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Kitzmiller v. Dover School District I


This week, the international disgrace of a Great Power in the choke-hold of the fundamentalist liars who enjoy undue influence over its fate proceeds to a new stage. (Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover School District, et al., U.S. District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania, September 26, 2005.)


The original statement issued by the Dover Area High School administrators in Pennsylvania, where the case originated, reads (in part) as follows (“Biology Curriculum Update,” Dover Area School District News, February, 2005, p. 1):

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin’s theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Not only is it factually inaccurate for the Dover Area School District to assert that Darwinian “theory is a theory” and “not a fact.” (“Malevolent Designs,” ZNet, September 14, 2004.)

But so-called “intelligent design” is neither a fact nor a theory. And its actual status sure as hell isn’t controversial.

Nor are there two alternative, equally compelling views demanding to be taught. Much less is the case currently before Judge John E. Jones III in a Harrisburg courtroom a landmark case.

To assert otherwise is bullshit. Plain and simple.

On the contrary. “Intelligent design” is a hoax. In particular, it is a hoax designed for use as a right-wing “wedge” issue, malevolently and purposefully intended to keep Republican candidates in office, and to keep voters casting their ballots on the basis of any issue but those that pertain to their concrete lives and the fate of the planet. (“To the Greater Glory of the G.O.P.,” ZNet, August 23, 2005.)

Let me linger here on but one example, while adding the caveat that there are a lot more just like it.

Last Wednesday, the Discovery Institute, an otherwise flakey Seattle-based “think tank” in the service of right-wing political causes (historically, Discovery’s focus always had been on social policy), issued a press release by its Associate Director, John G. West, who complained (“Discovery Institute’s Position on Dover, PA ‘Intelligent Design’ Case,” September 21):

Eighty years ago the ACLU went to court in Tennessee to defend the right of John Scopes to teach his students about evolution. Today, the ACLU is betraying the principle of academic freedom by seeking a government-imposed gag-order on teachers and students that would prevent even voluntary discussions of intelligent design in the science classroom. All Americans who cherish free speech should reject the ACLU’s effort to decide the debate over evolution through court orders rather than the free marketplace of ideas.

Apparently the ACLU has come to believe that some ideas are just too dangerous for students and teachers to discuss. On the one hand, it insists that the First Amendment protects a teacher’s right to teach evidence supporting Darwin’s theory. On the other hand, it claims that the same First Amendment forbids teachers from discussing dissenting scientific theories. It looks like the ACLU believes that free speech only applies to one side of the evolution debate. This is a blatant double-standard.

Discovery Institute strongly opposes the ACLU’s effort to make discussions of intelligent design illegal. At the same time, we disagree with efforts to get the government to require the teaching of intelligent design. Misguided policies like the one adopted by the Dover School District are likely to be politically divisive and hinder a fair and open discussion of the merits of intelligent design among scholars and within the scientific community, points we have made repeatedly since we first learned about the Dover policy in 2004. Furthermore, most teachers currently do not know enough about intelligent design or have sufficient curriculum materials to teach about it accurately and objectively.

Rather than require students to learn about intelligent design, what we recommend is that teachers and students study more about Darwinian evolution, not only the evidence that supports the theory, but also scientific criticisms of the theory.

(Quick aside. The webpage that the Discovery Institute devotes to “News” is dominated by the politics of “intelligent design,” and ought to be renamed. Hoax Central would do just fine.)

In these four paragraphs from John West, the hoaxers tip their hand. (Believe me: They tip their hands every time they make the mistake of opening their mouths.) Every right-wing candidate in the United States now has a fraudulent, diversionary non-issue to incorporate into a political campaign. (For example, the effort of his or her opponent to seek government-imposed gag orders on “intelligent design” in the class room. Or what Discovery’s September 21 press release really meant when it proclaimed: “It’s about Free Speech, Not Church and State.”)

Election engineering is all that so-called “intelligent design” really is about. Nor is there any need to argue the point. The whole bit ought simply to be denounced. Along with everyone associated with it.

Biology Curriculum Update,” Dover Area School District News, February, 2005
Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover School District, et al., U.S. District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania, September 26, 2005
Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover School District, et al. (Homepage), National Center for Science Education

Hoax Central (Homepage)
Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center (Homepage)
Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Homepage)

