Kermit Snelson on Thu, 14 Aug 2003 10:20:13 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Re: <nettime> what should be in a high school biology text?

jeremy hunsinger:

> This is somewhat of a problem because publishers usually only make one
> national textbook in science, though many publishers compete for the
> market.  But the one that texas buys will over time influence the
> whole nation as it will provide a legitimate basis for whatever is in
> that text, including intelligent design.

Unfortunately, the intelligent design movement in the USA is not the
simple brainchild of a few untutored Bible Belt rustics.  It is a very
sophisticated product of the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based
think tank that is now home to famed techno-futurist George Gilder [1].
As such, the political success of this movement has already reached far
beyond the Texas school board.  As the excellent article I've appended
from "The Scientist" reports, an amendment crafted by the Discovery
Institute passed the US Senate last year by a vote of 98-1.

It may interest some nettimers to know that one of the leading figures
of the intelligent design (ID) movement, William Dembski, has described
ID as "the Logos of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information
theory" [2].  Dembski is a professor in the conceptual foundations of
science at Baylor University in Waco, Texas and was (until 10/2000) head
of that school's Michael Polanyi Center for Complexity, Information and

Dembski's reference to information theory gives some insight into the
obscure ontological region where futurism and Texas-style creationism
collide.  In his book _Microcosm_ (1989), Gilder wrote that "the
overthrow of matter will stultify all materialist philosophy and open
vistas of human imagination and moral revival" [3]. The destruction of
materialist philosophy is, in fact, the Discovery Institute's raison
d'Ítre [4].  And Darwinism is certainly the best place to start.

There is a reason why such serious money is backing such a seemingly
esoteric goal.  The most important economic trend in the world today is
the redefinition of capital as embodied knowledge (in accordance with
the Austrian school of economics) and the corresponding recasting of the
legal system around intellectual property rights.  Politically, this
means the eclipse of liberal individualism in favor of the communitarian
political theory upon which both neoconservatism and the "Third Way"
politics of New Labour and the USA's Democratic Leadership Conference
are based.

The connection between anti-materialism and intellectual property is
fairly obvious -- intellectual property is, of course, incorporeal.
Bits, not atoms. That between anti-materialism and anti-individualism
is more subtle, but Kevin Kelly sums it up nicely in his 1998 book _New
Rules for the New Economy_.  Chapter One of that book opens with these
words: "The atom is the icon of the 20th century. The atom whirls
alone. It is the metaphor for individuality. But the atom is the past.
The symbol for the next century is the net" [5].

The insidious genius of the intelligent design movement, which one of
the most prominent of the not-so-disgraced New Economy prophets, Gilder,
has adopted as his next task, is that it has once again deployed anti-
materialist slogans to secure the cooperation of the USA's middle class
in its own destruction.  Just as slogans like Kelly's "the atom is the
past" led the middle class and their 401(k)s like the proverbial lambs
to a slaughter, so will this new pandering to religious belief destroy
the ultimate wealth of the American people:  the education of their

The destruction of education by replacing knowledge with "morality" as
its main goal is a central, stated goal of the communitarian movement
[6].  As Gilder once said in an interview with Kevin Kelly, "The scarce
resource is the human mind" [7].  In a knowledge-based economy, what
better way to increase the economic value of knowledge than to make it
scarce?  The intellectual property (IP) and intelligent design (ID)
movements are simply two sides of the same coin.

[3] Gilder, _Microcosm_ (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), p.18
[5] Kelly, _New Rules for the New Economy_ (New York: 1998), p.9
[6] e.g.,

Kermit Snelson

Designing Science by Politics
PERSPECTIVE | Brush with Santorum amendment keeps biologists on alert
By Barry A. Palevitz

The Scientist 16[11]:25, May. 27, 2002

When President George W. Bush signed the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act into law early this year, he came close to penning his
approval to a provision that many scientists say would have opened the
door to antievolution lessons in America's classrooms. Congress passed
the new law, which overhauls federal primary and high school education
mandates including testing requirements, after a joint conference
committee resolved differences between House and Senate versions of the

The Senate bill included a last-minute, nonbinding 'sense of the Senate'
amendment that in part specified, "where biological evolution is taught,
the curriculum should help students to understand why the subject
generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the
students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the
subject." Offered by Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.), the amendment received
enthusiastic support from the bill's floor manager, Edward M. Kennedy
(D.-Mass.) and other key senators. The amendment passed 98-1, but since
the House version did not include the Santorum wording, the conference
committee had to decide what to do with it.

