MICHAEL LAUER That means you've got to change the head wing which is the wing that.
JEFFREY BROWN: On a recent morning in Danville, Ky., high school, Michael Lauer taught evolution to his biology students, by making and flying paper birds.
MICHAEL LAUER: Anybody want to try and tie this together like Darwin did?
STUDENT: The birds that adapt better from the random probability, the better they fly, the more babies they are going to have because other birds will want to reproduce with them and make better babies.
MICHAEL LAUER: OK, and that's where Darwin kind of tied it all together. And that is evolution by natural selection.
JEFFREY BROWN: Students learn that natural selection is the key mechanism by which evolution takes place. For scientists, the theory of evolution, explaining the origins and development of life, is solid and essential, according to biologist Chris Barton, of nearby Centre College.
CHRIS BARTON: Without evolution, it's very, very difficult to make any sense out of what we see in the biological realm.
JEFFREY BROWN: But evolution is under attack, as a national debate led mostly by religious conservatives, fuels questions about what children should be taught.
A fight over textbooks in Cobb County, Georgia, a requirement that alternative theories be taught in Dover, Pennsylvania, a review of science standards in Kansas by a newly elected conservative school board; challenges at the local and state levels in some 19 states in all.
Charles Darwin referred to his famous book "On the Origin of Species" as 'one long argument.' And 150 years later that argument continues, involving ideas and facts, the meaning of science, and the role of faith.
And today, once again, the focal point for this argument is the classroom.
STUDENT: I believe the God created the Earth and put life on this Earth.
I don't really believe in the whole evolution theory.
JEFFREY BROWN: At Boyle County high, another Danville public school, students expressed views shared by millions.
STUDENT: I believe that God also made us.
I just think it's a lot easier to believe then the big bang theory, or any of the other theories about apes.
STUDENT: I believe God molded man from the dust and he breathed life into it, and I believe we came out with two legs and thumbs and the thought capacity better then any other animal.
JEFFREY BROWN: According to a Gallup poll done last November, just a third of Americans believe evolution is well-supported by evidence.
STUDENT: To say that this was all some big cosmic dice roll, and we went from fish to frogs to monkeys and monkeys to humans.
It's just kind of almost ridiculous.
JEFFREY BROWN: And almost half believe God created man in his present form about 10,000 years ago.
STUDENT: I don't think a human body could have just come about.
I think God definitely had everything to do in it, it's so complex, I don't think it could have just come.
JEFFREY BROWN: In Jamie Hester's Biology class, some students questioned whether evolution is a real science, done by real scientists.
STUDENT: I think you have different types of scientists, and the ones that bring about, you know, theories of evolution, I wouldn't call them scientists they're just like philosophers.
JEFFREY BROWN: Hester, herself the produce of a religious family in this Bible Belt region, says that before she can begin to teach the science curriculum, she must let the students express their deeply-held beliefs about the origin of life.
JEFFREY BROWN: Why start looking at evolution the way you did it?
JAIME HESTER: I believe it's the way to start so that students feel comfortable in what they already know to be true. So at first I let them just get that out, so that they're not threatened, so that they're willing then to hear and listen to others, and then we go from there and kind of separating apples from oranges-- faith issues from science issues.
JEFFREY BROWN: Edward Larson, a Pulitzer winning author on evolution science, says it makes sense that the schools are the battleground.
EDWARD LARSON: The school is the focal point where the conservative Christian subculture in America interfaces with the rest of American society.
JEFFREY BROWN: Larson also says it makes sense that the debate is happening now.
EDWARD LARSON: It's always been with us, it popped up in the 20s, it popped up in the 80s, it has popped up again now. We had the ascendancy of conservative Republican presidents. We had Harding and Coolidge in the 20s. We had Reagan in the 80s. And now we have George Bush.
KEN HAM: The bible is not just a book of stories. It gives us a history, that relates to the dirt, that relates to bones, it relates to people, it relates to every aspect of reality.
JEFFREY BROWN: Ken Ham is one of the leaders of the latest effort to get the bible's view of history so-called 'creation science' into the classroom.
KEN HAM: In the science classroom, they say evolution is fact; they say that in many of the textbooks in public schools.
