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Monday, 11 March, 2002, 12:59 GMT
Evolution challenged in US schools
Dinosaur fossil
A new theory says the world had a "designer"
By the BBC's religious affairs reporter Mark Duff

Religious campaigners in the United States are to challenge the way evolution is taught in American schools in a debate likely to reignite arguments over the origins of life.

Supporters of a theory called Intelligent Design want the concept added to the school science curriculum in the state of Ohio, alongside Darwin's theory of evolution.

On the issue of evolution, the verdict is still out

President Bush
The discussion is being seen as the biggest public test yet of the new theory.

Even the president has cast his opinion on the matter of science versus religion.

During his election campaign, George W Bush made the following assertion.

"On the issue of evolution," he said, "the verdict is still out on how God created the Earth."

To secular listeners familiar with Mr Bush, this may have sounded like a gaffe.

It probably wasn't.

More likely, it reflected a deeply held belief among many fundamentalist Christians in the United States that unquestioning adherence to the theory of evolution has too often been used as an argument against the existence of God.

Divine plan

In the past, those same Christians have tried to get the Biblical explanation of creation taught as scientific fact.

What is being discussed in Ohio isn't a simple return to Creationism - as a literal belief in the Bible story is called.

Charles Darwin
Religionists doubt Darwin's theory of evolution

Intelligent Design accepts that the universe is indeed very old.

But it argues that the diversity and complexity of life suggests that an "intelligent designer" has been at work.

What its supporters want, they say, is the right to challenge Darwin's theory scientifically.

Their critics argue that what it is really about is finding a backdoor way of getting Creationism into America's schools.

Even before the dust settles on the discussion, it has already shown just how deeply-ingrained the religious sentiment is in the world's most powerful and technologically advanced nation.

For many Americans, religion is still a keenly felt reality.

See also:

14 Mar 02 | Sci/Tech
Simple error means big change
09 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Climate change aids evolution
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