After "Intelligent Design Theory" was ruled illegal by a crushingly detailed court ruling in Pennsylvania in 2005, the creationist movement rushed to once again recreate itself. And thus was born the "Teach the Controversy" strategy . . .
(Part One of this diary series can be seen here: http://www.dailykos.com/.... Part Two can be seen here: http://www.dailykos.com/... . Most of this Part Three was first published in my 2007 book "Deception by Design: The Intelligent Design Movement in America".)
In the wake of their crushing loss at Dover, the Intelligent Design “theorists” reacted in the same way the creation “scientists” did after their loss in Arkansas—they issued press release after press release decrying the “biased judge” (Judge Jones was, actually, a church-going Republican who had been appointed to the bench by George W Bush).
The Dover decision is an attempt by an activist federal judge to stop the spread of a scientific idea and even to prevent criticism of Darwinian evolution through government-imposed censorship rather than open debate, and it won’t work,” said Dr. John West, Associate Director of the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute, the nation’s leading think tank researching the scientific theory known as intelligent design. He has conflated Discovery Institute’s position with that of the Dover school board, and he totally misrepresents intelligent design and the motivations of the scientists who research it.
To get around the substantive differences between intelligent design and biblical creationism, Judge Jones had to fixate on motive (both real and imagined); he had to assume that if he can identify one motive, he has magically ruled out the possibility of another motive playing a crucial role (in this case, the desire of ID scientists to follow the evidence wherever leads, even if it means upsetting a few Darwinists); and he had to mischaracterize ID as a religion-based theory when instead it’s a theory based on scientific evidence that, like Darwinism, has larger metaphysical implications.Despite all their bluster and arm-waving, though, the IDers had already recognized, even before Dover, that ID would never prevail as an “alternative scientific theory”, and that a new strategy must be pursued if the goals of the Wedge Document were to have any chance of success. Out of this realization, the strategy of “teach the controversy” was born. If their religious opinions aren’t science, the IDers decided, then they’ll simply use legal fiat to change the definition of science so it does include their religious opinions and allow them to introduce their religious criticisms as science.
As a newspaper interview with DI spokesman Stephen Meyer noted, “Meyer, however, says he’s a scientist, who starts with scientific evidence, not the Bible. His goal—a big one—is to change the very definition of science so that it doesn’t rule out the possibility that an intelligent designer is actively at work.” In Ohio, Meyer proposed that “Ohio should enact no definition of science that would prevent the discussion of other theories”. The original Ohio academic standards read, “Scientific knowledge is limited to natural explanations for natural phenomena based on evidence from our senses or technological extensions. . . Explanations that are open to further testing, revision and falsification, and while not ‘believed in’ through faith may be accepted or rejected on the basis of evidence.” During the Ohio fight, however, members of the standards committee attempted to change this to, “Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation, based on observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation and theory building, which leads to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena”. The part about “natural explanations”, “falsification” and “not believed in through faith” were all to be dropped, since ID could not meet any of them. The effort in Ohio to redefine science to make it more ID-friendly, failed.
In Kansas, the religious aim of redefining science was just as explicit, and more successful. The existing science standards in Kansas stated “Science seeks natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us.” Since ID “science” cannot explain anything through “natural explanations” and indeed doesn’t think it should have to, IDers on the Board successfully introduced a measure that changed the standards to read: “Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory-building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena.”
There is, of course, only one reason why IDers in Ohio and Kansas would wish to alter the legal definition of “science” to drop any reference to “natural explanations”—such a definition explicitly rules out ID, which is not based on any natural explanations. Indeed, ID is based on supernaturalistic explanations. It is religious doctrine. The efforts in Ohio and Kansas to use legal powers to force science into accepting religious explanations provoked the ire of scientists from all over the world. To the public, ID’s effort to redefine science reached a low point when Dr Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box, admitted on the witness stand that, under the Discovery Institute’s proposed definition of “science”, even astrology would have to be considered scientific.
During the Ohio fight, however, after Intelligent Design theory was specifically excluded from the state education standards, the IDers had already realized that ID would never prevail as an “alternative scientific theory”, and that, in addition to re-defining science, a different strategy must be simultaneously pursued if the goals of the Wedge Document were to have any chance of success. Out of this understanding, the strategy of “teach the controversy” was born.
Unfortunately for the IDers, it is not difficult to demonstrate, using the IDers’ own statements, that “teach the controversy” is nothing but the same old creation “science” and intelligent design “theory” under a different name, and has the same religious motivation and effect that creation “science” and ID did. After all, the switch was explicitly made, publicly, by the director of the Center for Science and Culture himself, DI vice president Stephen Meyer, during a presentation sponsored by the Ohio Board:
(1) First, I suggested—speaking as an advocate of the theory of intelligent design—that Ohio not require students to know the scientific evidence and arguments for the theory of intelligent design, at least not yet.In other words, if it was impossible to teach a “scientific theory of intelligent design”, then IDers would attempt to re-introduce the very same arguments, but presenting them this time as “scientific criticisms of evolution” rather than as an “alternative scientific theory”. After almost a decade of preaching their “alternative scientific theory of design”, IDers now hotly denied that they even wanted to have any “Intelligent Design theory” taught.
