- Jeff Brown is a passionate defender of the borough where
he lives. Dover, tucked away in the rural hinterland of Pennsylvania, is
a conservative place, he says.
- It has never been the sort of place to attract attention.
Until now. Dover is becoming famous, after its school board decided to
introduce an alternative to evolution in parts of its biology curriculum.
The furore caused Brown and his wife, Carol, to resign from the board.
Extremist Christians, he believes, have taken it over with an agenda to
undermine the teaching of evolution. Now he is angry. 'This community is
going to rebel,' he said. 'People believe your religion is your own private
- Dover has been catapulted into the centre of a renewed
battle over the teaching of evolution in schools. The religious right,
emboldened by its spreading influence in the Republican party and an explosive
growth in the number of evangelical Christians, has launched a major push
to get an alternative to evolution - which they believe denies the biblical
version of God's creation of the world - into the classroom. At least 40
US states have faced legal challenges in recent months.
- At the forefront of the challenge is the concept of 'intelligent
design', which stipulates that the universe is so complex it shows clear
evidence of a 'designer'. Advocates say evolution is just another theory,
not a scientific fact. Critics, however, say intelligent design is bringing
religion into science. 'It is just creationism-lite,' said Nick Matzke,
a spokesman for the National Centre for Science Education.
- The move in Dover was led by William Buckingham, a born-again
Christian. The decision has split the community and dominates conversation
in diners, bars and churches.
- The Browns say Buckingham and a group of evangelical
Christians have hijacked the school board and imposed their views on a
community, where creationism in the classroom had never been an issue.
'They are on a crusade,' Brown said. His wife added: 'Dover is just ahead
of the curve. There will be a lot more things like this in other places.'
- In fact, Dover is already just part of a growing phenomenon.
In Cobb county, Georgia, textbooks have had stickers stuck inside them
telling children that evolution is 'theory, not fact'. In Grantsburg, Wisconsin,
new rules direct teachers to analyse the 'strengths and weaknesses' of
evolution, as well as allow for the study of other theories. In Ohio the
state school board has sought to open the way for the teaching of opposing
theories to evolution. The Missouri legislature will consider bringing
intelligent design into its classrooms last year.
- Arguments over evolution - which has long been accepted
as fact by the vast majority of scientists - arouse deep passions in America.
Almost 80 years after the Scopes 'monkey trial', where Edward Scopes was
tried and convicted for teaching evolution in Tennessee, many Americans
still do not believe in it. A Gallup poll last month showed that 45 per
cent believe God created humans in their present form within the past 10,000
- Now both sides are preparing to take the issue to the
Supreme Court for the first time since the Eighties. A conservative law
firm, the Thomas More Law Centre, has offered to represent the Dover school
board members. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union is looking
for Dover complainants to take the case on from a pro-evolution view.
- Conservatives are confident that they will prevail. 'We
are going to win. It is a free speech right for students to receive alternative
views,' said Richard Thompson, president of the law centre.
- Thompson says intelligent design does not by its nature
advocate a religious point of view, which would be against the US Constitution.
'It is based on science that shows the world is so complex it could not
have happened by accident,' he said. Critics contend the very concept of
a 'designer' implies a god.
- Religious groups have been galvanised by the re-election
of President George Bush, a born-again Christian who stated: 'On the issue
of evolution, the verdict is still out on how God created the Earth.'
- Christians are being encouraged to join school boards
and lobby to get intelligent design on the curriculum. 'We have as much
right as the evolutionists to be on our school boards,' said Dr Patricia
Nason, of the Institute for Creation Research.
- She and fellow creationists believe Bush's victory gave
them a chance to get their agenda into schools. 'I feel that if we don't
make progress in the next four years that window of opportunity will close,'
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