Comprehensive coverage

The return of Darwin and the monkeys

Direct link to this page:

From the movie "Monkey Trial". In 13 states in the US there are attempts to limit the study of evolution

The return of Darwin and the monkeys

By Natan Gutman, Haaretz, Walla News!

Eighty years have passed since a teacher from Tennessee dared to teach the theory of evolution in the US, but the strengthening of the religious elements in the country is re-inclining the debate

About ten years ago, the members of the Cobb County Board of Education in the southern state of Georgia began to feel uneasy about the study of biology in schools. The insistence on including Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in biology textbooks has troubled those responsible for the public education system in the district, which includes some Atlanta suburbs and most of its residents are devout Christians. These do not recognize the theory of evolution and prefer to it the idea that God created human beings.

In most cases, the treatment given to the books dealing with the theory of evolution was simple - the teachers used to tear the pages dealing with the subject from the book; After all, what is not found in the book should not be taught, and even if here and there there were protests about the ignoring of evolution, it was not anyone's official policy, and therefore there was nothing to defend or condemn.

In 2001, Cobb County decided to equip its schools with new biology textbooks, books written by Prof. Kenneth Miller of Brown University, which also include a fairly detailed discussion of the theory of evolution. Following protests submitted by approximately 2,000 parents, whose sons and daughters were supposed to learn from the new book, the members of the district's education council held a series of discussions and decided this time to handle the issue carefully, and in their opinion even delicately.

They came to the conclusion that a small sticker, which would be affixed to the inside cover of the book, would be able to eradicate the harmful influence of the theory of evolution on the minds of the students, without creating an uproar and without being portrayed as promoting religious values ​​within the US public schools. And this is the language of the sticker: "This book includes information about evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, concerning the origin of living things. This material must be treated with an open approach, studied carefully and considered critically." The wording is indeed careful. There is no mention of God, no claim regarding the existence of other concepts regarding the origin of species, and no denial of Darwin's theory. With such a wording, the members of the Board of Education believed, no one could argue.

But even in Cobb County there were parents who thought it was not the role of the public education system to question Darwin's theory. Six of them contacted the American Human Rights Union (ACLU), and began a legal battle against the sticker. The author of the book, Miller, was also among the opponents. He claimed that the drafters of the sticker made a wrong use, on purpose, of the term "theory". Evolution is indeed a "theory", but this word must be understood in the scientific sense, as an explanation of the phenomenon, and not in the popular sense, as an unfounded hypothesis.

In court, the drafters of the sticker tried to defend their decision. Laura Sersi, a member of the Board of Education, explained that the sticker was not intended to discourage students from studying the theory, but only to warn parents that their children are about to learn material that may contradict their religious beliefs and the traditions practiced in their homes.

The question before the federal court in Atlanta, when it came to discuss the claim of the parents and the human rights organization to remove the stickers, was not simple. There is nothing wrong with a school district deciding that it does not accept the theory of evolution. The US Constitution has never stated that humans are descended from monkeys, and there is no obligation for any public school to teach this Torah. What is wrong is an attempt to promote religious beliefs, no matter what kind, within the public education system. Such a step would violate the separation mandated by the constitution between religion and state (since the public education system is financed from the public purse), and therefore must be invalidated in court.

Opponents of the sticker argued that although God is not mentioned in it, nor is the word religion, and although it does not recommend the students to believe in teachings other than Darwin's, the content of the warning sticker should not be understood other than as an attempt to promote the creationist view (according to which God created man ) at the expense of the evolutionary concept. Judge Clarence Cooper, after a thorough review and hearing lengthy testimony, determined last Thursday that the complainants were indeed right: "The sticker is an encouragement of Christian fundamentalism or creationist beliefs."

Over more than 40 pages of ruling, Judge Cooper explained why the innocent sticker was indeed preaching religion within the school. He was convinced that the wording "tells those who are religiously opposed to evolution that they are the chosen members of the community, while the message the sticker sends to those who believe in evolution is that they are outside the community."

The ruling in Georgia caused many echoes throughout the United States. For several years now, the theory of evolution has returned to the center of public debate, with 13 states in the US currently attempting to limit its studies, cancel them altogether, or add caveats and warnings such as those tried in Cobb County. Eighty years have passed since the "monkey trial" against the teacher John Scopes from Tennessee, who dared to teach the theory of evolution, but the changing face of the United States and the strengthening of religious elements are striking the debate anew.

Throughout the USA, mainly in the "Bible Belt" countries, but not only there, you can find many examples of the lively and heated struggle over evolution. A year ago, the commissioner of the education system in Georgia, Cathy Cox, made an attempt to remove the word "evolution" from the curriculum and use other expressions, after she said that it was "a word that causes a lot of negative reactions", but after a week she had to cancel the decision. In Alabama, a page is attached to every textbook dealing with evolution, in which Darwin's theory is defined as a "controversial theory", and it is emphasized that any theory regarding the origin of life is not based on facts.

