Kids Against Creationism

Revolutionary Worker #1236, April 11, 2004, posted at

We received the following correspondence from an RW reader in Georgia.

As 2004 opened, the atmosphere in Darby crackled with controversy. This is a small town of 754 people, deep in "Bush Country"--rural Montana--in the Bitterroot valley at the foot of the Sapphire Mountains.

Darby is one of the few places that still has wooden sidewalks to give its shopping street that "Old West" feel. This is a conservative and religious area. People here live off logging, and serving the tourists visiting the nearby National Forests. You would have to travel at least an hour from here, over into Idaho, to reach a metropolitan area.

Our story is about a local controversy that put Darby into national headlines.

A local minister, Curtis Brickley, decided that he would make an anti-evolution presentation to the people of the town and the school board. On December 10, about 150 people showed up at the local junior high school gym--where Brickley gave an elaborate, PowerPoint-illustrated lecture challenging the credibility of Darwinism--which has long been taught as accepted science in the local schools. Brickley challenged evolutionary theory with a concept called "intelligent design." This unscientific theory says that life on earth is simply too special to have been created "by accident."

"In my opinion, you have to allow for natural causes and not-natural causes," Brickley said.

Brickley (like other proponents of "intelligent design" theory) acknowledges that scientific evidence shows tremendous "biological change over time." But they insist that this change is so complex that there has to be (somewhere) an intelligent consciousness behind the design (in other words, a god). Brickley had gotten his arguments, materials and lots of complimentary free videos from the "Discovery Institute"--a well-funded foundation dedicated to undermining scientific evolution in schools.

Brickley (falsely) claimed that the "latest scientific evidence" suggested that evolution was (at best) a controversial and contested theory, and that "alternative theories" should be taught as well. This is deceptively called the "Objective Origins" approach--and essentially demands that the scientific theory of evolution should be forced to share the biology classroom with unscientific religious dogmas.

Brickley's claim that evolution is "controversial" among scientists is untrue. The theory of evolution enjoys broad and enthusiastic support among scientists (almost universally) and it jibes very well with all the massive amounts of available evidence.

Brickley also made another claim: he said that the new federal "No Child Left Behind Act" required schools to teach intelligent design. And he claimed that the Darby school board now risked losing federal funding for the school if they didn't do this. This is an outright lie--but a lie that rested on documents from Washington. In 2000, the notorious rightwing Senator Santorum had (with the help of the Discovery Institute) proposed an amendment that would have enshrined the teaching of "intelligent design" in the Senate's "No Child Left Behind Act." It nearly passed, and some of the language of this Santorum amendment made it into the accompanying Congressional Report. And ever since, creationists have used the language (in that Congressional Report) to claim that creationism is somehow now federal policy.

These kinds of assaults on evolution are all too familiar these days--as the fundamentalist religious right increasingly demands that education and politics conform to their dogmas. Such attempts have been launched from Iowa to Alabama to Ohio to California. Only recently, the top school official in Georgia attempted to have the concepts "evolution" and "big bang" removed from the state's textbooks.

But what brought Darby into the headlines was that the students themselves, together with parents and other townspeople, organized themselves to defend evolution--and to demand that religious know- nothingism stay out of their science classes.

Citizens for Science

Hearing that Minister Brickley was proposing that this pseudo-science for their classrooms, students decided to organize. They felt that to defeat Brickley they need to mount an informed scientific counter-attack. Together with supporters in town they formed the Ravalli County Citizens for Science.

They contacted a biotechnology firm in nearby Hamilton and got in touch with Dr. Jay Evans, a local research immunologist. Evans quickly agreed to help them gather a scientific case for evolution. Online he tapped into the materials of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland --which is dedicated to defending evolution against creationist attacks. He said the issue was fairly straightforward and the work "took me one afternoon."

The facts were clear and overwhelming: The minister's arguments didn't have a leg to stand on. Evans himself joined Citizens for Science.

Armed with this information, they took it back to the people of Darby.

Taking Creationism On

"Students really care what's going on in the school. The school board has been on their own track and haven't really listened to us."

Aaron Lebowitz, Darby High School senior

People started waking up and thinking about what is happening. There has been debate in classrooms, in the teachers' break room and at basketball games--as students, teachers and parents hammered at achieving a deeper understanding.

Meanwhile students who most openly opposed creationism were harassed--and accused of being anti-Christian. Religious people had long-standing assumptions challenged by the scientific evidence. More and more students began to take a very strong stand against allowing creationism in the classroom.

On January 21, the Citizens for Science put on their own presentation in the gym, featuring Dr. Allen Gishlick, a paleontologist who works with National Center for Science Education. Aaron Lebowitz, a Darby High School senior and co-founder of Citizens for Science, said he was relieved that the turnout was as large as for Brickley's anti-evolution talk.

On February 23, there was a meeting where the school board decided (in a "preliminary" 3-2 vote) to impose "creation science" in the classroom--to be taught alongside evolution and in opposition to it.

The controversy was intense. It pitted "neighbor against neighbor and friend against friend," as a resident, Sarah Southwell, put it during the school board hearings.

The town mayor, the state representative, the library director and at least two of the five school board members all insisted they remained strongly creationist. The local marshal, Larry Rose, stepped out to insist that Earth can only be 6,000 years old (not the 4.5 billion years that geology has established). "I believe exactly what the Bible does," Mr. Rose said. "Like the flood--4,400 years ago."

A Walkout For Evolution!

"Strike against preaching pseudo-science"

"Don't spread the gospel in school"

"If you want creationism, go to church"

"Objective Origins: Just Say Noah!"

Signs carried by students outside Darby H.S.

"We, the undersigned, are opposed to the Objective Origins Policy presently on the table before the Darby School Board. It is the intent of this petition to let the Board know that many are opposed."

Petition signed by most teachers at the local school

The students were not impressed with the local power structure or its ignorant anti- scientific views. The students decided to take a strong public stand.

At the school board meeting the students circulated a flyer calling on people to protest the Board's decision.

The next day, 15 minutes before the final school bell rang, they staged a school walkout. Over 50 of the 170 high school students joined together along U.S.93 carrying protest signs.

Teachers, parents and others from the community also showed up in the school parking lot and joined in the protest. Most of the rest of the students joined in after school ended. People in passing cars waved and honked in support. Over 40 of the students were backed by their parents --and had permission slips approving their decision to leave school early.

Furious, the School Board Chairwoman Gina Schallenberger stormed to the school and demanded that the principal punish Aaron Lebowitz for organizing the strike. Aaron was suspended from school for a week--in a move that only made people more determined.

As we go to press, it is not yet clear how this struggle will be resolved. At their March 8 school board meeting, the reactionary school board seemed a little shell-shocked, and unwilling to say one way or the other if they were going to press ahead with their imposition of creationism.

One thing is clear: the students of Darby, Montana, launched a courageous defense of evolution and science that has been an inspiration to people all across the country.


For everyone engaged in such struggles against creationism:

Ardea Skybreak's detailed series "The Science of Evolution"--which sums up what is now known about evolution and exposing exposes creationist theories like "intelligent design"--can be found online at