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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 February 2005, 15:28 GMT
US school's new challenge to Darwin
By Ian Pannell
BBC News, Washington

They call this "Dutch country", the soft hills and open dales of South Pennsylvania, settled by European migrants three centuries ago.

Map of Pennsylvania
It is a conservative part of the country, overwhelmingly white and Christian, where the old world and the new live side-by-side.

It is an unlikely place for a revolution.

Yet the small town of Dover in York County is at the centre of an argument on the origins of mankind.

The local high school has just become the first in the country to discuss an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution in class, called Intelligent Design.

Divided town

The theory argues that because humans are so complex, there must be some unknown, architect responsible.

Critics say it is a back-door to introducing the story of the creation and because it has no empirical basis it does not belong in science classes.

Dover High School, Pennsylvania
Some parents are suing the school in protest at the new lessons
As you would imagine, this has divided the school and the town, though it seems that those in favour may have the tide of public opinion in their favour.

A recent survey by a local newspaper suggested that 54% supported the move, 36% opposed it and 10% were undecided.

Despite the opposition, the Dover school board approved a statement read out to the ninth-grade students:

"Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations. Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view."

Science teachers balk

The science teachers at the school refused to read the statement and some parents, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State are suing.

Intelligent Design has no physical basis - it is a matter of faith.
Carol Brown, former Dover school board member
Richard Thompson is a lawyer representing the School Board. He insists this is not a battle between science and religion.

"This is science versus science, where scientists looking at the same data come to different conclusions," Mr Thompson said.

It is certainly true that the argument in Pennsylvania does not split evenly along religious lines.

Carol Brown and her husband Jeff both resigned from the School Board in protest.

They are both Christians but also believe in the theory of evolution. They also fear that the introduction of Intelligent Design is part of a broader attempt to push creationism in schools.

Carol admits that there are gaps in Darwin's theory, but she says: "The theories that we teach the students have at least some physical evidence. Intelligent Design has no physical basis. It is a matter of faith."

In some ways this conflict is between people who see themselves as defenders of the constitution and some conservative Christians who would like to see a greater role for religion in public life.

Culture war

It ties in to a much broader national debate

Who's gonna win this culture war, between secular humanism and Christian morality, or as one of the newspapers put it, between Godly America and Worldly America?
Ken Ham, creationist
In Kentucky a museum dedicated to the Book of Genesis and the story of the creation is under construction.

The $25m venture is hoping to pull in around a quarter of a million visitors a year.

They will be taken on a journey 6,000 years back in time, to the Garden of Eden, to a time when the creators believe dinosaurs and man roamed the earth side-by-side.

The museum has been a 20-year dream for Australian Ken Ham, a Biblical-creationist who is taking on the scientific establishment.

He says evolutionists are scared to admit the possibility of intelligent design because that leads to the possibility of God, the Bible and what he calls "a whole different world view".

From rural Pennsylvania to Bible-belt Kentucky there is a struggle in America over how much religion to admit into public life. Ken Ham presents a stark choice:

"Who's gonna win this culture war, between secular humanism and Christian morality, or as one of the newspapers put it, between Godly America and Worldly America?" Mr Ham asks.

Like the museum of the creation, this issue is very much a work in progress in America.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Why the debate over creationism is dividing the USA



SEE ALSO
And who created the world?
07 Feb 05 |  Breakfast
Intelligent Design
03 Jul 02 |  Archive

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