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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Intelligent design and popular culture: Going all "viral" on the Explore Evolution text

Recently, biologist John Timmer published an attack on Explore Evolution, a biology textbook put out by (cue evil music) the Discovery Institute. His "review" is mostly the usual heavy-handed sludge that standard-bearers for a publicly funded establishment produce.

It briefly went "viral" as the herd of dependent minds picked up the signal.

One of the five authors, Paul Nelson wrote a nimble reply, beginning:

On September 24, 2008, biologist and science writer John Timmer published a review of the supplementary biology textbook Explore Evolution (EE). Timmer had previously written about EE without having read it, so Discovery Institute sent him a copy.

Alas -- having EE in his hands improved neither the quality of Timmer’s writing about the book, nor indeed his coverage of the relevant science. In fact, Timmer so baldly misrepresents both the content of Explore Evolution, but especially the associated scientific evidence and controversies, that his review perfectly illustrates the need for a book like EE.

Our reply will reverse the order of Timmer's review. He starts by using nearly 1200 words to speculate about the motives of EE's authors. Since Timmer did not contact any of us, his speculations -- such as "the authors know precisely the sort of conclusions they’d like everyone to reach" -- cannot be better than groundless. We shall comment briefly in the last part of our reply, however, on a couple of his more philosophical points.

We want to focus on the science. Timmer’s review reflects a deep dilemma that increasingly confronts educators in biology. The devil is in the details -- the data -- but if organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences, or the National
Association of Biology Teachers, or the American Association for the Advancement of Science, don’t want students to hear about the devil, namely, about challenges to accepted theory, then they will have to omit -- i.e., censor -- the data, namely, the evidence and how biologists variously interpret it.

Hence, many scientific publications that raise interesting questions about evolution will never see the inside of a classroom. The questions are too risky. Science education will become a catechism, diverging from science itself, because the questions now being raised by many evolutionary biologists cut ever closer to claims long held to be "fact."

I have a copy of Explore Evolution on my shelf but haven't gotten around to reviewing it yet. From what I can see from reading a few pages here and there, it's mainly the innocuous inquiry-based "pro vs. con" snoozeroo I used to write myself when I worked as a textbook editor and writer.

That's quite proper too, because the classroom is not supposed to be Indoctrinate U - though it is rapidly becoming so, and no small thanks to people like John Timmer, who may never have met an argument for Darwin's theory that he could risk wondering about, let alone (heaven forbid!) questioning.

People like Timmer are the best argument for the Discovery Institute, Paul Nelson, and Explore Evolution. Disco should put Timmer on the payroll, for all he has done to make the world aware of a book that - had it been legal - would be just another grease-catcher in the student caf.

Here's a bit of Indoctrinate U on line, but buy the DVD, will you? Support (truly*) independent film:





*truly independent? If the government funded a film through an arts grant, it is not truly independent. It's truly independent if no one knows or cares what the government thinks about it.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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