Scopes, 2005: ‘Design’ Theory Faces Legal Test,” Suzanne Sataline, Wall Street Journal, September 22, 2005
Making Way for Intelligent Design,” Rudolph H. Weingartner, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 24, 2005
Intelligent Define,” Editorial, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 24, 2005
The Spiritual Crisis of Darwin,” Baltimore Sun, September 25, 2005
‘Intelligent Design’ Supporters State Case,” Bill Toland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 25, 2005
The Bush Administration’s Abuse of Science,” Chris Mooney, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 25, 2005
If It Can’t Be Tested, It Isn’t Science,” Editorial, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 25, 2005
In Evolution Debate, Creationists Are Breaking New Ground,” Michael Powell, Washington Post, September 25, 2005
‘Intelligent design’ rule faces court test today,” Jeffrey Nesmith, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 26, 2005
Dispute over evolution goes on trial in U.S. court,” Arthur Hirsch, Baltimore Sun, September 26, 2005
School Board in Court Over Attempt To Sideline Darwin’s Theory,” Leonard Doyle, The Independent, September 26, 2005
‘Intelligent Design’ Trial Begins Today,” Josh Getlin, Los Angeles Times, September 26, 2005
A Web of Faith, Law and Science In Evolution Suit,” Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, September 26, 2005
New Analyses Bolster Central Tenets of Evolution Theory,” Rick Weiss and David Brown, Washington Post, September 26, 2005
Intelligent design suit inspired by local man’s ideas,” Bo Emerson, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 27, 2005
Intelligent design duels Darwin in `Scopes II’,” Lisa Anderson, Chicago Tribune, September 27, 2005
Parents challenge US ‘intelligent design’ teaching,” Julian Borger, The Guardian, September 27, 2005
School Defends Its Decision To Teach ‘Intelligent Design’,” Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, September 27, 2005
Lawyers fire opening shots in Intelligent Design case,” Celeste Biever, NewScientist, September 27, 2005
Evolution Controversy Intensifies,” Bryn Nelson, Newsday, September 27, 2005
Intelligent design goes on trial in Pennsylvania,” Bill Toland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 27, 2005
Pa. Case Is Newest Round in Evolution Debate,” Michael Powell, Washington Post, September 27, 2005
Intelligent Design Tied to Creationism,” Bill Toland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 28, 2005
The Theology of Intelligent Design,” Michael McGough, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 28, 2005
Parents take stand on Darwin versus God in school,” James Bone, The Times, September 28, 2005
Intimidation Alleged On ‘Intelligent Design’,” Michael Powell, Washington Post, September 28, 2005
Witness: Intelligent Design Not Science,” Bill Toland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 29, 2005
Hard to Believe: Pennsylvania Hosts Its Own Scopes Trial,” Editorial, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 29, 2005
Roseville district keeping close eye on evolution trial,” Laurel Rosenhall, Sacremento Bee, September 29, 2005
Intelligent design left Dover out,” Joan Ryan, San Francisco Chronicle, September 29, 2005
Ex-Official: Board Broke with Curriculum Policy,” Bill Toland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 30, 2005
Parents Put ‘Intelligent Design” in the Dock,” Staff, New Scientist, October 1, 2005
“Fight the good fight: Evolution vs intelligent design is a battle we cannot afford to lose,” Editorial, New Scientist, October 1, 2005 [$$$$$---see below]
Let ‘intelligent design’ and science rumble,” Michael Balter, Los Angeles Times, October 2, 2005
For the Anti-Evolutionists, Hope in High Places,” George Johnson, New York Times, October 2, 2005
In Pennsylvania, It Was Religion vs. Science, Pastor vs. Ph.D., Evolution vs. the Half-Fish,” Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, October 2, 2005
Evolution As Zero-Sum Game,” Kenneth L. Woodward, New York Times, October 2, 2005
On the seventh day, America went to court,” Paul Harris, The Observer, October 2, 2005
Analysis: ‘Intelligent design’ case to undergo 2-pronged test,” Bill Toland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 2, 2005

Saving Us from Darwin,” Frederick C. Crews, New York Review of Books, October 4, 2001
The Wars Over Evolution,” Richard C. Lewontin, New York Review of Books, October 20, 2005

Devolution at the Church of Rome,” ZNet, July 9, 2005
To the Greater Glory of the G.O.P.,” ZNet, August 23, 2005
Malevolent Designs,” ZNet, September 14, 2004
Kitzmiller v. Dover School District,” ZNet, September 27, 2005

Postscript (September 29): A friend in the U.K. just called the following material to my attention (the very same friend who always closes his messages with the epigraph: “A society of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves.”):

Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look,” Gregory S. Paul, Journal of Religion and Society (Vol. 7, 2005)
Societies worse off ‘when they have God on their side’,” Ruth Gledhill, The Times, September 27, 2005

Aside from the London Times‘s report on the Paul study, other newspapers that picked up The Times‘s report were the Calgary Herald (“Study claims religion contributes to society’s ills,” Sept. 27) and The Australian (“Religion is society’s biggest threat: author,” Sept. 28); the U.K.-based Press Association wire service also circulated its own report on the Paul study (“Godless Nations Are healthier Societies,” Martha Linden, September 27).

According to the Press Association report:

Religious belief in rich democratic countries is associated with higher levels of murder, sexual infection, teenage pregnancy and abortion, according to a new study published today.

The most “Godless” societies, such as Japan, France and Scandinavia, have come closest to achieving low rates of lethal crime, early mortality, and even abortion, the study in the US Journal of Religion & Society showed.

