- which holds that God created the world about 6,000
      years ago -- in public schools on the grounds of separation of church and state.

      John West of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, the main sponsor and promoter of intelligent
      design, defended the theory he says addresses "evolution follies."

      "Mainstream criticism should be raised in classrooms," West said.

      The Dover school district's challenge to the primacy of evolution is not isolated. In Cobb County,
      Ga., parents sued a local school board for mandating that biology textbooks prominently display
      disclaimers stating that evolution is "not a fact." A federal court is expected to rule next
      month.

      In Grantsburg, Wis., a school board revised its science curriculum to teach "various scientific
      models of theories of origin." In Charles County, Md. , the school board is considering a proposal
      to eliminate textbooks "biased toward evolution" from classrooms. Similar proposals have been
      considered this year in Missouri, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

      "There is nothing random about this," said Barry Lynn, executive director of the Americans United
      for Separation of Church and State. "You might say it's a planned evolution of an attack on the
      science of evolution."

      The drive to bring more religion and what have been labeled "moral values" into the classroom goes
      beyond challenges to Darwin's theory, Scott said. The Charles County school board also proposed to
      censor school reading lists of "immorality" or "foul language" and to allow the distribution of
      Bibles in schools. In Texas, the nation's second-biggest school textbook market, the State Board
      of Education approved health textbooks that defined abstinence as the only form of contraception
      and changed the description of marriage between "two people" to "a lifelong union between a
      husband and a wife."

      "The religious right has a list of topics that it wants action on," Scott said. "Things like
      abortion, abstinence, gays are higher up in the food chain of their concern, but evolution is part
      of the package."

      This drive has found fertile ground in this part of Pennsylvania, where billboards reading, "Many
      books inform but only the Bible transforms" line the road, and family restaurants offer free
      booklets titled "What the Bible says about moral purity" and "The Bible is God's word" at the
      door.

      "These brochures give you an idea where some people in this community are coming from," said Jeff
      Brown, 54, who, along with his wife Carol, 57, resigned from the school board after they voted
      against changing the biology curriculum.

      Yingling, who voted in favor, said she believes God created the world in six days and doesn't
      believe in evolution "at all." Another board member who supported the measure, William Buckingham,
      refused to say what he believes but has identified himself as a born-again Christian.

      But religious beliefs or motivations should be beside the point, said Richard Thompson, an
      attorney who represents the board members. Thompson is the president of the Thomas More Law Center
      in Ann Arbor, Mich., a pro-bono firm whose Web site promises "the sword and shield for the people
      of faith."

      The decision was "supportive of academic freedom more than anything else, " Thompson said.

      While not talking about his own religious convictions, Thompson added, "When you look at cell
      structure and you see the intricacy of the cell, you can come to the conclusion that it doesn't
      happen by natural selection, there has to be intelligent design." Thompson said he is ready to
      represent the board in the Supreme Court if it comes to that. Some parents and teachers in Dover
      already have asked the Pennsylvania ACLU to sue the board on their behalf. Walczak said the
      organization's legal team is studying the case before deciding whether to go to court.

      Brown, the former school board member, says he is not arguing with other people's religious
      beliefs.

      "Don't get me wrong: I don't have a problem with having these booklets where people can pick them
      up. But I do have a problem with people shoving this down the throats of our children on
      taxpayers' dollars," Brown said.

      "I happen to believe both in God and evolution," he said, and his wife nodded: "Hear, hear."

      The Browns appear to be in the minority. Although public schools have been teaching evolution for
      decades, a national Gallup poll in November 2004 showed that only 35 percent of those asked
      believed confidently that Darwin's theory was "supported by the evidence.'' More than one-third of
      those polled by CBS News later in November said creationism should be taught instead of evolution.


      "A guy came up to me and said, 'Wait a minute, you believe in God and evolution at the same time?
      Evolution isn't in the Bible!' " said Brown, nibbling on a deep-fried mozzarella stick at the
      Shiloh Family Restaurant on Route 74. As he became more agitated, his voice grew louder, and other
      customers -- mostly gray-haired women and elderly men in baseball hats -- turned their heads to
      look at the couple. Carol Brown kept putting her index finger to her lips, gesturing for her
      husband to be quieter.

      After the Browns left the restaurant, a waitress in her 30s slipped a note to a Chronicle
      reporter.

      "Beware," it read. "God wrote over 2,000 years ago that there would be false prophets and
      teachers. If you would like to know the truth read the Bible."



      --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Recent actions in the teaching of evolution
      Tennessee, April 2003: Blount County's Board of Education votes not to adopt three high school
      biology textbooks because they do not present creationism alongside evolution.

      California, September 2003: The Board of Trustees of the Roseville Joint Union High School
      District (Placer County) decide not to enact a district- wide policy on teaching evolution.
      Science teachers have told the district that they do not want to add anti-evolutionist materials
      that are not state- approved.

      Oklahoma, April 2004: Textbook legislation passes after it is stripped of a provision that all
      textbooks include a disclaimer describing evolution as "a controversial theory which some
      scientists present as scientific explanation for the origin of living things" and "the unproven
      belief that random, undirected forces produced a world of living things."

      Pennsylvania, October 2004: A Dover, Pa., school board votes to include intelligent design in the
      district's science curriculum, making it the first such school district in the country.

      Georgia, November 2004: A lawsuit is filed against the Cobb County School District over this
      disclaimer inserted into textbooks: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a
      theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with
      an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

      Source: National Center for Science Education; Chronicle research



      --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      National polls on the issue
      In your opinion, is Darwin's theory supported by evidence?

      Supported by evidence, 35%

      Not supported, 35%

      Don't know enough to say, 29%

      Which best describes your views of the origin of life?

      Man developed with God guiding, 38%

      Man developed with no help from God, 13%

      God created man in present form, 45%

      Source: Gallup Poll, conducted Nov. 7-10. The poll surveyed 1,016 adults; the margin of error is
      plus or minus 3 percentage points.

      Percentage favoring the teaching of creationism

      instead of evolution

      Overall, 37%

      Kerry voters, 24%

      Bush voters, 45%

      Self-described evangelical Christians, 60%

      Source: CBS News poll, conducted Nov. 18-21. The poll surveyed 795 registered voters nationwide;
      the margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.



      --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Recent actions in the teaching of evolution
      Tennessee, April 2003: Blount County���s Board of Education votes not to adopt three high school
      biology textbooks because they do not present creationism alongside evolution..

      California, September 2003: The Board of Trustees of the Roseville Joint Union High School
      District Placerville County) decide not to enact a district- wide policy on teaching evolution.
      Science teachers have told the district that they do not want to add nti-evolutionist materials
      that are not stateapproved..

      Oklahoma, April 2004: Textbook legislation passes after it is stripped of a provision that all
      textbooks include a disclaimer describing evolution as "a controversial theory which some
      scientists present as scientific explanation for the origin of living things"and "the unproven
      belief that random, undirected forces produced a world of living things.".

      Pennsylvania, October 2004: A Dover, Pa., school board votes to include intelligent design in the
      district���s science curriculum, making it the first such school districtin the country..

      Georgia, November 2004: A lawsuit is filed against the Cobb County School District over this
      disclaimer inserted into textbooks: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a
      theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with
      an open mind, studied carefully, and criticallyconsidered.".Source: National Center for Science
      Education; Chronicle research

      E-mail Anna Badkhen at abadkhen@....


      =====
      Christopher W. Ashcraft
      Northwest Creation Network
      http://nwcreation.net
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