The Evolution Wars

When Bush joined the fray last week, the question grew hotter: Is intelligent design a real science? And should it be taught in schools?

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 7)

As far as many Americans are concerned, however, the President was probably preaching to the choir. In a Harris poll conducted in June, 55% of 1,000 adults surveyed said children should be taught creationism and intelligent design along with evolution in public schools. The same poll found that 54% did not believe humans had developed from an earlier species--up from 45% with that view in 1994--although other polls have not detected this rise.

Around the U.S., the prevalence of such beliefs and the growing organization and clout of the intelligent-design movement are beginning to alter the way that most fundamental tenets of biology are presented in public schools. New laws that in some sense challenge the teaching of evolution are pending or have been considered in 20 states, including such traditionally liberal bastions as Michigan and New York. This week in Kansas, a conservative-leaning state board of education is expected to accept a draft of new science standards that emphasize the theoretical nature of evolution and require students to learn about "significant debates" about the theory. The proposed rules, which won't be put to a final vote until fall, would also alter the state's basic definition of science. While current Kansas standards describe science as "the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world," the rewritten definition leaves the door open, critics say, for the supernatural as well.


Darwin's theory has been a hard sell to Americans ever since it was unveiled nearly 150 years ago in The Origin of Species. The intelligent-design movement is just the latest and most sophisticated attempt to discredit the famous theory, which many Americans believe leaves insufficient room for the influence of God. Early efforts to thwart Darwin were pretty crude. Tennessee famously banned the teaching of evolution and convicted schoolteacher John Scopes of violating that ban in the "monkey trial" of 1925. At the time, two other states--Florida and Oklahoma--had laws that interfered with teaching evolution. When such laws were struck down by a Supreme Court decision in 1968, some states shifted gears and instead required that "creation science" be taught alongside evolution. Supreme Court rulings in 1982 and 1987 put an end to that. Offering creationism in public schools, even as a side dish to evolution, the high court held, violated the First Amendment's separation of church and state.

But some anti-Darwinists seized upon Justice Antonin Scalia's dissenting opinion in the 1987 case. Christian fundamentalists, he wrote, "are quite entitled, as a secular matter, to have whatever scientific evidence there may be against evolution presented in their schools." That line of argument--an emphasis on weaknesses and gaps in evolution--is at the heart of the intelligent-design movement, which has as its motto "Teach the controversy." "You have to hand it to the creationists. They have evolved," jokes Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif., which monitors attacks on the teaching of evolution.


  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7