Counter Evolutionary

High school junior Danny Phillips brought the 70-year-old fight against Darwinism to his Colorado District.
By David Hill — November 01, 1996 28 min read

In 1983, Nova, the popular science series shown on the Public Broadcasting Service, aired a stunning documentary called The Miracle of Life. The hour-long program was the work of Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson, who somehow managed to capture on film the inner workings of sexual reproduction as seen from deep within the human body.

The Emmy Award-winning film begins, however, with a brief explanation of the origin of life on Earth. As the camera sweeps over the ocean, a narrator intones, “Four and a half billion years ago, the young planet Earth was a mass of cosmic dust and particles. It was almost completely engulfed by the shallow primordial seas. Powerful winds gathered random molecules from the atmosphere. Some were deposited in the seas. Tides and currents swept the molecules together. And somewhere in this ancient ocean, the miracle of life began.”

As the camera moves underwater, the narrator continues: “The first organized form of primitive life was a tiny protozoan. Millions of protozoa populated the ancient seas. These early organisms were completely self-sufficient in their seawater world. They moved

about their aquatic environment feeding on bacteria and other organisms. ... From these one-celled organisms evolved all life on Earth. And the foundation of life, the cell, has endured unchanged since the first tiny organisms swam in the cradle of life, the sea.”

When Danny Phillips heard those words, he felt as if his entire belief system had been challenged. A 15-year-old straight-A student at Wheat Ridge High School in Jefferson County, Colorado, just west of Denver, Danny is a freckle-faced kid with red hair, big ears, and a friendly smile. His father, David Phillips, is pastor at Lakewood Church of the Nazarene. Danny’s heroes are the Reverend Billy Graham and James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs-based conservative Christian group. He believes the Bible is the absolute word of God. He does not believe in evolution. So on an otherwise uneventful day last winter, as he watched The Miracle of Life in his 10th grade biology class, he decided to fight back.

Danny explained that the film was in conflict with his own beliefs because it taught evolution as fact, not theory.

On February 28, Danny filled out a district form titled “Citizen’s Request for Reconsideration of Learning/Human Resources.” In it, he explained that the film, along with a textbook called Biological Science: An Ecological Approach, was in conflict with his own beliefs because it taught evolution as a fact, not as a theory. “My concern about these resources was prompted by the information that they contain about the origins of man,” he wrote. “The resources teach ... that man has come from a lower form of animals. Sometimes these teachings also include in them the theories of the origin of the universe from an explosion or other origin other than that which is taught in the Bible and which I believe. Being that my beliefs are a fundamental part of me, and that they are in total disagreement with anything that contradicts God’s creation of the world, I felt it insulting that the public schools should teach otherwise and I was prompted to stop it.”

Science, he went on to say, “has only reputed evolution--and other theories--and has not proven them to be true at all. ... If science is pervaded with theories like this, and that is all that it is, then science is obviously nothing more than an attempt to discredit religion and should not be taught in public schools. But!!!! I believe that true, factual science holds every relevance to life and should be taught to further our knowledge of it. And simply, evolution, and other theories on the origin of man and the universe that contradict the Bible, are NOT true, factual science!”

Danny gave the completed form to his principal, Dave Hendrickson, and waited for a response. Another skirmish in America’s culture wars was under way.

Science teachers are on the front line of the battle.

More than 70 years after the famous 1925 “monkey trial” of John Scopes, who was convicted of teaching Charles Darwin’s theories in a Dayton, Tennessee, high school, the debate over evolution in the classroom rages on. In recent years, as religious conservatives have stepped up their attacks on the teaching of evolution, liberal organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way have responded in kind. Science teachers, of course, are on the front line of the battle. Some have concluded that evolution is simply too hot to handle and have dropped the topic from their lesson plans.

Conservative politicians, meanwhile, cite the teaching of evolution as yet one more example of America’s moral decline. Last March, presidential candidate Pat Buchanan told ABC, “I think [parents] have a right to insist that Godless evolution not be taught to their children or their children not be indoctrinated in it.” His words echoed those of Ronald Reagan, who once called evolution a “scientific theory only” and contrasted it with Genesis, “which is not a theory but the biblical story of Creation.”

