Far from winding down, the controversy over evolution and intelligent design appears to be intensifying and spreading into new areas of American society, according to recent reports. The intelligent design movement suffered a significant loss after a court in Pennsylvania ruled against the public school’s curriculum citing the theory. But the movement is still alive because school districts across the country have recently ruled that it is permissible to allow students to hear alternatives to Darwinism, reports World magazine (April 8). School districts in California, Kansas, New Mexico and Minnesota have adopted science policies that allow teachers to discuss problems in Darwin’s theory. The pro-intelligent design think tank, the Discovery Institute in Seattle, now endorses a strategy of trying to expose the holes in Darwinism rather than offering alternative theories. The reasoning is that true scientific research will acknowledge inconsistencies or gaps in the data, but when intelligent design is taught in the classroom, the public often perceives this as religious indoctrination.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 10) reports that the intelligent design movement is also forging new ties with academics in neuroscience, medicine, and other fields. It is in neuroscience that both proponents and opponents of Darwinian evolution, such as the Discovery Institute see as the next battleground, particularly over the claim that brain chemistry explains religious experience and even the existence of the soul [see March RW]. The intelligent design movement is also spreading to higher education, with the San Diego-based Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center starting 24 chapters at colleges and universities around the U.S., including at Cornell and the University of California at Berkeley.
The article adds that the pro-evolutionist movement, once mainly consisting of academic scientists, has been seriously trying to enlist churches in the cause. This was most clearly seen with the organization of a petition in support of evolution signed by over 10,000 clergy as well as the creation of an “Evolution Sunday” observance in February in churches. Its founder Michael Zimmerman says that enlisting religious organizations and leaders has already demonstrated far more weight in easing anti-evolution restrictions in schools than the voices of academics.
Whether it’s due to the rise of intelligent design or not, the American people are if anything more uncertain about the theory of evolution than anything else. The Skeptical Inquirer (May/June) reports that Northwestern University scholars have found over the years a strong belief in the role of science in improving life; 92 percent agreed the “world is better off because of science,” an increase from 88 percent who expressed the same view after Sputnik 50 years earlier. Yet 50 percent agree that “we depend too much on science and not enough on faith.” Those accepting the idea that humans developed from earlier species of animals declined from 45 to 40 percent in the past 20 years. Those who disagreed with the idea declined even more. But those who are not sure increased the most dramatically– from seven percent in 1985 to 21 percent in 2005. If the adjective “definitely” is added before each question, only 12 percent say evolution is definitely true, and 32 percent say evolution is definitely not true, according to researcher Jon Miller.
He concludes that this is largely an American phenomenon. Among 34 countries, only Turkey, which has its own brand of Muslim creationism, shows lower rates of acceptance of evolution. Seventy percent or more accept evolution in Japan, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Britain, Belgium, Spain and Germany.
(Skeptical Inquirer, P.O. Box 703, Amherst, NY 14226-0703)