In 2002 the Cobb County schoolboard in Georgia (US) ordered new science books. These books, like many science books used everywhere, discussed evolution. Local parent Marjorie Rogers did not believe in evolution and started a petition to add creationism to the curriculum. After 2,300 signatures, the schoolboard added stickers to the books as a compromise:
“This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be regarded with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered”.
As soon as the stickers were added, another group of parents sought legal action to have the stickers removed. The case went to court in November 2004. On January 13, 2005, the stickers were ruled unconstitutional, and had to be removed from the books.
The struggle between evolution and religion in schools is not just a matter of this time. In the 19th century Jospeh LeConte taught the evolution theory to his students in the Southern United States, seemingly with not as much protest as occurs now. LeConte tried to reconcile religion with evolution, and published “Evolution and Its Relation to Religious Thought” in 1888, defending the evolution theory. Strangely, it seems that LeConte was not seen as controversial at the time as one might expect. Perhaps the fight between creationists and evolutionists is more of a recent issue now that school programs and exit requirements are centrally regulated.
One of the miscommunications between creationists and evolutionists is the term “evolution theory”. In non-scientific conversation, a “theory” is an idea for which there might not be any proof. That kind of “theory”would be a “hypothesis” in scientific jargon, an idea that still needs to be tested. But a “theory” in science terms is rather a big concept that helps in understanding a lot of smaller ideas, and that, as long as it can’t be directly proven, is accepted unless proven wrong. It is something that is accepted as background for a lot of other studies. Anthropology, biology, psychology, zoology: they all accept the evolution theory as long as it fits their work. And it does fit all their models and theories, while creationism does not.
Still, a definitive proof for the evolution theory would be a major breakthough. (And it would settle a lot of arguments of the Cobb County sticker kind…) The cover article of the February 2005 issue of Dicover magazine reports that a group of researchers is currently working with a computer program “Avida”, that recreates evolution. So far they have been able to recreate a lot of processes that have been considered essential for life. Digital life forms are created using the rules of the evolution theory, and can be followed more accurately than biological life forms, because all data are saved and all steps can be retraced. The studies are still a work in progress, but the freely available software has been scrutinized by creationists looking for major flaws, and according to the director of the laboratory at Michigan State, they haven’t found anything other than minor glitches. He added: “We literally have an army of thousands of unpaid bug testers. What more could you want?”