No matter that the Supreme Court, in two landmark cases, seemed to have resolved the matter. The first decision came in 1968, when the high court, in Epperson vs. Arkansas, struck down an Arkansas law banning the teaching of evolution. In 1982, however, legislators in Louisiana passed a law requiring that any public school teaching evolution must grant equal time to the theory of “creation science.” (Similar laws were passed in otherstates, including Arkansas.) Don Aguillard, a Lafayette biology teacher, challenged the Louisiana law, and the case made its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled, in Edwards vs. Aguillard, that the law was unconstitutional because it violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

“The Louisiana Creationism Act,” Justice William Brennan Jr. wrote for the court, “advances a religious doctrine by requiring either the banishment of the theory of evolution from public school classrooms or the presentation of a religious viewpoint that rejects evolution in its entirety.” However, the court added that “teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of mankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction.” And Justice Antonin Scalia, in his dissent, added: “The people in Louisiana, including those who are Christian fundamentalists, are quite entitled, as a secular matter, to have whatever scientific evidence there may be against evolution presented in their schools. ...”

Brennan’s statement about “a variety of scientific theories,” coupled with Scalia’s dissent, seems to have planted the seeds for a new strategy now being used by anti-evolutionists to get their views into the classroom. With creationism no longer an option, they now argue that evolution must be taught as a theory, not as a fact, and that any evidence against Darwin’s ideas must be offered, as well. Indeed, the word “creationism” is rarely heard these days. Instead, anti-evolutionists push such concepts as “abrupt appearance theory” or “intelligent design theory,” which defenders of Darwin say are merely euphemisms for creationism. Eugenie Scott, director of the California-based National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit organization that monitors threats to the teaching of evolution, recently told Science magazine, “This is a soft-core anti-evolution strategy, which is very clever because it doesn’t appear religious on the surface.”

Many attribute much of the recent anti-evolution activity to the Institute for Creation Research.

Scott and others attribute much of the recent anti-evolution activity to the Institute for Creation Research, a San Diego-area think tank founded in 1970 by creationist Henry Morris, who sought to use scientific methods to prove such Biblical events as Genesis. (He once said, “Creationism is the basis of all real science, of true Americanism ... and Christianity.”) In 1972, the institute’s newsletter declared that the organization’s goal was to establish “a grassroots movement across the United States to demonstrate how creation can be taught in the public schools.” In 1988, the center launched its popular “Back to Genesis” seminars, at which citizens are reportedly urged to challenge the teaching of evolution in schools. According to People for the American Way, the center’s efforts “are devoted to the twin tasks of poking holes in the theory of evolution and propping up quasi-scientific arguments supporting the biblical story of Creation.”

William Hoesch, a spokesman for ICR, responded, “Yes, we do poke holes in the theory of evolution. It ought to be considered a joke that fish can be turned into a human being.” He denied, however, that the center is part of a concerted effort to rid the nation’s schools of Darwinism. “Give me a break,” he said. “As if we have a strategy for taking over America. That’s the epitome of absurdity.” He added: “Yes, we are upfront that we are Bible-believing Christians, but because of that we are automatically assumed to have a religious agenda. That’s an easy way to dismiss us. The fact is, there are credible, rational grounds to doubt the theory of evolution.”

Strategy or no strategy, anti-evolutionists are influencing the manner in which Darwin’s theories are taught.

Strategy or no strategy, anti-evolutionists are influencing the manner in which Darwin’s theories are taught. Two years ago, in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, the school board adopted a policy requiring science teachers to read a disclaimer whenever evolution is presented in textbooks, workbooks, pamphlets, or other written materials. The disclaimer states, in part, that the teaching of evolution is “not intended to influence or dissuade the biblical version of Creation or any other concept.”

Last year, the Alabama state board of education voted to place a disclaimer in all biology textbooks used in public schools; it asserts that evolution is a “controversial theory” accepted by “some scientists.” It adds: “No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life’s origins should be considered as theory, not fact.” Governor Fob James, who endorsed the statement, used his discretionary funds to purchase and send more than 900 copies of an anti-evolution book, Darwin on Trial, by Phillip Johnson, to all biology teachers in the state.

Last May, in Cobb County, Georgia, a science textbook committee made up of administrators, teachers, and parents asked the publisher of a 4th grade science textbook to remove the final chapter, titled “The Birth of Earth,” because it did not include creation as a possible theory for the origin of the universe. The publisher, Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, agreed to delete the offending chapter.

This year lawmakers in Georgia, Ohio, and Tennessee tried to pass anti-evolution legislation, but none of the bills succeeded.

