Today's Washington Post reports on the startling inroads the Intelligent Design movement is making into the formerly secure bastion of classroom teaching on evolution.
WICHITA – Propelled by a polished strategy crafted by activists on America's political right, a battle is intensifying across the nation over how students are taught about the origins of life. Policymakers in 19 states are weighing proposals that question the science of evolution.
The proposals typically stop short of overturning evolution or introducing biblical accounts. Instead, they are calculated pleas to teach what advocates consider gaps in long-accepted Darwinian theory, with many relying on the idea of intelligent design, which posits the central role of a creator.
The growing trend has alarmed scientists and educators who consider it a masked effort to replace science with theology. But 80 years after the Scopes "monkey" trial -- in which a Tennessee man was prosecuted for violating state law by teaching evolution -- it is the anti-evolutionary scientists and Christian activists who say they are the ones being persecuted, by a liberal establishment.
They are acting now because they feel emboldened by the country's conservative currents and by President Bush, who angered many scientists and teachers by declaring that the jury is still out on evolution. Sharing strong convictions, deep pockets and impressive political credentials -- if not always the same goals -- the activists are building a sizable network.
In Seattle, the nonprofit Discovery Institute spends more than $1 million a year for research, polls and media pieces supporting intelligent design. . . .
"It's an academic freedom proposal. What we would like to foment is a civil discussion about science. That falls right down the middle of the fairway of American pluralism," said the Discovery Institute's Stephen C. Meyer, who believes evolution alone cannot explain life's unfurling. "We are interested in seeing that spread state by state across the country."
Some of Intelligent Design's proponents, however, play a less inclusive tune:
[Baptist minister Terry] Fox -- pastor of the largest Southern Baptist church in the Midwest, drawing 6,000 worshipers a week to his Wichita church -- said the compromise is an important tactic. "The strategy this time is not to go for the whole enchilada. We're trying to be a little more subtle," he said.
To fundamentalist Christians, Fox said, the fight to teach God's role in creation is becoming the essential front in America's culture war. The issue is on the agenda at every meeting of pastors he attends. If evolution's boosters can be forced to back down, he said, the Christian right's agenda will advance.
"If you believe God created that baby, it makes it a whole lot harder to get rid of that baby," Fox said. "If you can cause enough doubt on evolution, liberalism will die."
Like Meyer, Fox is glad to make common cause with people who do not entirely agree.
"Creationism's going to be our big battle. We're hoping that Kansas will be the model, and we're in it for the long haul," Fox said. He added that it does not matter "who gets the credit, as long as we win."
Once again, the debate is so polarized -- pitting traditionally religious Christians, for the most part, against equally dogmatic Darwinists -- that there are few, if any, neutral advocates of a genuinely open mind. The trouble with insisting Darwin's theory is proven, when it isn't, is ultimately that it is unscientific. A healthy theory should welcome challenges and tests. The trouble with saying "God did it" is that it closes off inquiry, both into "God" and into "it," and is content with adoration, to the detriment of what Albert Einstein called "Göttliche Neugier," divine curiosity (a trait we share with the monkeys from which God made us ;-) ). Where is the equivalent of the simple child in "The Emperor's New Clothes" who can point out the truth of humanity's condition: "I don't know"?