The fossil record has yet to prove Darwin right







Intellectual Fraud

Intelligent Design

Mega Fix

Ron Brown

Popes & Bankers

TWA Flight 800







Special to The Star   &   Courtesy of the Cashill Newsletter
Date: 08/21/99   &   8/23/99 respectively

In challenging the teaching of evolution, the Kansas State Board of Education has exposed not just the cracks in the Darwinian dam but the gaping holes in the nation's commitment to representative democracy.

Among those most troubled by this unexpected breakout of democracy is the state's Republican governor, Bill Graves. Expressing "great consternation and concern" about the evolution debate, he has made veiled threats about ending the noble tradition of an elected school board because of it.

If "moderates" like Graves -- and just about every pundit in town -- are now losing faith in the rough and tumble of the democratic process, America's progressives lost it a long time ago. Appropriately, one of the first public manifestations of that loss was the Dayton, Tenn., Scopes trial of 1925.

The Scopes phenomenon began when the upstart American Civil Liberties Union, looking to win its first court case, decided to challenge a recent Tennessee law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools.

The ACLU had not involved itself previously in the forced secularization of American life. Indeed, Quakers had been instrumental in launching this organization during the First World War as a means of shielding religious pacifists from military service. But with war issues played out, and their faith in majoritarian democracy dimmed by the various oppressions that tend to accompany war, ACLU board members were looking for a new battleground and found one in the classroom.

Lacking confidence in the court of public opinion, the ACLU turned to the court of law. At the time, this was a novel and controversial strategy, even among progressives. The New Republic, for instance, wanted no part of it. In a strongly worded critique, of the sort no longer heard in liberal journals, the editors argued that the ACLU should have placed the onus for resolving the evolution issue "not on the Supreme Court but on the legislature and people of Tennessee." Although at the time few considered the Scopes affair a setback for the anti-evolutionists, academia and Hollywood have transformed progressive propaganda into history. By midcentury, even influential historians such as Richard Hofstadter were rubbing imagined defeat in the face of their foes. William Jennings Bryan's latter career, Hofstadter wrote with obvious spite, represented "the collapse of rural idealism and the shabbiness of the evangelical mind."

"Inherit The Wind" polished off the liberal rewrite job. The popular play and movie portrayed the Bryan figure as a slobbering buffoon, the Darrow figure as a fair-minded rationalist, and the townsfolk as a mob of witch-hunting McCarthyites. The image of conservative Christianity was fixed in the popular imagination. The trial was a humiliation. Fundamentalism was dying Anti-evolution was dead.

One problem. No one told the fundamentalists. They and their Catholic and even orthodox Jewish allies showed up spontaneously in Topeka to make their final case before the board. Many seemed well schooled in the sophisticated arguments raised against evolution by what's called the "intelligent design," or ID movement. They posed question after question that the educators could not or would not answer. The opposition, mostly science teachers and university professors, was not so sure. "Thank you for the democratic process," noted one teacher, before adding the deeply ironic, "I think." Indeed, he proved not to be very thankful at all as he ended up denouncing the event as "just another state board shenanigan." Although 90 percent of Americans believe in God, "no divine intervention" is what their kids have been learning in public schools. As late as 1995, before yielding to anti-Darwinian pressure, the National Association of Biology Teachers made this clear when it described evolution as "impersonal, unsupervised, unpredictable."

At the state board meeting, no evolution proponent acknowledged the inescapably atheistic thrust of Darwinism and neo-Darwinism, nor did they counter the many challenges thrown up to Darwinian theory. The only rationale offered for this silence was one prof's remark that "intelligent design theory has roots in Christian creationism" and is thus beneath an educator's dignity to refute.

As happens often, some educators accused their opposition of rejecting "evolution" in favor of Christian beliefs. Not true. ID partisans across the board believe in micro-evolution: that is, evolution within a species. Some believe in evolution between species, macro-evolution, if guided.

What the ID movement challenges is Darwinian mechanics, random variation and natural selection, an elegant idea in 1859 but in 1999 still just an idea. Neo-Darwinians have as much trouble explaining how complex organs like a wing or an eye -- or even a single cell within an eye -- could be the result of unguided, incremental change as Darwin did.

Darwin could only hope that the fossil record would one day prove him right. It hasn't. No evidence has surfaced of a transformation from one species to the next. Nor has anyone offered a satisfactory explanation for the rash of new animal life that inexplicably entered the fossil record during the so-called Cambrian explosion. More and more scientists, particularly in the fields of physics and astronomy, have come to accept the possibility of design in the universe. Four decades of modern research into the cell have led biochemists either to similar conclusion or to stubborn silence.

One would think that an unresolved issue of this magnitude would be worth teaching, at least worth exploring. As one woman at the hearing argued, students should be allowed the same debate that the board was enjoying.

The board agreed. The science educators did not. As to the ACLU, they are apparently threatening to do what they have done now for 75 years, take democracy to court.

Jack Cashill is a Kansas City writer and producer.



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