President George W. Bush initially played coy when asked Aug. 1 whether Intelligent Design (ID) should accompany evolution in public-school science curriculums. "Very interesting question," he told reporters, treading cautiously before unleashing a sound-bite circus. "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes."
That general endorsement of academic freedom tripped an onslaught of condescension from secular scientists and launched a media frenzy. But more importantly, the president's comments moved ID more squarely into the mainstream, further debunking efforts from committed Darwinists to marginalize the theory as extremist pseudo-science.
Denunciation of Mr. Bush's remarks followed. The Philadelphia Daily News said widespread acceptance of ID could undermine the scientific method. The Washington Post suggested that the president was "indulging quackery" for political gain. The Los Angeles Times called the comments "one more example of the extreme right's attempt to create a Taliban-like society."
John West, a senior fellow at the ID-advancing Discovery Institute, considers such rhetoric a clear indication that the pro-evolution mainstream feels threatened . "The more they continue in their campaign of condescension or accusing everyone who believes in Intelligent Design of wanting theocracy, they really lose the public," he told WORLD.
Nevertheless, Darwinian scientists treated the president's view of ID with similar prejudicial disdain, failing to engage the theory's claims. Some trumped up decade-old charges that ID articles are not published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and therefore not legitimate. Others, honest enough to admit ID scientists have broken the peer-review barrier, charged that such articles should not have been published.
In other words, ID is illegitimate because it's not published, and ID should not be published because it's illegitimate.
"Eventually it will become clear to people that if that's all the evolutionists have to offer, then it's a smoke screen," Mr. West said. "The evolutionists are trying to do everything but have an actual debate on the evidence. Why is that? If the evidence is so overwhelming, why are they stuck with these rhetorical ploys?"
An increasing number of established scientists are arriving at the same answer to that question: Darwinian evolution is chock full of holes. More than 400 scientists (including some from institutions such as Princeton, Cornell, UC-Berkeley, UCLA, and Purdue) have signed a statement declaring their skepticism "of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life."
The Discovery Institute wants public schools to teach the problems of Darwinian theory but does not support a government requirement to teach ID. The current educational approach under consideration in Kansas (see "An evolving debate," May 21) and already adopted by school boards in Ohio, Minnesota, and New Mexico follows accordingly.
Though President Bush's comments went a step further in supporting the inclusion of ID in the classroom, Mr. West considers the statements a positive development. He criticizes the Bush administration's failure to stop federal funding of evolutionary dogma, citing a government-sponsored website (evolution. berkeley.edu) that instructs public-school teachers on how to avoid discussion of evolution's problems. Teachers who raise such problems are often reprimanded or censored.
Curious college students can face even graver consequences. Three Ohio State University professors recently launched a public smear campaign against graduate student Bryan Leonard, whose dissertation studied the effects of teaching Darwinism's weaknesses alongside its strengths. The professors accused Mr. Leonard of unethical behavior for challenging evolution, but they did not refute Mr. Leonard's thesis. Nor did they read his dissertation.
Some media outlets, though, now acknowledge the debate. The cover story of the Aug. 15 issue of Time treats seriously the claims of both sides. In Mr. West's words, "It tries to address the actual content of the controversy to some degree, so it's a great improvement."