"Book Thrown at Proponents of Intelligent Design"
13:01 06 October 2005
NewScientist.com news service
"Devastating" early drafts of a controversial book recommended as reading at a US high school reveal how the word "creationism" had been later swapped for "intelligent design", a landmark US trial scrutinising the teaching of ID heard on Wednesday.
The early drafts of the book Of Pandas and People , were used as evidence to link the book to creationism, which it is illegal to teach in government-funded US schools.
"ID proponents have said for years that they are not creationists," says Nick Matzke of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, which is advising 11 parents who are suing the school board of Dover High School in Pennsylvania for incorporating ID into the science curriculum. "This proves beyond a doubt that this is simply a new name for creationism."
ID proposes that life is so complex that it cannot have emerged without the guidance of an intelligent designer. The school's board voted in November 2004 to encourage students to consider ID as an alternative to evolution and recommended Of Pandas and People .
The parents claim this is a veiled attempt to bring creationism into the school. They are suing on the grounds that it has been ruled unconstitutional to teach anything in US schools that does not have a primarily secular motive and effect on pupils.
The early versions of the book were displayed to the court by expert witness for the plaintiffs and creationist historian Barbara Forrest of the Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. She suggested that they were strong proof that ID is indeed creationism by another name.
Forrest compared early drafts of Of Pandas and People to a later 1987 copy, and showed how in several instances the word "creationism" had been replaced by "intelligent design", and "creationist" simply replaced by "intelligent design proponent".
"Forrest's testimony showed that ID is not a scientific theory, but a Trojan horse for creationism," said Eric Rothshild of Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
Matzke, who was at the trial, points out that the "switching" of the words is also suspicious because of its timing, which came just after the US Supreme Court's decision on 19 June 1987 that it was unconstitutional to teach creationism in schools.
The names of the drafts alone are incriminating, he says. The first draft, in 1983, was called Creation Biology , the next is Biology and Creation , dated 1986, and is followed by Biology and Origin in 1987. It is not until later in 1987 that Of Pandas and People emerges.
His comments infuriated John West, of the Discovery Institute, a think tank based in Seattle, Washington, that supports ID, but which has declined to testify on behalf of the defence in the trial.
West says that Forrest, author of a book called Creationism's Trojan Horse: The wedge of intelligent design has used the drafts selectively and "cherry picked" the pages shown.
Attempts to discredit Forrest as a witness, by the defence lawyers from the Thomas More Law Center, in Ann Arbor, Michigan were not upheld by the judge.
West says that Of Pandas and People , while supporting ID, does not promote religion but rather leaves open the question of whether an intelligent designer lies within nature, or outside it. But he admits that the book states: "This is not a question that science can answer."
He says that while the timing of the changes in the drafts may not be a coincidence, this does not mean Of Pandas and People is a religious book. "If they did drop out the term creationism, [it is] because people may have misconstrued it," he says.
Forrest will continue to be cross-examined by the defence's attorneys on Thursday. A full report on the trial at its completion will appear in New Scientist print edition.
Tags: ID intelligent design creationism lawsuit