Harry and Charlotte McDonald were science teachers in Kansas for over 30 years, and in their retirement they have maintained their activism for evolution in the public school sector. Harry has served on several committees for the Kansas State Department of Education, and Charlotte has been active at the state level by serving on the State Science Curriculum Council for a number of years. Charlotte is also a board member for Kansas Citizens for Science, an organization conceived in 1999 “to combat the radical religious right’s attack on quality science standards for Kansas.” As the president of Kansas Citizens for Science, Harry received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching in 2003. Harry and Charlotte do not consider ID to be science, and Harry feels that the outrage in the educational system has accomplished a climate similar to that of 1925’s Scopes trial, which forced evolution out of biology texts. “This controversy is a symptom of a larger problem in our society,” Harry says. “Information is considered ‘valid’ only if it agrees with our preconceived notion of reality. Science is considered a tool to help convince people to adopt a certain political opinion. If the scientific consensus disagrees with that opinion, political appointees rewrite the reports, and dissenters are left off of science advisory boards.”
Teachers like Harry and Charlotte believe there’s a frightening movement in America toward anti-intellectualism. Intelligent design is a movement that theology professor William Dinges of the Catholic University of America calls “a backdoor antievolution initiative, an attempt to turn science on itself and, paradoxically, reject its hegemonic influence. It’s an affirmation of the efficacy of biblical literalism, an attempt to make Genesis scientifically respectable, the latest twist in the (pseudo)saga of ‘science vs. religion.’?” Organizations like the Institute for Creation Research and Answers in Genesis are promoting the theory of intelligent design. NCSE’s Glenn Branch is concerned that “their thinking, presumably, was that getting intelligent design in the public schools would at least accomplish a lot of what they wanted, if not all.”
In 2005, the NCSE monitored more than 100 challenges to evolution education, a record year. In May of 2007, despite the high-profile Dover ruling that intelligent design is not science, school board chairman Thomas J. Doland of Chesterfield County, Virginia, came under fire from parents for not introducing pro-ID textbooks into his classrooms. In response he issued an equivocal statement expressing sympathy for the parents’ point of view: “To suggest that we should limit our students’ access to specifically approved textbooks and instructional materials would not only inhibit self-directed learning but would also ill-prepare our young people for the challenges that will face them in the competitive global market of the 21st century. We must never confuse the requirement for religious neutrality of the government with the rights of our students to engage in religious expression.”
But for teachers like Karen Heins the line is clearly drawn. A Christian who encourages her students to keep an open mind, she sticks to her curriculum and does right by her administration. Still, the open mind is key. “There always has to be something more,” she says, “and we need to be open for that. But that’s what I love about science. It’s always new and interesting. Something that you thought was set in stone, scientists find out that’s not the way it was. We’re always learning more.”
Jerald McClenahan thinks that all this debate over creationism versus evolution is a shameful distraction from the real issues, those pertaining to morals. “Euthanasia, abortion, sexual behavior . . . we need to make students aware.” He teaches nights at a local college where he meets a lot of staunch “evolutionists,” and they somehow manage to meet in the middle. “The conservative Christian community rides this issue,” he says with dismay, and surprising objectivity. “Creation in and of itself is a mysterious thing. Only God knows.” And then he adds, with a laugh, “I hope God made a video of the whole thing, and when I’m up in heaven some day He’ll let me watch.”
“I really do hope we can solve this problem,” says the distraught cab driver taking me back to the southern side of Wichita. The discussion flips when he discovers that I was raised Catholic. “I know a Web site that can set the story straight,” he says. “You’ll see pictures of nuns marching with the Nazis. The Catholic Church is nothing but smoke screens.” According to him, these smoke screens have allowed the Catholics to get away with beheading, savage cannibalism, and torture for centuries. Red-handed. He’d learned this through the preachings of a local radio evangelist and the Web sites this preacher sends his audience to.
The driver goes on. “As the Bible says, ‘Every man beith a liar, and only the word of God is true.’ Everyone knows science only confirms God’s great creations. Even Darwin repented before he died.” He takes a pause and thinks for a moment. “Well, that’s what I hear . . . not sure if it’s true or not. You might want to look that one up.”
Back at New Song Academy, the day’s daily Bible study starts with a reminder of the Nicodemus story, and his quest to seek out Jesus and ask him how to get to heaven. After many little hands and squeals go up, it’s revealed that Jesus told Nicodemus that the way to go to heaven was to be born again.
“But how could that be?” asks Mrs. White. “How can someone be born again? What does that mean?”
“It means accepting Jesus into your heart,” says a golden-haired girl.
“That’s right,” Amy White says.
A young boy pipes up: “That’s because they didn’t have time machines. Their technology wasn’t all that great back then.”