(2) Instead, I proposed that Ohio teachers teach the scientific controversy about Darwinian evolution. Teachers should teach students about the main scientific arguments for and against Darwinian theory.
(3) Finally, I argued that the state board should permit, but not require, teachers to tell students about the arguments of scientists, like Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, who advocate the competing theory of intelligent design.
Under this new “teach the controversy” strategy, members of the Ohio Board of Education, seizing on language in the standards requiring students to be able to “critically analyze” evolution and other sciences, proposed a “model lesson plan” that was largely written by Discovery Institute members and supporters, entitled “Critical Analysis of Evolution”. The model lesson pointed out the same supposed “scientific problems with evolution” that the Discovery Institute had been preaching for years as “evidence of design”, but the new reincarnation of these arguments said nothing at all about “design theory”.
The model lesson plan, however, included links to several Internet websites from the Discovery Institute and other supporters of intelligent design “theory”, listed as “sources of information”. These websites were later dropped after heavy criticism. Also dropped was a direct reference to the anti-evolution book Icons of Evolution, written by Discovery Institute member Jonathan Wells. However, in March 2003, the Board passed a modified version of the lesson plan which, while erasing all of the references to intelligent design “theory”, nevertheless accepted most of the Discovery Institute’s “teach the controversy” strategy and included many of the supposed “scientific criticisms of evolution”.
Meanwhile, similar moves were being made in Kansas. Board Chairman Steven Abrams presented the new party line; “Teaching the arguments against evolution is not a code word for creationism. It is simply good science education. At this point, however, we do not think it’s appropriate to mandate the teaching of Intelligent Design. It’s a fairly new science, it’s a modern science of Intelligent Design, it’s a maturing science and perhaps in time it would be there, but at this point we think mandating it is inappropriate.” In 2006, the creationist majority on the State Education Board in Kansas, not unexpectedly, rejected evolution as the core concept of modern biology, and adopted the Discovery Institute’s new “teach the controversy” strategy instead.
During the Kansas hearings, 23 witnesses testified in favor of “teach the controversy”. Every “scientific argument against evolution” presented by these 23 witnesses had already been made previously by creation “scientists” and/or intelligent design “theorists”. In addition, most of the witnesses testified to their belief that science should not be “limited” to “naturalistic” or “materialistic” explanations (a standard ID complaint), and most of the witnesses also testified that humans and apes have a separate ancestry, that the earth is relatively young, that evolution can occur only within narrowly fixed limits, and that life made a sudden appearance through the actions of a designer. All of these are tenets of creation “science” as defined in the Arkansas Act 590 bill, thus establishing that the arguments made by creation “science”, design “theory”, and “teach the controversy” are in fact identical, and have not changed at all in the intervening 25 years.
Even before the Dover decision, however, many ID supporters had already realized that “teach the controversy”, since it focuses solely on evolution, is likely to fail in court. Indeed, many of the court decisions (including the Cobb County Selman case and the Dover Kitzmiller case) specifically cited the fact that only evolution was singled out for “critical evaluation”, thus indicating that it was religious opposition to evolution, and not any concern for science education, that was the motivating factor.
To defuse this, ID supporters introduced a new tactic. Now, instead of just “teaching the controversy over evolution”, they proposed to “teach the controversies” over several different topics. In September 2005, a bill was introduced in Michigan which would require the state’s science standards to “(a) use the scientific method to critically evaluate scientific theories including, but not limited to, the theories of global warming and evolution [and] (b) Use relevant scientific data to assess the validity of those theories and to formulate arguments for or against those theories.” Global warming, like evolution, has also been the focus of intense conservative science-bashing, and by adding the global warming “controversy” to the evolution “controversy”, ID supporters apparently hope to be able to make the argument in court, “See, it’s not just about evolution, so it’s not religious in nature.”
The effort was expanded further by another Michigan bill introduced in January 2006, which dropped mention of any specific issue at all, and simply declared, “The course content expectations for science shall include using the scientific method to critically evaluate scientific theories and using relevant scientific data to assess the validity of those theories and formulate arguments for and against those theories.” The Discovery Institute, to no one’s surprise, immediately spoke in favor of the bill, claiming, “Clearly this language has nothing to do with intelligent design and would simply bring scientific critique of theories taught in the classroom, and makes absolutely no mention of teaching intelligent design or any form of a ‘replacement theory’ for those currently-taught theories that are being critiqued.”
Needless to say, no teacher is going to waste class time teaching “the arguments for and against” the germ theory of disease, or the heliocentric theory of the solar system, or the atomic theory of matter. And, of course, the IDers don’t want them to—IDers want them to focus on evolution, and to use “teach all the controversies” as a fig leaf. The “teach all the controversies” approach, however, leads the IDers into a dilemma. They must, after all, sooner or later specify, in a lesson plan, what exactly these “arguments against evolution” are that they plan on presenting—and as soon as they do, it will become apparent that these are the same old ID/creationist arguments that have already been made for forty years, and which have already been rejected by the courts.
