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INTELLIGENT DESIGN: A PRIMER
For Americans, nothing sparks more interest in an idea than an attempt to ban it. Thus, in an odd twist of fate, intelligent-design (ID) proponents might want to thank the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for what they did during the Kitzmiller v. Dover court case.
In 2004, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the Dover Area School District seeking an order "requiring the removal” of the mere favorable mention of intelligent design and a pro-ID textbook, Of Pandas and People, from Dover science classrooms. With the ACLU’s help, the plaintiffs were successful.
But has ID therefore been banned from all US schools? No. In our three-tiered system of federal courts, the Kitzmiller ruling was issued by the lowest level, a federal trial court. No other court ruling has squarely dealt with the constitutionality of teaching ID. Thus, despite all its fanfare, the Kitzmiller ruling only applies to the parties in that case; no other public-school district in the United States is subject to the judge’s ruling banning ID. Moreover, in the wake of the ACLU’s Kitzmiller lawsuit, interest in ID seems to be on the rise across America.
The same year that the ACLU successfully banned ID in Dover, the highly regarded scientific journal Nature featured a cover story on a worldwide student movement of "Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Clubs” that are supporting free discussion about ID on college and high-school campuses. Nature reported that "despite researchers’ apparent lack of interest, or perhaps because of it, the movement is catching on among students on US university campuses.”
Surveys confirm that interest in ID remains high. One survey published in the midst of the Dover lawsuit found that 74 percent of Americans have an intelligent-design viewpoint, and 82 percent want ID and/or creationism taught in public schools. Another survey taken just a few months after the Kitzmiller ruling found that over 77 percent of American voters agree that when evolution is taught, "students should also be able to learn about scientific evidence that points to an intelligent design of life.”
But just as the Kitzmiller case sparked interest in ID, it also motivated forces seeking to extinguish it. During the Dover trial, the president of the University of Idaho wrote to faculty, staff, and students that "evolution” was "the only curriculum that is appropriate” for "life, earth, and physical science courses or curricula.” More recently, Cornell’s interim president Hunter Rawlings devoted his State of the University Address to calmly attacking intelligent design as a "religious belief” and an "invasion” to be resisted by the faculty.
A student-led IDEA Club on Cornell’s campus immediately responded. "Attacking ID as a non-scientist and without addressing its scientific claims,” wrote the IDEA Club in a press release, "Rawlings states that it is religion masquerading as science.” The Cornell students argued that "this gross misstatement is a disservice to unbiased discourse” and concluded: "We would hope Rawlings will instead follow Cornell’s often lauded commitment to a free and open exchange of ideas.”
Some Cornell faculty heard these students’ call for free and open discussion. In the summer of 2006, Cornell’s biology department sponsored a class that dealt solely with intelligent design. The course was taught by an anti-ID biologist, but it was attended by students of many viewpoints and resulted in lively discussion and debate. Dozens of other colleges have now offered courses touching upon ID. It seems that the ACLU did not successfully kill off interest in ID after all.
There’s one last tale to be told regarding the Kitzmiller lawsuit and the banning of ID. Wikipedia has developed a reputation for being a biased and inaccurate source, especially when it comes to controversial issues such as ID. After the ACLU banned Of Pandas and People from Dover science classrooms, one Wikipedia user dared to take seriously Wikipedia’s encouragement to be "bold when updating articles”: He added the Pandas textbook to a page listing banned books.
Anticipating the intellectual lure of banned ideas, Wikipedia’s editors then removed the Pandas textbook from the banned-books page and locked the page from further edits, alleging it had been "vandalized.” Pointing out that ID has been banned is called a Wiki-crime, and banned pro-ID textbooks apparently must be banned from pages listing banned books.
In the wake of the ACLU’s lawsuit attempting to ban ID, student interest in the subject has only increased. No doubt the debate will continue over whether to allow ID in science classrooms or to ban it, but you can’t negate the evidence for design in biology through book bannings, speech codes, or judicial declarations. The ACLU has helped many people realize precisely this fact. •
Phillip Johnson on the importance of ID. Michael Behe on ID and biochemistry. Guillermo Gonzalez on habitable planets. Don't miss a single one of the 33 new articles on intelligent design and evolution.
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More articles from Intelligent Design: A Primer
The Last Days of Darwin? by James M. Kushiner
What Does Information Tell us About ID? by William A. Dembski
Can ID Explain the Origin of Evil? by Jay Richards
Do ID Proponents Get Persecuted in the Academy? by Caroline Crocker
What Happens When You Challenge a School's Science Curriculum? by Larry Caldwell
What Happens When You Write Positive Blog Posts About ID? by Mike Egnor
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