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Newsweek feature story on evolution, "intelligent design," Steves


The February 7, 2005, issue of Newsweek contains a feature story about recent attempts across the country to insert "intelligent design" into public school science classrooms. "Doubting Darwin," by Newsweek Senior Editor Jerry Adler, begins with the controversy in Dover, Pennsylvania, where the school board recently adopted a policy requiring that teachers read their biology classes a four-paragraph disclaimer proposing that evolution is a theory rather than a fact, and recommending "intelligent design" and the ID textbook Of Pandas and People. The school board's action was prompted by the adoption of new biology textbooks that regularly mention evolution, even though evolution is only scheduled into the biology curriculum for two class periods. Dover parents filed a suit to overturn the policy on the grounds that it violates the constitutional prohibition of state establishment of religion. The trial is scheduled to begin in September. Vic Walczak, an ACLU attorney in the case, is quoted as describing the Dover case as "Scopes Redux 2005."

Adler turns next to Cobb County, Georgia, where the evolution warning labels that had been required in every biology textbook in the district were recently ruled to violate the U.S. Constitution as well as the Georgia state constitution. Adler says, "The Cobb County decision was a blow to the new tactic of attacking evolution with objective, scientific language." The labels were ruled unconstitutional because they lacked a legitimate secular effect, and instead had the effect of favoring the creationist position on evolution. Adler briefly mentions other states with antievolution hotspots such as Ohio, Wisconsin, Arkansas, and Kansas, and then notes, "[t]he only thing lacking for a full-scale culture war is involvement by the national conservative movement, which has treated it as a local issue." Adler suggests that Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) may provide that involvement, as Santorum has recently written op-eds favoring the Dover Area School Board's ID policy, and has said that he thinks evolution education is one of the "big social issues of our time."

The Newsweek article reviews a few of the standard ID claims, noting the reticence of its proponents to say anything informative about the designer or the way in which design is implemented. NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott was quoted as commenting that ID is "another way of saying God did it. It isn't a model of change; it isn't a theory that makes testable claims." Discussing the Discovery Institute's claim that a "scientific debate" exists over ID because a list of 350 scientists have signed a statement expressing vague skepticism about natural selection, Adler refreshingly notes several of the problems with this claim, pointing out that the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which denounced ID in a 2002 statement, has 120,000 members, and that NCSE's parody of such lists, Project Steve, has amassed 528 scientists, all with the first name "Steve" (or a cognate such as Stephanie), a name used by about 1% of the U.S. population. (Readers with Ph.D.s and Steve-esque names should contact Glenn Branch (branch@ncseweb.org) to sign on to Project Steve.)

The article concludes by noting that "the real stakes" at issue are at bottom religious: "To accept I.D. is to admit a supernatural process into the realm of science. In fact, that's just what I.D. proponents want to see happen, a revolution -- or counterrevolution -- against what [Phillip] Johnson calls "methodological naturalism.'" But, Adler remarks, many find no conflict between evolution and their religious beliefs, citing the Pope and Francis Collins, the director of the Human Genome Institute and an evangelical Christian. Quoting Collins to the effect that God "chose the remarkable mechanism of evolution to create plants and animals of all sorts," Adler concludes, "if more people could take that view, there would be fewer conflicts like the one in Dover."