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BATTLE REJOINED OVER TEACHING OF EVOLUTION.

Byline: Peter Applebome The New York Times

Seventy years after John Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution in Dayton, Tenn., the state Legislature here is considering permitting school boards to dismiss teachers who present evolution as fact rather than a theory of human origin.

And around the country, the issues that Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan fought out in a Dayton courtroom are being replayed in classrooms, school board meetings and state legislatures as religious fundamentalists become increasingly assertive.

The most concerted activity has been in the South. In addition to Tennessee, a district in Georgia recently endorsed the teaching of creationism, which holds that all life forms, including humans, were fully formed by a Creator and did not evolve, and Alabama has approved a disclaimer, to be inserted in biology textbooks, calling evolution only "a controversial theory."

But teaching creationism, rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court a decade ago, has re-emerged as a contentious issue recently in places as far-flung as Friendly, Nev.; Paradise, Calif.; Moon, Pa., and Merrimack, N.H.

And teaching evolution has become so politicized that many high school teachers around the country report they skip the subject rather than risk confrontations with conservative parents or fundamentalist religious groups, educators say.

"It's frightening how widespread this is," said Wayne Carley, head of the National Association of Biology Teachers. "Even here in Fairfax County, Va., one of the richest counties in the country, over half the candidates for the school board were creationist fundamentalists. This is not just limited to the South. It's everywhere."

Proponents of creationism say the disputes, rather than being "frightening," reflect a widespread belief that educators do their students a disservice by teaching only one theory about the evolution of life.

Proponents of what is usually called either "creation science" or "intelligent design" say there are so many anomalies and mysteries in the origin of the universe and the development of life that theories other than evolution must be considered.

"If evolution is true, then it has nothing to fear from some other theory being taught; the truth will prevail," state Sen. David Fowler, a Republican from Chattanooga, argued on the Tennessee Senate floor last week. "But if intelligent design is the truth, then God forbid we should not teach it to our children."

The vast majority of the nation's scientists, including many devoutly religious ones, believe life on earth is the result of billions of years of evolution - an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable process of natural development.

Creationists, however, believe that life on earth is not the result of the evolution of species over time but the result of a transcendent personal Creator. Most also believe the earth is not billions of years old, but thousands, as inferred from the Bible.

A series of court decisions in recent years have held that "creation science" is religion in the guise of science.

In 1968, in Epperson vs. Arkansas, the Supreme Court struck down an Arkansas statute that banned the teaching of evolution but did not explicitly mention the Biblical account of the origins of life.

In a 1987 case, Edwards vs. Aguillard, the court in a 7-2 ruling held unconstitutional a 1981 Louisiana law that required any public school teaching the theory of evolution to also teach creationism as science. That law also made no mention of God or the Bible, but the court ruled that its intent was clearly to teach religion as science.

The 1987 ruling was viewed at the time as a definitive defeat for the teaching of creationism in the schools. But spurred by the rise of the Christian right, the issue is percolating with renewed intensity.

The Tennessee Senate on Monday sent back to committee what is being called its "Monkey Bill," harkening back to the 1925 Scopes trial. State Attorney General Charles W. Burson delivered an opinion that the bill was unconstitutional.

Despite a similar opinion by Burson, the Senate last month passed by a 27-1 vote a resolution urging homes, businesses, places of worship and schools to post and observe the Ten Commandments.

In Georgia, one school district, Hall County north of Atlanta, this year adopted a policy calling for the teaching of creationism along with evolution. A bill in the state Legislature to give state approval for teaching creationism has stalled in committee, but State School Superintendent Linda Schrenko, who is sympathetic to teaching creationism, has asked for a state attorney general's opinion on whether creationism can already be taught.

Alabama has approved a disclaimer to be inserted in biology textbooks calling evolution "a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things." It goes on: "No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered as theory, not fact."

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PHOTO

Photo Many are afraid to teach evolution, regardless of the law, says Wesley Roberts, a biology teacher in Nashville, Tenn. Associated Press
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 10, 1996
Words:826
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