It shouldn’t be surprising. “Evolution is one of the most significant ideas of the last century,” says Kluger, “and for some it has come into conflict with fundamental religious beliefs.” That there should be tension between the realms of science and theology is normal, and to some extent healthy for both. It sharpens the arguments and the inquiries. But if the teaching of evolution is pushed out of the schools, says Kluger, “information will be withheld from students and the long-range potential will be to crimp scientific development.” There may be another casualty: the enlightening possibility of reconciling the two realms. Science and religion may observe the same phenomena, but they ask different questions of the world they seek to explain. Besides, if one reads the creation in Genesis closely, isn’t there both a theological and an evolutionary progression to the events there described?
Nearly three quarters of a century after John Scopes was convicted for teaching evolution, the well-documented theory is on trial again. Some in the scientific community are so disturbed by what they see as an erosion of science education that they are launching a campaign to defend the teaching of evolution. Backed by the National Center for Science Education, two dozen science textbook authors, including Bruce Alberts, the president of the National Academy of Sciences, issued a joint statement on Friday decrying the religious and political pressure that has intimidated school boards and publishers around the country into choosing the most watered-down textbooks on evolution. “This is an issue with a three-generation shelf life,” says TIME senior science writer Jeffrey Kluger. “Here we are on the threshold of the millennium and we’re still debating this.”