This caught my eye, the poll at the end is kind of scary.
On the seventh day, America went to court
A bitter struggle is unfolding in the US about the most basic of issues: the origins of life. Scientists are rallying to the banner of Darwin - but their foes are growing in confidence. Paul Harris reports from Pennsylvania
Sunday October 2, 2005
The Observer The American Museum of Natural History in New York will open the most far-reaching exhibition in its history on Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, next month. In most countries such a display by one of the world's top museums would not be the stuff of heated controversy.
But not in America. Not in 2005.
As the rest of the world looks on in amazement at a debate that seemed to have been settled long ago, America is now gripped by a raging battle between evolution and creationism. The museum's Darwin exhibition will be just the latest battle in the continuing fight.
At the centre of it is the concept of intelligent design, which critics call 'creationism lite'. This theory holds that evolution is not a proven fact and nature is so complex that it betrays the existence of 'a designer'. Without being explicit there is little doubt the designer is intended to be God.
The exhibition will tackle this theory head on by trying to point out the difference between science and religion. Intelligent design will be explicitly mentioned. 'We expect that in some corners the show will be controversial. We are prepared for that,' said Michael Novacek, provost of the museum.
Promoting evolution to the American public, however, is not always easy, even in the 21st century. Religious think-tanks and other bodies are seeking to push intelligent design into American public life. In particular they want it taught in school science classes. Advocates of the theory say they do not want to stop evolution being taught - they just want other theories mentioned too. Critics say this approach gives the illusion of a scientific debate between evolution and rival theories when in reality there is no genuine argument left to have.
The battle is fierce. In several US states intelligent design advocates have succeeded in inserting their texts or statements into science textbooks, though these have often been thrown out later. In Kansas, the state school board, which is sceptical about evolution, even held public hearings on the merits of including intelligent design in the science syllabus. Mainstream scientists boycotted the hearings, claiming the meetings had been rigged in favour of the creationists.
But it is in the small Pennsylvania town of Dover that the big fight is taking place. Last week a trial started that has been billed as the biggest test of religion in the classroom since the infamous Scopes 'Monkey Trial' of 1925 when John Scopes was successfully prosecuted for teaching evolution in Tennessee. That trial seemed to encapsulate a moment in American history when the competing worlds of modernity and traditional beliefs clashed in a single courtroom. Now it is happening again.
The city of Harrisburg lies at the foot of central Pennsylvania's rolling woods and trees. It is here that the trial is being held, about 20 miles north of the small township of Dover that is now famous across America. The area is a slice of conservative rural America in the heart of the traditionally liberal north east, a Republican part of a Democrat state with more culturally in common with the Deep South or the Midwest than urban areas nearby.
It is no real surprise then that Dover is now at the cutting edge of the battle between evolution and creationism. The case was brought by 11 parents whose children attend the town school. The school board had ordered teachers to read pupils a statement about intelligent design, telling the children that evolution was not a fact and had gaps. The statement referred them to a key textbook outlining the theory, Of Pandas and People, for more information. This made the Dover board the first in the US to require elements of intelligent design to be taught in its science classes.
That appalled many scientists and civil liberties lawyers who thought the decision fundamentally undermined one of the central tenets of modern science.
Across the world Darwin's theories of the development of life have stood up to more than a century of scientific examination and now form the bedrock of all the biological sciences.
The critics say intelligent design is fundamentally untestable and unprovable, as it relies on inserting a supernatural force - called God or a designer - into a scientific theory. For them, those pushing for intelligent design to be taught in science classes, rather than in religious studies lessons, are taking America back into the Middle Ages.
'They want a theistic science. If they are successful in this project it would turn us back to an earlier era, a pre-Enlightenment era,' said Robert Pennock, a professor of philosophy and science at Michigan State University.
Intelligent design advocates, such as scientists at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, reply that they are not pushing God into science and that detecting the presence of 'intelligence' in nature is a scientific method.
'The scientific theory of intelligent design does not attempt to address religious belief questions such as the nature and identity of the designer, and thus it avoids untestable assertions,' said the institute's Casey Luskin, who runs a scheme to encourage students to set up clubs to 'investigate evolution' at schools and colleges.
Creationism may be scientific nonsense, but it is certainly popular. Proponents of intelligent design and more extreme creationists, such as those who believe in the literal account of the Bible, reflect majority opinion in America. Surveys repeatedly show that most Americans do indeed prefer creationist versions of the development of life rather than scientific ones. Several 'creationist' museums have been built with displays of humans existing with dinosaurs and exhibits depicting Noah and the flood.
A poll by the Pew Research Centre last week showed 64 per cent of Americans favour teaching some form of creationism in publicly-funded schools. Only 26 per cent wanted to keep the idea of any form of divine intervention out of science classes, while fewer than half accepted that humans evolved over time from other species.
That widespread popular rejection of evolution has been on display in the Dover trial. Last week one of the plaintiffs testified that her 14-year-old daughter was being abused by fellow pupils at school because she believes in evolution. 'My child has heard comments from other students: "Do you really think we came from monkeys?",' said Christy Rehm.
The echoes of the first Victorian-era reaction to Darwin's theories may seem surreal but it is a powerful political force. President Bush has even weighed in, saying he believes intelligent design should be taught as part of science. 'I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought,' Bush said.
Such comments horrify the scientific establishment but they are good politics. Behind much of the push to get intelligent design taught in schools is a powerful movement of Christian conservatives who make up much of the Republican party base. It was their immense organisational abilities and large turnout as voters that helped propel Bush to win a second term in the White House last November.
However, away from the politics and the religion, American scientists are left baffled by having even to address the theory. 'With our show we are not posing it as a debate,' said Novacek, of the Natural History Museum. 'I don't see it as a debate in my own mind since Darwin is so fundamental to modern science.'
That was repeated again and again by scientists appearing in the witness box in Harrisburg last week. 'Every single scientific society in the United States that has taken a position on this issue has taken a position against intelligent design and for evolutionary theory,' said Professor Kenneth Miller, a biologist at Brown University, Rhode Island.
With the Dover trial expected to last another five weeks, such anti-intelligent-design statements are likely, along with a swath of publicity for the proponents of creationism and other critics of evolution. Other school boards are likely to be inspired to attempt to include intelligent design in their science classes.
No matter what the verdict in Harrisburg, only one thing is certain: 80 years after the Scopes Monkey Trial the fight between science and creationism is far from over in America.
The American world view
64 per cent of people questioned for a recent poll said they were open to the idea of teaching creationism in addition to evolution in schools, while 38 per cent favoured replacing evolution with creationism.
40 per cent of Americans believe God will eventually intervene in human affairs and bring about an end to life on Earth, according to a survey carried out in 2002. Of those believers, almost half thought this would occur in their lifetime with a return of Jesus from heaven.
1 adult American in five believes that the Sun revolves around Earth, according to one study carried out last summer.
80 per cent of Americans surveyed by the CNN TV news network believe that their government is hiding evidence of the existence of space aliens.
70 per cent believe it likely that Saddam Hussein was involved personally in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.