In 2004 a group of fundamentalist Christians sitting on a school board in Dover, Pennsylvania, voted to make their students “aware of… other theories of evolution, including, but not limited to, intelligent design” – creationism’s latest Trojan horse.
Eleven committed parents – including a Girl Scout leader, a devout Catholic and a physics teacher who taught summer Bible school – decided to take a stand, and sued the board for violation of their first amendment rights (“separation of church and state”), whilst simultaneously mounting a successful grassroots campaign to unseat those anti-evolution board members who were up for re-election.
Their courageous struggle, and the resulting trial – which resulted in a stunning victory for the plaintiffs (the conservative, Bush-appointed judge condemned the “breathtaking inanity” of the school board, and ruled that “intelligent design” wasn’t science) – is recounted in The Devil in Dover.
With its vivid personal portraits of those involved (both plaintiffs and defendants), local journalist Laurie Lebo – whose father ran a fundamentalist radio station – has written a moving and important account of ordinary people taking a stand in the face of strong social pressures to conform.
According to British philosopher Philip Kitcher, “The vehement [non-scientific] opposition to Darwin results in large measure from the existence of a powerful case, one in which Darwin’s ideas play a significant and powerful role, against supernaturalism and providentialism, the most widespread forms of Christianity and other traditional Western religions, coupled with a recognition that endorsing that case would leave many lives impoverished and empty.”
Until we tackle “the atomisation of society, the vapidity of much secular culture, and above all, the absence of real community”, he notes, resistance is likely to continue. Amen to that.
And in case anyone (smugly) thinks that these titles are less relevant on this side of the Atlantic, take heed. In a 2006 UK opinion poll, 39% chose either creationism (22%) or “intelligent design” (19%) as the best description of their view of the origin and development of life, and 44% said that they would like to see creationism taught in science lessons in British schools.