Inherit an Ill Wind

"Intelligent design" theory as an alternative to evolutionary theory

From The Nation, October 4, 1999

Way down in Georgia last month, REM lead singer Michael Stipe paused in the middle of a solo during a rock concert because he had Kansas on his mind. "What's with Kansas and creationism?" he asked, looking puzzled. He had heard, he explained, that Kansas officials had brought in "a Hollywood ad man" to put the best spin on their actions. "We have medieval sodomy laws here in Georgia," he added, "but we don't advertise it."

The sold-out crowd cheered, and America's great debate over Darwinism found its place once again in the popular culture. Even rockers in Atlanta were asking how Kansas could strip evolution from its science-education standards seventy-five years after the Scopes trial had supposedly ended such silliness. It did seem as medieval as Georgia's sodomy law-but even that was struck down by the state Supreme Court last year. The question merits an answer because the episode is not a home-grown Kansas anomaly. It arose from forces that are national in origin and scope.

[Several new theorists] propound that intelligent design, rather than random chance, is apparent in nature.

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The first step toward understanding the events in Kansas is to disregard all that we've learned about the Scopes trial from "Inherit the Wind." Clarence Darrow did not slay William Jennings Bryan, or if he did, the spirit of the old war-horse has risen again, largely in the body of Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson. The Kansas episode reflects the convergence of Johnson's new anti-evolution crusade and old-style biblical creationism.

In 1961, The Genesis Flood, by Virginia Tech engineering professor Henry Morris and conservative Christian theologian John Whitcomb, gave believers scientific-sounding arguments supporting the biblical account of a six-day creation within the past 10,000 years. Even Bryan and other early twentieth-century fundamentalists could not accept such a young earth in light of modern geology.

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