In contrast, the highly-religious US is almost always the “most dysfunctional” when it comes to measuring levels of society’s ills, such as murder rates and early mortality.

Surveys showed a “strong majority” from conservative to liberal in the US believing that religion is beneficial for society and individuals, the paper said.

Many Americans believe that their church-going nation is an exceptional God-blessed “shining city on the hill” that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world, it noted.

But the poor performance of the US in tackling social ills contradicts the view that it is necessary to believe in a creator in order to enjoy good conditions, the author Gregory Paul suggests.

Ironically, in view of the opinion of the late Pope John Paul II, that secular materialism leads to “cultures of death”, the most Godless nations have come closer to achieving “cultures of life” that feature low levels of lethal crime and even abortion, he noted.

The study used data from the United Nations Development programme, the World Health Organisation and other bodies.

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, sexually transmitted disease infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies,” he said.

“The US is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly.

“The view of the US as a ‘shining city on the hill’ to the rest of the world is falsified when it comes to basic measures of societal health.”

Not insignificantly, I have yet to find a single report on the Paul study published by a U.S.-based news source. Not even Associated Press or Reuters has touched it yet, it appears. (Though if somebody else finds one, please forward it along to me. Thanks.)

Verily, the United States of America is on a roll!

Let’s just hope it doesn’t take the rest of the planet with it.

FYA (“For your archives”):

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)
September 25, 2005 Sunday REGION EDITION

SECTION: , Pg.K-1
HEADLINE: THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION’S ABUSE OF SCIENCE;
THE ONCE-COOPERATIVE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SCIENTISTS AND OUR POLITICAL LEADERS HAS THOROUGHLY DETERIORATED UNDER THIS WHITE HOUSE, SAYS CHRIS MOONEY, AND WE ALL PAY THE PRICE

Today we are facing a full-fledged national crisis over the role of scientific information in public policy-making. It’s a subtle crisis in some ways, often obscured by the complexities of scientific disputation. But it is a crisis nonetheless, one that threatens every one of us because it affects not only public health and the environment, but the way we treat knowledge itself in American society.

The crisis is a direct consequence of continuing, and well-documented, misuses and distortions of scientific information by the Bush administration, on issues ranging from global climate change to embryonic stem-cell research. The extensiveness of the administration’s abuses, combined with the fact that it refuses to acknowledge or apologize for its offenses, leaves us with a deep conundrum:

How do we ensure that scientific knowledge and expertise play an appropriate role in helping to inform national policy decisions? And what are the consequences when one ideological movement, or one presidential administration, or one political party, shows a systematic willingness to undermine, misappropriate and abuse scientific and technical expertise?

This is a question that cuts to the heart of the role of science in a democracy. None other than George W. Bush himself may have put it best when he declared, with a deer-in-the-headlights look during his first public appearance following the Asian tsunami catastrophe, “I am not a geologist, as you know.”

Although I suspect that Bush’s wisdom here is merely accidental, he’s really on to something. For while we don’t generally want our elected leaders to be scientists — Israel’s 1952 offer of the presidency to Albert Einstein being an exception to the rule — we do want the two camps to communicate honestly and forthrightly.

In essence, then, the much-discussed “politicization of science” really amounts to a strategic attack of the necessary channels of communication between technocratic experts, who know a great deal about the workings of nature, and democratically elected leaders who must often tap into technocratic knowledge if they are to guide us wisely.

Unfortunately, under the Bush administration, the once cooperative relationship between scientists and our political leaders has thoroughly deteriorated. Many scientists feel they have received the back of the hand from this administration — and not just when it comes to the requests for funding of basic research in Bush’s budget.

Far more outrageous are the following: Reports of a former oil industry employee editing climate change reports from the White House. The president lending his endorsement to the teaching of so-called “intelligent design” alongside evolution in public school science classes. The resignation of a senior Food and Drug Administration expert due to continual politicking over the approval of Plan B emergency contraception (the “morning after” pill) over the counter. (On Friday, the head of the FDA, Lester Crawford, resigned abruptly; the fallout over the Plan B episode was likely part of the reason.)

And these are just the most prominent case studies from the past several months. Choose a different time period and you will have a different set of examples–and that’s precisely the point. Science is being used repeatedly as a political football by the Bush administration, and the particular issue almost doesn’t matter — so long as it’s of consequence to some interest group that the administration is committed to appeasing.

The most prominent such interest groups are religious conservatives and regulated industry. These two interest groups want very different things — economics, morals — but their desires frequently stray into scientific areas. For instance, religious conservatives want to challenge the way that evolution is taught in public schools, while business interests such as tobacco want (or at least, wanted) to challenge scientific studies suggesting health risks from smoking.

