Evolutionary Voting

Saturday, November 12, 2005

IF YOU LIVE BY politics, you can die by politics, too. That's the lesson of the school board vote on Tuesday in Dover, Pa. All eight of the board's Republican incumbents were defeated. And all of the defeated incumbents had supported a policy -- the first in the country -- requiring the teaching of "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution in ninth-grade biology classes. The board had been sued by a group of parents who argued that intelligent-design theory is a thinly veiled cover for creationism and that it is therefore unconstitutional to force teachers to teach it in public school classrooms. A federal judge is still pondering the case, but in the meantime eight Democrats campaigning against the intelligent-design policy have thrown out the school board.

That vote is a fitting end to the Pennsylvania chapter of this saga. Because advocates of intelligent design have never been able to convince scientists that their theory has scientific merit, they've relied on political methods to get it into school curriculums. They've marketed their ideas to politicians using Web sites, news releases and free textbooks. Although the more nuanced proponents of intelligent design, such as the Discovery Institute in Seattle, frequently claim that their intent is not to promote a literal interpretation of the Bible, many of the politicians they win over are in fact creationists and do in fact deny that evolution took place. That certainly appears to have been the case in Dover. Now the limitations of promoting a theory through politics are clearly visible: The voters can vote the undercover creationists out.

Soon there may be an opportunity to do it again. This week the Kansas Board of Education voted 6 to 4 to force teachers to include intelligent design's critique of evolution in their curriculum. The constitutionality of that decision will certainly be challenged in the courts and possibly at the ballot box as well: Three candidates who oppose the teaching of intelligent design theory have already announced that they will be running for seats on the Kansas Board of Education. It's a strange way to resolve a scientific controversy, but once that controversy has been politicized, it's hard to see how it can be resolved any other way.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company