Leading article: Mythology in the White House

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The Independent Online

Astonishingly, the President of the United States answered that both theories should be taught side by side. Why? "So people can understand what the debate is about." There is, of course, no "debate" between the two theories on scientific grounds. And it is astonishing that this struggle is still going on 80 years after the Scopes Monkey trial. The fact is that Darwinism has been subjected to empirical scrutiny and accepted by every serious biologist in the world. Intelligent design, on the other hand, was devised by a group of Christian fundamentalists to bolster their literal interpretation of the Bible's creation story. There is no scientific evidence whatsoever to back it up.

According to the President, "part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought". This is true. But it is unjustified to introduce this theory in a science class - let alone set it in opposition to Darwinism. It is also potentially damaging to America's separation of the functions of church and state, since intelligent design is a religious viewpoint.

All this is part of the Christian right's agenda to introduce religion into the US classroom. It is no coincidence that Christian conservatives are a substantial part of President Bush's voting base. Liberals have accused the church groups of pursuing political channels rather than building support for their case through scientific reviews. One remark by the President is, of course, not going to change US government policy. And President Bush was careful to preface his remarks by saying curriculum decisions should be made by school districts rather than the federal government. But there is a symbolic value in getting the US head of state to acknowledge your view, as the Christian right understands. According to Gary Bauer, a Christian conservative leader, "with the President endorsing it, it makes Americans who have that position more respectable".

All this is a worrying echo of the Bush admin-istration's refusal to recognise the evidence of how the burning of fossil fuels contributes to global warming. The depressing reality seems to be that the 21st White House is more at home with Christian literalism than scientific fact.

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