Attempts to regulate the teaching of evolution have been less successful in statehouses. This year alone, lawmakers in Georgia, Ohio, and Tennessee tried to pass anti-evolution legislation, but none of the bills succeeded. The Tennessee law, introduced by Tommy Burks, a Democratic state senator, would have allowed districts to fire teachers who present evolution as fact rather than theory.

“In many cases, cooler heads ultimately prevail,” said Wayne Carley, executive director of the National Association of Biology Teachers, which in 1995 adopted a three-page position statement in support of the teaching of evolution. “That’s what happened in Tennessee.”

Danny Phillips’ complaint to the district about the videotape and textbook was passed on to a six-member curriculum review panel, made up of teachers, administrators, and citizens. They looked at the materials and then, on May 13, met with Danny to discuss the matter further. “I presented my case,” Danny told me, “and I presented a packet of information so they would have a deeper understanding than I could give in a 15-minute speech.” Wheat Ridge High science teacher Linda Burton defended the video and the textbook to the panel.

On June 21, Danny received a letter from superintendent Wayne Carle, who explained that the review committee had agreed “that the introductory comments in the video are poorly stated and scientifically refutable. The statements assume a factual rather than a theoretical basis.” The panel recommended three possible solutions: Instruct teachers to show the video without the introductory comments, ask the video’s producer to supply a modified version, or select an alternative video on human reproduction. As for the textbook, the panel rejected Danny’s request that Biological Science: An Ecological Approach be withdrawn. Carle concurred with the panel’s recommendations.

Danny had won a partial victory, but the controversy was far from over. A group of Jefferson County science teachers, angry that one of their favorite teaching tools was about to be censored or eliminated, met and came up with a compromise proposal, which would allow teachers to use the video but provide them with a study guide on how to discuss students’ views on the origin of life. (They could still choose to skip over the introduction if they wanted to, but it would be their choice, not district policy.) The proposed study guide would advise teachers, “Be sure to have students look at specific points from both scientific and non-scientific perspectives.”

Carle, although he had already sided with the curriculum review panel, seemed willing to go along with the teachers’ proposal. But, by now, the school board, which has final say in such matters, had decided to get involved in the debate.

“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 district of 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.”

If there is a ground zero for the religious right in this country, it is Colorado Springs.

If there is a ground zero for the religious right in this country, it is Colorado Springs, home to Focus on the Family and dozens of other conservative Christian organizations. Ironically, it’s also the home of the nonprofit Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, which, back in the early 1960s, almost singlehandedly reintroduced evolution to the nation’s biology textbooks. Founded in 1958 by a group of scientists concerned about the poor quality of science education inthe public schools, BSCS published a set of textbooks that abandoned the traditional taxonomic approach to biology in favor of inquiry-oriented instruction. One of those books was Biological Science: An Ecological Approach, known simply as the “Green Version.” More than 2.5 million copies of the textbook have been sold since it was first published in 1963. It is the same book that Danny Phillips wanted to see dropped by the Jefferson County Public Schools.

In his spacious office, Joseph McInerney, the 48-year-old director of BSCS, pulled out a facsimile copy of Biology for Beginners, by Truman Moon, published in 1921. “It was the most widely used biology textbook at the time of the Scopes trial,” McInerney told me as he opened the volume. “Look who’s on the frontispiece. It’s our boy Darwin.” The 1925 trial changed all that, he explained. Scopes, as most people know,was accused of violating Tennessee’s law against teaching evolution in the public schools. William Jennings Bryan, thrice-defeated presidential candidate and a leading spokesman for fundamentalist Protestantism, led the prosecution. Despite the efforts of the great trial lawyer Clarence Darrow, who represented Scopes, the teacher was found guilty, but the verdict was later overturned on a technicality.

“The scientific community, in a sense, won the battle,” McInerney said, “but it was a Pyrrhic victory. Clarence Darrow and H.L. Mencken, who covered the trial for the Baltimore Evening Sun, lampooned the creationists and the fundamentalists. But the publishers got the message that parents didn’t like evolution, and so it came out of the books. They never mentioned the ‘E’ word.” In fact, by 1926, the publisher of Biology for Beginners had replaced the Darwin portrait with a diagram of the human digestive system, and later editions of the book thoroughly emasculated the concept of evolution. Other textbooks followed suit.

