Posted by Nick Matzke on July 13, 2007 01:45 AM

And they say evolution isn’t predictable. Ever since ID went down in flames in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, creationism watchers have predicted that creationism would evolve yet again, this time into something called “critical analysis of evolution” or “teach the [made-up] controversy”. For the last month or two I have been warning about the Discovery Institute’s new crypto-creationist textbook, which is sneakily entitled Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism (yes, take a good hard look at the spiffy website). The book is clearly another shot at the Of Pandas and People strategy, namely, “when a court case goes against you, change the label and try again.”

We already knew that the first official big promotional conference for Explore Evolution was going to be at an event for teachers held at Biola University. (Formerly known as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, the only institute in the U.S. that has graduate courses in “intelligent design”, and pretty literally the place that put the fundamentals in fundamentalism. Oh yes, how could anyone ever think that Explore Evolution is crypto-ID/creationism?)

Now it looks like the Discovery Institute has engineered a cover story in World Magazine, a leading conservative evangelical magazine. The magazine has an interview with Behe about his new book, but more importantly has a story about a plan to insert Explore Evolution into a public school in Tacoma, Washington:

COVER STORY ARTICLE | “When the base cracks” July 21, 2007

Teach the controversy

Two years after Intelligent Design advocates lost a key court battle, some biology classrooms and ID supporters are finding a balanced approach to evolution that—so far—is lawsuit-proof | Mark Bergin

[…]

This fall, the 34-year teaching veteran [yes, this guy on the Discovery Institute website] will restructure his evenhanded presentation around a new textbook from the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. Explore Evolution: The Arguments for and Against Neo-Darwinism (Hill House Publishers, 2007) does not address alternative theories of origins but succinctly lays out the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the most critical elements of Darwinism. “It’s made my work a lot easier,” Cowan said.

Explore Evolution encapsulates a “teach the controversy” paradigm that the Discovery Institute has advocated for the better part of the past decade. Over that time, the institute has advised school boards against the inclusion of Intelligent Design in their science standards. [This is laughable, by the way] Some boards have heeded that counsel; others have not.

[…snip a recounting of the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, which of course the DI had nothing to do with except for creating the entire situation and painting an incredibly rosy picture for fundamentalist school boards and law firms…]

But the Dover lawsuit also highlighted the effectiveness of the Discovery Institute’s approach. State school boards in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, New Mexico, and Minnesota along with local boards in Wisconsin and Louisiana have adopted science standards that encourage critical analysis of Darwinian Theory. To date, not a single lawsuit has challenged such standards.

“This is an approach that if I were a Darwinist I would be particularly frightened of,” said John West, associate director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. “The policy that we’ve recommended turns out to be the precise common-ground approach we said it would be. It reduces the decibel level; you don’t get sued; you get good education; and the Darwinists don’t have a leg to stand on.”

So, here’s the score: Rather than doing something respectable, like deciding to knuckle down and convince the scientific community, like all real scientists have had to do before their views were taught in introductory science classes, the Discovery Institute, led by young-earth creationist Paul Nelson (who is the major author of Explore Evolution), has decided to sell its scientific soul (again) and launch the scientific revolution with the 14-year olds in the ninth-grade biology classroom (again).

Paul Nelson, who can’t even get his allegedly scientific monograph which disproves common ancestry finished, let alone publish it, and who can’t even get basic concepts about evolutionary theory right (example 1, example 2 from just yesterday), has opted to stick all his half-baked arguments for special creation into a high-school textbook instead, and then cravenly and dishonestly hide the fact that he is promoting his fundamentalist religious view of special creation in public schools, all in the hope that his junk science will be more convincing with an audience that has yet to learn any serious biology. And all this from a guy who just last year seemed to realize just how silly and immature and useless this method of promoting creationism was. Oh well. Let round 4 begin.*

Note

* In case you missed the reference, the short history of creationist assaults on science education:

Round 1: Fundamentalists ban evolution (1920s-1960s). Ended by Epperson v. Arkansas in 1968.

Round 2: “Creation science” (invented in 1969, ended as a serious legal strategy by Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987 (with earlier defeats such as Hendren v. Campbell (1977) and McLean v. Arkansas (1982))

Round 3: Intelligent design (invented in the Great Label Switch of 1987, ended as a serious legal strategy by Kitzmiller v. Dover in 2005)

Round 4: Just bash evolution and imply creationism/ID without being explicit. This is the strategy used in the DI’s Explore Evolution textbook, 2007-????. Don’t assume it will end any time soon, or even that it will be a court case that ends it. Court cases only occur with a very rare combination of circumstances. Given the sneaky nature of the “critical analysis of evolution” strategy and the rightward turn of the courts, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Still, if I were on a school board I wouldn’t trust the Discovery Institute’s legal beagles any further than I could throw them. These guys are idealogues fighting a religious war. For them, the public schools are territory to be conquered for purposes of evangelization. These are not the qualities one wants in a legal advisor.