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Darwin on the cover of Newsweek


A photograph of Charles Darwin in his old age adorns the cover of the November 28, 2005, issue of Newsweek, with the headline "The Real Darwin: His Private Views on Science & God." Within the magazine, in his article [Link broken] "Charles Darwin: Evolution of a Scientist," Jerry Adler takes the opening of the American Museum of Natural History's new exhibit on Darwin (on display from November 19, 2005, through May 29, 2006) as the occasion to review Darwin's life, work, and significance. "In part," he notes, "the fascination with the man is being driven by his enemies, who say they're fighting 'Darwinism,'" quoting the eminent biologist E. O. Wilson as observing, "It's a rhetorical device to make evolution seem like a kind of faith, like 'Maoism'." "But," Adler adds, "the man is, in fact, fascinating. His own life exemplifies the painful journey from moral certainty to existential doubt that is the defining experience of modernity."

Tracking the checkered reception of Darwin's work by the general public to the present day, Adler observes that "it's not surprising that, down to the present day, fundamentalist Christians have been suspicious of Darwin and his works." He subsequently describes how the AMNH's exhibit on Darwin, conceived "when the current round of Darwin-bashing was still over the horizon," now addresses "intelligent design" -- which "biologists overwhelmingly dismiss," he reports, "as nonsense." The exhibit includes a video in which Francis Collins -- the evangelical Christian who directed the Human Genome Project -- comments, "[intelligent design"] says, if there's some part of science that you can't understand, that must be where God is. Historically, that hasn't gone well. And if science does figure out [how the eye evolved] --and I believe it's very likely that science will ... then where is God?"

Accompanying the cover story is a feature [Link broken] by William Lee Adams exploring how "[t]he teaching of evolution continues to polarize communities." The article races from 1925, when John Thomas Scopes was prosecuted for violating a Tennessee statute forbidding the teaching of evolution in the state's public schools, to 1987, when the Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard that teaching creationism in the public schools violates the First Amendment; "intelligent design" is presented in the context of religiously motivated assaults on evolution education. Adams discusses recent controversies over evolution education in Pennsylvania and Kansas, emphasizing their political background and quoting NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott as commenting, "Evolution is not controversial in the field of science. It's controversial in the public sphere because public education is highly politicized." Such skirmishes, he concludes, are therefore bound to continue.