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Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools

reviewed by Barbara Forrest - March 20, 2007

coverTitle: Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
Author(s): Eugenie C. Scott and Glenn Branch
Publisher: Beacon Press, Boston
ISBN: 0807032786 , Pages: 171, Year: 2006
Search for book at Amazon.com

For teachers, school boards, and citizens who are interested in learning about intelligent design (ID) creationism and counteracting it, this book is a vital resource. Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State explains why in his foreword:

No matter how credible the scientific evidence is in the rest of this book; no matter how clear the constitutional arguments; no matter how well crafted the explanations that evolution and religious faith are not in conflict— this is not a battle that will go away soon. (p. viii)

The battle is being led by the fellows of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (CSC), the headquarters of the ID creationist movement. Assisted by a well-organized network of supporters, CSC fellows have orchestrated attacks on the teaching of evolution at local, state, and national levels. In 2005 alone, antievolution legislation was introduced in a dozen states (p. viii).

The book’s six essays discuss ID from every relevant angle, ranging from ID’s historical development to practical advice for counteracting it. In Chapter 1, “The Once and Future Intelligent Design,” Eugenie Scott provides historical context, tracing Americans’ resistance to the teaching of evolution to early 20th-century religious fundamentalism. The fundamentalist backlash grew more intense as more American children began attending high school and learning about evolution (pp. 1-2). Yet antievolutionism has itself evolved as creationists have suffered consistent legal defeats, beginning with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1968 Epperson v. Arkansas ruling that school districts could not ban the teaching of evolution (p. 9). Creationists then tried demanding equal time for the teaching of “creation science” along with evolution. The Supreme Court’s 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard decision, striking down a Louisiana law requiring ”balanced treatment,” was believed to be creationism’s death knell. However, creationists again reinvented themselves, morphing this time into the intelligent design movement (pp. 12-13).

Whereas young-earth creationism was dominant from the 1960s to the early 1980s, ID—a form of old-earth creationism—is the post-Edwards creationism of the 1990s to the present. Members of the conservative Christian organization, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, began refashioning creation science as ID even prior to the Edwards ruling. Out of this effort came the high school ID textbook, Of Pandas and People (pp. 13-18). In the 1990s, the ID movement coalesced around law professor Phillip E. Johnson, who initiated the movement’s “Wedge Strategy.” Through this twenty-year tactical plan, ID creationists seek to replace modern science, including its naturalistic methodology, with “a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions” (quoted in Scott, p. 24).

Despite ID’s obvious religious foundation, its proponents have tried to create a façade of secular, scientific authenticity. Anticipating legal problems surrounding the teaching of ID, they began sanitizing their terminology in the early 2000s, avoiding the term “intelligent design” in their proposals to educational policymakers. ID proponents now disguise such proposals by using euphemisms to conceal their true intent. They request that public schools merely “teach the controversy” surrounding evolution, or require students to “critically analyze” evolution. Scott lists these euphemisms (p. 25-27). In December 2005, the Dover, PA, school board’s 2004 policy explicitly requiring the teaching of ID was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge (Kitzmiller et al., 2005). Consequently, school districts can now expect to be presented with stealth ID policies couched in seemingly innocuous terminology.

In Chapter 2, Nicholas J. Matzke and Paul R. Gross discuss the “critical analysis” subterfuge in their essay “Analyzing Critical Analysis: The Fallback Antievolutionist Strategy.” Critical analysis proposals are actually attacks on central aspects of evolution such as common descent and the fossil record. Matzke and Gross recount in detail the use of this tactic in Ohio (2002) and Kansas (2005), paying special attention to ID proponents’ criticism of the Cambrian fossil record. Like their young-earth creationist predecessors, ID creationists point to gaps in the pre-Cambrian fossil record as evidence of the special creation of Cambrian life forms (pp. 36-40). Although such criticisms were scientifically discredited long ago, Matzke and Gross note that ID creationists continue to use them because they are effective with scientifically naïve audiences: “Like all creationist arguments, they are aimed at uninformed audiences; they sound good in op-eds, media sound bites, and sermons” (p. 56).

