OAKLAND — Eugenie Scott first heard of creation science in the early 1970s, when she was in a Missouri graduate school studying anthropology.

As Scott tells it, she was fascinated by the way creation science — a religious belief that God literally created humans as described in the Bible — was presented as actual science.

"From the day I first heard this phrase, I was hooked," Scott wrote in an essay called "My favorite pseudoscience."

Still, Scott had no way to know that the fight to keep creationism out of public school science classrooms — and the fight to retain evolution — eventually would become her life's work.

As head of the Oakland-based National Center for Science Education for the past two decades, Scott has been on the front lines of that battle — a battle that has helped define

American society since the 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial," and one that is still being fought in 2005 in places such as Kansas and Pennsylvania.

The center's headquarters on 40th Street is an office cluttered with books, flies, newspaper clippings and a display of hominid skulls. It has a U.S. map showing dozens of areas where controversy has erupted concerning the teaching of evolution during the last several years — including about 10 places in California.

Teaching biology, Scott uses a sense of humor and an ability to make scientific concepts interesting.


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Scott, who has a doctorate in anthropology, helped block a Kentucky school board in 1980 from including creationism in the curriculum. Since then she has been involved in similar cases across the country and has become a national spokesperson for the teaching of evolution.

In recent years, Scott and the center have seen old creationist arguments gain new ground under the name "intelligent design," a religious theory that has been described as "creationism in a cheap tuxedo" by some in the scientific community.

Intelligent design states that certain biological systems, most famously the flagellum of some bacteria, are too complex to have evolved naturally. Therefore, those systems must have been "designed" by some higher power.

Intelligent design advocates say they believe that higher power is a Christian version of God. But they also say intelligent design is not tied to Christianity, because people are free to believe in any higher power they choose — space aliens, for example.

For the last year, the center has been involved in a lawsuit challenging the teaching of intelligent design in the Dover, Pa., school district.

Experts from the center helped lawyers with depositions, researched arguments and arranged for the testimony of expert witnesses including scientists, a historian and a theologian.

A ruling on the case could come as soon as this week.

"Intelligent design is just a way to avoid the legal problems that creation science found itself in," Scott said. "Creation science was crushed so fully (in court) that a number of creation scientists decided that they needed an alternative."

President George W. Bush, who has endorsed the teaching of Christian creationism in public schools, also came out for intelligent design in an August interview.

"Both sides ought to be properly taught ... so people can understand what the debate is about," Bush said.

Intelligent design has been harder to fight than creationism, in part because the term "intelligent design" sounds vaguely scientific, Scott said.

Also, experts say intelligent design seems more rational because it tends to accept some basic scientific concepts, including the notion that the universe is a lot older than the Bible indicates.

"They've eliminated all the goofy things about creation science that most people wouldn't accept," Scott said.

Caleb Cheung, a veteran science teacher at Frick Middle School in East Oakland, said teaching evolution has never been an issue for him or any other science teacher he knows in Oakland.

"It is clearly part of the state science standards for seventh grade," Cheung wrote in an e-mail.

Still, Cheung said, up until the last few years there were very few good lesson plans on evolution on the market. Three years ago, Cheung wrote his own six-week unit on evolution and genetics, and that curriculum is now used by a number of teachers in Oakland and other cities.

"As you know, the main (arguments against evolution) arise from very conservative churches that use a literal interpretation of the Bible," Cheung wrote. "Here in the Bay Area the Christians are relatively liberal."

In other parts of the country, however, there is still plenty of work for Scott and the the center.

According to a CBS poll last year, the majority of Americans — 55 percent — believe that God created human beings in their present form — in other words, that evolution does not exist, at least for humans. Among Bush voters, that number goes up to 67 percent.

The poll also found that about two-thirds of Americans want creationism taught alongside evolution in public classrooms.

No one would say Bush has helped the case for evolution. As Bush himself put it during his first presidential campaign, "on the issue of evolution, the verdict is still out on how God created the Earth."

"Even his supporters say George Bush is not a thoughtful person," Scott said. "I don't think he thinks about science. Maybe he is aware that there is a controversy in society (concerning evolution), but he might not be aware that there is no (such) controversy in science."

Contact Alex Katz at akatz@angnewspapers.com.