“Gimme’ That Old Time Evolution”

Fox News has reported that the ACLU is suing a rural Pennsylvania school board for allowing the teaching of intelligent design alongside the teaching of biological evolution in the classroom.

The ACLU said its lawsuit will be the first to challenge whether public schools should teach “intelligent design,” which holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by some higher power.

The Dover Area School District (search) was believed to be the first in the nation to mandate intelligent design when it voted 6-3 in October in favor of including the concept in the science curriculum.

The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have scheduled a news conference Tuesday to discuss the suit, which will be filed in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, ACLU spokesman Paul Silva said Monday….

Last month, the Dover district issued a statement saying that state academic standards require the teaching of evolution, which holds that Earth is billions of years old and that life forms developed over millions of years.

But the statement also said Charles Darwin’s theory “is still being tested as new evidence is discovered,” and that intelligent design “is an explanation of the origins of life that differs from Darwin’s view.”

Additionally, district officials said they would monitor the lessons “to make sure no one is promoting but also not inhibiting religion.”

The ACLU has said intelligent design is a more secular form of creationism, a Biblical-based view that credits the origin of species to God, and may violate the constitutional amendment that bars establishment of religion.

Let me get this straight: teaching that the universe is so complex that a higher power must have created it as a competing theory constitutes an establishment of religion? I would fall out of my chair laughing, but there’s no doubt the ACLU can shop for a judge who will find this argument credible and compelling.

Has anyone seen the 1960 B&W film version of Inherit the Wind? The cast included such notables as Spencer Tracy, Gene Kelly, Dick York (one of the Darrens on Bewitched), Claude Akins, and Harry Morgan (of Dragnet and M*A*S*H fame). Based on a stage production that fictionalized the famous 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial” in Tennessee, Inherit the Wind and its writers had a very clear and distinct bias in “rewriting history.”

Inherit the Wind

The tone of the movie is set in the opening scene, as a crowd of benighted townfolk in ragged overalls and homespun calico, storm through the streets with pitchforks and torches in tow, singing a very angry and passionate rendition of the spiritual “Gimme’ That Old Time Religion.” The movie gets worse from there with its flat, one-dimensional stereotypes, depicting a “black and white” battle between the good forces of academic freedom (the defense lawyer and big city skeptic characters played by Tracy and Kelly, respectively) versus a Southern town full of backward hillbillies bent on clinging irrationally to religious mythology.

One piece of history missing from Inherit the Wind is the fact that the ACLU made paid arrangements with biology teacher John Scopes in advance to be their test case subject for teaching evolution in the public schools. In the movie, “Bertram Cates” (played by York) was just a noble, free-thinking man who boldly challenged the repressive status quo. (Well, it might make a better movie that way….)

Ironically, the climax of the film is Tracy’s big speech at the end of the court case, where he makes the case for his client by saying that scientific and religious theories can co-exist in education. They aren’t necessarily at odds all the time: we can teach evolution and Bible stories. Then, you see the Clarence Darrow-like Tracy put a copy of the Bible and a science textbook into his briefcase.

Ironically, if a version of Inherit the Wind were to be made today depicting the case about to unfold in Pennsylvania… well, the opening scene would have to be a band of angry ACLU lawyers in three-piece suits marching through the streets and singing: “Gimme That Old Time Evolution.”

What is so scary about letting the competing theories of Darwinian evolution and intelligent design be taught side by side in a public school classroom? Is someone afraid that, through open debate in a free society, someone might decide for himself what the truth of the matter is? Or are these secularists so benighted as to still see the world through the lens of an ongoing battle of “science vs. religion,” as if the whole discussion weren’t more detailed, rich and complex?

The ACLU suggests that mere presentation of the intelligent design theory constitutes an establishment of religion. Well, what religion would that be? One of the hundreds of sects of Christianity or most of its cultic offshoots? Judaism in any of its forms? Islam? Some branches of Hinduism? Should I stop there?

At the same time, many practicing Christians subscribe to some sort of theistic evolution. Where do they fit into this equation?

Because the topic is so detailed, rich and complex, I won’t delve into it further right now, unless interest develops.

For now, some suggested reading on the topic (feel free to add your own to the discussion):

  • Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe
  • Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe by Michael Denton
  • Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion by Edward Larson
  • The Battle of Beginnings: Why Neither Side is Winning the Creation-Evolution Debate by Del Ratzsch
  • This, of course, is just a sampling, but I’ve found these books very intriguing and informative. And for the most part, they’re pretty accessible and understandable to someone who considers himself a novice in the whole issue or debate.

    Regarding the ACLU in Pennsylvania controversy, WorldMagBlog is also on the case.


    1. Marya says

      I would add, in defense of the “evolution is still being tested” statement, that the missing link is still missing. I think students should learn about the theory of evolution. But they should also learn that it has not been proven and that they are other valid theories out there. It seems that the ACLU is saying that even if an intelligent design theory is proven to be true, even then it would be unconstitutional to teach it. It would be unconstitutional to teach truth in public schools. Does anyone else find this alarming?

    Leave a Reply