Catering to these constituencies, as the Republican Party has increasingly done, has inevitably led politicians and political appointees to humor what essentially amounts to their scientific lobbying. This has happened even as such lobbying has itself become state of the art, encompassing think-tank driven campaigns that skew what’s actually known on hot-button scientific issues with big political ramifications, such as evolution and especially global warming. Both of these trends have converged under the Bush administration, a fact that goes a long way towards explaining the current crisis over the politicization of science.

Indeed, there are many good reasons for thinking that, although all politicians to some extent use science selectively, the Bush administration is significantly different than other administrations when it comes to the cavalier treatment of science–and that, in fact, it’s much worse.

First, we have the testimonials from individuals who actually served in these previous administrations: For example, former Nixon and Ford administration Environmental Protection Agency administrator Russell Train, himself a Republican. These people say they’ve never seen anything like what we’re seeing now, and that’s one powerful piece of evidence.

We also have the simple fact that no similarly broad-ranging crisis over the political abuse of science arose during previous administrations. While the relationship between science and politics did become contentious during other presidencies, the tension generally arose over specific issues, such as the “Star Wars” program during the Reagan years, rather than over the government’s entire approach to science across a sweeping array of issues.

Now, thanks to all of these tactics and abuses, and the political structure that has grown up to support them, we are facing a crisis.

Unfortunately, it’s a crisis that’s only recognized by one side of the political spectrum, which has now begun to call for good government-style reforms, designed to safeguard the role of legitimate scientific expertise in informing government decision-making, to protect that expertise from manipulation and abuse, and more generally to restore a spirit of candor and collaboration between the scientific community and our elected officials.

For example, Reps. Henry Waxman and Bart Gordon have proposed legislation to bar political litmus tests for advisory committee membership, extend whistleblower protections to government scientists who allege abuses, and much else.

Such reforms should be coupled with attempts to restore the government scientific advisory apparatus itself: Bring back the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, dismantled by the Gingrich Republicans, and strengthen the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

But still, that’s not enough. Scientists need to continue to fight back against misuses of science, and that includes getting into the trenches and battling those who would spread nonsense to our children in schools. The university community in this nation, too, needs to band together to defend the integrity of science, something we haven’t seen happen yet.

There ought to be a scientific integrity movement on campuses, a natural venue for defending the scientific process and the value of inquiry.

Ultimately, all of this energy should translate into political action itself: If conservative Republicans have a bad record on science, we need to call them out on their abuses and support candidates (Democrat or Republican) with better records.

In the long term, all of these strategies must combine if we are to reverse the trend of science abuse and restore scientific integrity to the political process and to society at large.

NOTES: Chris Mooney is the author of “The Republican War on Science,” published this month by Basic Books. He is Washington correspondent for Seed Magazine (www.chriscmooney.com).

New Scientist
October 1, 2005
SECTION: COMMENT; Editorial; Pg. 3
HEADLINE: Fight the good fight;
Evolution vs intelligent design is a battle we cannot afford to lose

IT IS being billed as Scopes II – a reprise of the infamous 1925 court battle between John Scopes and the state of Tennessee over the teaching of evolution in US schools. Except this time, the Kitzmiller vs Dover case is putting intelligent design (ID), the latest creationist alternative to Darwinian evolution, on trial.

The case, which began in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on 26 September, has been brought by the parents, including Tammy Kitzmiller, of 11 children who attend Dover High School. They disagree with the area school board’s requirement for students to be made aware of ID in science lessons. That imposes a particular religious view on their children, the parents say, and violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

That same argument convinced the US Supreme Court to ban the teaching of “creation science” 18 years ago. Yet ID may prove to be a more guileful opponent. Creation science selectively sought evidence that appeared to support one particular version of the creation myth. ID seeks to answer an absence of evidence. If you can’t prove that evolution created complex structures and organisms, it argues, then it is reasonable to suppose they are part of nature’s design, and by extension, the work of a “designer” (New Scientist , 9 July, p 8). This need not be God in the conventional sense, its supporters say, though most are themselves fundamentalist Christians.

It is an empty argument – one that has no place in a science lesson, and we hope the judge will quickly reject it. Yet the stakes are high for both sides in fighting this court case.

The ID project has made considerable headway by claiming that children are entitled to hear both sides of the argument and make up their own minds. The plea sounds reasonable. But the Kitzmiller vs Dover trial will finally subject the “teach the controversy” soundbite to deeper scrutiny. Searching questions about the religious motivation behind the ID project, and its lack of scientific credentials, should give it a bumpier ride than the more lenient court of public opinion.

That doesn’t mean the evolutionists will have an easy time. Some argue that adversarial court arguments will give the impression of scientific controversy where none exists. It may also offer the media an opportunity to portray scientists as dogmatic, censorious aggressors. If the parents win, teaching policy will change, but only in Dover. If they lose, it could send a signal across the US that teaching ID in science classes is legitimate.

