Saturday, February 07, 2009

Darwin returns to Dover

Charles Darwin came back to haunt Dover, Pennsylvania, in the form of a billboard proclaiming "Praise Darwin: Evolve Beyond Belief." The billboard was prepared in time for the bicentennial anniversary of his birth, February 12, at a site of significance in the history of ideas. The Freedom from Religion Foundation paid for this billboard and a second one in Dayton, Tennessee. Both sites are known for trials arising from anti-evolutionists wishing to teach Creationism in public schools as the explanation for biodiversity. In Dayton, John Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution, a prohibited act. In Kitzmiller &al. v. Dover &al. (the trial was actually held in Harrisburg) the Dover Area School District was found in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution (Article 1 section 3).

Some reactions to the billboard were reported by one of the local papers that followed the story leading up to the 2005 judgement. Steven Neubauer, an outspoken local atheist, said the billboard celebrates science and is not an attack on religious beliefs. Tammy Kitzmiller, the lead plaintiff in the case, said she likes the billboard but figures it will stir up matters that ought to rest. William "Deer-in-the-Headlights" Buckingham, a former school board member who was one of the perpetrators of the Dover Affair, feels the billboard is an expression of free speech, which is allowed to everyone except Christians. Apparently, he is one of many who remains confused about what is meant by "free speech." Similarly, local pastor Sterling Walsh Jr. said the billboard merely reflects one of many viewpoints about the beginning of the world, not realizing that Darwin's theory of evolution did not address the origin of the world, or even the origin of life.

Larry Hicks' column in the paper the next day took the point of view that the billboard represented the gloating of winners in a clash of atheists versus Christians, blaming extremists on both sides for perpetuating the Creationism controversy. He claims "the Christians" who lost Kitzmiller v. Dover have "begrudgingly accepted thair loss," have "been mostly quiet since," and have "licked their wounds and moved on." Mr. Hicks is unaware of the extent and depth of the issue, as was clearly pointed out by Dan Gilbert in an Op-Ed piece two days later. Mr. Gilbert gets it. Judging by the comments posted in response to these articles in the York Dispatch, many people still do not. Our society still fails to educate very well. Can we make a special effort this year, Darwin's 200th birthday, the 150th anniversary of the publication of his The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, and the International Year of Planet Earth, to promote a rational, scientific understanding of the world around us?

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