Someone calls themselves an evolutionist

Kulturkampf in the classroom

If biology teachers in the United States are to teach Charles Darwin's theory of the origins of life, they must be prepared in minute detail. Because students now come to class with complicated questions that are disseminated in Internet forums. It was put together by a scientist who locates the origins of life in the doctrine of creation and wants to question evolutionary teaching. That is - if these classes take place at all. "A very large proportion of biology teachers admit in surveys that they only briefly deal with evolutionary theory or not at all, although it is a cornerstone of modern science," says Barry Lynn of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State the separation of church and state. "Just under half of Americans refuse to accept the evidence of evolution - and teachers know that when they teach evolution, they turn against them."

The legal situation is clear: American courts repeatedly judge in favor of Darwin's teachings. For example, in 2005 a court in Dover, Pennsylvania forced the local school board to remove a notice from the curriculum that evolution was controversial and that intelligent design should also be taught. And 84 percent of Americans believe in intelligent design. As one follower, Wendy Wright describes it, “I believe that one Creator made all life.” Wright is the chair of Concerned Women for America, a civil rights group of conservative women. She is convinced that there is scientific evidence for intelligent design, “for example that life must have come from something else.” That alone shows that someone or something must have created this life.

Americans take religion more seriously

Barry Lynn, chairman of the US organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State: "The doctrine of evolution is a cornerstone of modern science."

Correspondingly, Wright considers a biology class in which only Darwin's theory of evolution is taught to be wrong - even if intelligent design does not actually exclude the theory of evolution. After all, a Creator could also have started the development of life. But half of Americans doubt even that. They are creationists and they take the Bible literally - so they believe that the world was created by God at most 10,000 years ago and that there was no evolution.

Americans take religion more seriously than citizens of other countries, explains Michael Ruse. The philosophy professor at Florida State University has written a book on the conflict between evolutionists and creationists in the United States. “This is a debate between two cultures,” he says, “which has been intensifying in the United States in the last ten to twenty years.” It rages between Republican-oriented, conservative evangelical Christians in the rural south and west and the more modern, natural science towards open-minded populations on the east and west coasts.

Anchored in history

The conflict had its roots in the period after the American Civil War in the 1860s. It was then that the north conquered the south and slavery was banned across the United States. But even after the defeat, the people in the south retained their previous values ​​- with the help of evangelical Christianity that was now spreading. "These Christians took the Bible literally - with which one can legitimize the oppression of blacks, for example," says Michael Ruse. "For them, the doctrine of evolution became a symbol of all that they rejected."

In addition, there has been a much lower need for cultural change in the United States than in European countries, for example. So Germany had to reinvent itself after the Second World War. Great Britain also had to develop a new self-image after the abandonment of the colonies. America, on the other hand, was able to isolate itself, says Ruse: "As the largest and most powerful country, it has separated from the rest of the world."

No support from the school authorities

Creationist Museum in the USA: "The Creator created all life."

Ruse believes that the conservative policies of ex-President George W. Bush have fueled the conflict in recent years. For example, immediately after taking office, Bush stopped stem cell research and frozen funds for government programs aimed at educating people about contraception in the Third World. “He polarized,” explains Ruse. "Bush has fallen in love with the conservative corner."

The US biology teachers face another problem: The school authorities often give them little support, laments creationism critic Barry Lynn. Because the members of these local authorities are often themselves supporters of intelligent design or the doctrine of creation. "In many states, school boards are unwilling to advocate good quality biology education when that means they need to support evolution," says Lynn.

This is also the case in Texas: In March, a committee of the school ministry votes there on an application as to whether biology teachers should call the scientific theory of evolution controversial. So far, seven of the 15 members of the panel have spoken out in favor of the Darwin-critical motion. The committee's decision could have ramifications for the entire United States because textbook publishers in the United States are guided by the guidelines of the largest states, including Texas.

For biology teachers, however, it would be even more difficult to bring the theory of evolution closer to their students if the doubts about Darwin's theory were in black and white in school books.