Nonetheless it is a case that must be fought. Dover is the first US school district to make the teaching of ID, a religiously inspired alternative to science, compulsory. And it must be challenged. The education of America’s schoolchildren, and the future of American science, depends on it.

Los Angeles Times
October 2, 2005 Sunday
Home Edition
SECTION: CURRENT; Editorial Pages Desk; Part M; Pg. 3
HEADLINE: Let ‘intelligent design’ and science rumble
BYLINE: Michael Balter, MICHAEL BALTER is a human evolution writer for Science. The views expressed above are his own.

Should “Intelligent DESIGN” be taught in school alongside the theory of evolution?

That’s the question being tried in a federal court in Pennsylvania, where 11 parents have sued to block the teaching of intelligent design in Dover’s high school. But it’s the wrong question. A national debate over how best to explain the complexity of living organisms would better serve our children, and adults too.

Most scientists don’t want any debate. Many view intelligent design as simply a new and more sophisticated attempt — “the thinking man’s creationism,” as Science magazine put it — to slip old-time religion into the classroom. They maintain that the theory of evolution, in particular natural selection, is so well supported by the evidence that it is the consensus scientific view. As such, it deserves a monopoly in school curricula.

Using complex statistics, intelligent-design theorists contend that natural selection fails to fully explain life’s complexity, thus alternative explanations to evolution should be considered. As a rule, they don’t speculate over who or what did the designing.

Intelligent-design proponents also argue that the scientific consensus on evolution is not rock solid. The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, whose Center for Science and Culture spearheads the intelligent-design campaign, has recruited more than 400 scientists to sign its “Scientific Dissent From Darwinism,” which states in part: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.”

Opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Americans don’t believe that the theory of evolution is the best explanation for our own origins. A November 2004 Gallup poll, for example, found that only 13% of respondents said they believed that God had no part in the evolution or creation of human beings, and 38% said they thought humans evolved from less-advanced forms but that God guided the process. About 45% said they believed that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 or so years. These results echoed similar Gallup polls dating to 1982.

This suggests that scientists have won few converts during at least the last two decades — despite a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision banning the teaching of creationism in the classroom.

In large part, Americans’ skepticism toward evolutionary theory reflects the continuing influence of religion. Yet it also implies that scientists have not been persuasive enough, even when buttressed by strong scientific evidence that natural selection alone can account for life’s complexity.

Could it be that the theory of evolution’s judicially sanctioned monopoly in the classroom has backfired?

For one thing, the monopoly strengthens claims by intelligent-design proponents that scientists don’t want to be challenged. More important, it shields Darwinian theory from challenges that, when properly refuted, might win over adherents to evolutionary views.

Pro-evolution scientists have little to lose and everything to gain from a nationwide debate. Let’s put the leading proponents of intelligent design and our sharpest evolutionary biologists on a national television panel and let them take their best shots. If biblical literalists want to join in, let them. Let’s encourage teachers to stage debates in their classrooms or in assemblies. Students can be assigned to one or the other side, and guest speakers can be invited. Among other things, students would learn that science, when properly done, reaches conclusions via experimentation, evidence and argument, not through majority view.

Would this bring religion into the classroom? Religious faith and thinking are already in the classroom, as the opinion polls strongly suggest. And the courts should stay out of it because educators would not be required nor allowed to advocate a religious point of view.

The history of the theory of evolution is one of bitter debates between religion and science, and the debates continue today. In “On the Origin of Species,” Charles Darwin refuted the arguments for intelligent design put forward by the 18th century English philosopher William Paley, who greatly influenced the evolutionary theorist until Darwin witnessed natural selection at work on the Galapagos Islands. Over the ensuing decades, Darwin’s theories were rigorously tested and criticized before they won over the majority of scientists.

The best way to teach the theory of evolution is to teach this contentious history. The most effective way to convince students that the theory is correct is to confront, not avoid, continuing challenges to it.

Given the opportunity to debate, scientists should say: “Bring it on.”

The Observer
October 2, 2005
On the Seventh Day, America Went to Court

A bitter struggle is unfolding in the US about the most basic of issues: the origins of life. Scientists are rallying to the banner of Darwin – but their foes are growing in confidence.

By Paul Harris

The American Museum of Natural History in New York will open the most far-reaching exhibition in its history on Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, next month. In most countries such a display by one of the world’s top museums would not be the stuff of heated controversy.
But not in America. Not in 2005.

As the rest of the world looks on in amazement at a debate that seemed to have been settled long ago, America is now gripped by a raging battle between evolution and creationism. The museum’s Darwin exhibition will be just the latest battle in the continuing fight.

At the centre of it is the concept of intelligent design, which critics call ‘creationism lite’. This theory holds that evolution is not a proven fact and nature is so complex that it betrays the existence of ‘a designer’. Without being explicit there is little doubt the designer is intended to be God.

The exhibition will tackle this theory head on by trying to point out the difference between science and religion. Intelligent design will be explicitly mentioned. ‘We expect that in some corners the show will be controversial. We are prepared for that,’ said Michael Novacek, provost of the museum.

