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The Battle Over Darwin
Darwin cartoon
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March 13, 2009

This year marks the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin, a thinker whose impact on science and society is inarguably immense. But to the surprise of some, Darwin and evolution do spark arguments that may actually be increasing in scope. It seems every time a research entity like the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life releases the results of a study on American attitudes toward evolution the world reacts with surprise. In its most recent study from 2006 Pew found:
63 percent of Americans believe that humans and other living things have either always existed in their present form or have evolved over time under the guidance of a supreme being. Only 26 percent say that life evolved solely through processes such as natural selection.

In the British magazine HISTORY TODAY Thomas Dixon argues this lack of faith in the evolutionary process is peculiarly American, built into the political state: "Creationism, and its pseudo-scientific offspring, 'Intelligent Design,' are products peculiar to US history, the response of Christian fundamentalists to the Founding Fathers’ separation of church and state.

Religious scholar Karen Armstrong sees the furor over evolution vs. creation as a phenomenon of the modern Christian world as well — a phenomenon that might be spreading through the Muslim world via the very vociferous battles waged in American culture and American courts:

There was no worry about Darwin in the Muslim world up until very recently. The Koran doesn't say how God created the world. We don't know what happened and there was just no problem about it. Now, I get to see it on the Web sites that it's headline news that British scientists sort of 'slang' creation. And Darwin has now become an anathema as a result of that assault.

One of the British scientists in question is undoubtedly Richard Dawkins, author of THE GOD DELUSIONS. Several years ago Bill Moyers spoke with Dawkins about the ongoing controversy over the teaching of evolution in American schools. Dawkins stated:

All materials should be studied with an open mind, studied critically, etcetera. I'm all for that. What's wrong is to single out evolution as though that is any more open to doubt than anything else...Among the things that science does know, evolution is about as certain as anything we know. And that, of course, as you know, is accepted by responsible educated churchmen, as well as scientists.
Since that time the Intelligent Design movement in schools was dealt a blow by the Supreme Court decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover School District. But that the battle over evolution remains in the public eye and arena — down to point-blank questions posed on the matter to the 2008 presidential candidates.

> Explore the battle over evolution from Darwin's day to the Dover case.

Related Media:
Richard Dawkins
In a penetrating conversation steered by many different points of view, the panel draws distinctions between the behavior of Muslims and the teachings of Islam and articulates the difference between terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and fundamentalist political groups. They debate the clash of Islam with a modern world and how the Koran can be reconciled with democracy and a viable economy. (NOW WITH BILL MOYERS, December 3, 2004)

Sir John Houghton
Scientist and believer Sir John Houghton has no trouble making peace between his faith and evolution: I began to read about evolution and realized...biological evolution was just the way things seemed to have happened at least to some degree. And I thought, "Well, if God makes it that way, that's fine... He's really made things make themselves." (BILL MOYERS ON FAITH & REASON, 2007)

E.O. Wilson
Bill Moyers talks about the future of our planet with noted entomologist and father of sociobiology, E.O. Wilson. (July 6, 2007)


AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: "Monkey Trial"
The film "Monkey Trial" documents the famous 1920 Georgia battle over evolution being taught in schools. The trial was America's first major media event and you can peruse the contemporary coverage on the Web site.

NOVA: "Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial"
NOVA's "Judgement Day" captures the turmoil that tore apart the community of Dover, Pennsylvania in one of the latest battles over teaching evolution in public schools. In 2004, the Dover school board ordered science teachers to read a statement to high school biology students suggesting that there is an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution called intelligent design—the idea that life is too complex to have evolved naturally and therefore must have been designed by an intelligent agent. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

References and Reading:
The Pew Forum for Religion and Society
The Pew Forum's Web site has an extensive collection of research on evolution and religion, including a 2009 overview of 13 major religious groups' views on the issue.
Also This Week:

KAREN ARMSTRONG
With economic, political, and social strife across the globe, prominent religious scholar Karen Armstrong discusses our human commonalities and her work on an international charter for compassion. The renowned author of THE BATTLE FOR GOD and THE BIBLE: A BIOGRAPHY, Armstrong is a 2008 recipient of the coveted TED Prize.

EXPLORING FAITH
Explore highlights on faith and spirituality from BILL MOYERS JOURNAL, NOW WITH BILL MOYERS, THE WORLD OF IDEAS, and GENESIS: A LIVING CONVERSATION.

BILL MOYERS ON FAITH & REASON
In this 2007 series Bill Moyers talked with some of the provocative voices assembled at the PEN World Voices Festival and others grappling with issues of faith and reason. View the entire series online and explore many perspectives on topics like faith and science, myths and sacred texts, and more.

THE GREAT DARWIN DEBATE
Bicentennial reflections on why evolution remains a religious and political flash point in contemporary America.

> Explore the battle over evolution from Darwin's day to the Dover case.

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