Panda-monium: Creationism On The March

Earlier this week, the school board in Dover, Pa., voted to bring attacks on evolution into biology classrooms. Students and teachers will be given books titled "Of Pandas and People" as reference works.

Offended by the choice of a mainstream textbook for classroom use, some members of the board pushed for this creationist tome to be distributed. Although it is not a required part of the curriculum, controversy erupted as church-state separationists and advocates for science education reminded the school board that state guidelines require the teaching of mainstream science.

Originally published in 1989, "Of Pandas and People" presents creationist ideology by stating the "Intelligent Design" thesis that some higher being must be necessary for the creation of complex life. The book also attempts to dispute the science behind Darwin's theory of evolution.

The action by the Dover school board is only the latest move by increasingly aggressive groups of "Intelligent Design" (ID) proponents. As Rob Boston of Americans United explained to The York Dispatch, "Intelligent Design is just the latest name for creationism and an attempt to secularize creationism. ... It's been called a lot of different names -- the theory of abrupt appearance, the theory of creation science. ... Intelligent design is just the latest tempt to put a scientific dress on pseudo-scientific theory."

Two years ago, ID activists hit on an effective strategy in neighboring Ohio, explains an expose in Wired magazine. As members of the Ohio State Board of Education were deciding the science curriculum for the state, they called a panel of "experts" from both sides to explain the debate over evolution. Over 140 years after Darwin published "On the Origin of Species" and 75 years after the famous Scopes monkey trial, evolution was still being disputed. Only now, the ID advocates had gained an equal hearing with mainstream scientists.

Funded by an organization known as the Discovery Institute, ID "scholars" tour the country demanding that science educators "teach the controversy." This rallying cry allows them -- without scientific basis -- to be heard on equal footing with hard science.

They present evolution as a controversial subject up for debate and then repeat tired critiques of Darwin and evolution that, although secularized, find their roots in early 19th-century attempts to empirically defend literal interpretations of the biblical creation story.

The revival of creationism ID began in the early 1990s with the rise of the Discovery Institute. This well-funded organization works tirelessly to promote its ideas before school boards all over the country.

Fortunately, scientists and church-state separationists have stepped up their defense of science education. Earlier this year, residents of Darby, Mont., defeated an attempt by local creationists to take over the school board.

Leading up to the vote, a local Baptist minister gathered 200 people in the school auditorium to show them a PowerPoint presentation drawn mostly from materials published by the Discovery Institute.

Within days a local group of concerned parents and other citizens gave the presentation to a research immunologist who debunked the minister's claims in "one afternoon," according to The New York Times.

The local activists were able to learn from the Ohio experience by collaborating with Ohio Citizens for Science over the Internet. The Ohio group had successfully collected signatures for a petition against ID and has sent experts to other states to debate creationists from the Discovery Institute. Organization like this is the only way to stand up to the aggressive tactics of well-funded creationist agencies.

Although the recent move in Pennsylvania is a step backward, the teaching of science is advancing in most American classrooms.