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?

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Statewide curriculum standards for science are a relatively new target for Darwin doubters, one that has a broader impact than local school-board decisions. In addition, by working at the state level, intelligent-design advocates can largely avoid dealing with unpolished local activists who make rash religious statements that don't hold up in court. (Supporters of the Darwin disclaimer in Dover, Pa., have publicly proclaimed the country a Christian nation, a point cited in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit.) It has been only since the late 1980s and early '90s that most states have created science-curriculum standards as part of a national movement to bring more accountability to education. "Savvy creationists are focusing their efforts on this relatively new arena," says Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education. "The decision-making bodies involved in approving state science standards tend to be small, not particularly knowledgeable and, above all, elected, so it's a good opportunity for political pressure to be applied."

In Kansas, conservative members of the state school board, like Connie Morris, who represents the sparsely populated western half of Kansas, have repeatedly injected scientifically abstruse, jargon-heavy documents from the Discovery Institute into the debate about teaching evolution, making the discussion tough for the average citizen to follow. "Personally, I believe in the Genesis account of God's creation," says Morris. "But as a policymaker looking at science standards, I rely mostly on research and expert documentation."

Oddly enough, the President's remarks last week promoting intelligent design made Morris and many other Darwin doubters uncomfortable because they have a different timetable in mind. "His support is appreciated, but I plan to move forward on attempting to get criticism of Darwinian evolution in the science standards, not intelligent design," says Morris. Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, a leading voice on the religious right, seemed to be reading from the same script. "What we should be teaching are the problems and holes in the theory of evolution," he said in an interview with National Public Radio a few days after Bush made his comments. Santorum also said, "As far as intelligent design is concerned, I really don't believe it has risen to the level of a scientific theory at this point that we would want to teach it alongside of evolution." The Senator tried to get a teach-the-controversy addendum into the 2001 No Child Left Behind bill.

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