The cover of the October issue of Wired that landed in my mail box yesterday leads to one of the scariest Halloween stories I’ve read recently. The article, The Plot to Kill Evolution, details the efforts by a pseudo-scientific outfit called The Discovery Institute to inject the teaching of an anti-evolutionary philosophy called Intelligent Design (ID) into high school biology classes.
The "theory" of ID says the structures of life are so complex that the only way to explain them is that they must have been created by an intelligent designer. Supporters of ID don’t get into who or what that designer might be but it’s clear, both from ID documents and the backgrounds of the people running this farce, that this movement is creationism with a shiny new wrapping. The difference, however, is that the supporters of ID have learned to speak in scientific language.
The ID movement’s rhetorical strategy – better to appear scientific than holy – has turned the evolution debate upside down. ID proponents quote Darwin, cite the Scopes monkey trial, talk of "scientific objectivity", then in the same breath declare that extraterrestrials might have designed life on Earth. It may seem counter intuitive, but the strategy is meticulously premeditated, and it’s working as planned. The debate over Darwin is back, and coming to a 10th grade biology class near your.
What’s really scary about all this is that school boards and parents are actually buying into the idea that ID is a valid alternative to evolution. The theory of evolution outlined by Darwin has withstood more than 150 years of scientific scrutiny and is accepted by virtually every legitimate scientist in the field. On the other side are a few jokers at a conservative think tank with a "theory" supported by no proof, scientific or otherwise. But the fact that the proponents of ID are sharing the same stage with evolutionary biologists give them unwarranted legitimacy.
I could rant on for a few more pages about this idiocy but get a copy of Wired (or wait a few days until it hits the web site) and read for yourself. If you’ve been following this controversy there isn’t much new information, especially if you’re a regular reader of the fine writing by Paul Myers at Pharyngula. But this is an issue that every teacher needs to know about, even if you don’t teach science. There are plenty of similar groups running around out there who would like you to teach their special revised version of your subject – even if it’s not intellectually valid.
The thing that mystifies me is that ID is truly the worst of all possible worlds: You lose the biblical fundamentalism AND the scientific validity.
For more on the war on science from the right, check out