Expelling Darwin

In every flap about evolution, it seems, there is a new Scopes Trial struggling to be born. Why else so much fuss over the Kansas Board of Education’s promulgation of guidelines that, if followed, would eliminate any teaching about the evolution of species and natural selection from the science curriculum in public schools? The board, which passed its standards by a 6-4 vote, has no power over the state’s 304 public school districts, which can teach evolution or not as they see fit. All the board can do is declare that it will not include anything on these topics in the statewide tests. That is enough, however, to make creationists rejoice and liberal pundits decry a looming threat to "sound science." It is hard to imagine any other pedagogical recommendation, about teaching math, spelling, or geography, for example, stirring such national attention, coming as it did from a relatively powerless board in one Middle American state. But evolution has long been a touchstone of where one stands in American culture, and Darwin’s defenders react as ritualistically as his uncultured despisers, driven to reenact the whole saga of struggle against sin and darkness, especially that mythic moment in Dayton, Tennessee, when modernity and unfettered inquiry defied the forces of benighted fundamentalism.

Never mind that Edward J. Larson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Summer for the Gods shows how much of the science-versus-...

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