c. 1990: DNA Codes
(Rise of Evolution)
DNA codes offer new evidence of evolution. DNA, the genetic
blueprint for living things, is like a text made up of chemical letters. For
many decades, reading the sequence of letters in DNA was a painstaking process.
But new technology now makes DNA sequencing relatively easy and inexpensive,
which leads to an explosion of research. Evolutionary scientists now see, at
a molecular level, how the DNA of various organisms has changed through time
as these organisms have evolved.
c. 1990: Intelligent Design
Intelligent design movement gains ground. Proponents of
intelligent design theory, or ID, argue that there is irreducible complexity
in the living world that cannot be explained by evolution. In public debate,
they generally avoid using religious references, but "intelligent designer"
may be implicit for God. Their arguments echo the ideas of Natural Theology,
which fell out of favor among most scientists in the mid-19th century. In 1991,
ID proponent Philip Johnson, a Harvard-trained professor of law at UC Berkeley,
writes the popular Darwinism on Trial, which helps catalyze a growing
1994-95: Textbook Disclaimers
(Battle in the Schools) (Reconciliation)
Do textbook disclaimers taint evolution? The school board
of Tangipahoa Parish, La., passes a requirement that whenever evolution is
taught, students must be informed that the material is "not intended to
influence or dissuade the Biblical version of creation." Is it an act of
reconciliation or, as critics charge, an effort to make evolutionary science
appear shaky? The intent of a textbook disclaimer adopted by the Alabama
Board of Education is clearer: All biology texts must note that evolution
is "controversial" and "a theory, not a fact." By calling evolution
"controversial," it casts a dark shadow on what most scientists maintain
is the well-proven foundation of biology. The label also reflects the
common misunderstanding that a "theory" is the opposite of a "fact" rather
than a scientific framework supported by facts.
1996: Darwin's Black Box
Darwin's Black Box brings converts and critics to
ID. Intelligent design proponent Michael Behe argues that a living cell --
"Darwin's black box" -- is far too complex to have evolved in gradual steps.
His favorite analogy is to a mousetrap, which requires many parts arranged
in a specific way in order to function. Behe's popular book is so packed
with details about molecular biology that it begs to be seen as serious
science. But his book is severely criticized by many scientists -- including
some of the very biologists whose work he cites as evidence against evolution.
1996: Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II endorses evolution. John Paul II's
papal letter proclaims there is no essential conflict between evolutionary
science and the world's largest Christian faith. By distinguishing between
body and spirit, his predecessor Pius XII opened the door for Catholic
acceptance of evolution. Now, John Paul II goes a step further: "It is
indeed remarkable," he writes, "that this theory has been progressively
accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various
fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of
the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a
significant argument in favor of this theory."
(Battle in the Schools)
Kansas drops evolution from school curricula. In a vote
of 6-4, the members of the state board of education vote to drop evolution
from their list of required science topics. Also struck from the list are
the "Big Bang" and all references to Earth as billions of years old. Steve
Abrams, one board member voting with the majority, argues that teaching
intelligent design theory (ID) as an alternative to Darwinism doesn't
depend on religious belief. School board elections the following year
draw lobbyists and funds from around the nation and international media
attention. In February 2001, the newly elected board reverses the
1999: Columbine High School
Columbine shooting spurs attack on evolution. The tragedy
at Columbine High School leads to a general outcry that teenagers in America
have lost their moral bearings. In Congress, conservative Republican Rep.
Tom DeLay of Texas links this moral decline specifically to the teaching of
evolution: "Our school systems teach the children that they are nothing but
glorified apes who are evolutionized [sic] out of some primordial soup."
DeLay's accusation, while outrageous to many, expresses a common fear
anti-evolutionists have voiced for two centuries.
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