Philadelphia Inquirer story this morning

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Sun Oct 02 2005 - 15:09:54 EDT

Posted on Sun, Oct. 02, 2005

The divide over Darwin
Intelligent-design trial becomes a test of values.
By Paul Nussbaum
Inquirer Staff Writer

DOVER, Pa. - Outside the Dover fire hall last week, taking a break from a
video lecture on "Why Evolution Is Stupid," Judy Grim blamed Darwin's theory
for America's moral woes.

"If I'm taught there is a God I'm responsible to, I know I have to treat
people right," said Grim, 63. "But if there's no creator to answer to, it
changes your whole lifestyle. Then it's just survival of the fittest. That's
where our society is headed. That's why we have so many of the problems we

The nation's latest battle over evolution, spawned in this rural York County
town, exposes a deep and persistent cultural division that is uniquely

Despite a century of effort by science teachers, half of American adults
reject evolution because they see it as a challenge to their religious
beliefs. The fight over evolution, combining the combustible issues of
religion, schools, courts and politics, has become the nation's ultimate
"values" contest.

Coupled with questions on such things as school prayer, public display of
the Ten Commandments, and homosexual marriage, the teaching of evolution is
a powerful political issue for conservatives, going to the core of their
dispute with "activist judges." With an increasingly conservative Supreme
Court, they have renewed hope that long-standing decisions on separation of
church and state will be reversed.

Science has won most of the court battles. But it is making little headway
in the wider culture, and now faces a new offensive from advocates of
"intelligent design."

"Regardless of what happens in Dover, this will continue to be a problem
until, as a society, we come to grips with it," said Connie Bertka, director
of the Program of Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion at the American
Association for the Advancement of Science.

With more than 17,000 school boards and 50 state legislatures as potential
battlegrounds, those who support teaching evolution say they are too busy
battling immediate challenges to take on the broader schism in the country.

"It's something we agonize about... How are we really going to solve the
problem, rather than just keep handing out fire extinguishers?" said Eugenie
C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education.

The Dover trial, which began Monday in federal court in Harrisburg, is the
first to spotlight intelligent design. Intelligent design holds that natural
selection cannot explain all the complex developments observed in nature and
that an unspecified intelligent designer must be involved. Eleven parents
sued the Dover school board in December after the board required that a
statement introducing intelligent design as an alternative to evolution be
read to biology classes.

The parents, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, contend that
the statement promotes a particular religious viewpoint and violates
constitutional freedom-of-religion protections. The school board, defended
by the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian legal center, says intelligent
design is not religious and the school board merely wanted to inform
students of alternatives to evolution.

Nationwide, surveys show Americans' attitudes virtually unchanged on the
issue of evolution in the last 23 years. In 1982, 44 percent of those
surveyed said they believed God created humans in their present form within
the last 10,000 years, according to a Gallup poll. In 2004, the number was
45 percent.

Only 9 percent in 1982 said they believed in evolution unaided by God, and
13 percent held that belief in 2004.

"When public policy goes one way and the premises of the culture go the
other, you've got a formula for an unsustainable system of education," said
John Angus Campbell, who specializes in the rhetoric of science and is a
fellow of the Discovery Institute, the leading proponent of intelligent

The situation is much different in Europe. More than 75 percent of Danish
and French citizens and more than 60 percent of adults in Germany, Austria,
Britain, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands said they believed evolution was
"definitely" or "probably" true, according to a study by Jon D. Miller,
director of the Center for Biomedical Communication at Northwestern
University's medical school.

The theory of evolution, which is accepted by the vast majority of
scientists and all the nation's major scientific institutions, holds that
life, including humans, evolved from a common ancestor over billions of
years. The question of a creator, supporters say, is a religious one,
unanswerable by science.

While many conservative Christians see evolution as a rejection of God, many
Christian leaders and other theologians see no conflict between evolution
and religion. More than 4,000 Christian clergy, including evangelicals, have
signed a letter supporting evolution as "a foundational scientific truth"
and urging that "science remain science and that religion remain religion,
two very different, but complementary, forms of truth."

Scientists such as Scott and Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science, wish religious leaders
would get more involved for evolution.

"Science can't sell it alone," Leshner said. "Religious leaders need to do
more. They don't discuss it."

But Leshner and other scientists acknowledge scientists may often be their
own worst enemies in the debate.

"We suck," said Kenneth R. Miller, a Brown University biology professor who
is the author of high school biology textbooks, including the one used at
the Dover high school. Miller, a devout Roman Catholic and author of Finding
Darwin's God, was the opening witness for the Dover parents in the trial.
"We suck at communicating information about evolution and many other aspects
of science."

Leshner said scientists who are atheists often encourage the impression that
evolution is anti-God.

"Zealotry of any kind runs counter to productive coexistence. Evolutionary
fundamentalists are hard to deal with, but so are evolutionary atheists.

"Science can't answer the question" of the existence of God, Leshner said.
"And that's very uncomfortable for a lot of scientists, who think science
can answer everything."

Scientists tend to be much less religious than other Americans. About 40
percent of scientists, and only 7 percent of members of the National Academy
of Sciences, said they believed in God, according to surveys published in
the journal Nature in 1997 and 1998. Among the general public, polls show,
more than 90 percent believe in God.

"The message from some scientists is antireligious, and religious people
reject that," said Edward B. Davis, a professor of the history of science at
Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., and director of the Central Pennsylvania
Forum for Religion and Science. "There are some scientists who really
believe one of the benefits of science is helping rid the world of

Intelligent-design advocates have made their attack on evolution part of a
broader push to give Christianity a more prominent role in public life.

"Naturalism is the disease. Intelligent design is the cure," William
Dembski, director of the Center for Science and Theology at Southern Baptist
Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., wrote in his book Intelligent
Design. "... Darwin gave us a creation story in which God was absent, and
undirected natural processes did all the work. That creation story... is now
on the way out. When it goes, so will all the edifices that have been built
on its foundation."

Phillip E. Johnson, a law professor at the University of California,
Berkeley, who is a pioneer on intelligent design and the author of Darwin on
Trial, wrote in his book that "important questions of religion, philosophy
and cultural power are at stake" in the evolution debate.

In the Dover trial last week, witnesses for the parents testified that
school board members advocating intelligent design rejected church-state
separation as "myth." That connection between science teaching and religious
motivation is key, both to the trial in Harrisburg and in the wider debate.

One of the Dover plaintiffs, Frederick Callahan, made the link between
belief in evolution and support for separation of church and state on the
witness stand.

"I've come to accept that we [believers in evolution] are in the minority.
I've seen the polls," he said. "And we've been called intolerant.

"What am I supposed to tolerate? A small encroachment of my First Amendment
rights? I will not."

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or
Received on Sun Oct 2 15:11:51 2005

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