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Interview: Talking with Co-Author Casey Luskin About Discovering Intelligent Design

Evolution News


Today, Discovery Institute Press released a new intelligent design (ID) curriculum for homeschool and private school educators, Discovering Intelligent Design.�Co-authored by Gary Kemper, Hallie Kemper, and Casey Luskin, it’s the first ID curriculum to comprehensively introduce the case for design in both cosmology and biology. For more information about the curriculum, and to order your copy or copies, visit Here’s an interview that ENV conducted with Discovering ID co-author Casey Luskin about the curriculum.

ENV: First of all, congratulations on the publication of Discovering Intelligent Design! The book looks great and clearly it fills an important niche. Tell us about how it fits in the library of pro-ID books.

A: For years we’ve received inquiries from educators of all kinds — but particularly from homeschool and private school educators — asking for an introductory intelligent design (ID) curriculum. While there’s a ton of great ID literature out there, somehow a comprehensive and very basic ID curriculum had never been produced. So we always had to answer "Sorry, but the ID curriculum you’re looking for doesn’t exist."

As you might expect, it became tiresome — even embarrassing — to keep giving that answer. So, when the opportunity arose, we decided to produce an introductory ID curriculum. That curriculum is Discovering Intelligent Design.

ENV: What is the specific audience you were seeking to reach, and why?

A. Discovering Intelligent Design is a versatile curriculum suitable for a wide variety of readers, but it’s focused on reaching homeschool or private school students from advanced middle-school to high-school age. That said, a lower-level college class might also find it useful, especially if the readers aren’t already familiar with ID.

While officially it’s a textbook, Discovering ID reads like any book for an interested general readership. That means that if you’re just a layperson, or even a self-motivated student looking for an easy-to-read introduction to ID, Discovering ID could be an ideal resource.

Now I should make one important point here: Discovery Institute has a long-standing policy of opposing attempts to introduce ID in public schools. So while Discovering ID is strictly scientific in its approach, we would not recommend it for use in public schools. In fact, Discovery Institute scientists and scholars have already published — about six years ago in fact — a totally different curriculum for use in public schools.

DiscoveringIDCoverGraphicsmall.jpgENV: That’s a good point Casey — you’re talking about Explore Evolution. How does Discovering ID differ from that previous textbook produced under Discovery Institute’s leadership?

A: Yes, Explore Evolution is the curriculum I was talking about that Discovery Institute helped produce with public schools in mind. And it’s superb. But a major difference is this: Explore Evolution does not talk at all about intelligent design. It simply discusses the scientific evidence for and against neo-Darwinian evolution. Discovering Intelligent Design, on the other hand, is all about explaining intelligent design at an introductory level. And it covers ID not just in biology, but also in cosmology. It’s written with a non-public-school audience in mind, but it’s still strictly scientific in its approach.

I should also note that there are other excellent textbooks out there about ID. For example, William Dembski and Jonathan Wells’s book, The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems, provides a compelling and thorough presentation of the evidence — but it’s written at a more advanced college level and doesn’t cover the cosmological evidence for ID. Indeed, there are numerous high-quality introductory books on intelligent design — but they either are not written as a comprehensive study tool, or they include religious components that are beyond the scope of the scientific theory of ID.

So while I highly recommend the books mentioned above (as well as many other resources), there is a reason why Discovering ID is unique: It’sthe only strictly scientific textbook that comprehensively introduces both the cosmological and biological evidence for intelligent design at a layperson’s level.

ENV: What else is unique about Discovering Intelligent Design?

A: The answer to that question, I think, gets into some of the most exciting aspects of Discovering Intelligent Design.

First, Discovering ID is a multimedia curriculum. Working with our friends at Illustra Media, we took some of the best ID videos, like Unlocking the Mystery of Life, The Privileged Planet, Darwin’s Dilemma, as well as Icons of Evolution (produced by Coldwater Media), and combined clips from those Illustra documentaries on a special DVD created just for use with the Discovering ID curriculum.

Here’s how it works: as you’re reading the textbook and studying, say, cosmic fine-tuning, you’ll find a prompt in the book that tells you to pop in the DVD and watch a particular segment, taken from one of those Illustra videos. The clips usually last 5 to 10 minutes, and after you’re done watching it, you can go back to reading the textbook.

There’s a second distinctive aspect of Discovering ID, and that’s the workbook. The workbook is available separately and it probably isn’t for the casual reader. But for teachers who want to use Discovering ID as a curriculum, they’ll find it quite valuable.

Each chapter in the textbook has a corresponding chapter in the workbook. The two books are coordinated to be mutually reinforcing. The workbook includes short-answer questions, vocabulary questions, essay questions, and my favorite part — inquiry-based activities to give students hands-on opportunities to learn about the scientific evidence, and about the ID debate as a whole.

ENV: Can you give us an example of an ID-related science project in the workbook?

A: Absolutely. One of my favorites is the inquiry activity that allows students to learn about the Doppler effect. Basically, you create a simple device we call a "buzzer ball" — it’s a battery-operated buzzer that buzzes quite annoyingly, and that you insert in a foam ball, like a Nerf ball. You toss the ball back and forth to a friend and listen to how the pitch of the sound from the buzzer changes as the ball moves toward, and away, from an observer.

