Ed Vitagliano | AFA Journal News Editor
Samuel Chen was a high school sophomore
who believed in freedom of speech and the unfettered pursuit of
knowledge. He thought his public high school did, too, but when
it came to the subject of evolution well, now hes not
In October 2002, Chen began working to get Dr.
Michael Behe, professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University,
to give a lecture at Emmaus High School in Emmaus, Pennsylvania.
Chen, who was co-chair of a student group that
tries to stress the importance of objectivity on controversial issues,
knew that Behe would be perfect, since the group was examining evolution
as a topic. The author of Darwins Black Box, a critique
of the foundational underpinnings of evolution, Behe had presented
his work and debated the subject in universities in the U.S. and
Behe agreed to come in February 2004 and give
an after-school lecture entitled, "Evolution: Truth or Myth?"
As the school year drew to a close in 2003, Chen had all the preliminaries
nailed down: he had secured Behes commitment, received approval
from school officials, and reserved the school auditorium.
Then he found out just how entrenched Darwinist
orthodoxy was in the science department at Emmaus. By the following
August, Chen had entered into a six-month battle to preserve the
As the struggle unfolded, it became obvious
that those who opposed Behe coming to Emmaus didnt seem to
care about his credentials. In addition to publishing over 35 articles
in refereed biochemical journals, Darwins Black Box
was internationally reviewed in over 100 publications and named
by National Review and World magazine as one of the
100 most important books of the 20th century.
Instead, it was Behes rejection of Darwinism
in favor of what is called "intelligent design"
that drove opposition. According to the Discovery Institute,
of which Behe is a fellow, this theory holds "that certain
features of the universe and of living things are best explained
by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural
selection." (See related article, page 19.)
The head of the science department, John Hnatow,
sent a statement to every faculty member in the school stressing
that Emmaus held to the official policy of the National Science
Teachers Association. That policy states: "There is no longer
a debate among scientists about whether evolution has taken place."
It appeared there would be no debate at Emmaus,
either. Some of the science teachers would not even allow Chen to
address their classes and explain to students what Behes lecture
would be about.
Chen said various tactics were apparently used
to undercut the event, including an attempt to cancel the lecture
and fold the student organization without the knowledge of Chen
and other members; requiring that the necessary funds for the lecture
be raised much faster than for other student events; and moving
the lecture from the auditorium to the school cafeteria.
One science teacher in particular, Carl Smartschan,
seemed particularly riled about the upcoming lecture. Smartschan
took it upon himself to talk to every teacher in the science department,
insisting that intelligent design was "unscientific" and
"scary stuff." He asked the principal to cancel the lecture,
and then, when the principal refused, asked the faculty advisor
for the student group to halt the lecture. Smartschan even approached
Chen and demanded that the student organization pay to have an evolutionist
come to lecture later in the year.
Smartschans campaign to get the Behe lecture
canceled was surprising to Chen because the event was scheduled
after school, and not during class time, and was sponsored by a
student group, not the school itself. Nevertheless, Chen persevered.
The lecture was a success, attracting more than 500 people.
In the process, however, Chens struggle
took its toll. His health deteriorated over the course of the controversy,
to the point where he collapsed three times in one month, including
once at school.
"My health has been totally junked,"
he told AFA Journal.
Brian Fahling, senior trial attorney and senior
policy advisor for the AFA Center for Law and Policy, is advising
Chen on his options for the coming year. Fahling said, "Schools
are not allowed to interfere with viewpoints with which they disagree,
and schools cannot disrupt the right of the students to participate
in the academic and intellectual life."
Despite the hardship, Chen said he would do
it all over again because the issue is so important. "I feel
that theres a dictatorship on academic freedom in our public
schools now," he said, adding, "I refer to evolution education
as a tyranny.
You cant challenge it in our schools.
Kids have been thrown out of class for challenging it."
That tyranny can be intimidating to students.
"Some of the students who support me are afraid to speak out,
especially because they saw how the science department reacted,"
Chen said. "They have a fear of speaking out against it in
On the other hand, he added that some students
"are now questioning evolution, some for the first time."
That may be the first step in the overthrow
of Darwins dictatorship.