As I write this, Placer County is the fastest growing county in California.
It was a statistic I read in the Sacramento Bee, but the evidence is all around me. Expanded highways, new roads, and housing developments take shape daily. New churches send out bulk mail literature touting their neighborliness. People move in before the rest of the houses on their street are finished, and most everyone, new and old, throughout the county looks just like me . . . white.
But that doesn't mean they think like me. Placer County is a conservative area where a large portion of people attend church and applaud "family values" as promulgated by George W. The major city is Roseville. The majority celebrate Christmas in a big way, frown on abortion, and have trouble understanding anyone who doesn't follow suit.
But because most people are relatively well-educated, we liberals who reside among them did not expect an attack on the schools. Most mainstream churches accept Darwin's Theory of Evolution. But somehow I and my fellow liberals hadn't noticed that many of these new churches have people who spout fundamentalist philosophy.
We became aware that a problem was brewing when the local paper, The Press Tribune, wrote that the Roseville City School District board (for kindergarten through eighth) was considering teaching Intelligent Design along with Evolution. The feeling was that children should be exposed to both "theories." The very conservative Press Tribune, which had published articles and letters in the past that attacked feminists as well as the U.N., seemed largely sympathetic to Intelligent Design.
Shocked, we began to mobilize. Freethinkers called other liberals. My husband, Hank, and I contacted members of Atheists and Other Freethinkers (AOF) in Sacramento. Hank also called the National Center for Science Education. Some liberals assured us they would be in the audience the night of the School Board meeting.
On June 14, the date of the School Board meeting, eleven liberals whom we knew personally came, and three others who had just moved into the area also attended, plus three members of AOF in addition to us, one from the very posh Granite Bay, Placer County's fanciest address. So that made 17 of us that we could identify. Undoubtedly some others in the audience supported Darwin, too.
The board conducted other business first, and when they got to item number 13.2 called Science Standards Adoption, they called on Hank first. A retired health physicist, he explained how science uses the term "theory" as opposed to the way the general public uses the word. He also pointed out some discrepancies in human anatomy which would discredit the idea of an Intelligent Designer. For example the eye and the spine are far from the perfection you'd expect in an Intelligent Designer, and the appendix, of course, is nothing but trouble. Explaining the illogic of Intelligent Design by using scientific arguments took the five minutes allotted to him.
They called me next, and I stated that Intelligent Design was just the latest ploy by the creationists to get religion into the schools, that creationism had been designated a religion by the Supreme Court of the United States in Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987. I pointed out that Intelligent Design wasn't mainstream religion but that it was religion. I also expanded on Hank's argument that an Intelligent Designer would not have designed such a feeble specimen as humans, and asked: "Why would an intelligent designer design fleas and termites or birth human babies who arrive unable to fend for themselves?"
Gregory Shearer spoke next. A Sacramento City College lecturer, he said he represented many scientists who believe that an Intelligent Designer may be responsible for life on earth. He brought up what he called "irreducible complexity," a term coined by the Creationists.
Next to speak was Kathy Twisselman of Rocklin, a Placer County community member. She purported to have many scientists in her family, all of whom, she stated, believed in Intelligent Design. She said, "Life is far too complex, even at the single-celled level, to be called chance."
Paul Storey, fellow member of AOF, pointed out the incredible genetic similarities between various life forms. He also refuted some of Shearer's and Twisselman's arguments.
The board voted four to one to follow the state science standards. In the board discussion following, trustee Kelly Lafferty said that there are provisions for parents to have their children opt out of sex education and she believed the same option should be available for students who encounter the Theory of Evolution. She was the lone holdout, and she stated that this wasn't the end, that teaching evolution in the schools would be fought.
Board President Marcia Krummell said that because the Theory of Evolution is part of the state and district standards, teachers will teach it to students. "We are holding the teachers accountable for teaching to the standards," she said.
Later the four members of the board who voted to uphold Darwin stated that they were grateful to those of us who educated them with our statements.
The Press Tribune, for the most part, reported the meeting correctly. They did, however, state that the crowd was equally divided. We beg to differ.
Audience applause for the Creationist, Intelligent Design proponents came from only two or three people.
Cleo Kocol is a Life Member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a longtime Humanist and feminist activist, and is the author of several novels.