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LIANE HANSEN, host:

While the debate over teaching evolution in Kansas has cooled down somewhat, it's heating up in other states. A Florida legislator has just filed a bill to require that if students learn about evolution, they should also be exposed to intelligent design.

Diane Roberts offers this essay on why Charles Darwin's ideas generate such strong resistance.

Ms. DIANE ROBERTS (Essayist): I used to teach a wonderful college course called, "Origins." In it we'd ponder the origins of the universe, the origins of nations, the origins of language, the origins of faith, the origins of humankind. We'd read about the cities of Mesopotamia and the spread of monotheism. We'd study Galileo's struggle for truth over dogma and Leakey's discoveries at Olduvai Gorge.

Everything would go swimmingly until we hit Darwin. And while many students treated the origin of species the same way they did Newton's work on gravity or Einstein's theory of relativity, others got upset. There'd be anger, even tears. Once, a much pierced, much tattooed young woman stormed out of the classroom saying, I am not kin to a monkey.

Evolution hurts people's feelings. Nobody denies that cells divide or that light travels 186,000 miles per second. Evolution's different. People take evolution personally. This is largely an American phenomenon.

Europeans can't, for the life of them, figure out why we pitch a hissy-fit over evolution. They seem quite happy that the Age of Reason superseded the old theocratic worldview. But some Americans still implicitly accept the great chain of being. God perches at the top, then angels, then man, often literally, men. Women get shoved down a notch, then animals, bugs, plants, rocks. No fraternizing.

Americans see themselves as a people apart living in a chosen nation. We are a chosen species. If humans and apes descend from a common ancestor, well, then we're mere mammals, not the measure of all things. Not the pinnacle of creation.

But does accepting our place in the animal kingdom make us any less miraculous? The human brain evolved to remember the past. We can imagine the future. We can make worlds with our heads and our hands. We can delight in the stars of the night sky and know that we are made of the same stuff as they are. We are part of nature. We lose nothing by admitting it.

HANSEN: Essayist Diane Roberts lives in Tallahassee, Florida.

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