Teaching Darwin splits Pennsylvania town
Teaching Darwin splits Pennsylvania town
Yahoo News - Sun Mar 27, 2005
DOVER, United States (AFP) - The pastoral fields and white frame houses appear at peace, but this Pennsylvania farm town is deeply at war over teaching Darwin or Christian creationism in its schools.

Since last year the school board voted to have high school biology teachers raise doubts about Darwin's 145-year-old theory and suggest an alternative Christian explanation for life. The city has since been deeply riven over the issue of separation of church and state.

In January the school board ordered teachers to tell students that Darwinism is not proved, and to teach as well an alternate theory, "intelligent design," which posits that a grand creator, God, is responsible for the development of living organisms.

"Darwin's theory is a theory ... not a fact," the school board declared in their statement to the teachers. "Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view," said the report.

The command landed in the sprawling, red-brick Dover high school like a bomb. Biology teachers refused to read it, while around 15 students walked out in protest.

"Reading it sends the message that it is a legitimate scientific idea or theory," said Jen Miller, a biology teacher who is also a church-goer and daughter of a minister.

As news of the dispute spread, the small city of 25,000 found itself the focus of a national battle over Darwinism, creationism and the role of religion in schools.

Around 19 states are experiencing similar fights, according to the National Center for Science Education.

The National Science Teachers Association reported that 31 percent of teachers say they feel pressured to include non-scientific alternatives to evolution in science lectures.

Throughout Dover, a conservative, religious city in the Pennsylvania farm country, the talk is of nothing else, and the subject provokes angry arguments.

In December 11 parents, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites), filed a lawsuit against the school board, leading to stormy public meetings and resignations.

The divisiveness now focuses on the election of a new school board from among its citizens.

"Creation is why we are here," said retired teacher Virginia Doll, defending the introduction of religion into the biology classes.

"We have a rather religious town, the God we serve is important in everything we do," she said.

On the other side was clergyman Warren Esbach. "I'm opposed to any group who wants to establish a theocracy. I come from a church who fled Germany in the 18th century for religious freedom," Esbach said.

According to the teachers, the issue arose suddenly, over only a few months last year, in part from a council discussion over the use of a book which some council members called too Darwinian.

"Here we have non-scientifically educated people trying to tell teachers what is scientific and what is not scientific," said Bryan Rehm, one of the 11 plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

With the lawsuit pending, the council members, defended by an organization of Christian lawyers, will not talk about the case.

But pastor and parent Ray Mummert, 54, explained their point.

"If we continue to indoctrinate our young people with non-religious principles, we're headed for an internal destruction of this society," he said.

"Evolution is just a theory and there are other theories," Mummert explained, smiling through his beard.

"There is such a complexity in life, and science wants to hang its hat on a belief that life somehow started -- they say there is no creator, no order ... I believe there is a creator," he said.

Both sides acknowledge the political context of the debate over Darwinism, and the relation to the re-election of staunchly Christian President George W. Bush (news - web sites).

"Christians are a lot more bold under Bush's leadership, he speaks what a lot of us believe," said Mummert.

"We've been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture," he said, adding that the school board's declaration is just a first step.

"It took 30 or 40 years to eliminate God in school, it will take probably 30 or 40 years to get him back. You take a little step first, a little bite, then another little bite and another," said Steve Farrell, a nursery keeper, who dreams of the return to prayer in class.