Cover Story

Teach the controversy

"Teach the controversy" Continued...

Issue: "When the base cracks," July 21, 2007

Prior to the Dover case, Of Pandas and People broke into public biology classrooms in 22 states over its two-decade run. Now, Explore Evolution offers the latest real hope for a text critical of Darwin to repeat such success. West told WORLD that one state school board has already expressed interest in using the new textbook, though discussions remain in the preliminary stages.

"We expect a lot of teachers to use it, including public-school teachers, to help them teach evolution better," he said. "In fact, we already know some of those where the school may not be purchasing 30 copies, but the teacher is using it to build their lesson plan."

Despite not mentioning ID, Explore Evolution has received sharp criticism from the Discovery Institute's usual opponents. PZ Myers, a biology professor at the University of Minnesota Morris, and author of the highly popular Darwinist blog Pharyngula, rails against the text as "a dirty, dishonest book in a slick package."

In a cursory review of the 159-page volume, Myers charges that it fails to represent the case for Darwinism accurately and presents complex subjects superficially: "The biology part is shallow, useless, and often wrong, and the critiques are basically just warmed over creationist arguments."

Similarly, writers on the influential evolution blog The Panda's Thumb have dismissed Explore Evolution as a "creationist textbook" that seeks to hide its true enterprise of "religious apologetics."

Most of the book's five authors are not unfamiliar with such charges. Stephen Meyer, Scott Minnich, and Paul Nelson are fellows of the Discovery Institute and well-known advocates for ID. Ralph Seelke, a professor of microbiology at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, is an outspoken critic of Darwinism. The fifth contributor, Jonathan Moneymaker, provided technical writing assistance.

Without a Darwinist representative, that panel has drawn predictable questions as to the textbook's objectivity. How can skeptics of Darwinism be trusted to represent faithfully the strongest evidence for a theory they oppose?

But Explore Evolution does not purport to provide comprehensive outlines of Darwinian arguments, leaving that up to most every other biology textbook on the market. The preface to this new text explains that its summary accounts of the case for Darwinism are meant to recap briefly what students have already learned elsewhere. The focus of the book is to present new information as to why the theory of evolution remains scientifically controversial.

Though supportive, IDnet director Calvert does not share the Discovery Institute's optimism that this new textbook and the approach it embodies will significantly dent the uncritical Darwinist dogma currently taught in most public schools. In February, he emerged from a long political battle in Kansas where attempts to mandate the critical analysis of evolution fell short.

Opponents of the new Kansas science standards argued that any criticism of Darwinism amounts to thinly veiled ID, which according to the Dover ruling amounts to thinly veiled religion. The state school board agreed, effectively determining that any scientific challenge to Darwinian evolution violates the Constitution's Establishment Clause.

That blow to the "teach the controversy" approach has left Calvert skeptical: "I don't think the Discovery Institute's textbook is going to have any traction until we get the Dover court decision reversed. Until we get a legal decision on our side, things will keep getting worse."

Doug Cowan disagrees: "The schools want to have critically thinking kids. And you can't be a critical thinker if you hear only one side of the story."

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