WICHITA -- Propelled by a polished strategy crafted by activists on America's political right, a battle is intensifying across the nation over how students are taught about the origins of life. Policymakers in 19 states are weighing proposals that question the science of evolution.
The proposals typically stop short of overturning evolution or introducing biblical accounts. Instead, they are calculated pleas to teach what advocates consider gaps in long-accepted Darwinian theory, with many relying on the idea of intelligent design, which posits the central role of a creator.
The growing trend has alarmed scientists and educators who consider it a masked effort to replace science with theology. But 80 years after the Scopes "monkey" trial -- in which a Tennessee man was prosecuted for violating state law by teaching evolution -- it is the anti-evolutionary scientists and Christian activists who say they are the ones being persecuted, by a liberal establishment.
The Christian Right has spent decades getting themselves placed on local Board of Educations to push this issue. Kansas always seems to be the fulcrum (I don't know if Tenessee doesn't yet want a re-do) for these stories, but it's more than Kansas. And what's that got to do with national politics? Everything.
They are acting now because they feel emboldened by the country's conservative currents and by President Bush, who angered many scientists and teachers by declaring that the jury is still out on evolution. Sharing strong convictions, deep pockets and impressive political credentials -- if not always the same goals -- the activists are building a sizable network.
The know-nothings are really on the march, in so many ways. And while scientists are never going to be the world's most popular group (thank you, Hollywood) any more than the geeks will win the high school popularity contests, thare is much that the reality-based community can run on politically without ceding ground to the nutcases. This does not mean disrespectiong religion; many scientists are devout and of faith... but that doesn't mean deliberately turning our schools into another arm of the American Taliban's war on reality.
At the state and local level, from South Carolina to California, these advocates are using lawsuits and school board debates to counter evolutionary theory. Alabama and Georgia legislators recently introduced bills to allow teachers to challenge evolutionary theory in the classroom. Ohio, Minnesota, New Mexico and Ohio have approved new rules allowing that. And a school board member in a Tennessee county wants stickers pasted on textbooks that say evolution remains unproven.
A prominent effort is underway in Kansas, where the state Board of Education intends to revise teaching standards. That would be progress, Southern Baptist minister Terry Fox said, because "most people in Kansas don't think we came from monkeys."
Pay attention to your local school board elections. All politics is local, and it all starts at home. oh, and btw, evolution is a sound scientific theory. Intelligent design is not (more readings if one cares to dip one's toe):
The infamous August 1999 decision by the Kansas Board of Education to delete references to evolution from Kansas science standards was heavily influenced by advocates of intelligent-design theory. Although William A. Dembski, one of the movement's leading figures, asserts that "the empirical detectability of intelligent causes renders intelligent design a fully scientific theory," its proponents invest most of their efforts in swaying politicians and the public, not the scientific community.
More to come on this, alas, I'm sure.