Harmless Legislation?

The Santorum amendment also stated that, "good science education should
prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science
from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of
science." The clause sounds like something any scientist could support,
but coupled with the other provision singling out evolution as
controversial, it set off alarm bells from Capitol Hill to California.

"To someone not familiar with the rhetoric of the antievolution
movement, it looked like a straightforward, 'let's all be critical
thinkers' approach," says Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center
for Science Education (NCSE) in Oakland, Calif. (See Profile, page 60).
But, "the fact that evolution is singled out from all other potentially
controversial topics shows that this is an antievolution measure," she
adds. Besides, evolution is not controversial among biologists, insisted
Ellen Paul, public policy representative for the American Institute of
Biological Sciences (AIBS).

Judging by the overwhelming vote in favor, senators were not as
concerned about the amendment. Sen. Robert Byrd (D.-W. Va.) commented
that the amendment "will lead to a more thoughtful treatment of this
topic in the classroom." He added, "it is important that students be
exposed not only to the theory of evolution, but also to the context in
which it is viewed by many in our society." The senator also explained
that "I personally have been greatly impressed by the many scientists
who ... have concluded that some divine force had to have played a role
in the birth of our magnificent universe." Sen. Sam Brownback (R.-Kans.)
saw the amendment as payback to "many in the global community, who
presumably knew the facts, spread misinformation as to what happened in
Kansas," referring to recent state school board actions on evolution.
Kennedy thought that Santorum, who invoked intellectual freedom in his
remarks, made "eminently good sense," adding, "We want children to be
able to speak and examine various scientific theories ...."

Was it Really About Science?

Why did Congress pick evolution for special attention? Apparently, say
amendment opponents, because creationists championing a cause called
intelligent design flexed their growing muscle on Capitol Hill. Most
biologists would argue that evolution has no viable scientific
alternatives in explaining how present-day life got here, at least none
for which there are supporting material data. Santorum himself offered
metaphysical justifications for his actions by claiming "science has
become a philosophy known as materialism and naturalism [and] insists
that nature is all there is." According to science, thinks Santorum,
"the means of creation must not have included any role for God." Despite
such language, intelligent design proponents say the debate is not about
religion per se; they avoid specifying who the intelligent designer is.

Santorum specifically cited intelligent design as an alternative to
evolution. His remarks about materialism and naturalism parrot
statements on the Web site of the Center for the Renewal of Science and
Culture (CSRC), a division of the Seattle, Wash.-based Discovery
Institute. CSRC is intelligent design's biggest booster. Phillip
Johnson, a University of California, Berkeley, law professor and adviser
to CSRC who launched the intelligent design movement about 10 years ago,
helped draft the amendment's language. According to Discovery Institute
president Bruce Chapman, "the amendment was the idea of Sen. Santorum,"
but institute spokesperson Mark Edwards acknowledged Johnson's role in
crafting it. Santorum supported the bill on the floor of the Senate by
citing opinions of David DeWolf, Gonzaga University law professor and
CSRC senior fellow.

Richard O'Grady, executive director of AIBS, says the amendment uses
standard intelligent design arguments. "ID proponents are trying to make
an end-run around legal prohibitions on the teaching of creationism by
espousing a version that avoids mention of a creator," claims O'Grady.
In turn, Chapman blasts "overly insecure people in academia" and others,
saying "they apparently can't stand the idea that students might be
allowed to hear both Darwin's theory and also the scientific criticisms
of it."

Call Out the Troops

It didn't take long for word to get out after the Senate approved the
Santorum amendment. The Discovery Institute's Edwards was quoted in a
widely circulated E-mail message as saying "undoubtedly this will change
the face of the debate over the theories of evolution and intelligent
design in America." By adding "the Darwinian monopoly on public science
education, and perhaps the biological sciences in general, is ending,"
Edwards--who confirmed making the statements--further unnerved

Leading societies including AIBS, NCSE, the Association of American
Universities, and the American Geological Institute (AGI) quickly
organized to kill the amendment in conference committee. E-mail and
Internet postings flew fast and furious. According to Scott, eventually
"officers of almost 100 scientific societies representing over 100,000
scientists" called on the committee to drop the wording. Said Cindy
Warkovsky of the National Science Teachers Association of the amendment,
"We do not support this. It leaves the door open to pseudoscience and

But amendment opponents also walked a tightrope--they did not want to
give intelligent design a lot of attention, fearing it would further
legitimize the cause. "We don't want to create a debate on the floor of
the House on intelligent design," admitted Paul of AIBS.

