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Being Stalked by Intelligent Design

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

Pat Shipman

Battering Biology

The success of the ID movement to date is terrifying. In at least 40 states, ID is being considered as an addition to the required science curriculum in public schools. This year a poll by the National Science Teachers Association showed that one-third of science teachers feel pressured to include ID, creationism or other "nonscientific alternatives" in their science classrooms. Some teachers are so intimidated by the threat of parental complaints that they skip material dealing with evolution in their classes.

And on August 5, President George W. Bush endorsed the teaching of intelligent design in science classes so that students learn "both sides of the debate." This comment explicitly parallels the talking points of the Discovery Institute, revealing the reach of its persuasive campaign. In response, John H. Marburger, III, director of the federal Office of Science and Technology Policy, flatly stated, "Intelligent Design is not a scientific concept."

The ID movement is more than an attack on biology because evolutionary theory unifies the life and earth sciences with physics and chemistry. If ID is accepted as a credible science, then the most basic definition of a scientific theory and the fundamental principles of the scientific method are not being taught. Johnson is right: ID can be the wedge that splits science wide apart.

Science education is already in trouble in the United States, particularly in comparison to other countries. On international tests, U.S. students in the 4th and 8th grades score at or above the average in scientific literacy and mathematics, but by the time those students reach the end of high school, they have slipped to 19th out of 21 nations in science and math, according to the most recent data for each age group. As the scientific preparedness of American students falls, others fill the gap. At American institutions in 2001-2002, 41 percent of those receiving doctoral or professional degrees in biological science, engineering and physical science combined were international students. Similarly, in the 2000 U.S. Census, 44.9 percent of the Ph.D.s in life science who worked in industry were foreign born. Should Johnson's vision come to pass, these numbers are likely to worsen, and our country will jeopardize its position of leadership in many kinds of scientific research, including medicine, agriculture and biotechnology.

ID is an insidious attempt by a religious caucus to impose its views on the whole country. The avowed aim of ID advocates—to undermine science and replace it with their personal religious convictions—amounts to a form of prejudice that is both poisonous and horribly frightening. Inevitably, young people will suffer most. As Francisco Ayala wrote in "From the President" (July-August 2004), science training will be a fundamental necessity in the technological world of the future.

As scientists, we must stop ignoring the ID movement. It won't go away. Each of us must learn to avoid jargon in order to communicate better with the public. Every scientist should become a mentor; share your experience of the wonder and beauty of science! Finally, critically, we must expose Intelligent Design for what it really is: religious prejudice masked as intellectual freedom.

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