Comprehensive coverage

The descent of man from the ape. Until further notice

Precisely in the midst of the conservative attack that the White House manager suffered last week, the Christian right received a blow from an unexpected direction: the Kansas Board of Education decided to return evolution to the curriculum. "This is a religious war," say the followers of "Creation Science", and are preparing for a counterattack

Nitzan Horowitz

A scene from the movie "The Trial of the Monkeys", which deals with the trial in 1925 of a teacher from Tennessee, who "sinned" by teaching evolution. Only 10% of Americans hold the scientific principles of evolution

"So what Johnny, you can't teach biology without evolution?" "No sir, I can't". From the film "Monkey Trial" directed by Stanley Kramer, 1960


Since the "Monkey Trial", which was held in Tennessee in 1925 for the nature teacher John Thomas Scopes who sinned in teaching evolution, the education system in the USA has not known such a debate. In the midst of the conservative attack on the White House manager, the Christian right suffered a painful blow from an unexpected direction. After a hard-fought battle, the Kansas Board of Education made a resounding decision Wednesday: evolution has been put back on the curriculum.

The battle over the theory of evolution is one of the important battlegrounds of the church right in the USA. Conservatives see Darwin's teaching as a central pillar of a malicious liberal agenda, which aims to confuse young students and undermine the foundations of religion. For years they have been putting a huge effort into introducing religion into the science classes in the state schools. Liberals see this as the spearhead in their fight to maintain the separation of religion from the state. The decision in Kansas put an end to one of the bitterest conflicts the American education system has known.

A year and a half ago, at the beginning of the presidential campaign, when Al Gore was still the leading candidate, the conservatives won a big victory. They managed to remove from the curriculum in Kansas the "blatant heresy of all", as defined by one of the television preachers: the assertion that man descends from monkeys. Darwin's place was taken by Christ, and "creation science" replaced evolution. Kansas was the diamond on the "Bible Belt". "It's good for children to be exposed to different theories of how the world began," praised George Bush at the time.

The universities were alerted

Despite appeals and pleas from educators and scientists, a new curriculum was established in Kansas - from kindergarten to the end of high school - which eliminates evolution as an explanation for the appearance of new species. However, the council permitted the "microevolution" teaching: changes that occur within the species, but not those that lead to the development of a new species. Because all species were created, as such, by God.

The religious groups, very active in Kansas, claim that evolution cannot be proven, and it is in complete contradiction to what is said in the Book of Genesis about the appearance of life. "The study of evolution misleads students," says Tom Willis, director of the Creation Science Association, which helped draft the new rules. "You can't go to the lab or the field and create the first fish. Therefore, when students are told that science has established that evolution is true, it is cheating."

Willis, with the help of a lot of political backing, was then able to convince the Board of Education, which rejected evolution as a scientific principle. In response, the rectors of the six public universities of Kansas warned that the new curriculum would return the country to the previous century, and force the science teachers - who are few anyway - to switch to other professions or leave the country. The governor of Kansas also warned the board of education not to adopt the new standard. The enthusiastic council did not heed his warnings.

The battle over evolution in Kansas is part of a well-coordinated campaign by conservative organizations all over the United States. The most notable attempts occurred in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia and Nebraska. In the early 1987s, the Republicans passed laws in Arkansas and Louisiana, which prohibited the schools there from teaching evolution unless lessons in "creation science" were given at the same time. A federal judge in Arkansas struck down the law and ruled that it violates the principles of the constitution regarding the separation of religion and state. It was determined that "creation science" is not science at all, it has no secular educational purpose, and it is intended solely for the promotion of religion. In XNUMX, the Washington Supreme Court ruled (the Edwards v. Aguilar ruling) that public schools may not teach "creation science": the court struck down the Louisiana law because it inappropriately promotes religion.

Al Gore's stutter

Following the change in Kansas, a year and a half ago, the issue immediately entered the electoral system. He embarrassed the candidates, especially Al Gore. At first, the former vice president said he supported the study of evolution. Then he claimed that it was a decision "at the local level". Finally he stated that he supports the studies of creation on the side of evolution. When it became clear to him that this position was against the decision of the Supreme Court, Gore said that he supports the study of creation only in a certain context, such as in religion class.

Many of his supporters in the scientific community felt betrayed. "Politics made him lose his mind," said one of them. Others pointed to the reality in America: 44% of US residents, according to a recent survey, believe in the religious principles of creation. About 40% more believe in "divine evolution" - the idea that God "guided" for millions of years the evolution that led to the emergence of man. Only 10% of Americans hold the scientific principles of evolution.

George Bush drew the obvious political conclusion, and the Christian right gave him another point of merit. In the meantime, the wheel has turned. By a majority of seven to three, the members of the Education Council voted to "return the baboons to the schools", as defined by one of the opponents. Tom Willis's hair was cut short. "We should be ashamed of lying to students and pretending to claim that science proves where the first fish came from," he said at the end of the week. "Well, it's really already excessive," responded one of the members of the Education Council. "We are all Christians here, and we do not see any contradiction between Christianity - or any other religion - and the curriculum. We are not against religion, but simply think that it should not be taught in science classes."

The decision of the Board of Education is a kind of compromise, in which the hands of the conservatives are clearly visible. It does declare evolution as a key scientific principle, and allows the local boards of education, in each district, to determine what to teach about evolution. But it does not require the study of key issues such as the approximate age of the Earth or the common ancestors of man and ape. Adherents of the separation of religion from the state fear that the Board of Education has left too big a loophole. According to them, the decision will allow many teachers in the conservative country to avoid the teaching of evolution, and science students will arrive at colleges with a hole in their education.

But this is still a resounding victory for the liberals in a dark time for them. "We are very excited," said Joe Kuhn, from the "Union of Americans for the Separation of Religion and State". The group threatened to petition the court to keep evolution in the textbooks. In the end it was not necessary. The residents of Kansas themselves deposed the head of the Board of Education Linda Holloway and two of her colleagues, who led the religious struggle, and elected in their place within the framework of the Republican primaries moderate candidates, who conducted a distinct campaign in favor of the teaching of evolution.

In view of what is happening now in Washington, the new decision in Kansas is seen as a lesson for many other countries, where similar struggles are going on. "Teachers and scientists breathed a sigh of relief when the Kansas Board of Education made the right decision," said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Science Center in California. "This will prove to other countries, from coast to coast, that supporting good science education is the right thing to do politically as well." Tom Willis is not impressed. "This is a religious war," he concluded firmly. "The atheists now hold the reins, but not for long."
{Appeared in Haaretz newspaper, 18/2/2001{

The knowledge website was part of the IOL portal from the Haaretz group until 2002

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.