Scientists particularly worried about the amendment's potential fallout
for biological research as well as teaching. "We're communicating with
the conferees and meeting with Kennedy's staff," said Warkovsky. "We
hope they hear our voices and clearly understand the amendment's
implications." A Kennedy aide told The Scientist, "The senator is a big
supporter of science education. I assure you he is aware of the

But was Kennedy really informed? When asked about the way evolutionary
principles are used in biomedical research, including pharmaceutical
design (Kennedy is a big supporter of affordable drugs), press secretary
Jim Manley responded, "That's news to me." Manley insisted Kennedy knows
the arguments for and against creationism and evolution, saying, "he
doesn't have any problem with it [evolution]." Manley also maintained
that the senator actually supported the Santorum amendment for strategic
reasons--in his words, "to expedite an important piece of legislation."

All's Well That Ends Well?

The conference committee eventually deleted the Santorum amendment
before it returned a consensus bill to the Senate and House of
Representatives, which then passed it and sent it on to the president.
But intelligent design proponents hadn't entirely lost the fight: The
committee added some of the amendment's language to a statement
explaining the bill. The committee report has no force of law and
carries no funding mandates.

The Discovery Institute ignored the distinction, however, claiming in a
press release, "the new bill represents a substantial victory for
scientific critics of Darwin's theory." Chapman also pointed out that
the bill was strongly supported by intelligent design advocates.

Amendment opponents spun the outcome in different ways. Scott sees the
cup as half full, saying "the inclusion of a modified and watered down
form of the amendment with no force of law, buried deep in explanatory
material, was probably intended to appease religious conservative
constituents," she noted. "The law itself doesn't mention evolution.
Teachers do not have to alter how they teach evolution as a result of
the education bill."

Others were not as optimistic. According to David Applegate, head of
legislative affairs for AGI, "the explanatory report has been parlayed
by creationists into an even better propaganda tool. They were not
trying to enact legislation that supported their viewpoint--they simply
wanted their supporters to be able to stand up in a school board meeting
or state legislature hearing and say that Congress has gone 'on record'
in support of teaching alternatives to evolution"--which is what they
can, in fact, say. AIBS's O'Grady agrees. Paul worries that "the general
public won't make the distinction" that the wording wasn't in the law

Applegate says design proponents are already using the Santorum language
to challenge school boards. "In Ohio, Washington state, and New Mexico,
evolution opponents are using the Santorum amendment as evidence that
Congress supports their efforts. They repeatedly state that the bill
contains the Santorum language, which is simply false," he says. A group
called Science Excellence for all Ohioans, which promotes inclusion of
intelligent design in the state's science curriculum, carries a
statement about the Santorum amendment on its Web site. When asked about
plans to use the amendment to push intelligent design, Kennedy's press
secretary Manley retorted, "If people at state and local school district
levels want to misuse it, I can't do anything about it. It's up to
scientists to correct it."

Down the Road

Some scientists worry that proponents of intelligent design have even
grander plans: they may be setting the stage for a new Supreme Court
challenge to evolution. According to Barbara Forrest, a philosopher at
Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond who tracks the intelligent
design movement, "they have written a legal strategy," pointing to an
article in 2000 published in the Utah Law Review by CSRC fellow DeWolf.
DeWolf also wrote a 'legal guidebook' on the subject. "They foresee that
their efforts will precipitate a lawsuit if they can get some board of
education to include intelligent design in the curriculum. They believe
they can argue that intelligent design qualifies under the 1987 Edwards
v. Aquillard ruling as an alternative scientific theory."

Congressional intent would be important in establishing intelligent
design's legality. The conference report is important "because it can be
cited, much like any other legislative history, such as debates and
speeches found in the Congressional Record, to support varying
interpretations of the law," says O'Grady. Adds Paul, "as I recently
said to someone who thought we did a good job in getting the Santorum
amendment reduced to report language, 'litigation to follow.'"

Barry A. Palevitz is a contributing editor.

© Copyright 2002, The Scientist, Inc. All rights reserved.

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: