God's Country by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster

The ghost of William Jennings Bryan smiles on Aiken, S.C. -- where the debate between evolution and creationism still rages

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Finally, when the pursuit of knowledge creates unprecedented, new moral dilemmas, of a degree unanticipated by generations before – like that now being explored in fetal tissue and stem cell research, in the mapping of the genome and the experiments in cloning – can right and wrong be addressed without resorting to a higher authority? Can the ideas of a few eighteenth century intellectuals – those who founded the American system upon a strongly worded division between church and state – still lead?

On October 17, 2000, after Wilson had made his case before them no less than 16 times in two years, the members of the Aiken County School Board convened a community meeting in the South Aiken High School auditorium to discuss the merits of his proposal to alter the science curriculum. The discussion was lively and, interestingly, it offered strong representation not only from Aiken’s faithful, but from the city’s dynamic scientific community, too. As it turned out, the two were not mutually exclusive. The first speaker was Charles H. Hewitt, Jr., who, as he quickly noted, could actually claim considerable authority on both sides of the argument. As a local physician, Hewitt had relied upon the findings of science to heal his patients; but having recently suffered a back injury, he was no longer able to practice and as a devout Christian he intended to make a dramatic shift in his career and enter the seminary.

Hewitt scoffed at Wilson’s plan, insisting that it was inconsistent with the views of the nation’s founders and he maintained that a literal reading of Genesis represented only a minority viewpoint, even among Christians. Evolution is settled science, he said, but that should pose no threat to believers. Science and religion occupy different domains of our world, he argued, as they should. Hewitt then looked directly at the panel. "They accuse the courts of kicking God out of the school," he pronounced, referring to Wilson and others on his side. "But if you as a school board cave into their minority views…you will be acting against the wishes of most Americans."

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Roger Rollins, an SRS nuclear engineer, spoke second. He took the opposite view, claiming that far from being settled, evolution was still a highly debatable theory, and yet he did not leave it there. "I believe there is a much more important reason for the teaching of creationism," he said, with emotion. "Our children need to know that there is meaning to their lives…[that] we have been created for a purpose. That purpose is to worship and serve the almighty creator, God. When we thwart that purpose and throw God out of our schools, we allow chaos to reign."

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