But we tried to mix up the inquiry activities so they’re not all pure science experiments. Another inquiry activity allows the student to study and analyze the rhetoric used about ID in the media. And for the more artistic student, another activity lets the student build a mock "universe-creating machine."

There are some really instructive inquiry activities as well — ones that teach students the basics of constructing phylogenetic trees, or for fossil lovers, how to build a collectors’ curve. The inquiry activities are fun and easy and will definitely keep students engaged.

ENV: The major theme is introducing intelligent design, but it sounds like the book covers a lot of ground. What are the major topics covered in the curriculum?

A: There are 20 chapters in the textbook, divided into six sections.

Part I introduces the basic concepts of intelligent design and Darwinian evolution, and terminology important to the debate. It also covers some critical thinking tools useful to investigating human and animal origins.

Part II examines the evidence for ID from cosmology, looking at the Big Bang and the evidence for design from cosmic fine-tuning, and the evidence showing that Earth is a "privileged planet."

Part III explains the evidence for design in biology, starting with the idea of biological information and the origin of life, and also getting into mutations, molecular machines, and the design of animal body plans, including the human body. The capstone chapter of this section responds to "dysteological" arguments against ID, such as the increasingly dubious concept of "junk" DNA.

Part IV explores common descent, and studies the relevant genetic and fossil evidence for a "tree of life," as well as discussing some common "icons" of evolution. The last chapter in this section looks at the genetic, fossil, and behavioral evidence surrounding human origins.

Part V is a short section that lets the reader evaluate the scientific evidence as a whole and decide whether it supports materialism, or intelligent design.

Part VI, the final section, investigates the larger context of the debate about intelligent design, and explains the importance of protecting academic freedom. One of my favorite parts of this section answers common criticisms of intelligent design, and exposes their logical fallacies. The book closes with tips for students and other readers on getting involved personally in the issue.

ENV: Can you estimate how long it might take for a teacher to lead a group of younger students through the book?

A: By spending one class period per week on the subject, a teacher could easily cover the whole book in a standard school year of 40 weeks or so. It would make a very nice supplement to any standard science class — and keep students highly engaged in the material.

Alternatively, if a teacher wanted to take a more intensive approach to the book, it could be covered in a quarter, or perhaps stretched out to a semester.

ENV: What’s the story behind your writing Discovering ID? How did you join forces with your co-authors?

A: This is a fun story. In 2009, two homeschool educators from the Los Angeles area, Gary and Hallie Kemper, approached Discovery Institute asking us to review an ID textbook they’d drafted. They needed our review because they wanted to use Illustra Media DVD clips as part of their textbook curriculum, but Illustra wouldn’t approve the use of their DVDs unless Discovery Institute approved the science content of the textbook.

To make a long story short, the task of reviewing the textbook fell to me, and I recognized pretty quickly how badly needed and important Gary and Hallie’s vision for an ID curriculum was. We started talking and realized that by working together we could take that vision and turn it into a really comprehensive final product, both as science and as a learning tool. You could say that the project evolved from there into the curriculum we have today.

ENV: The science behind the theory of intelligent design isn’t necessarily elementary or easy stuff. Did you find it to be a creative challenge to explain ID in terms that a middle-school student can understand?

A: That was a challenge, but I think that the personal dynamic between my co-authors and me helped a lot in allowing us to accomplish the important goal of being technically accurate yet understandable by younger readers.

Gary has a background in aerospace engineering, and now works in the film industry where he’s gained a lot of skills in editing content down to what really matters. Hallie is a homeschool educator who understands that educational context, and how to communicate to kids, and has a longtime interest in the debate over evolution.

So with my background in the science of ID and evolutionary biology, I would draft chapters and material that would be scientifically accurate and faithful to mainstream ID thinking. Gary and Hallie would then help reshape the content in a manner that was shorter, easier-to-read, and kid-appropriate. I would review for accuracy and to ensure that the best arguments and evidence were being presented, and they would then continue to massage the material to bring it to the right level.

After a few iterations of this process, I think the final product is tremendous. It explains the basic science behind intelligent design in a variety of fields, but in manner that students will be able to follow pretty easily.

There’s one other element that makes the material comprehensible for younger readers: we were privileged to have a professional illustrator help create many black-and-white illustrations for the book. These aid in explaining the ideas and the evidence.

ENV: Is there any special significance to the image of a hummingbird on the cover?

A: You can thank Hallie Kemper for finding that beautiful photograph. She’s an animal lover who drafted the module in Chapter 10 that covers the hummingbird body plan. Its wings beat more than 75 times per second and it can fly up, down, sideways, diagonally, backwards, hovering, and even upside down.

The hummingbird’s body plan enables it to perform acrobatic feats that outstrip the most advanced human technology. No unmanned combat "drone" that we hear about in the news comes even close — and if it ever did, it would probably be because it had been based upon the hummingbird’s design. So we thought the hummingbird was a great representation of the design of animal body plans. But for the details, you’ll have to read the book.

Evolution News

Evolution News & Science Today (EN) provides original reporting and analysis about evolution, neuroscience, bioethics, intelligent design and other science-related issues, including breaking news about scientific research. It also covers the impact of science on culture and conflicts over free speech and academic freedom in science. Finally, it fact-checks and critiques media coverage of scientific issues.