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Being Stalked by Intelligent Design

Scientists must stop ignoring "Intelligent Design"—religious prejudice disguised as intellectual freedom

Pat Shipman

I ignored the threat for a long time. I groaned at the letters to the editor in our local paper that dismissed evolution as "just a theory" and proclaimed the superiority of "Intelligent Design" (ID) to explain the world around us. When a particular emeritus professor pestered me with e-mails asking how I explained this or that aspect of the fossil record (How could a flying bird evolve from a non-flying species? Did I think feathered dinosaurs were real?), I answered him time and again—until I realized that he was reading neither my answers nor the references I suggested. When this same man stood up, yet again, after a lecture to read a "question" that was actually a prepared statement about ID, I rolled my eyes.

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But on October 18, 2004, the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania, changed its official curriculum, mandating that: "Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of life will not be taught." The new policy required teachers to read to their biology classes a four-paragraph disclaimer questioning the validity of evolution and suggesting that students consult ID literature. Seven biology teachers in Dover refused to comply and risked their jobs by writing a powerful letter to the superintendent of schools,  Richard Nilsen. The letter read, in part: "'INTELLIGENT DESIGN' IS NOT SCIENCE. 'INTELLIGENT DESIGN' IS NOT BIOLOGY. 'INTELLIGENT DESIGN' IS NOT AN ACCEPTED SCIENTIFIC THEORY." (Emphasis in original.)

Dover is a small town not far from my home. I became alarmed—ID was in my neighborhood, and it was harming the teaching of science by confusing it with religion. I and many other colleagues signed a petition in support of the embattled teachers. Since the actions of the school board last fall, 11 parents, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, have filed a lawsuit to stop the reading of the disclaimer and the teaching of ID in science classes.

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