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Review of Darwinism, Design, and Public Education

Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation

Darwinism, Design, and Public Education by John Angus Campbell and Stephen Meyer, eds. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2003. 634 pages, five appendices, glossary. Paperback; $27.95. ISBN: 0-87013-675-5.

This book, part of MSU’s Rhetoric and Public Affairs Series, is a collection of twenty-six essays dealing with the controversy engendered by the push to teach Intelligent Design (ID) alongside evolution in the public schools. John Angus Campbell, one of the editors, is a professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Communication at the University of Memphis. In his research he has specialized in the study of the rhetoric of science and has published numerous articles and book chapters analyzing the rhetorical strategy of Darwin’s Origin of Species. The other editor, Stephen Meyer, is director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture in Seattle. He is a prominent spokesman for ID.

DESIGN, DARWINISM, AND PUBLIC EDUCATION (DDPE) was written for science teachers. In his introduction Campbell writes, “this volume seeks to introduce science educators to the arguments of the design theorists and to those of prominent critics of ID, so that educators may consider the merits of the main pedagogical argument of this volume, namely, that science teachers would do well to ‘teach the controversy’ or ‘controversies’ over contemporary evolutionary theory.” The thirty contributors to this volume represent both pro-ID and anti-ID scientists as well as rhetoricians, philosophers, and attorneys (who argue the case for teaching the controversy on free speech grounds). None of the contributors speaks on behalf of Christian creationism, though the Christian convictions of some are well known.

Part I of DDPE, Should Darwinism Be Presented Critically and Comparatively in the Public Schools? Philosophical, Educational, and Legal Issues, contains three essays laying out the case for “teaching the controversy.” They make the case on the grounds of fostering dialectical scientific thinking and free speech (none of the essays urge “teaching the controversy” on the grounds of freedom of religion). Three of the essays in Part IV, Critical Responses, deny that “the controversy” should be taught.

Part II, Scientific Critique of Biology Textbooks and Contemporary Evolutionary Theory, contains six essays. They deny the validity of some of the frequently cited evidences of evolution (Haeckel’s embryos, peppered moths, vestigial structures) and confess the mystery of life’s origin (the latter from Massimo Pigliucci, a prominent Darwinian and anti-creationist, whose anti-ID essay is also included in this volume). The intent of these essays is show that evolution as it is frequently presented in textbooks should not be accepted uncritically.

Part III, The Theory of Intelligent Design: A Scientific Alternative to Neo-Darwinian and/or Chemical Evolutionary Theories, contains essays by Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe, Paul Nelson, Johathan Wells, Marcus Ross, Paul Chien, and William Dembski, heavy hitters in the ID movement. They deal with the key ID concepts of specified complexity and irreducible complexity, and seek to show how ID provides a better explanation for the origin of life, homology, and the Cambrian Explosion. Their intent is to establish ID as a scientific endeavor.

Part IV, Critical Responses, contains rejoinders from biologists, philosophers, and rhetoricians, including such noted anti-ID spokesmen as William Provine, Michael Ruse, and Massimo Pigliucci.

DDPE is an important book, one any ASA member involved in education ought to read. Implacable foes of ID will reject its central thesis, that the schools should teach the controversy qua scientific controversy; they will maintain that no controversy exists among informed, intellectually honest scientists. But, in my opinion, the ID contributors demonstrate that there are scientific grounds for doubting some of the assumptions and conclusions of neo-Darwinism and also scientific reasons for considering the claims of ID. For their part, the philosophers and rhetoricians make a strong case for a dialectical approach in the science classroom (“let a thousand flowers bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend”). Together they have shifted the burden of proof to the anti-ID crowd: the latter ought to make a convincing case for not “teaching the controversy” or else be willing to argue it out on scientific grounds in the public school classroom.

Review by Dr. Robert Rogland who holds a master’s and doctorate from Harvard University in science education and a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Washington. Rogland is a Science Teacher, Covenant High School, Tacoma, WA 98465.