Slightly more than half of the American people reject evolution. During the last decade, the General Social Survey conducted by National Opinion Research Center (and directed by my colleague Dr. Tom M. Smith) has asked whether a respondent thinks that humans are descended from animals. Fifty-two percent said that either this was definitely not true or probably not true.
Ever since they won the battle but lost the war in the Scopes trial of 1925, conservative Christians have waged an intensive war against evolution. Despite repeated court decisions insisting that evolution must be taught in high school classes, the conservative Christians have managed to keep one form or another of "creationism" alive and well as an alternative in the minds of many Americans -- including 62 percent of African-American Christians, 52 percent of mainline Protestants, 42 percent of Catholics and 26 percent of Jews. (Seventy-eight percent of Conservative Christians reject evolution).
Evolution, they insist, is only a theory and one that has a lot of holes in it. Moreover, it is godless, indeed it is part of an assault by a liberal elite on the beliefs of a god-fearing people. Their assaults are especially effective in smaller towns and rural areas where teachers and school administrators are subject to strong pressure from these God-fearing people. For their own protection, many teachers, according to a recent article in the New York Times, skip over the chapters on evolution in the biology textbook. In Cobb County Georgia, they forced the schools to put a sticker on the cover of a textbook asserting that "intelligent design" was an equally valid theory.
"Theory" is not a good word because it implies doubt. The Copernican theory about the motion of planets around the sun and the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe are models which in their broad outline are simply true. However much remains to be explained within the model, they fit the known data so well that they are not in danger of rejection -- especially when there is no alternative theory that even begins to fit the data. So too is evolution a model that fits the data, even if there is still much exploration to be done within the model. It does not follow that there is any other model available that fits the data.
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"Intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution implies that if one believes in God, the evolutionary "theory" is unacceptable no matter how powerful its explanatory power. In fact, belief in "intelligent design" is completely compatible with scientific acceptance of evolution. The design is inside the model, not something intruded from the outside. It is not up to science to validate such design. It merely reports what it sees and leaves to the religion and the religious believer to judge whether it was a wise God who launched the process, just as She launched the "Big Bang" with the polymers and parameters for human life on this planet built-in. Science can't say whether God did that or not -- and moreover shouldn't.
Bible Christians cannot accept such a perspective, because they must necessarily believe the Book of Genesis, word for word inspired by God, is an accurate and literal book of science. It is clear to the rest of us that Genesis teaches that God created and established order in the cosmos, religious truths indeed that go beyond the realm of science but not against it.
The evangelicals are entitled to their beliefs, but they have no right to try to impose their view of creation on the rest of us and to deprive other people's children of an accurate picture of how science models the emergence and development of life -- or an alternative view of the literary nature of the book of Genesis.
One can understand their effort to fight scientific modernism. If literal interpretation of Genesis is taken away from them, then their entire religious edifice is shaken to its foundations. However, when in their battle against modernism they deprive other children of a proper education, they violate our freedom of religion.