Countering ID proponents’ charge that teaching evolution undermines religious faith, Catholic scientist Martinez Hewlett and Lutheran theologian Ted Peters argue in Chapter 3, “Theology, Religion, and Intelligent Design,” that “no conflict between genuine science and healthy religion exists” (p. 57). Their position, “theistic evolution,” is that God has used natural evolutionary processes to shape Earth’s life forms. However, ID proponents refuse to accept this reconciliation of religion with modern science. CSC fellow William A. Dembski charges that “theistic evolution is no different from atheistic evolution” because it omits God from scientific explanations (Dembski, 1998, p. 20).

Hewlett and Peters are honest about the “parochialism” of American Christians who reject evolution, observing that the world’s major religions have no quarrel with modern science. (They do, however, devote several pages to the ambivalence about evolution among Muslims.) Emphasizing the ethical component of religion, they recognize that “science at its best and religious commitment at its best honor truthfulness” (p. 57). Analyzing ID’s flaws, they conclude that “it would be unethical to teach young people …any system of biology that fails to prepare them for the highest quality of scientific research…when they get to the university” (p. 77). Unfortunately, their analysis of ID includes the often-repeated but inaccurate statement that “ID avoids theistic terminology and refers only to an Intelligent Designer” (p. 63). Even a cursory reading of major ID publications, such as Dembski’s Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology (Dembski, 1999a), shows that ID creationists discuss ID in overtly religious terms. But this common mistake is not enough to depreciate the value of this essay, in which Hewlett and Peters take a strong, ethical stand for teaching science honestly, which means teaching evolution.

In Chapter 4, “From the Classroom to the Courtroom: Intelligent Design and the Constitution,” Boston University law professor Jay Wexler properly cautions that teaching ID in public school science classes “would raise serious constitutional problems” and that “schools that adopt intelligent design policies run a substantial risk of losing in the courts” (p. 83). He notes that federal courts have consistently found that teaching creationism violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and these rulings are relevant to ID. Yet Wexler’s legal assessment of ID might have been stronger. He seems to accept ID proponents’ arguments that ID is not a religion since, they argue, ID has none of the “external attributes” of a religion, e.g., holidays and symbols, and does not address “fundamental and ultimate questions” (p. 87). However, Wexler overlooks a subtle but important point: while ID is not a comprehensive religious system, it is clearly a religious belief since it requires a supernatural creator. This is precisely what the Edwards court found objectionable about the Louisiana law at issue in that case: “The preeminent purpose of the Louisiana Legislature was clearly to advance the religious viewpoint that a supernatural being created humankind” (Edwards v. Aguillard, 591). Wexler contends that the proper question to ask is whether ID “resonates in religion rather than in some other area of inquiry” (87), and he rightly concludes that it does. But courts need not (and should not) rely on such a vague concept as “resonates,” which means, in this context, “to evoke a feeling of shared emotion or belief” (American Heritage Dictionary). ID does not merely evoke religious belief—it is a religious belief, as stipulated by two of its primary spokesmen. Phillip Johnson specifies that the “defining concept” of ID is “theistic realism,” meaning that “the reality of God is tangibly recorded in evidence accessible to science, particularly in biology” (Johnson, 1996). Dembski defines ID as a specifically Christian belief, rooted in the New Testament: “Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel stated in the idiom of information theory” (Dembski, 1999b, p. 84). Yet Wexler overlooks such incriminating statements, which are the most powerful legal evidence against ID. (For a comprehensive legal, philosophical, and scientific discussion of ID, see Brauer et al., 2005.)

