Pa. Neighbors Feud Over Darwin, 'Design'

A community older than the American Revolution itself, Dover is about 20 miles south of Harrisburg. It boasts a traditional downtown and acres of open space. Every few miles, there's another church. Being Christian is one of those things that almost everyone in town has in common. For many, so is having grown up there and having never left.

In the spring and summer last year, Dover's members began discussing the introduction of a controversial textbook into a high school biology class. The book, "Of Pandas and People," argues evolution through natural selection -- a random process, Darwin's evolution -- simply makes no sense as an explanation for the development of creatures as complex as birds and cats and human beings. Surely, the book's authors argue, some intelligent designer created us. God is never mentioned in the book, but some call it a religious argument anyway.

The school board said "intelligent design" is simply an interesting theory, and it inserted it into the school curriculum. Biology students were to be read a statement: "Darwin's theory is not a fact. Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. 'Of Pandas And People' is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves."

On advice of their lawyers, board members refused to explain why they would risk so much just for that. But the beginning of an explanation may lie in a strange incident that took place years ago, when someone set fire to a piece of artwork at Dover Area High.

Burning 'Evolution'

Seven years ago, Zachary Straussbaugh, now a design engineer in a sheet metal plant, was a Dover Area High student who painted his way into a small corner of controversy with his senior project -- a mural for the science department, commissioned by the science teacher.

"He wanted the evolution of man done," Straussbaugh said. "I got the information. He had a 'National Geographic' that basically had exactly what I painted on it. And I just went off of that and transplanted onto the two 4-by-8 sheets of plywood, and went from there with the paintings. It took just about half a year, a full semester to get done."

Even as he painted it, Straussbaugh's subject matter met with a certain amount of hostility from some teachers.

"I got a lot of asking me whether or not I believed in it -- which, scientifically, I think I do believe in the evolution of man," he said. "But I think that's a lot of where the controversy, I thought, came from -- when they were asking me how I feel about it."

Straussbaugh finished the mural and graduated, leaving the artwork as a gift to the high school, where it hung, a permanent fixture in a science room, until 2002, when something strange happened.

That year, over summer break, a school custodian took down the mural, carried it outside and set fire to it.

Speaking briefly by telephone, the custodian told ABC News he had a granddaughter at the school and he didn't want her seeing the nudity in the mural. But a former school board member said there was more to it than that.

"It was an overzealous district employee who was offended based on his religion and just couldn't tolerate it," said Barrie Callahan.

He was offended "by the concept of evolution," she said. "That that was not part of his religion, and he did not want it in the school district."

Teaching Religion?

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