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From the May, 2002 issue of Touchstone


Not Just in Kansas Anymore by Phillip E. Johnson

Not Just in Kansas Anymore

During March most of my attention was focused (from a distance) on Ohio, where my Wedge colleagues were arguing that Ohio’s public school science education standards should allow consideration of alternatives to Darwinism. These would include the possibility that the apparently designed adaptive features of living organisms reflect the activity of a real designer, rather than merely the purposeless Darwinian mechanism of mutation and selection. As in Kansas in 1999, the Darwinians began the battle by asking the state board of education to adopt new standards that would place a much greater emphasis upon biological evolution and give no recognition to the fact that a majority of Americans considers the subject controversial. Again, as in Kansas, some members of the Ohio board objected that the proposed standards were dogmatic and required concealment of weaknesses in the Darwinian theory, a practice more suggestive of indoctrination than education.

Most observers expected the scientific steamroller to run over the opposition once again, but a lot has changed since 1999. The Ohio dissenters were immediately joined by scientists and strategists from the Intelligent Design movement, and there was a new spirit of unity among Christians who had previously been divided over issues like the age of the earth. The most important change was that Congress had passed, and the President signed, a federal education bill. This statute was accompanied by a conference committee report incorporating language first proposed by Senator Rick Santorum, stating that “where topics are taught that may generate controversy, the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.”

In short, Congress contemplated that biology classes should explore matters that Darwinists would prefer to ignore, such as criticisms of classic textbook examples like the faked drawings of embryonic similarities, and even the possible role of Darwinian concepts in encouraging the scientific racism embodied in eugenics programs. Darwinists on the Ohio board at first obtained a legal opinion that they could ignore the report language, but this escape route was blocked by members of Congress who warned the board that “the Santorum language is now part of the law” and clarifies that “public school students are entitled to learn that there are differing scientific views on issues such as biological evolution.”

European elites like to think that dissent from Darwinism does not exist in their countries, where people are far too sophisticated to believe in a Creator or an axis of evil. Now London is as absorbed with creationism as Ohio, however. Emanuel College is a public school endowed by a Christian philanthropist but operating on state funding, which teaches the six-day Genesis account as an alternative to Darwinism, and achieves excellent results in all subjects, according to government inspectors. Richard Dawkins is predictably furious, and the Prime Minister, who defended the school on the fashionably postmodernist ground that educational diversity is desirable, has faced questions in the House of Commons about his personal views on creation and evolution.

The big news from Ohio and London is that scientific authorities in both places act as if they cannot afford even a minor setback, and perhaps they are right to think so. The liberal Anglican bishop of Oxford was so exasperated with London’s creationists that he asked rhetorically, “Do some people really think that the worldwide scientific community is engaged in a massive conspiracy to hoodwink the rest of us?” Raising the stakes to that level is a dangerous tactic. The scientific authorities already face widespread public and professional distrust on subjects ranging from global warming to genetically modified crops, and many people are prepared to contemplate that scientists as a class may be no more trustworthy than public accountants or modernist bishops. Scientific triumphalists remind me of Napoleon’s army in Moscow. They have won many battles and captured an immense amount of territory, but they have no safe line of retreat. If something goes wrong, any withdrawal may become a rout.

Phillip E. Johnson is Professor of Law (emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, The Right Questions (InterVarsity Press), and other books challenging the naturalistic assumptions that dominate modern culture. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.

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