Doubting Darwin; How Did Life, in Its Infinite Complexity, Come to Be? A Controversial New Theory Called 'Intelligent Design' Asserts a Supernatural Agent Was at Work
Adler, Jerry, Gegax, T. Trent, Raymond, Joan, Sieder, Jill, Reno, Jamie, Skipp, Catharine, Newsweek
Byline: Jerry Adler (With T. Trent Gegax in Dover, Pa., Joan Raymond in Ohio, Jill Sieder in Atlanta, Jamie Reno in Santee, Calif., and Catharine Skipp in Miami)
When Joshua Rowand, an 11th grader in Dover, pa., looks out from his high school, he can see the United Church of Christ across the street and the hills beyond it, reminding him of what he's been taught from childhood: that God's perfect creation culminated on the sixth day with the making of man in his image. Inside the school, he is taught that Homo sapiens evolved over millions of years from a series of predecessor species in an unbroken line of descent stretching back to the origins of life. The apparent contradiction between that message and the one he hopes someday to spread as a Christian missionary doesn't trouble him. The entire subject of evolution by natural selection is covered in two lessons in high-school biology. What kind of Christian would he be if his faith couldn't survive 90 minutes of exposure to Darwin?
But many Americans would rather not put their children to that test, including a majority on the Dover School Board, which last month voted to inform students of the existence of alternatives to Darwin's theory. Eighty years after the Scopes trial, in which a Tennessee high-school teacher was convicted of violating a state law against teaching evolution, Americans are still fighting the slur that they share an ancestry with apes. This time, though, the battle is being waged under a new banner--not the Book of Genesis, but "intelligent design," a critique of evolution couched in the language of science. And in this debate, both sides claim to be upholding the principle of free inquiry. Proponents of I.D., clustered around a Seattle think tank called the Discovery Institute, regard it as an overdue challenge to Darwinism's monopoly over scientific discourse. "To say, as Darwinians do, that everything has to be reduced to a chemical reaction is more ideology than science," asserts Discovery's John West. Opponents, led by the Oakland, Calif.-based National Center for Science Education, regard I.D. as an assault on a basic principle of the Enlightenment, that science must explain nature through natural causes. "Intelligent design is predicated on a supernatural creator," says Vic Walczak, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging Dover's introduction of the concept into biology classes. "That's not science, it's religion."
Walczak calls the Dover case, which has not yet come to trial, "Scopes Redux 25"-- the latest episode in the never-ending struggle to reconcile the Bible, Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species" and the First Amendment. The last round was touched off when the school board in suburban Cobb County, Ga., added stickers to its new biology textbooks warning students that "evolution is a theory, not a fact... [and] should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." "If you see that out of any context, you'd think it sounds reasonable," observes law professor Edward Larson, the leading historian of the Scopes trial and its aftermath. But the wording, he says, encourages confusion over the everyday meaning of "theory"--akin to "hunch"--with the scientific meaning, a systematic framework to explain observations. Evolution, which deals with events that no one was around to witness, will always be a "theory."
The other salient point about the sticker, Larson says, is that it singles out evolution for critical analysis, among all the potentially controversial views to which students might be exposed. Marjorie Rogers, the parent who led the campaign for the sticker, says her motives were purely to "expand the teaching of science in this area, and to correct bias and inaccuracy in the textbooks." But five other parents who didn't see it that way sued the board to remove the stickers. On Jan. 13, after a three-day trial, federal district court Judge Clarence Cooper ruled for the parents and ordered the stickers removed. …