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Evolution Shares a Desk With 'Intelligent Design'

Few biologists buy that. There is, they say, a central evolutionary theory embraced by mainstream scientists worldwide: That life on Earth has evolved over billions of years and in fits and starts from one-celled organisms to modern humans. That this theory is pockmarked with unexplained gaps, and subject to debate, is how science is crafted.

"People have an impatience about science," said Kenneth R. Miller, a Brown University biologist and author of the biology textbook used in Dover. "They think it's this practical process that explains how everything works, but that's the least interesting part.

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)

"We understand a lot of the mechanisms of evolution but it's what we don't understand that makes it exciting."

Even today many residents are not sure how Dover, a former farm hamlet become a bedroom community for York and Harrisburg, came to occupy the ramparts in a century-long war over Darwin's theories.

In the 18th century, an erudite French shopkeeper settled in this valley and gave the name Voltaire to his village. German and English settlers, a local history notes, soon discovered that Voltaire was "a French atheist" and "a disbeliever in revealed theology" and changed the town's name.

Dover's modern politics are resolutely Republican -- President Bush polled 65 percent of the vote here -- and its cultural values are Christian, with an evangelical tinge. To drive its rolling back roads is to count dozens of churches, from Lutheran to United Church of Christ, Baptist, Pentecostal and Assemblies of God.

Many here speak of a personal relationship with Christ and of their antipathy to evolutionary theory (A Gallup poll found that 35 percent of Americans do not believe in evolution). Steve Farrell, a friendly man and owner of a landscaping business, talked of Darwin and God in the Giant shopping center parking lot.

"We are teaching our children a theory that most of us don't believe in." He shook his head. "I don't think God creates everything on a day-to-day basis, like the color of the sky. But I do believe that he created Adam and Eve -- instantly."

Back in the town center, Norma Botterbusch talks in her jewelry store, which has been a fixture here for 40 years. "We are a very lenient town," she said. "But why should a minority get to file a lawsuit and dictate school policy? Most of our kids already know who created them."

The evolution revolution in Dover began as a dispute about property taxes. The previous school board spent too much money, and a conservative group defeated them. Last June, board member Buckingham criticized a new biology textbook as "laced with Darwinism." He added, according to the ACLU's lawsuit, that "our country was founded on Christianity and our students should be taught as such."

Neither Buckingham nor the board president nor the school superintendent responded to requests for interviews.

In October, the Dover school board passed this motion: "Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of Life is not taught."

Several board members resigned in protest. When the remaining board members chose replacements, they subjected certain candidates to withering questions. "I was asked if I was a liberal or conservative, and if I was a child abuser," recalled Rehm, who was known as an outspoken opponent of intelligent design.

In the end, the York Daily Record reported that the board picked a fundamentalist preacher, a home-schooler who does not send his kids to public school for religious reasons, and two more who in effect pledged to support the board.

Dover's evolution policy has left many teachers deeply uncomfortable. One science teacher noted that he avoids talking about the origins of life. "We don't do the monkeys-to-man controversy," he said. "It's just not worth the trouble."

The Discovery Institute in Seattle, which is regarded as a leader in intelligent design theory, also opposes the Dover school board's policy in part because it seems to take three steps into old-fashioned creationism. "This theory needs to be debated in the scientific sphere," said Paul West, a senior fellow. "It's much too soon to require anyone to teach it in high school."

Miller, the Brown University biologist and textbook author, hopes the day that it is taught in high school never arrives. "It's very clear that intelligent design has become a stalking-horse," Miller said. "If these school boards had their druthers, they would teach Noah's flood and the 6,000-year-old design of Earth.

"My fear is that they are making real headway in the popular imagination."

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