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My View

by Ed Buckner, Ph.D.

On February 12th, I and many others across this country and around the world will attend celebrations to honor the 193rd anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. When Darwin propounded the theory of Evolution in his major work, The origin of Species, he revolutionized the world of science and society at large. Evolution has become widely accepted not only in scientific circles, but also in the parlance or ordinary folk as well.

It wasn't always that way. In 1925, the State of Tennessee passed a law prohibiting the teaching of Evolution in its public schools. John Scopes was a teacher who was prosecuted under that law. He was represented by the celebrated lawyer, Clarence Darrow, in what came to be known as the Scopes Monkey Trial. We sometimes forget that Scopes was actually convicted. That historic incident was later memorialized in one of my favorite films, Inherit the Wind.

However, to assume that the controversy over Evolution has subsided, despite the widespread acceptance of its principles (even the Pope has given his blessing to the teaching of Evolution), would be a mistake. Of late, a new, more subtle attack on Evolution has been mounted by those calling themselves Creationists or proponents of Intelligent Design. And it has been surprisingly successful.

It is hard for me to believe that as recently as 1999, in the State of Kansas, the Board of Education attempted to give reactionary forces the opportunity to eliminate the teaching of Evolution in the classrooms of their public schools. It would be easy enough for me to say that they made themselves a laughing stock among scientists and educators when they decided that students in the state did not have to demonstrate a proficiency in the Theory of Evolution, if it weren't such a potentially damaging thing for the young people in the public education system of that state. Two years later that horrendous decision was reversed and certain School Board members voted off.

Having watched the debacle in Kansas, it is now even more painful for me as an educator to watch the efforts of some legislators in the State of Ohio to mount a campaign to ensure that alternatives to the Theory of Evolution must be taught in science classes in their public schools. In the next couple of weeks the School Board will make a decision and parents and others concerned about the quality of their children's education will have to rally to also defeat this ill-considered measure.

Once upon a time, religion demanded the sacrifice of animals to placate an unknown God. It is not time in this, the 21st century, to sacrifice science and education on the altar of ignorance. If some wish to believe in a theory of Creation that says God created the world that is their right. Let them teach that to their own children, if they must, in their own homes and churches but NOT in the public schools of this great nation.

Dr. Buckner is the executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York.

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