In the city of Dover in the state of Pennsylvania, the board of education decided at the beginning of the current school year to adopt a policy of disclaiming the theory of evolution. The science teachers responsible for teaching the theory in the XNUMXth grade were instructed to read a disclaimer at the beginning of the lesson in which they will learn about evolution. After many teachers refused to comply with the new directive, it was decided that representatives from the district would come to the schools to read the statement.

But in Dover they went one step further and were not content with disclaiming the theory of evolution. They also added to the statement a recommendation for an alternative theory, known as the "theory of intelligent design". This approach regarding the origin of man holds that it is impossible for something as complex as human life not to have an intelligent agent who designed it. The theory does not specify who that factor is, although the allusion to God is clear, and therefore it is not considered, according to its supporters, to encourage religious thought in public schools.

Today the members of the Cobb County Board of Education in Georgia are scheduled to meet to discuss the court's decision in their case. According to local media reports, most council members tend to give up the possibility of appealing the decision, mainly because of the high cost of the process. But even though the court's ruling was indeed a blow to the opponents of the theory of evolution and a victory for the scientific community in the USA, the debate is far from fading and it is still too early to determine who will have the upper hand.

Bush's supporters expect him to complete the "religious revolution" in his second term

by Nathan Gutman

The main change in America's religious civil agenda can only come if Bush appoints a new judge to the Supreme Court

Washington. The week before his re-inauguration as US President, George Bush had to open with clarification and correction. Dan Bartlett, the communications director of the White House, found himself explaining, in an interview with CNN, that the president's words in an interview with the "Washington Post" newspaper were misunderstood. Under normal circumstances, the White House might not have bothered with the amendments, but this time it is a particularly sensitive and problematic issue - same-sex marriage. From the interview in the "Post" it was understood that Bush will not pressure the Congress to approve the amendment to the US Constitution that prevents the marriage of homosexuals and lesbians. Bartlett later insisted on explaining that Bush was actually fully committed to passing the amendment.

On the eve of the inauguration, the issue of same-sex marriage is high on the agenda of the White House. One of the political assumptions in Washington holds that Bush owed part of his victory in the elections to his position in favor of an amendment that would prohibit such marriages in the constitution; From the moment the issue arose, and in various countries the issue was put to a referendum on election day, the conservatives woke up and voted en masse for Bush. But even if the question of gay marriage itself was not the one that decided the election, it is clear that Bush's Christian support base played a significant role in returning him to the White House for another term. The question now, when the second term is about to begin, is whether the president will use the next four years to return the favor to his religious supporters, or whether he will behave as a president in a second term, and consider himself exempt from political considerations.

The question of same-sex marriage is perhaps the most prominent issue on the agenda of Christian America, but it is not the only domestic issue facing Bush in the next four years related to religious matters. The questions that preoccupied public opinion during his first term: embryonic stem cell research, abortions, federal aid to religious institutions dealing with welfare and even placing statues of the Tablets of the Covenant in public buildings, are still on the agenda. Bush now has the political power to change the status quo on these issues, both thanks to a sympathetic Republican Congress and the fact that he clearly won the election.

But the main change in America's civil-religious agenda can only come if Bush appoints a new judge to the US Supreme Court. The assessment, which was strengthened due to the illness of the president of the court William Rehnquist, is that during the second term of office a vacancy will be created in the composition of the court and the president will be asked to fill it. Bush's record during his first term and his promise to his voters to "use the political credit" he received in the elections indicate that Bush's appointment to the Supreme Court will indeed be a conservative judge with religious leanings. Such an appointment could complete the "religious revolution" of the USA, and perhaps even significantly limit the right of women to perform abortions.

In the past, the Democrats relied on their power in the Senate to block such appointments, and even proved in the previous term that they could significantly limit the president's ability to make appointments. Now, with the opening of the new political season, the Republicans in Congress have already made it clear that they are ready to use their "nuclear option" to force appointments. This expression refers to a parliamentary procedure, which prevents the Democrats from the possibility of a filibuster, which would prevent the appointment of senior officials. So far, the Republicans have avoided using this tool, which is considered problematic from a public point of view, but this option can be used by Bush when necessary.

According to Bush, the religious attitude is not only a matter of voters, but also of religious belief. When asked last week by the "Washington Times" about the meaning he attributes to belief in God in public life, the president replied that he "fully understands that the president's job is to protect the people's right to worship God or not to worship him in any way they see fit." But immediately afterwards he added a sentence that shocked liberals and atheists: "On the other hand, I don't see how a president can be one who doesn't have a relationship with God."

Leave a Reply

Email will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismat to prevent spam messages. Click here to learn how your response data is processed.