The new strategy was, however, attempted in Ohio, where IDers had already suffered a crushing defeat when its “teach the controversy” gambit was rejected. Copying the Michigan tactic, a number of creationist board of education members introduced a “framework” for teaching “controversial subjects”, among which were listed global warming, cloning, stem cell research and evolution. The motion was supported by the Discovery Institute, but the Ohio board decisively rejected it in October 2006 by a vote of 13-4. In the November 2006 elections, most of the pro-ID board members were swept from office.
It was the financial effects of the Dover ruling, however, that seem to have had the deepest impact on the ID movement. The expenses on the plaintiff side totaled over $2.4 million for witness fees, deposition costs, attorney costs, and other expenditures (after the ruling, the plaintiff attorneys agreed to accept a reduced amount of just $1 million as reimbursement). The political impact of Dover was also not lost on public officials—of the eight pro-ID Dover school board members who faced re-election during the proceedings, every one of them was defeated.
That, apparently, was enough to send horrified shudders through school districts across the country. Within months of the Dover decision, the El Tejon School District, in Lebec, California, offered a “Philosophy of Intelligent Design” course. “This class,” school officials stated, “will take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological, and Biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin’s philosophy is not rock solid. This class will discuss Intelligent Design as an alternative response to evolution.” The course materials included several ID and young-earth creationist books and videos, and was taught by Sharon Lemburg, who wrote in a statement, “The idea of this class was not created on the spur of the moment. I believe that this is the class that the Lord wanted me to teach.” Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit. After being pointedly reminded about the financial settlement to the Dover decision and “the limited resources of our small school district”, the El Tejon District quickly caved in, and dropped the course.
Just a few weeks later, the Manhattan-Ogden School District in Kansas announced that it was rejecting the anti-evolution curriculum standards put in place by the Kansas state board of education, declaring that the school district “does not support the redefinition of science included in the Science Standards passed by the Kansas State Board of Education on November 8, 2005; this document changed the definition of science to allow non-natural (including supernatural) explanations of natural phenomena.”
The changes made to the science standards are based on the utterly false belief that evolutionary science, and the scientific method itself, is based on an atheistic philosophy. Promoting this false conflict between science and faith erects unnecessary barriers to student learning, discourages many students from pursuing careers in the sciences, and perpetuates public misunderstandings of the nature and conclusions of science.Board member Beth Tatarko pointed out the potential effect to the district if it followed the state standards: “If we had someone in our district teaching Intelligent Design right now, those costs would come back to us.” The idea was quickly dropped.
The final gasp of the ID/creationist movement took place in Louisiana. In 2008, the Louisiana legislature passed the "Louisiana Science Education Act", based on the model bill proposed by the Discovery Institute, which allows teachers to use "supplemental texts" to examine subjects "including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning." The bill tried to cover its legal butt by specifying:
“Religious beliefs shall not be advanced under the guise of encouraging critical thinking”
“Materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science classes.”Later, an amendment was added to prevent challenges to materials that were authored by creationists:
“Evaluations of supplementary materials shall be made without regard to the religious or non-religious beliefs and affiliations of the authors of supplementary materials.”Of course nobody was fooled, and everybody recognized that the sole the intent of the bill was to try to introduce criticism of evolution into the classroom for religious motives. The bill passed and went into law in 2009, but not a single school district in Louisiana has ever attempted to implement it--because it is crashingly clear that no such policy would survive ten minutes in court. So the law sits on the books ignored and unloved. There have already been bills introduced to repeal it.
So the creationist/Intelligent Design legal record remains remarkably consistent--they have lost every single Federal court case they have ever been involved with, over a period of almost 100 years.
That has to be some kind of record . . .
This has been a rather long diary series, but it has only scratched the surface of the creationist/intelligent design movement, and has only focused narrowly on the legal history. As I noted in the beginning of this series, the history of the creationist movement is worth studying in detail--creationism has always been a microcosm of the entire rightwing conservative movement and has always been its wedge issue. Most of the strategies and tactics employed by the rightwing--the denial of science and scientific evidence through verbal trickery and propaganda techniques, the use of emotion-based wedge issues to fire up the rank-and-file supporters, the founding of bogus "think tanks" and "experts" to give academic respectability, the predominance of funding by a tiny handful of very wealthy people with particular ideological agendas, "astro-turfing" by fake "local organizations" that are actually centrally funded and controlled, the use of "model bills" and "sample legislation"--all began with the creationists.
If you would like to learn much much more about the creationist/ID movement, including its theocratic political aims, the groups and organizations behind it, its funding, its bogus scientific arguments, its dishonest tactics, and the opposition to creationism by most mainstream church groups in the US, then I humbly point you to my "Creation 'Science' Debunked" website. This remains one of the largest sites on the web dedicated to the creation/ID movement. Sadly, it is no longer available at Geocities since they shut down and is no longer updated, but it has been mirrored at a number of sites, including this one:
Nearly all of the website is also available in printed book form, "Deception by Design: The Intelligent Design Movement in America" gives a detailed history of the creationist/ID movement from its beginnings to the aftermath of the Dover trial. It is available here: