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Intelligent Design in the Classroom

part 1, 2, 3, 4

Roger DeHart says he was first exposed to teachings about intelligent design while he was an undergraduate at a Christian liberal arts college, Seattle Pacific. He admits those teachers who don't have his background are, perhaps, less prepared to address it in class.

"I don't think teachers should be required, as policy, to teach intelligent design," says DeHart. "There's no textbook for it. A teacher would have to do additional research for it. We should just present the controversy of, 'Well, does Darwinism adequately explain this or does it not?'"

Today, Roger DeHart says he enjoys teaching at Oaks Christian High School, but still, he yearns for his days in the public schools.

"This is a safe haven for a while," says DeHart. "I'm not sure life is to be lived though, always in a safe haven. I do think this debate should be happening in the public sector. In some cases, when I'm preaching to the choir, I'm not sure that's the most effective use of the experiences that I've been through."

But if DeHart went back to the public schools and brought up intelligent design, he'd again face the threat of a lawsuit. That's why the Discovery Institute and Phillip Johnson call his case "reverse Scopes," referring to the Scopes trial of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee.

L.A. Theatreworks rehearsing a stage performance of excerpts from the Scopes trial transcripts.
photo by Mary Beth Kirchner

"John Scopes has been indicted for the teaching of evolution in our public schools, which is against the law in this state. But this case is more than that. The contest between evolution and Christianity is a duel to the death," says actor Ed Asner as William Jennings Bryan, in a radio drama taken from transcripts of the Scopes trial, now touring nationally as a stage performance.

Bryan was a former presidential candidate who led the prosecution against a high school biology teacher, John Scopes. Tennessee was the first state to pass such a law, part of a fundamentalist movement in the early 1920s that attempted to push through anti-evolution legislation in several states. Bryan sparred with Clarence Darrow, the most famous criminal lawyer in America, played in this L.A. Theatreworks production by Charles Durning.

"If today, you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools," said Darrow. "At the next session, you may ban books and the newspapers. And after a while, your honor, it is a setting of man against man and creed against creed, until with flying banners and beating drums, we are marching backwards to the 16th century."

Not unlike Dover, Pennsylvania, Dayton, Tennessee was an unassuming little town, hosting an impassioned national court case. It was dubbed "the trial of the century" before it even began.

"Thousands of miles of telegraph wires were hung to transmit every word spoken in court and pioneer live radio broadcasts carried the oratory to the listening public," says Ed Larson. "It was America's first broadcast trial."

Larson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian from the University of Georgia, author of Summer for the Gods about the Scopes trial and multiple books about the teaching of evolution. Larson was invited to kick off a 50th anniversary production in Oakland, California of the Broadway play Inherit the Wind, based on the trial. He knows as well as anyone why this issue has had such enduring attention going back to Charles Darwin and his publication of On The Origin of Species in 1859. "You'll find there's always this low level discontent, this background noise that a lot of conservative Christians and orthodox Jews who are concerned and don't accept idea of evolution and then don't want it taught in the public schools," says Larson. "And try to connect it up with all the problems in the world. Whether it be communism or the breakdown of the family, or the loss of Christian faith. When a spokesperson can give it voice, it erupts back up."


Continue to part 3