Nonetheless, Wexler’s essay is generally strong. He offers a thorough analysis of the Kitzmiller decision, which is now the standard by which judges will evaluate future legal cases involving ID. He beautifully debunks a shop-worn creationist argument to which the Discovery Institute has given renewed emphasis, namely, that teaching ID is protected by the academic freedom of public school teachers. The courts have never recognized an independent right of academic freedom for teachers, who are government agents. If courts were to rule that their rights as individuals in the classroom supercede the school district’s authority to control what is taught, citizens “would lose any real power to hold government accountable” when teachers present their personal religious views, or even extremist views on other subjects, as acceptable instruction for children” (102-103).

In Chapter 5, “Evolution in the Classroom,” science education expert Brian Alters, although sympathetic to the predicament in which science teachers find themselves, emphasizes their responsibility to teach evolution. He also critiques the ID movement’s “teach the controversy” and “critical analysis” ploys and advises teachers not to succumb to pressure to include antievolutionism in their classes. They must not create misconceptions that high school students will have to confront in college (p. 114). Most insightfully, he warns against the inclusion of ID in science classes by well-intentioned teachers who see an opportunity “for students to directly compare their misconceptions with accurate science” (p. 119). To compare evolution and ID is actually to compare science to the religious beliefs that many students have been taught by adults they respect. Instead, Alters recommends a constructivist approach to teaching evolution in which teachers build on what students already know, which seems best accomplished by exposing them to evolutionary concepts incrementally. He specifies “entry points” through which these concepts can be introduced.

The book concludes with Glenn Branch’s extremely useful essay, “Defending the Teaching of Evolution: Strategies and Tactics for Activists.” As deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, Branch and executive director Eugenie Scott have accumulated valuable experience working with pro-science activists. After explaining the challenges of defending science education and the various “battlegrounds” on which the evolution/ID conflict has played out (the writing of state science standards, for instance), Branch offers advice for “taking action” such as becoming a “packrat,” highlighting the importance of building a documentary record as soon as a problem surfaces (p. 138). He offers advice on organizing group efforts, even pointing out the interpersonal challenges and tactical differences activists may experience. He includes tips for effectively communicating with the public and the press, concluding with suggestions as to how parents, clergy, and scientists can contribute to enhancing science education in their local schools. The essay ends, appropriately, with a personal appeal: “If you care about the future of scientific literacy, it is time for you to help” (p. 152).


American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. (2000). (4th ed.) Retrieved on February 27, 2007, from http://www.bartleby.com/61/92/R0179200.html

Brauer, M.J., Forrest, B., & Gey, S.G. (2005). Is it science yet? Intelligent design creationism and the Constitution. Washington University Law Quarterly, 83 (1), 1-149. Retrieved February 27, 2007, at http://law.wustl.edu/WULQ/83-1/index.html

Dembski, W.A. (1998). Introduction: Mere creation. In W.A. Dembski (Ed.), Mere creation: Science, faith and intelligent design (pp. 13-30). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Dembski, W.A. (1999a). Intelligent design: The bridge between science and theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Dembski, W.A. (1999b). Signs of intelligence: a primer on the discernment of intelligent design. Touchstone, July/August, 76-84.

Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578. (1987). U.S. Supreme Court. Retrieved February 27, 2007, from http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0482_0578_ZO.html

Johnson, P.E. (1996). Starting a conversation about evolution. Access Research Network. Retrieved on February 27, 2007, at http://www.arn.org/docs/johnson/ratzsch.htm

Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District. (2005). Memorandum Opinion. U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Retrieved February 26, 2007, from the District Court website: http://www.pamd.uscourts.gov/kitzmiller/kitzmiller_342.pdf

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 20, 2007
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 13834, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 9:16:02 PM

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About the Author
  • Barbara Forrest
    Southeastern Louisiana University
    E-mail Author
    BARBARA FORREST is Professor of Philosophy in the Department of History and Political Science at Southeastern Louisiana University. She is the co-author with Paul R. Gross of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (Oxford University Press, 2004). The book will be published in paperback in March 2007 with an afterword on the Dover creationism trial.
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