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Teachers and parents defend evolution

Published Nov 17, 2005 2:16 AM

Reporters from around the world swarmed into a small courtroom in Dayton, Tenn., in July 1925 to watch an historic trial that debated Darwin’s theory of evolution. High school teacher John Scopes was accused of violating a state law that prohibited teaching evolution in public schools.

After the jury found Scopes guilty—the verdict was later overturned by the State Supreme Court on a technicality—the fever ish, reactionary opposition to evolution died down. Tennessee finally repealed the law that had sparked the so-called Scopes “Monkey Trial” in 1967. Twenty years later the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state law requiring the teaching of “creation science” was unconstitutional.

But now, 80 years after the Scopes trial, the right wing is once again leading an all-out campaign against evolution. They won a victory Nov. 8 when the Kansas Board of Education voted 6-4 that the state’s science curriculum must teach students that there are doubts about evolution.

This year more than a dozen state legislatures have introduced anti-evolution bills, according to the National Center for Science Education. One bill introduced by the Michigan legislature would revise science standards to have students question the theory of global warming as well.

While anti-evolution proponents once espoused “creationism”—belief in the account of creation in the Bible—this movement now advocates “intelligent design,” which holds that human beings and other life forms did not evolve through genetic modifications over time in a process of natural selection but were designed by a supernatural creator.

Phillip E. Johnson, author of the 1991 book “Darwin on Trial,” is one of the leading proponents of intelligent design. He is also credited with writing Sen. Rick Santorum’s amendment to the 2002 “No Child Left Behind” Act, which would have required school curriculums to describe evolution as controversial. The amendment was stripped from the final bill.

‘Separate church and state!’

People around the country are fighting back against the movement to throw out this basic finding of science—as established as the existence of gravity or the roundness of the Earth.

Teachers and scientists have been at the forefront of the struggle. The National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association told the Kansas department of education that it could not use educational materials from these two bodies in textbooks that also belittle evolution.

The Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 14 that more than 120 faculty members at Iowa State University signed a petition this year condemning “all attempts to represent intelligent design as a scientific effort.” Universities around the country have been offering courses promoting intelligent design.

Communities are also battling the anti-evolution movement. In Dover, Penn., eight families sued the city’s school board over its policy requiring teachers to discuss intelligent design in biology classes and point out “gaps” in the theory of evolution. At a trial this month, the families argued that the policy violates the U.S. Constitution’s separation of church and state. A ruling is expected in January.

The people of Dover issued their own verdict on Election Day: they voted out eight board members up for reelection who backed intelligent design.

Darwin’s “The Origin of Species,” published in 1859, was a revolutionary book at the time. It had a great impact on Karl Marx, who saw a parallel between Dar win’s theories of successive forms of life and his own analysis of successive forms of social relations.

Darwinism and Marxism

Friedrich Engels drew the connection between the two in his graveside eulogy to Marx. “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature,” Engels said, “so Marx discovered the law of development of human history ... . Marx also discovered the special law of motion governing the present-day capitalist mode of production and the bourgeois society that this mode of production has created.”

It makes sense that people who are against Marx and the idea that social relationships could change would also be against the idea that all life has evolved from lower to higher forms.

But while segments of the ruling class may support ideas like intelligent design for their own means, it is dangerous for them to do so. The United States has been falling behind other countries in education, and the gap will only widen if children are not taught basic science.

In a Nov. 2 editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer, University of Maryland professor Steven Salzberg concluded that the next generation of scientists needs to understand evolution in order to combat diseases like avian flu. “Scientists in my lab and others can tell you that developing a vaccine for the flu absolutely requires that we understand its evolution,” Salz berg writes. “We can also tell you that the flu doesn’t ‘care’ if we believe in evolution. It will keep evolving anyway, and it will kill us if we ignore it.”