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Monkey see, monkey do?


The evolution/creationism controversy was featured on the May 27, 2005, installment of The Journal Editorial Report, a news and discussion program featuring members of The Wall Street Journal's editorial staff that airs weekly on PBS stations across the country.

The segment began in Dover, Pennsylvania, where the local school board's policy of requiring students to be exposed to "intelligent design" resulted in a federal lawsuit. Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center, which is defending the school board in the lawsuit, agreed that he saw the case as just the beginning: "I think whether it's our case or some other case Darwin's going down the tube. ... No question about it." NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott commented, "The idea that intelligent design is not a way of slipping religion into the classroom is ludicrous," and the Report's reporter confirmed that "every supporter we talked to ... was clear about the only reason they did want intelligent design taught to their children." Thompson (misidentified in the transcript as former Dover Area School Board member Jeff Brown) replied, "Well if the courts say the schools have to be religiously neutral then they have to take out Darwin's theory of evolution because Darwin's theory of evolution posits an atheistic or secular humanist religion." When the reporter noted that "There has not been one court in this land that has ever said that evolution is a religion," Thompson replied, "Well no one has tried it yet." (He is incorrect: see, e.g., Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District 37 F.3d 517 [9th Cir. 1994].)

Next was Niall Shanks of Wichita State University, author of God, the Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory (Oxford University Press, 2004), discussing "intelligent design" with three members of the Wall Street Journal's editorial staff. Shanks lucidly argued that evolution is not intrinsically atheistic, commenting that "Richard Dawkins claims that he is an intellectually fulfilled atheist. But I think that you'll find that many evolutionary biologists are intellectually fulfilled Christians." Asked about the idea of "teaching the controversy," he replied: "The question is whether the intelligent design theory is bringing about genuine critical thinking about scientific theories or whether it's just there is a device for what one might call Darwin baiting. I'm afraid to say that I'm inclined to think that it is much more involved with Darwin baiting than it is about raising serious critical questions which do need to be asked of any scientific theory." And he also noted that evolution is typically scanted in the classroom in any case: "[I]t's usually the last chapter in the biology book. It's the one that teachers don't like to spend too much time on."

In addition to a RealPlayer version and a transcript of the segment, and a essay version of the news report portion of the segment, there is also a point/counterpoint feature with the Thomas More Law Center's Richard Thompson and NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott answering such questions as:

  • What is the argument and evidence for these two theories?
  • How do we determine which scientific theories we teach in high school?
  • Is intelligent design a religious theory?
  • Does the theory of evolution posit an atheistic or secular humanist religion?
  • What is the feeling in the scientific community about intelligent design?
  • Doesn't intelligent design violate the separation of church and state?
  • Do you see the Dover suit as a test case for intelligent design?
Unsurprisingly, it is only on the last of these that Thompson and Scott agree!