BSCS changed all that. From the beginning, the organization’s textbooks have treated evolution as, in McInerney’s words, “the central organizing theme of the entire discipline.” Not surprisingly, BSCS textbooks have often been attacked by religious conservatives. When the books were first marketed back in the 1960s, school administrators in several Southern states refused to purchase them. In New Mexico, the state board of education insisted that a disclaimer stating that evolution is a theory, not a fact, be added to all BSCS textbooks. In Texas, when the books were submitted to the state textbook-adoption committee, a fundamentalist minister called them “pure evolution from cover to cover, completely materialistic and completely atheistic,” and he asked his church members to petition against their adoption. The committee eventually approved the books, but they were dropped several years later when BSCS refused to add a disclaimer stating that the books’ material on evolution was presented as theory rather than fact and that evolution was only one of several explanations for the origin of man. It wasn’t until 1990, when the state of Texas changed its textbook-adoption policy, that the BSCS books were finally reapproved.

To McInerney, the Danny Phillips case was all too familiar. “I’m never surprised when I hear about these things,” he said. “We’ve been fighting these battles for 38 years. Probably a month doesn’t go by without my hearing about something happening somewhere in the country. ... This issue should have been over a long time ago, and it frustrates me because I have to spend so much time and money on it.”

McInerney handed me a copy of a column he had written for The Jefferson Sentinel, a weekly newspaper in Lakewood, Colorado. In it, he argued that “ignorance and zealotry are the twin towers of creationism.” And he offered a point-by-point refutation of what he called the anti-evolutionist “party line,” starting with their insistence that evolution is “merely a theory.”

“A theory is not an ephemeral guess. It is a powerful conceptual framework that is supported by overwhelming amounts of evidence.”

Joseph McInerney

“A theory is not an ephemeral guess,” he wrote. “It is a powerful conceptual framework that is supported by overwhelming amounts of evidence that explains numerous observations about the natural world and that helps predict future observations.” To me, he added: “Yes, it’s ‘only a theory,’ but so is gravitation. So is germ theory. So is the chromosome theory of inheritance. They’re all theories. But we don’t see anyone challenging these being taught as theories. Evolution is as widely accepted a theory in science as any of the others. The only reason that anybody challenges this is because it conflicts with some people’s religious views.”

“Second,” his column continued, “the party line claims that ‘it’s only fair to present both sides of the debate.’ That is a plea to democracy that ignores the fact that creationism has no scientific basis and therefore cannot occupy any side in a scientific debate.

“Third, it argues that ‘there could be intelligent design.’ That is an assertion that falls beyond the province of science, which demands naturalistic explanations, and into the realm of mysticism.

“And fourth, the creationists maintain that ‘scientists disagree about evolution.’ That is a deliberate misrepresentation of biology. In fact, all scientists accept the reality of evolution, [although] they continue to debate the process by which is occurs.”

Unlike some publishing companies, BSCS refuses to water down its textbooks to appease the critics. In fact, its latest version, called Biology: A Human Approach, begins with a chapter titled “Evolution: Patterns and Products of Change in Living Systems.” The theory of evolution pervades the entire volume, as itdoes all BSCS books. According to McInerney, the BSCS “Blue Version,” Biological Science: A Molecular Approach, is now being targeted bythe religious right in Tennessee, where it is up for statewide adoption. “And you can bet that this one will be on the list,” he said, holding up a copy of Biology: A Human Approach, “because it starts with evolution.”

Some biology textbooks limit discussion of evolution to a single chapter—which can be conveniently overlooked by gun–shy teachers.

By contrast, some biology textbooks limit discussion of evolution to a single chapter--which can be conveniently overlooked by gun-shy teachers. McInerney said he recently heard from a teacher in Michigan, whose school uses just such a book. “Her principal came to her and said that it would be ‘fine’ if she didn’t get to the evolution chapter,” McInerney told me. “That’s the power of what [writer] Nat Hentoff calls the ‘heckler’s veto.’ Make enough noise and you win. You know that as soon as you teach evolution, somebody is going to complain. And if the administrators aren’t going to back you, why should you bother teaching it?”

McInerney urges biology teachers to stand firm and not bow to pressure from parents and administrators, but he also realizes that teachers are sometimes caught in a bind. “I feel a lot of sympathy for teachers,” he said. “It’s very easy to sit here in my office in Colorado Springs and say, ‘You guys really need to teach this.’ But often the administrators provide no support, which frustrates me a great deal. They are too willing to cave because they don’t want any controversy, they don’t want any pressure. It’s easier to say, ‘Just don’t teach evolution.’ To me, that’s just clear capitulation to censorship and anti-intellectualism.”