Promoting evolution to the American public, however, is not always easy, even in the 21st century. Religious think-tanks and other bodies are seeking to push intelligent design into American public life. In particular they want it taught in school science classes. Advocates of the theory say they do not want to stop evolution being taught – they just want other theories mentioned too. Critics say this approach gives the illusion of a scientific debate between evolution and rival theories when in reality there is no genuine argument left to have.

The battle is fierce. In several US states intelligent design advocates have succeeded in inserting their texts or statements into science textbooks, though these have often been thrown out later. In Kansas, the state school board, which is sceptical about evolution, even held public hearings on the merits of including intelligent design in the science syllabus. Mainstream scientists boycotted the hearings, claiming the meetings had been rigged in favour of the creationists.

But it is in the small Pennsylvania town of Dover that the big fight is taking place. Last week a trial started that has been billed as the biggest test of religion in the classroom since the infamous Scopes ‘Monkey Trial’ of 1925 when John Scopes was successfully prosecuted for teaching evolution in Tennessee. That trial seemed to encapsulate a moment in American history when the competing worlds of modernity and traditional beliefs clashed in a single courtroom. Now it is happening again.

The city of Harrisburg lies at the foot of central Pennsylvania’s rolling woods and trees. It is here that the trial is being held, about 20 miles north of the small township of Dover that is now famous across America. The area is a slice of conservative rural America in the heart of the traditionally liberal north east, a Republican part of a Democrat state with more culturally in common with the Deep South or the Midwest than urban areas nearby.

It is no real surprise then that Dover is now at the cutting edge of the battle between evolution and creationism. The case was brought by 11 parents whose children attend the town school. The school board had ordered teachers to read pupils a statement about intelligent design, telling the children that evolution was not a fact and had gaps. The statement referred them to a key textbook outlining the theory, Of Pandas and People, for more information. This made the Dover board the first in the US to require elements of intelligent design to be taught in its science classes.

That appalled many scientists and civil liberties lawyers who thought the decision fundamentally undermined one of the central tenets of modern science.

Across the world Darwin’s theories of the development of life have stood up to more than a century of scientific examination and now form the bedrock of all the biological sciences.

The critics say intelligent design is fundamentally untestable and unprovable, as it relies on inserting a supernatural force – called God or a designer – into a scientific theory. For them, those pushing for intelligent design to be taught in science classes, rather than in religious studies lessons, are taking America back into the Middle Ages.

‘They want a theistic science. If they are successful in this project it would turn us back to an earlier era, a pre-Enlightenment era,’ said Robert Pennock, a professor of philosophy and science at Michigan State University.

Intelligent design advocates, such as scientists at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, reply that they are not pushing God into science and that detecting the presence of ‘intelligence’ in nature is a scientific method.

‘The scientific theory of intelligent design does not attempt to address religious belief questions such as the nature and identity of the designer, and thus it avoids untestable assertions,’ said the institute’s Casey Luskin, who runs a scheme to encourage students to set up clubs to ‘investigate evolution’ at schools and colleges.

Creationism may be scientific nonsense, but it is certainly popular. Proponents of intelligent design and more extreme creationists, such as those who believe in the literal account of the Bible, reflect majority opinion in America. Surveys repeatedly show that most Americans do indeed prefer creationist versions of the development of life rather than scientific ones. Several ‘creationist’ museums have been built with displays of humans existing with dinosaurs and exhibits depicting Noah and the flood.

A poll by the Pew Research Centre last week showed 64 per cent of Americans favour teaching some form of creationism in publicly-funded schools. Only 26 per cent wanted to keep the idea of any form of divine intervention out of science classes, while fewer than half accepted that humans evolved over time from other species.

That widespread popular rejection of evolution has been on display in the Dover trial. Last week one of the plaintiffs testified that her 14-year-old daughter was being abused by fellow pupils at school because she believes in evolution. ‘My child has heard comments from other students: “Do you really think we came from monkeys?”,’ said Christy Rehm.

The echoes of the first Victorian-era reaction to Darwin’s theories may seem surreal but it is a powerful political force. President Bush has even weighed in, saying he believes intelligent design should be taught as part of science. ‘I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought,’ Bush said.

Such comments horrify the scientific establishment but they are good politics. Behind much of the push to get intelligent design taught in schools is a powerful movement of Christian conservatives who make up much of the Republican party base. It was their immense organisational abilities and large turnout as voters that helped propel Bush to win a second term in the White House last November.

However, away from the politics and the religion, American scientists are left baffled by having even to address the theory. ‘With our show we are not posing it as a debate,’ said Novacek, of the Natural History Museum. ‘I don’t see it as a debate in my own mind since Darwin is so fundamental to modern science.’

