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Creationists at the gate

EMBOLDENED BY the important role social conservatives played in the reelection of George W. Bush, believers in the biblical account of man's origins are redoubling their efforts to have it made an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution in public schools. According to the pro-Darwinism National Center for Science Education, efforts are underway in 43 states to nibble away at the clear line the Supreme Court laid down in 1987, when it banned Bible-based creationism as an intrusion of religion into the classroom.

To keep this line firmly defined and to ensure that US children learn the importance of evolution, the bedrock of biology, elected officials and educators should be alert to attempts to sneak Genesis into the teaching of science.

In Georgia, a federal judge stepped in this month to stop schools in Cobb County from placing stickers inside biology textbooks urging students to consider alternatives to evolution. The county school board members who favored the stickers said they would appeal.

In Dover, Pa., the school board ordered ninth grade science teachers to read a board-dictated statement criticizing evolution and calling students' attention to an alternative approach known as intelligent design. Earlier this month, the teachers refused. An administrator was preparing to step in and do it, unless a suit by the American Civil Liberties Union brings a halt to the exercise.

Intelligent design tries to skirt the church vs. state line by theorizing that the sheer complexity of organisms, including man, requires an intelligent designer. God or the Creator is not mentioned explicitly. The principal exponent of the view is a Seattle-based organization called the Discovery Institute.

Proponents of intelligent design want the public to believe that solid, peer-reviewed science backs up this explanation for the development of man and other species, but that is not the case. The governing council of one biology journal in Washington state that published an article by a Discovery Institute fellow quickly disavowed it.

Critics of Darwinism make much of saying it is only a theory. But it is one that has stood the test of intense scientific inquiry and brings together a wealth of observable phenomena. Among scientists, there is disagreement about the pace of species development and about the events that caused the extinctions of species. But biologists do not challenge the basic genius of Darwin's discovery.

US students have trouble enough keeping up with their counterparts in foreign countries in mastering the sciences. In biology, they should not have to contend with religion-based efforts to introduce misinformation into their classes. Genesis has a place in comparative religion classes, not public school science classes. 

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