Regarding Public School Science Classes
and Intelligent Design Creationism
Teaching About Religion
in support of civic pluralism
A Movement to Change Science Education
In the United States, there is much public debate, also some courtroom
action, pertaining to a current social movement to include “intelligent design”
as subject matter in public school science classes and/or to label evolution
as “simply a theory.”
This movement for curricular change in science teaching is stirring turmoil
and reaching the doorstep, if not in the boardrooms, teachers’ meetings,
and science classrooms of many schools and districts across the nation.
(Note: The commotion is primarily an American phenomenon; educated
persons in other nations are baffled by the situation in the United States.).
The evolution/intelligent design controversy, as it is usually named and
presented, has engendered much confusion about criteria for what is to be
American media and some others have framed the situation as a science
controversy with advocates on “both sides.” This competition model feeds
emotion in the public at large. It also presupposes that any scientific theory
is merely another “guess at the truth” or "belief system" and that one can
accept or not accept as one chooses. The “just decide for yourself” framing
nourishes a “to be fair, just teach both sides of the issue so students can
make up their minds” sort of impulse that distorts current policy and unsettles
science teachers. Science teachers, and others well grounded in science,
recognize the distortion inherent in this framing, which operates as if
scientific fact were decided by citizens in the same manner as public
To the typical parent, board member, or teacher of some subject other than
science, the controversy seems to be between one science concept (the
theory of evolution) and a rival science concept (intelligent design). It is not,
Making Curricular Decisions
Regarding evolutionary theory and intelligent design: What should biology
teachers be teaching in their science classrooms?
It is crucial that educators answer this curricular question in an academically
legitimate manner. To whom should they turn in order to get an accurate
understanding as to what concepts do belong in a public school science
curriculum and what concepts do not?
Academic legitimacy derives from disciplinary integrity. Educators need to
rely on the established and much respected scientific organizations of our
nation. They are the keystone for the discipline of science. It is these, and
these alone, which can validate concepts and propositions as to their
Interestingly, the scientific organizations have spoken, and spoken clearly
and uniformly, on the matter of teaching evolutionary theory and/or teaching
intelligent design as science.
The consensus conclusion of the scientific (also many religious, civic, and
educational organizations), is summarized as follows:
The Theory of Evolution (through natural selection) is a scientific theory. It is
bedrock science—used throughout the world by biologists, medical
researchers, pharmaceutical developers, anthropologists, chemists,
biochemists, geologists, and a multitude of different types of scientists you
may not have ever heard of.
The word “theory” as used in science means a well-developed scientific
idea that has stood the test of experimentation and observation and is
accepted as the best explanation for a given set of observable phenomena.
Other scientific theories include the Theory of Gravitation (Newton),
Heliocentric Theory (Copernicus’s theory that the earth moves around the
sun), and The Theory of Relativity (Einstein).
Intelligent design (ID) is something other than science. ID is not a scientific
theory. It is an idea that one may “believe in” but which cannot be
Science Is As Science Does
You will find that the statements of the following illustrative groups verify the
three statements above and the conclusion that intelligent design does not
belong in a science curriculum for one reason, and one reason alone: It is
In view of that, it is important that educators recognize the actual academic
situation with respect to the question of ID: Intelligent Design has no
scientific legitimacy: There may be controversy raging in the public and
political arenas, but there is no controversy whatsoever among the scientific
institutions that comprise active scientific enterprise that ID should be in the
science curricula of public schools.
Resources with which to garner some understanding of the consensus
conclusions are arranged below, beginning with those requiring the least
investment of time, and then on to the lengthier expositions. First among the
listed are two of the most respected scientific organizations that have
spoken directly to this issue: The National Science Foundation (NSF) and
the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
The National Academies (of Science, Engineering, Medicine, and
Research Council) - This Web page is designed to provide easy access to
books, position statements, and additional resources on evolution education
and research. These materials have been produced by the National
Academies and other sources and represent the latest statements from the
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) - AAAS
Board Resolution on Intelligent Design Theory. AAAS Board Resolution
Urges Opposition to "Intelligent Design" Theory in U.S. Science Classes .
The National Science Foundation (National Science Board) - “More than a
century after Darwin, evolution still under attack in science classrooms.” This
is the first sentence of a report prepared by the National Science Board of
the National Science Foundation (May 2004). It is a “must read” for any
public school teacher who is interested in the contemporary challenges to
sound science instruction.
National Center for Science Education - A set of resources on the topic of
Intelligent Design. Voices for Evolution, a project of NCSE, displays the
diversity of organizations and perspectives in support of teaching evolution
in the public schools. Statements are included from the following types of
organizations: religious, civil liberties, educational, and scientific and
scholarly. If this set of materials does not convince you of the case against
Intelligent Design, nothing will.
National Science Teachers Association - Arlington, VA, November 6, 2003
- The largest science teacher organization in the world has published an
updated position paper to reaffirm its standpoint on the teaching of
evolution. The statement upholds and reinforces the position that NSTA
"strongly supports the position that evolution is a major unifying concept in
science and should be included in the K-12 science education frameworks
Wired Magazine (general overview of the whole issue) - Currently a number
of schools are embroiled with this controversy. A number of public schools
are under pressure from their community to include a topic called Intelligent
Design in biology classes. In addition, there is pressure to include in text
books and classes a statement to the effect that evolution is “simply a
Natural History Magazine - The voice of The American Museum of Natural
History. Its April 2002 issue featured the special report "Intelligent Design?"
which is reprinted here by permission. Three proponents of Intelligent
Design (ID) present their views of design in the natural world. Each view is
immediately followed by a response from a proponent of evolution (EVO).
The report, printed in its entirety, opens with an introduction by Natural
History magazine and concludes with an overview of the ID movement.
Catholic News Service: Concerning Church-Evolution (Feb-1-2005) -
Church needs better evolution education, says bishops' official David Byers,
executive director of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Science and Human
Values from 1984 to 2003.
The “theory of evolution through natural selection” is a robust scientific theory
that is well-supported within the scientific community. It is not, as some ID
proponents have insinuated, a "disputed view." Rather, as a product of
scientific inquiry, it is hale and hearty. The Board of Directors of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has urged
citizens across the nation to oppose the establishment of policies that would
permit the teaching of “intelligent design theory” as a part of the science
curriculum of the public schools.
Summary: Intelligent Design is a modern-day creationist movement. Its
proponents put forth, and seek to defend using scientific terminology and
data, a hypothesis that cannot ever be scientifically tested or verified.
Although such ideas have their places in society (and every individual can
choose to believe or not believe the basic religious premises of the
proponents of Intelligent Design), the topic is not appropriate for inclusion in
the science curriculum of a public school. Is it science? No.
Mynga Futrell, Ph.D. in Science Education
Paul Geisert, Ph.D. in Instructional Systems