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"The evolution wars" in Time


The cover story of the August 15, 2005, issue of Time magazine is Claudia Wallis's "The evolution wars" -- the first cover story on the creationism/evolution controversy in a major national newsweekly in recent memory. With "When Bush joined the fray last week, the question grew hotter: Is 'intelligent design' a real science? And should it be taught in schools?" as its subhead, the article, in the space of over 3000 words, reviews the current situation in detail. Highlights of the article include:

  • A photomontage -- available only in the print edition -- on p. 26 and half of p. 27, with the elderly Darwin at the center, orbited by images of Pepper Hamilton's Eric Rothschild (a lead litigator in Kitzmiller v. Dover) brandishing a copy of Of Pandas and People, students in a biology classroom in Kansas, President Bush, the Cobb County disclaimer, and so forth.
  • A comment from Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, on President Bush's remarks on "intelligent design": "It sends a signal to other countries because they're rushing to gain scientific and technological leadership while we're getting distracted with a pseudoscience issue ... If I were China, I'd be happy."
  • A map, compiled from data provided by NCSE, showing antievolution proposals considered by state legislatures and boards of education since 2001 and antievolution proposals considered by local schools or panels in 2005. As members of NCSE and regular visitors to its website will have guessed, the map is crowded.
  • A pair of definitions from Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine's Biology textbook on the one hand and Percival Davis and Dean Kenyon's Of Pandas and People on the other hand. According to the latter, "Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact."
  • A brief history of the development of creationist tactics from the Scopes era to the post-Edwards era, under the heading "A subtler assault," which quotes NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott as quipping, "You have to hand it to the creationists. They have evolved."
  • A paragraph explaining the significance of state science standards as a new venue for creationists. NCSE's Glenn Branch told Time, "The decision-making bodies involved in approving state science standards tend to be small, not particularly knowledgeable and, above all, elected, so it's a good opportunity for political pressure to be applied."
  • A recognition of the disparity between President Bush's seeming endorsement of teaching "intelligent design" and the Discovery Institute's recent distancing of itself from such proposals, with Connie Morris (a conservative Republican on the Kansas state board of education), and Senator Rick Santorum seeming "to be reading from the same script."
  • A section in which scientists -- primarily the Oxford zoologist and popular expositor Richard Dawkins, as well as the Harvard mathematician and evolutionary biologist Martin Nowak -- castigate "intelligent design" as resting on misconceptions and mischaracterizations of bology.
  • A pithy diagnosis of the "teach the controversy" strategy by David Thomas, the president of New Mexicans for Science and Reason: "The intelligent-design people are trying to mislead people into thinking that the reference to science as an ongoing critical inquiry permits them to teach I.D. crap in the schools."
  • A sidebar asking four prominent figures -- the National Human Genome Research Institute's Francis Collins, Harvard's Steven Pinker, the Discovery Institute's Michael Behe, and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's Albert Mohler -- "Can you believe in God and evolution?"

While Wallis's article is inevitably not as scientifically detailed as, for example, H. Allen Orr's recent article in The New Yorker, or as politically astute as, for example, Chris Mooney's recent article in The American Prospect, overall it accomplishes the important goal of informing the general reader that antievolutionism -- whether it takes the form of creation science, "intelligent design," or calls to "teach the controversy" -- is scientifically unwarranted, pedagogically irresponsible, and constitutionally problematic.