McInerney accused the Jefferson County curriculum review panel of doing just that. “I was so amazed that they let this 15-year-old kid set the criteria for their science curriculum,” he said. “I mean, they just caved.”

“If we start removing everything that people object to on religious grounds, there won’t be much left.”

Beth Kramer, a Jefferson County biology teacher.

About 300 people turned out for the September 5 meeting of the Jefferson County school board. Danny Phillips--wearing a slightly-too-large blue blazer, a white shirt, and a red tie--arrived with his lawyer and a handful of supporters. The 50 or so citizens who had signed up to speak were each given one minute to make their point. Among the first to speak was Woody Henry, who identified himself as both a Christian and a paleobiologist. “The question is basically this,” he said. “Do we teach science, or do we teach non-science?” Teachers defended their academic freedom. “If we start removing everything that people object to on religious grounds, there won’t be much left,” argued Beth Kramer, a Jefferson County biology teacher.

Danny, for his part, began by saying, “This is not a creationism-evolution debate. I do not want creationism taught in the schools.” He then argued that the board’s job was “to ensure your students’ rights to free, open, and uncensored education, where all students hear all information on all issues. You are not to censor one side of the information by giving only the evidence for evolution.”

When the public comment session ended, the offending portion of The Miracle of Life was shown on two large television monitors. Then, board member Terri Rayburn offered a motion to endorse the compromise proposed by the panel of teachers, but she wanted the use of the study guide to be mandatory, not optional. Board member David DiGiacomo, a lawyer, was troubled by the idea of enforcing such a policy. “If we’re going to adopt this proposal,” he said, “I think we’re going to restrict the freedom of teachers. ... The precedent here, it seems to me, is immense. I would be very, very concerned if a teacher were fired because of failing to use the study guide.” Besides, he added, “as I review the videotape, it’s hard for me to see what can be objectionable. It’s a marvelous resource. I cannot and will not support the motion. I don’t have any objection with teachers using these materials.” Board member Tori Merritts agreed: “I would have a hard time putting [warning] labels on videos.”

In the end, the board voted three to one to overrule superintendent Wayne Carle and reinstate the video. The teachers who had proposed the compromise were delighted; they got more than they had hoped for.

“I’m not going to drop the issue.”

Danny Phillips

After the meeting, Danny was philosophic. “I’m taking it fine,” he said. “I understood who the board members were and how they stood on issues beforehand, and I recognize that there were three members who did not respect my point before they came to the meeting.” He vowed to continue his battle. “I’m not going to drop the issue,” he said. “There will be further steps taken.” Just what those steps might include wasn’t clear, although Danny later told a reporter for CBS that he was considering filing suit in federal court charging that his civil rights had been violated.

Defenders of evolution were pleased at the outcome. People for the American Way Vice President Michael Hudson, who followed the case closely from his Boulder, Colorado, office, called the school board “courageous and intelligent.” Eugenie Scott said, “I was very pleased because the teachers really got what they needed, which is the right to teach as they see fit. Teachers are smart enough to handle controversial material.”

The debate over the teaching of evolution in Jefferson County was now over. Radio talk show hosts moved on to other topics, and the school board focused its attention on finding a replacement for Wayne Carle, who has announced his retirement. Elsewhere, however, the controversy lives on.

In August, school officials in Kentucky ordered that two pages dealing with the big-bang theory be glued together.

In August, school officials in Marshall County, Kentucky, ordered that the district’s 5th and 6th grade science textbooks be confiscated so that two pages dealing with the big-bang theory could be glued together. “We’re not going to teach one theory and not teach the other,” superintendent Kenneth Shadowen told a local newspaper. Meanwhile, in Clayton County, Georgia, the school board voted to adopt the language from Alabama’s disclaimer on evolution and add a similar statement to all of the district’s 140,000 science textbooks.

“I don’t think this debate is ever going to go away,” said a resigned Joseph McInerney.

Garry Wills, in his 1990 book Under God: Religion and American Politics, reached much the same conclusion in a chapter titled “Refighting Scopes.” The Creation story, he wrote, “is not going to go away as a political issue, for the obvious cultural reason that the Bible is not going to stop being the central book in our intellectual heritage.”

In other words, Darwin and evolution will always be a threat to those who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. As Danny Phillips himself put it, “The Bible is very clear on the issue of Creation. There’s no biblical way to reconcile evolution.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 1996 edition of Teacher as Counter Evolutionary