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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As for gaps in the fossil record, Dawkins says, that is like detectives complaining that they can't account for every minute of a crime--a very ancient one--based on what they found at the scene. "You have to make inferences from footprints and other types of evidence." As it happens, he notes, there is a huge amount of evidence of evolution not only in the fossil record but also in the letters of the genetic code shared in varying degrees by all species. "The pattern," says Dawkins, "is precisely what you would expect if evolution would happen." Dawkins insists that critics of Darwin are wrong to say that evolution has become an article of faith among scientists. He cites biologist J.B.S. Haldane who, when asked what would disprove evolution, replied, fossil rabbits in the Precambrian era, a period more than 540 million years ago, when life on Earth seems to have consisted largely of bacteria, algae and plankton. "Creationists are fond of saying that there are very few fossils in the Precambrian, but why would there be?" asks Dawkins. "However, if there was a single hippo or rabbit in the Precambrian, that would completely blow evolution out of the water. None have ever been found."

Mathematical arguments against evolution are equally misguided, says Martin Nowak, a Harvard professor of mathematics and evolutionary biology. "You cannot calculate the probability that an eye came about," he says. "We don't have the information to make this calculation." Nowak, who describes himself as a person of faith, sees no contradiction between Darwin's theory and belief in God. "Science does not produce any evidence against God," he observes. "Science and religion ask different questions."


But for those who read Genesis literally and believe that God created the world along with all creatures big and small in just six days, there's no reconciling faith with Darwinism. And polls indicate that approximately 45% of Americans believe that. It's no wonder that almost one-third of the 1,050 teachers who responded to a National Science Teachers Association online survey in March said they had felt pressured by parents and students to include lessons on intelligent design, creationism or other nonscientific alternatives to evolution in their science classes; 30% noted that they felt pressured to omit evolution or evolution-related topics from their curriculum.

But some science teachers voluntarily take alternative theories to class. Eric Schweain has been teaching high school biology in St. Louis, Mo., for a decade. Although he follows the district's policy of teaching Darwin's theory, he also talks about intelligent design, an idea he personally favors. "I teach according to fossil evidence, though I make sure to tell students that it's important to talk to family and friends and, if you go to a church, talk to your clergy."

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