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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The standards movement in education has, overall, strengthened the teaching of evolution, even as it has presented a new target for anti-Darwinists. In 2000, 10 states had no mention of evolution in their curriculum standards. Now only Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi and Oklahoma--states with long creationist traditions--make this omission. In June, Alaska's state board of education was pressured by scientists, teachers and concerned citizens to add evolution to science standards that had avoided the topic. Other states, most notably Kansas and New Mexico, have wobbled on whether to teach evolution, deleting and then restoring it to state standards depending on who was elected to the school board. The Kansas reinstatement occurred after the state was given an F- in a 2000 report by the Fordham Foundation, titled "Good Science, Bad Science: Teaching Evolution in the States." Only 24 states earned an A or B for teaching the topic well. Kansas' flunking grade was based on the fact that, at the time, it had not only cut Darwin from the curriculum but had also deleted all references to the age of the earth and universe. Now evolution is back in the Kansas curriculum, but a new, more conservative board is seeking a teach-the-controversy requirement.

The new, presumably Constitution-proof way of providing coverage for communities that wish to teach ideas like intelligent design is to employ such earnest language as "critical inquiry" (in New Mexico), "strengths and weaknesses" of theories (Texas), and "critical analysis" (Ohio). It's difficult to argue against such benign language, but hard-core defenders of Darwin are wary. "The intelligent-design people are trying to mislead people into thinking that the reference to science as an ongoing critical inquiry permits them to teach I.D. crap in the schools," says David Thomas, president of New Mexicans for Science and Reason. On the other hand, tinkering in that way with the standards won't necessarily weaken instruction on evolution. "Where you have strong science programs now, they'll ignore the [state] standards," says Bill Wagnon, a professor of history at Washburn University who represents Topeka on the Kansas school board.

The new school year is certain to bring more battles over teaching evolution, not only in Kansas and Pennsylvania but also in the many states that are preparing new standards-based tests in science. By raising the profile of intelligent design, the President has doubtless emboldened those who differ with Darwin and furthered one goal of that movement: he has taught all of us the controversy. --With reporting by Melissa August/ Washington, Jeremy Caplan/ New York, Jeff Chu and Constance E. Richards/ Greenville, Rita Healy/ Denver, Christopher Maag/ Cleveland, Bud Norman/ Wichita, Adam Pitluk/ Dallas, Jeffrey Ressner/ Los Angeles and Sean Scully/ Philadelphia

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