A Biologist’s Review of the New ‘Intelligent Design’ Textbook
One of the prime objectives of the anti-evolution Discovery Institute is to influence what’s taught in public schools, and this involves influencing the textbooks used in biology classes. For years, one of the successes of the creationist movement was that some school districts selected an infamous book titled Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins.
In the recent case of Kitzmiller v. Dover School District, the plaintiffs obtained a series of earlier drafts of this textbook, and were able to conclusively demonstrate that it sprang out of the primordial soup as a work of religiously-based “creation science” (a predecessor of “intelligent design”), then gradually evolved over several editions to remove the words “creation” or “creationism” and replace them with “intelligent design.” Oddly enough, the timing of these changes matched the timing of court decisions related to the illegitimacy of creation science. Natural selection at work.
After the Dover case, Of Pandas and People was so thoroughly discredited that the Discovery Institute was forced to throw their energies into promoting a new textbook, Explore Evolution, a strategy that’s behind their recent activities in Louisiana, Texas, and other states. Biologist John Timmer reviews this “atrociously bad” book in detail for Ars Technica: A biologist reviews an evolution textbook from the ID camp.
The strategy for exploration
The Discovery Institute, as indicated by its wedge document, wishes to eliminate science’s focus on natural causes. The group views this focus as the source of society’s increasing materialism, which makes it anathema in the belief system of Discovery’s members. Stephen C. Meyer, the lead author of EE, heads the Discovery Institute and is mentioned by name in the wedge document, as is coauthor Paul Nelson.
Evolution has been singled out for special ire by Discovery, as it provides an explanation for the origin of humanity based solely on natural processes. Although the ID movement has not developed a research program or even proposed a scientific formulation of its ideas, it has gotten a surprising amount of traction with its attack on the science of evolution. Tapping into a rich vein of American thought that dates back roughly a century, the group’s members have used popular books and appearances in the press to argue that the scientific theory of evolution is on the verge of abandonment, having been pushed to its most recent “inevitable” collapse by new molecular evidence.
More significantly, however, Discovery Institute fellows have been attempting to have their arguments against evolution incorporated into the US public school system. They testified in favor of education standards in Ohio and Kansas that targeted evolution for special criticism—Kansas’ standards went even further and eliminated reference to science’s search for natural causes. In the wake of the Dover case, however, both states have reversed these policies, leaving Discovery without a foot in the door of the US education system.
Explore Evolution (EE) appears to be part of a strategy to change that. In June, Louisiana became the first state to enact a law specifically enabling the use of supplemental materials for the critical evaluation of evolution; similar legislation has been introduced in several other states. EE appears to have been intelligently designed to be the sort of supplemental text that’s appropriate under the Louisiana legislation, and so it’s likely to be making an appearance in classrooms there. But EE may appear in other states, as the approval process for supplementary material is often far less strict than that governing textbooks.
That said, Discovery faces at least one very significant challenge in its anti-evolution campaign: evolution is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community because the evidence for it is extensive and comprehensive. Taking on that evidence runs the risk of simply emphasizing its significance, so EE maneuvers its way around this roadblock by using (and abusing) an approach to teaching called inquiry-based learning (IBL).