That was repeated again and again by scientists appearing in the witness box in Harrisburg last week. ‘Every single scientific society in the United States that has taken a position on this issue has taken a position against intelligent design and for evolutionary theory,’ said Professor Kenneth Miller, a biologist at Brown University, Rhode Island.

With the Dover trial expected to last another five weeks, such anti-intelligent-design statements are likely, along with a swath of publicity for the proponents of creationism and other critics of evolution. Other school boards are likely to be inspired to attempt to include intelligent design in their science classes.

No matter what the verdict in Harrisburg, only one thing is certain: 80 years after the Scopes Monkey Trial the fight between science and creationism is far from over in America.

The American world view

64 per cent of people questioned for a recent poll said they were open to the idea of teaching creationism in addition to evolution in schools, while 38 per cent favoured replacing evolution with creationism.

40 per cent of Americans believe God will eventually intervene in human affairs and bring about an end to life on Earth, according to a survey carried out in 2002. Of those believers, almost half thought this would occur in their lifetime with a return of Jesus from heaven.

1 adult American in five believes that the Sun revolves around Earth, according to one study carried out last summer.

80 per cent of Americans surveyed by the CNN TV news network believe that their government is hiding evidence of the existence of space aliens.

70 per cent believe it likely that Saddam Hussein was involved personally in the 9/11 terrorist attacks

Postscript (November 25): Looks like we’ll have to chalk another one up for the Americans. Because surely they lead the world in the number of university-campus-based chapters to have been formed for the “Intelligent Design” fan club:

Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center

Chicago Tribune
November 25, 2005
Students join debate on intelligent design
Campus clubs set up to defend concept
By Lisa Anderson

ITHACA, N.Y. — Dappled with autumn leaves, the manicured campus of an Ivy League university in upstate New York may seem far from the cornfields of Kansas or the rural towns of central Pennsylvania, but it represents the newest of these battlefields in the growing culture war over the teaching of evolution.

The national spotlight recently has focused on school boards in Kansas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere that are grappling with calls for including intelligent design, a concept critical of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, in science curricula. But a significant new front in this cultural conflict is opening in the halls of American higher education, spearheaded by science students skeptical of evolution and intrigued by intelligent design.

One of them is Hannah Maxson. A math and chemistry major at Cornell University, she founded an Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Club here this fall.

“In my opinion, both intelligent design and Darwinian evolution are science. Both have philosophical implications. Intelligent design implies the universe is somewhat directed. Darwinian evolution implies a naturalistic worldview,” Maxson, 21, said.

Darwin’s evolutionary theory, hailed as the cornerstone of modern biology by nearly all scientists, holds that all life on Earth shares common ancestry and developed through natural selection and random mutation. In science, a theory is generally a principle developed from facts rigorously tested over time.

Intelligent design, or ID, posits that there are complexities of life not yet explained by evolution that are best attributed to an unnamed and unseen intelligent designer. Opponents, including every major U.S. scientific organization, deride it as “neo-creo,” or a high-tech version of creationism, the account of creation in Genesis in the Bible.

Cornell’s IDEA Club is one of about 25 such campus organizations across the country, including a new club established at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The clubs operate under the auspices of the IDEA Center, founded in 2001 as a non-profit educational organization whose goal is “to promote intelligent design theory purely on its scientific merits,” according to the organization’s mission statement. The center provides clubs with organizational help, books, videos and primarily non-financial support, according to Casey Luskin, co-founder of the center and the first campus IDEA Club begun in 1999 at the University of California, San Diego.

He said the center, which has a budget of less than $10,000, remains separate from and receives no funding from the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based advocate of intelligent design.

However, several institute fellows are on the center’s advisory board, including such prominent ID advocates as William Dembski and Michael Behe, and Luskin recently became the program officer for public policy and legal affairs at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

“We have done a lot with very little. I attribute that to the fact there are so many students out there who want to talk about this issue but are not given the opportunity in their classes,” Luskin said.

David Masci, a senior research fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C., said, “As this issue has bubbled up into the national consciousness over the last 10 years, it makes sense that it would have a presence on college campuses.”

God does well in poll

Masci pointed to a March Gallup Youth Survey of teens age 13 to 18. It showed that 38 percent believe “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years” and 43 percent agreed that “human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process.” Only 18 percent said humans developed over millions of years without divine guidance.

Such numbers are nothing new for Will Provine, a biological sciences professor at Cornell University. In his annual course on evolution for non-biology majors, Provine hands out questionnaires asking students’ views on evolution.

Since he began the course in 1986, the number of students saying they believed humans came about due to divine direction–whether through creationism, intelligent design or simply God’s guidance–has fallen below 70 percent on only two occasions, Provine said.

“I’m really thrilled to have everyone in the course, whether you’re a creationist or not,” said Provine, who identifies himself as an atheist. “If they are deeply religious, I don’t try to change their minds. I just encourage them to sort it out.”

He said he differs from most in the evolutionary biology field because he welcomes all views and ridicules none.

That kind of tolerance is too rare, said Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va.

“I think many of the scientific organizations have felt they had to demonize ID in order to win the argument. I think by ruling out ID in science journals and science discussions, they have given the impression that they are not willing to listen and really engage the other side,” Haynes said.

Cornell student Maxson said it was such derision and lack of knowledge about intelligent design that led her to found her IDEA club, which quickly registered about 60 members.

“I was surprised at how much interest there was,” said the junior from California.

She also was surprised at how much controversy ID is generating on campus.

On Oct. 21, about two weeks before Kansas redefined state science standards to include the supernatural and while a Pennsylvania federal court heard a landmark case concerning the constitutionality of teaching ID in public schools, Cornell’s acting president devoted his entire state of the university address to an impassioned attack on intelligent design.

Calling it an urgent matter “of great significance to Cornell and to the country as a whole,” Hunter Rawlings said, “The issue in question is the challenge to science posed by religiously based opposition to evolution, described, in its current form, as intelligent design.”

He said bluntly, “ID is a religious belief masquerading as a secular idea.”

Shocked by Rawlings’ speech, Maxson shot back with a news release posted on the IDEA Club’s Web site. She criticized Rawlings for his “blatant disregard for the facts concerning intelligent design” and for “blasting the emerging intelligent design theory as unscientific and religious in an unscrupulous, unknowledgeable manner.”

Sitting over lunch in Cornell’s wood-paneled Ivy Room restaurant on a recent rainy afternoon, the slight, soft-spoken Maxson said, “I expected it would be controversial in that some people would be down on it, but not controversial to the extent you would have the president of the university making a major speech on it.”

But Rawlings is not the only academic leader to affirm evolution and oppose ID in recent weeks.

In September, Robert Hemenway, chancellor of the University of Kansas, sent a letter to faculty and students in which he said, “The attack on evolution continues across America and compels me to again state the obvious: The University of Kansas is a major public research university. . . . As an academic, scientific community we must affirm scientific principles.”

On Monday, the university’s religious studies department announced a new course to be offered in the spring: Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies.

In October, Timothy White, president of the University of Idaho, sent a similar letter to students and faculty saying, “I write to articulate the University of Idaho’s position with respect to evolution: This is the only curriculum that is appropriate to be taught in our bio-physical sciences.”

Emphasizing that he has a “very high respect for people of faith,” Cornell’s Rawlings said during a recent interview that his speech drew a strong positive response from scientists as well as other university presidents.

“I think, perhaps, more academics will get involved in this debate, and I think they should. [Earlier] they didn’t want to dignify intelligent design and, second, they didn’t think they had to. They didn’t take this seriously as a movement. But it is now gaining a place in many public schools, and that means we’ll be dealing with the results for years to come,” said Rawlings, noting that he welcomed the dialogue with Cornell’s IDEA Club.

“These IDEA clubs are going to face a lot of opposition on college campuses, I would predict,” said Haynes of the First Amendment Center, who is an expert on religious liberty and educational organizations.

“It’s a very interesting idea, so to speak, because it’s students saying, `Let’s have the debate. If we can’t have the debate in the classroom, then we’ll do it ourselves.’”

That was Jaclyn Wegner’s goal when she established the IDEA Club at the U. of I. this semester.

U. of I. student’s opinion

“Just hearing about how the scientific community was handling [ID], it seems that a lot of people are being kind of closed-minded, and it’s causing them to be discriminatory against scientists who even question Darwin’s theory. That’s what has driven me to start this club,” said Wegner, 21, a senior from Frankfort in south suburban Chicago who is majoring in integrative biology.

Already, she said, a Darwin Club has popped up in response, headed by a friend of hers.

“That’s really cool,” she said. “We are going to try to hold events together. We are not competing. We’re all interested in the same issues. We are just coming from different sides.”

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IDEA club chapters around the world

Armstrong Atlantic State University (Georgia)
Baraboo, Wis.
Boise State University (Idaho)
Braeside High School (Kenya)
California State University-Sacramento
Cornell University (New York)
Fork Union Military Academy (Virginia)
Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio)
George Mason University (Virginia)
Hillsdale College (Michigan)
James Madison University (Virginia)
Midwestern State University (Texas)
Myers Park High School (North Carolina)
University of Mississippi
Poway High School (California)
Pulaski Academy (Arkansas)
Seattle Central Community College
South Mecklenburg High School (North Carolina)
Stanford University (California)
Tri-Cities IDEA Club (Washington)
Ukraine
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, San Diego
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Missouri-Columbia
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
University of Oklahoma
University of the Philippines, Tacloban College
University of Texas at Dallas*
University of Victoria (British Columbia)
University of Virginia
Vanderbilt University* (Tennessee)
Wake Forest University (North Carolina)
Western Baptist College (Oregon)
Westminster College (Missouri)
[* denotes currently inactive]

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