DOVER, Pa. -- "God or Darwin?"
Lark Myers, a blond, 45-year-old gift shop owner, frames the question and answers it. "I definitely would prefer to believe that God created me than that I'm 50th cousin to a silverback ape," she said. "What's wrong with wanting our children to hear about all the holes in the theory of evolution?"
Charles Darwin, squeeze over. The school board in this small town in central Pennsylvania has voted to make the theory of evolution share a seat with another theory: God probably designed us.
Dover area high school sophomores Katie Froman, left, and Brittany Cook, wait for their ride near the school. The school board wants intelligent design taught in science classes in addition to evolution.
(Carolyn Kaster -- AP)
If it survives a legal test, this school district of about 2,800 students could become the first in the nation to require that high school science teachers at least mention the "intelligent design" theory. This theory holds that human biology and evolution are so complex as to require the creative hand of an intelligent force.
"The school board has taken the measured step of making students aware that there are other viewpoints on the evolution of species," said Richard Thompson, of the Thomas More Law Center, which represents the board and describes its overall mission as defending "the religious freedom of Christians."
Board members have been less guarded, and their comments go well beyond intelligent design theory. William Buckingham, the board's curriculum chairman, explained at a meeting last June that Jesus died on the cross and "someone has to take a stand" for him. Other board members say they believe that God created Earth and mankind sometime in the past ten thousand years or so.
"If the Bible is right, God created us," said John Rowand, an Assemblies of God pastor and a newly appointed school board member. "If God did it, it's history and it's also science."
This strikes some parents and teachers, not to mention most evolutionary biologists, as loopy science. Eleven parents have joined the American Civil Liberties Union and filed suit in federal court in Harrisburg seeking to block mention of intelligent design in high school biology, arguing it is religious belief dressed in the cloth of science.
"It's not science; it's a theocratic idea," Bryan Rehm, a former science teacher in Dover and a father of four. "We don't have enough time for science in the classroom as it is -- this is just inappropriate."
This is a battle fought in many corners of the nation. In Charles County, school board members recently suggested discarding biology textbooks "biased towards evolution." In Cobb County, in suburban Atlanta, the local school board ordered that stickers be placed inside the front cover of science textbooks stating: "Evolution is a theory, not a fact." State education boards in Ohio and Kansas have wrestled with this issue, as well.
In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court seemed to settle this question, ruling that Louisiana could not make creationism a part of the science curriculum. The state, Justice William J. Brennan wrote, cannot "restructure the science curriculum to conform with a particular religious viewpoint." (Justice Antonin Scalia dissented, arguing that creationism could be "valuable scientific data that has been censored from the classrooms by an embarrassed scientific establishment.")
Of late, conservative school boards have launched a counteroffensive, often marching under the banner of intelligent design. This theory has lingered on the margins of mainstream scientific discourse with just enough intellectual heft to force its way into some discussions of evolutionary theory.
Essentially intelligent design posits that the human cell, among other organisms, is too finely tuned to have developed by chance. "The human cell is irreducibly complex -- what we find in the cell is stuff that looks strongly like it was designed by an intelligence," said Michael J. Behe, a biology professor at Lehigh University and leading advocate of intelligent design.
Behe acknowledges this theory might lead one to postulate the existence of a supernatural force, such as God. But he said this is unknown and rejects those who would portray him as a creationist. "Our starting point is from science, not from Scripture," Behe said.