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Post-Dover Education Victories for Intelligent Design

Casey Luskin
Series on the Future of ID

Part 1: How Bright is the Future of Intelligent Design?
This Post (Part 2): Post-Dover Education Victories for Intelligent Design
Part 3: Circumventing the Post-Dover Media Blackout
Part 4: It’s Time for Some Folks to Get Over Dover

Despite the scientific progress of intelligent design in recent years, critics love to claim that intelligent design (ID) is dead, that it was laid to rest by the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. The post-Dover narrative favored by the Darwin Lobby has it that in the case, ID’s education policies were defeated, and it’s been nothing but loss after loss for us ever since. This account is wrong on multiple counts.

First, it wasn’t the ID movement’s education policies that lost in the Dover case. The Dover school board expressly required the teaching of ID, but leading ID groups such as Discovery Institute have long opposed requiring ID in public schools. This was true before, during and after the Dover case, and in fact Discovery Institute did not support the Dover school district’s ID policy. So when the policy got struck down, that in itself could hardly be counted as a death blow to the ID movement’s educational policies.

The reason that leading ID proponents oppose pushing ID into public schools is not because somehow we think ID is unconstitutional. We do think that ID should be considered constitutional, and of course we strongly disagree with the wildly inaccurate Dover ruling. But ID leaders want the debate over design to be scientific, not political. When ID gets pushed into public school curricula, it politicizes the debate. The end result is increased persecution of pro-ID scientists and faculty in the university. As a result, we don’t support pushing ID into public schools.

Instead, Discovery Institute believes that public schools should teach both the scientific evidence for and against Darwinian evolution. That’s a second reason the critics’ narrative is wrong: the actual educational policy goals of the ID movement have seen many successes in recent years. In fact, since the Kitzmiller v. Dover lawsuit, at least four states have passed policies requiring or permitting the teaching of scientific criticisms of evolution.

  • In 2006, South Carolina adopted a standard requiring students to “Summarize ways that scientists use data from a variety of sources to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.”
  • In 2006, Mississippi passed a law holding that “No local school board, school superintendent or school principal shall prohibit a public school classroom teacher from discussing and answering questions from individual students on the origin of life.”
  • In 2008, Louisiana required passed a policy requiring that Louisiana schools shall “create and foster an environment…that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”
  • In 2009, Texas adopted science standards that require students to “analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations … including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking,” and also “analyze and evaluate” core evolutionary claims, such as “common ancestry,” “natural selection,” and “mutation.”

If you haven’t heard of these victories, there’s a good reason why: the media love to cover debates over evolution-education, but only on rare occasions do they accurately report the ID movement’s wins.

Defending Academic Freedom
Prior to Dover, the ID movement talked a lot about the importance of academic freedom. However, if Dover has had any measurable legacy, it’s that it has caused a sharp spike in the amount of intolerance, discrimination, and persecution towards ID proponents. Is the Darwin lobby proud of this legacy?

So one major change in the post-Dover world is that us in the ID movement have had to spend much more time defending free speech for ID. In fact, it seems that the more success we enjoy, the more ID critics seek to restrict the free speech of ID proponents.

Thus, another post-Dover landmark for the ID movement came in 2008, when the pro-ID documentary Expelled was released in mainstream theaters nationwide. The film told the stories of scientists, educators, and students who, for daring to support ID, have suffered heavy costs to their careers. The mainstream media hated this documentary because it overturned the Inherit the Wind Stereotype, which claims that it’s the Darwin-opponents who are closed minded. The Darwin lobby worked overtime to put out an extensive, but error-filled website rebutting the movie. The reason Expelled was so dangerous was that it showed many ID-critics are as intolerant as the fundamentalists they claim to despise. A few examples of discrimination that came up in the wake of the Dover lawsuit include:

  • In 2004, after Smithsonian research biologist Richard Sternberg allowed a peer-reviewed, pro-ID paper to be published in a scientific journal, his superiors investigated his religious and political affiliations in violation of the First Amendment. Subsequently, he faced various forms of harassment at the Smithsonian. According to an investigation by U.S. Congressional subcommittee staff, Smithsonian officials “explicitly acknowledged in emails their intent to pressure Sternberg to resign because of his role in the publication of [Stephen Meyer’s ID] paper and his views on evolution.”
  • In 2006, Larry Moran, a professor of biochemistry and textbook author at the University of Toronto, stated that a major public university “should never have admitted” students who support ID, and should “just flunk the lot of them and make room for smart students.”
  • In 2007, the Council of Europe, the leading European “human rights” organization, adopted a resolution calling the teaching of ID a potential “threat to human rights”!
  • At Iowa State University (ISU), over 120 faculty members signed a petition denouncing ID and calling on “all faculty members to … reject efforts to portray Intelligent Design as science.” The campaign was focused on astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, co-author of the book The Privileged Planet, who was up for tenure. As one ISU scientist said, the school “is not a friendly place for him to develop further his IDeas.”

Guillermo Gonzalez was a good example of the legacy of Dover: Key people who denied him tenure cited the Dover ruling as justification for their belief that an ID proponent did not deserve a place in a science department. But all was not lost: Gonzalez was denied tenure in 2007, but the exposure of his plight in Expelled gave him a stunning victory in the court of public opinion. In fact, Expelled inspired a nationwide dialogue on the importance of protecting academic freedom. Since the documentary was released, over 15 academic freedom bills have been submitted in a dozen state legislatures.

These bills, and the debate surrounding them, have dramatically increased public awareness of the need to protect intellectual freedom for scientists and students to dissent from Darwinian orthodoxy. Indeed, a 2009 Zogby poll found that 80% of Americans agree that “teachers and students should have the academic freedom to discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of evolution as a scientific theory.” This supermajority was not confined merely to stereotypical “rightwing conservatives”: Over 80% of self-identified “liberals” and “Democrats” agreed that it’s important to protect academic freedom in the context of teaching evolution.

In some cases, attacks on the free speech rights of ID proponents have led to free speech lawsuits or other legal actions. In 2011, three academic freedom cases produced favorable outcomes for Darwin-skeptics:

  • In January, 2011 the University of Kentucky paid $125,000 to settle a lawsuit by astronomer Martin Gaskell who was wrongfully denied employment because he was perceived to be skeptical towards Darwinian evolution.
  • Soon after the Gaskell settlement, the journal Applied Mathematics Letters paid $10,000 and publicly apologized to avoid litigation after it wrongfully withdrew mathematician Granville Sewell’s paper critiquing neo-Darwinism.
  • In August 2011, the California Science Center paid $110,000 to settle a viewpoint discrimination lawsuit filed by a non-profit group American Freedom Alliance (AFA) after the museum had cancelled AFA’s contract to show a pro-ID film at its IMAX Theatre.

These cases send a deterrent message to the Darwin lobby: those who illegally suppress the free speech rights of ID proponents will have to pay large sums of money for such mistakes.

The battle for academic freedom is a difficult one but it is not being lost. While these incidents show that ID still faces great intolerance, ID proponents see reasons to be encouraged: If ID’s scientific arguments were not having a profound and forceful logical effect, critics would not feel the need to suppress them.