One evening in late September, roughly 150 people filed into the fire hall in Dover, Pennsylvania, to attend a presentation on evolution. The event’s organizer was Jim Grove, a minister from nearby Loganville who views the Bible as the revealed word of God and, like many people in this part of Pennsylvania, believes the answer to the question of life’s origins begins and ends with the Book of Genesis.
“I’m not opposed to teaching evolution in public schools,” Grove, a greyhound-thin man dressed in a neatly pressed suit and leather boots, explained as spectators settled in around the tables in the room. “But I don’t think you want it taught with a bunch of lies.” To that end, Grove played a video, Why Evolution Is Stupid, narrated by Kent Hovind, a former high school science teacher who several years ago opened a creationist theme park in Pensacola, Florida, called Dinosaur Adventure Land. In the video Hovind performs a sort of creationist comedy routine, standing onstage before a live audience and jokingly contrasting the absurdity of evolution with the plainly more sensible view in Scripture. “Who’s ever seen a Big Bang create order?” he asks. “The Bible said God made the stars, plain and simple.”
The theme seemed to go over well among the spectators in the fire hall, a number of whom chuckled as Hovind delivered his punch lines and, afterward, gave the video a thumbs-up. “I think it’s extremely well done,” Judy Grim, a 60-year-old woman in jeans and a light-blue T-shirt, told me; two friends standing next to her nodded in agreement. Reverend Grove announced that anyone interested could purchase a copy of the video for $9.95. He also fielded some questions, including one from a woman in back who wanted to know why the American Civil Liberties Union went to such lengths to stop the truth from being exposed when communities challenged the teaching of evolution in public schools. Grove explained that the ACLU was “basically a humanistic organization” with “the contacts to bring in the high-powered people” whenever the status quo was under threat.
The specter of the ACLU bringing in high-powered people to thwart a community’s efforts to prevent young people from being brainwashed by evolution is not an idle one in Dover. That very week, in a packed courtroom twenty miles away in Harrisburg, the opening arguments were being heard in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover, a federal trial pitting eleven residents of this quiet community in south-central Pennsylvania against the local school board, which in October 2004 voted 6 to 3 to revise the biology curriculum so that students “will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design.”
With that step Dover became the first community in the country to introduce intelligent design–which organizations like the National Academy of Sciences have dismissed as a form of creationism–into the public school curriculum. The trend appears to be catching on: As the Washington Post reported earlier this year, buoyed by the endorsement of politicians like Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and George W. Bush, both of whom have suggested the jury is still out on the science of evolution, nineteen states are currently weighing proposals that challenge Darwin’s theory. Among them is Kansas, where the Board of Education just adopted a remarkable new standard redefining science so it is not limited to natural explanations.