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Counter Evolutionary

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"I think people are twisting this [into] a religious issue. This is a legal issue."

Danny Phillips

Meanwhile, the Denver press had caught on to the story, and Danny Phillips was becoming something of a media celebrity. "Boy Crusades Alone," pronounced The Denver Post. "Monkey Trial Comes to Jeffco," offered The Rocky Mountain News.

On August 15, dozens of citizens went before the school board to voice their opinions on the matter. Most argued that the video remain in place, but a handful sided with Danny, who told the board members, "I think people are twisting this [into] a religious issue. This is a legal issue." When students are told that evolution is a fact, he added, "they are going to believe it is fact. The school district can't indoctrinate students." The board members listened to the comments but put off a decision on the fate of the videotape until the next scheduled meeting, on September 5.

Supporters of the videotape began to organize. Thomas "Woody" Henry, a retired paleo-biologist and a member of the National Center for Science Education, contacted Eugenie Scott, who provided him with a list of other Denver-area members. Henry worked the phones, urging his like-minded friends and colleagues to send letters to the board of education or sign up to speak at the September 5 meeting.

Joseph McInerney, director of Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, which publishes Biological Science: An Ecological Approach, dashed off a letter to The Denver Post, accusing the school districtof capitulating "to ignorance and intimidation at the hands of the religious right." Danny Phillips, he added, "is free to ignore reality and confuse science with pseudoscience," but "the district's administrators shouldn't compound his ignorance by insisting that all other students follow his lead."

Although some people suspected that Danny's parents had pushed their son, it was clear that he had acted on his own.

Danny's defenders mounted their own campaign. They urged the school board to abide by the curriculum review panel's original decision regarding the videotape, and they urged Danny to appeal the panel's decision to keep the textbook in place. Danny, who planned to argue his case one more time before the school board on September 5, now had a lawyer, Jim Rouse of the Rocky Mountain Family Legal Foundation, assisting him in his battle. Although some people suspected that Danny's parents had pushed their son into challenging the video and textbook, it was clear that he had acted on his own. "It's his deal," his father told me. "I've just tried to encourage him to do what he feels is important."

On a sunny afternoon in late August, Danny, wearing a green "Focus on the Family" T-shirt, sat in the living room of his parents' two-story suburban house and defended his position. He seemed tired, as if all the attention he was getting had taken its toll. He had already been interviewed many times by Denver television and newspaper reporters, so his answers seemed well-rehearsed. "We don't accept the compromise that these teachers have asked for," he said. "We think the video should stay out."

When I asked Danny to explain his own views on the origin of man, he hesitated--at first. "I tend to be a little reluctant to talk about it," he said. "I'm not ashamed of it, but the issue here is not what I believe. It's a legal issue. But I believe that God created everything individually according to its own kind. I believe that there is a whole lot of purpose and intelligence behind what we see. And frankly, to look at things like DNA, the complex structures of the human body, even to look at the simplest cells, which are more complex than the space shuttle, I tend to look at that and say, `I cannot believe that that happened by chance.' "

But what, then, did Danny want the schools to teach? I asked.

"First of all," he said, "I've never asked for creationism. There's been a lot of misunderstanding about that issue. As soon as a Christian stands up and says something about evolution, the term `creation science' automatically pops up, no matter what you do.

"Basically, I would like the schools to teach the theory of evolution as a theory. Treat it as they do science and present the evidence for and against it. Otherwise, the school is in essence censoring half of the information." He hastened to add: "I would tend to say that evolution doesn't qualify as a theory because of the amount of evidence against it. It's not so much a theory as a hypothesis. This is what we're hypothesizing happened. Now, let's look at the evidence from all our experiments and see what the answer is. The problem is, they don't have any experiments. They can't test what happened in the past. You can't observe it because you weren't there to see it. And, unfortunately, the fossil record doesn't provide a means of observation. So, basically, it's a hypothesis."

After all, if evolution is merely a theory, why should science teachers present it as fact?

Danny's arguments seemed, at least on the surface, to make some sense. After all, if evolution is merely a theory, why should science teachers present it as fact? And if there are other theories about the origin of man, shouldn't they be taught, as well? Yet I couldn't help but feel that Danny's calls for fair-mindedness were somewhat disingenuous. After all, in the complaint he filed with the district, he said he was insulted by the theory of evolution because it "contradicts God's creation of the world." Therefore, he was "prompted to stop it." His religious beliefs, not his concern about "fairness" or "factual science," seemed to be his primary motive for seeking the removal of the videotape and textbook.

Moreover, Danny seemed unable to see the debate in anything but either-or terms. For instance, when I asked him if he thought it possible to be a Christian and also believe in evolution, he was hardly charitable in his answer. "That's a difficult question," he replied. "There are many Christians who are ignorant about a great many things. ... I believe that Christians who look at the Bible and say, 'We can't interpret this literally,' I wouldn't call them Christians. According to God, the Bible is the inherent truth of God. ... I wouldn't necessarily say that if they believe in evolution, they're not Christians. But they're definitely ignorant."

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