JEFFREY BROWN: Ham's group, "Answers in Genesis," calls for reading the bible literally, and says that mainstream evolution scientists practice their own belief system.
KEN HAM: You think about it. Who was there to see that happen? Who was there to see life arise from matter? No one. How did they know it happened? It's their belief. Who was there to see the big bang? No one. How did they know it happened? It's their belief.
JEFFREY BROWN: His message won a standing ovation from this Wednesday evening crowd at Calvary Baptist Church in Covington, Kentucky. The next day, Ham took us on a tour of the museum he's building nearby to reach an even larger audience.
KEVIN HAM: We'll have 30 to 40 life-sized model dinosaurs and you'll have about 70 all told.
JEFFREY BROWN: In 1987, the Supreme Court declared that creation science was a form of religion and could not be taught in the classroom. Ham sees his $25 million creation museum as one way to correct that.
KEN HAM: Clearly the purpose of the creation museum is to equip Christians to have answers to defend their faith in today's world. Because let's face it, what's taught through the public schools and much of the secular media, it's really an attack on the Bible's history. It's really saying the Bible is not true. And many Christians just don't know how to handle those sorts of questions.
JEFFREY BROWN: When the museum opens in 2007, visitors will walk through a world in which dinosaurs and men lived side by side, one dinosaur even has a saddle.
Adam and Eve, as the Bible says, will be presented as the first, fully formed, humans. Ham's view is that scientists are limited in their ability to look at the past, so they rely on assumptions that may or may not be correct.
KEVIN HAM: We can't scientifically prove dinosaurs and people lived at the same time because you can't scientifically prove anything in relation to the past. I mean that's the same for any aspect of dealing with origins.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, why not? Why can't you use accepted dating methods to test it?
KEVIN HAM: When you use dating methods, whether it's radiometric dating methods, whatever sorts of dating methods that you use, they're all based on assumptions concerning the past, assumptions concerning initial conditions.
JEFFREY BROWN: This kind of talk, of course, has put the science establishment on high alert.
JEFFREY BROWN: So a lot of this started for you here in Kentucky?
EUGENIE SCOTT: Oh yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: Eugenie Scott, a former anthropology professor, heads the national Center for Science Education, the group that defends the teaching of evolution. She's come to Centre College, where she held a workshop for local public school teachers, including Michael Lauer and Jamie Hester.
TEACHER: I had a parent come in and basically said I was going to spend an eternity in hell, if I taught her kids about evolution.
TEACHER: I had a group of students all bring copies of the New Testament into class, and as we started to talk about 'change over time' they brought the Bible and said "here's my record of time." I mean, where - I have no place to go with this.
JEFFREY BROWN: Scott says tensions are so high that many teachers across the nation simply avoid evolution altogether.
EUGENIE SCOTT: If they feel that there's community pressure against the teaching of evolution, evolution will just quietly drift out of the curriculum, whether or not it's required.
JEFFREY BROWN: In the Cobb County, Georgia case, school officials had stickers placed in biology textbooks that said "evolution is a theory, not a fact." In January, a federal judge ordered the stickers removed.
EUGENIE SCOTT: What's a theory?
EUGENIE SCOTT: Gravity.
JEFFREY BROWN: But Scott sees this and similar efforts as examples of how evolution's opponents selectively misuse science.
EUGENIE SCOTT: Cell theory.
JEFFREY BROWN: She told teachers that Darwin's work has withstood the rigors of scientific peer review, even if its critics call it "just a theory."
EUGENIE SCOTT: Is gravity just a theory? Is plate tectonics just a theory? Is cell theory just a theory? It makes no more sense to talk about evolution as just a theory.
JEFFREY BROWN: In fact, the newest attack on evolution claims to come from a strictly scientific perspective.
JAIMIE HESTER: This is the one that is really in the news lately.
JEFFREY BROWN: During our visit to Jamie Hester's classroom, students discussed something called 'intelligent design.'
STUDENT: This talks about how your body is made up of so many tiny cells and such, and says that all life is so complex that it has to have had some intelligent designer.
JEFFREY BROWN: The idea has been pushed by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank. Stephen Meyer directs its center for science and culture.
STEPHEN MEYER: The theory of intelligent design says that life arose as the result of a designing intelligence. And you can tell from certain key indicators of intelligent activity that are present of intelligence that are present in the cell.
Like the presence of digital information, in molecules like DNA and RNA, or the presence of these exquisite machines, these little rotary engines or turbines or pumps that we no find in cells.
DISCOVERY INSTITUTE DVD SEGMENT: Today, powerful technologies reveal elaborate microscopic worlds the complexity of the cells is such that Charles Darwin could never have imagined.
JEFFREY BROWN: In this DVD, intelligent design proponents claim that newly identified mechanisms of cell structure suggest more intricacy than natural selection can account for. And this, they say, puts Darwin's theory in doubt.
DISCOVERY INSTITUTE DVD SEGMENT: Inside the ribosome, a molecular assembly line builds a specifically sequenced chain of amino acids.
JEFFREY BROWN: Proponents, so far just a handful of scientists and others, say that schools should, at least, "teach the controversy" over evolution.
DISCOVERY INSTITUTE DVD SEGMENT: After the chain is folded into a protein, it is then released and shepherded by another molecular machine to the exact location where it is needed.
JEFFREY BROWN: And recently, the Dover, Pennsylvania school district agreed, mandating that students be told of Intelligent Design as a theory that "differs from Darwin's view." That's led to another court case.
EUGENIE SCOTT: We cannot use super natural cause in science and still call it science.
JEFFREY BROWN: And condemnation from a science community that sees no real science in Intelligent Design.
EUGENIE SCOTT: "Teach the controversy" is a deliberately ambiguous phrase. It means 'pretend to students that scientists are arguing over whether evolution took place.' This is not happening.
I mean you go to the scientific journals, you go to universities like this one and you ask the professors, is there an argument going on about whether living things had common ancestors? They'll look at you blankly. This is not a controversy.
JEFFREY BROWN: Instead, Scott sees this as a clever new way to avoid court rulings against creationism, and bring God back into the classroom.
EUGENIE SCOTT: You have this mysterious intelligent agent, who, of course is God.
JEFFREY BROWN: Of course, they won't say God is the designer.
EUGENIE SCOTT: They won't admit it's God. It's obvious it's God. I mean, they're not really saying it's little green men from Alpha Centauri.
JEFFREY BROWN: In fact, Intelligent Design's proponents carefully distinguish themselves from creation scientists. They use only the language of science, and avoid speaking of God as the ultimate designer.
STEPHEN MEYER: From the science, we argue that you can tell that intelligence played a role. But we don't think from the science you can tell the nature or the identity of the designer.
TEACHER: I put a certain combination of traits here.
JEFFREY BROWN: What in the end, what is today's evolution fight all about? For Ken Ham, it's part of a larger cultural struggle between Christian and secular Americans.
KEN HAM: It is a conflict of world views. And that's why the emotionalism. And that's why right now, you have this chasm in this culture.
JEFFREY BROWN: For Stephen Meyer, it's a challenge to modern science.
STEPHEN MEYER: We are challenging the rules of science. We're seeking the best explanation of the phenomenon, whatever that might be. Follow the evidence wherever it leads.
JEFFREY BROWN: For many scientists, it is, at the very least, a frustrating commentary on attitudes toward science in America today.
CHRIS BARTON: Part of it is a failure to really understand the scientific process. Unfortunately, the United States falls far behind in terms of our scientific appreciation and scientific understanding.
JEFFREY BROWN: And for Michael Lauer, the evolution debate is a cause for worry. On a wall in his high school biology room, he showed us the state science standards. Lauer felt the need to write in the word 'evolution' after the Kentucky Department of Education dropped it to avoid offending some in the state.
MICHAEL LAUER: This is the first step and then you slide down the slope a little more the next time and you water down maybe some of the content items. So I'm concerned that it's the start of a more dramatic change in the future.
JEFFREY BROWN: Around the country, many are watching how the future unfolds in America's classrooms, even as Michael Lauer's students continue to 'wing it' through their evolution studies.