For David Wilcox, a biology professor at Eastern University, an evangelical college in St. Davids, the challenge is to teach students that it's possible to embrace evolution "without intellectual schizophrenia."
"Frequently, they've been taught that evolution is another way of saying atheism, and they just shut it out," said Wilcox, author of God and Evolution: A Faith-Based Understanding. "They say, 'Why do I have to learn this stuff - don't you know that God hates science?' "
"We have to make them wake up and smell the coffee. God doesn't hate science - he invented it. We try to get them to see that evolution happened and it's not so scary . . . that evolution is the way God did it."
"Evolutionary theists" such as Wilcox are part of a broader effort by the scientific establishment to defend evolution against advocates of creationism, "intelligent design," and other concepts that challenge all or parts of the theory of natural selection.
Evangelical Christians, sometimes portrayed as monolithic in their opposition to evolution, are as divided as much of the rest of the nation.
"No topic in the world of science and Christianity has created the intensity of discussion and disharmony with evangelicals as the source of biological diversity," says the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization of scientists who are Christians. "Today's spirited discussion often pits Christian vs. Christian and scientist vs. scientist."
The nation's leading science organizations and the vast majority of scientists accept the theory of evolution as the explanation for the origin of all living things, but Americans in general are much less convinced.
Offered three explanations for the origin of humans in a CBS News/New York Times poll six months ago, 13 percent of respondents said they believed "we evolved from less-advanced life-forms over millions of years, and God did not directly guide this process." Twenty-seven percent believed "we evolved from less-advanced life-forms over millions of years, but God guided this process." And 55 percent believed "God created us in our present form." The poll, which questioned 885 people, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Evangelicals who are "young Earth" fundamentalists dismiss evolution and subscribe to a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of creation, believing Earth is less than 10,000 years old. They often see the teaching of evolution as undermining Christianity and paving the way to immorality.
"What you believe about where you came from directly affects your worldview," said Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, a fundamental creationist organization that is building a 50,000-square-foot Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. "If you can use man's ideas to reinterpret the book of Genesis, then why not use man's ideas to reinterpret morality?"
One of the newest wrinkles in a debate that has percolated ever since Charles Darwin published his On the Origin of Species in 1859 is "intelligent design." That is the concept at the heart of the battle in Dover, 25 miles south of Harrisburg.
Eleven parents have filed a federal lawsuit to stop the Dover school board from requiring biology teachers to present "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution. The parents say intelligent design is a religious argument and teaching it violates a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against teaching creationism as science.
Intelligent design holds that natural selection cannot explain all of the complex developments observed in nature and that an unspecified intelligent designer must be involved. Its adherents say it is a scientific, not a religious, concept based on scientific observations, although they acknowledge its theological implications.
Michael Behe, a biochemistry professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem and the author of Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, is an intelligent-design proponent and is scheduled to be one of the expert witnesses for the Dover school board when the case goes to trial in the fall.
He says religion is "clearly why [intelligent design] evokes such emotion. . . . People think it will support their religious views. It's not just another issue of science. If it were, no one would care."
Christian supporters of evolution say intelligent design, while rejecting "young Earth" beliefs, seems to require periodic intervention by the designer.
Kenneth R. Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University, is a Catholic and an ardent proponent of evolution and opponent of intelligent design. The author of Finding Darwin's God, he is to be an expert witness for the parents in the Dover case.
"I think there is a God, and he is the creator of the universe," Miller said. "But the God of the intelligent-design movement is way too small. . . . In their view, he designed everything in the world and yet he repeatedly intervenes and violates the laws of his own creation.
"Their God is like a kid who is not a very good mechanic and has to keep lifting the hood and tinkering with the engine."
In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as in most states, school districts are required to teach evolution as part of the science curriculum.
In Pennsylvania, "school districts may inform students of the existence of particular religious viewpoints when the information in conveyed for a secular and educational purpose and is presented objectively," according to Bethany Yenner, an Education Department spokeswoman. "Under no circumstance may an educator or a school district offer opinions on religious viewpoints."
In New Jersey, students "could look at how a variety of religions view a scientific theory," noted Jon Zlock, an Education Department spokesman. "Obviously, more than one religious viewpoint should be explored. It should be done objectively. One religious point of view should not be stressed above others."
Many evangelical Protestants, like many Catholics and other Christians, argue that faith and science complement each other and need not collide over evolution.
The scientific establishment is stepping up its efforts to present evolution as something apart from, not a threat to, religion.
"It's not science vs. religion - that misses the point entirely," said Jay Labov, senior adviser for education and communication for the National Academy of Sciences. "Science cannot begin to look into the supernatural. That's beyond the realm of science."
The president of the National Academy, Bruce Alberts, sent a letter in March to all members of the academy, urging them "to confront the increasing challenges to the teaching of evolution in public schools; your help may be needed in your state soon."
The academy has gathered the signatures of more than 4,000 Christian clergy, including evangelicals, supporting evolution as "a foundational scientific truth." The clergy, in the letter, "ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth."
But more collisions between the two seem certain.
"If you think there are issues with school boards now, there are going to be a lot more," said Ham, of Answers in Genesis. "Wait till we get the museum finished - you haven't seen anything yet."
Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or email@example.com.