For those new to this subject, the current iteration of creationism-in-the-classroom goes by the name "Intelligent Design." It differs from earlier strains of "scientific creationism" in a number of ways. First, it is scrupulously vague, allowing the movement to attract supporters with a wide range of beliefs (see Nic's entry on Rael below) while avoiding any whiff of commitment to a testable hypothesis. Second, it avoids like the plague any reference to religion. Finally, it is extremely well-funded and organized on a national level.
Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross have examined the religious origins and political life of the movement (which has come to be known, somewhat ominously, as "The Wedge.") Their book, Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (1) is scrupulously researched and very well written.
In his review of the book Michael Cavanaugh, president of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS), discussed why it is so important to understand the origins and motivations of the ID movement:
Statement from Michael Cavanaugh
President, Institute on Religion in an Age of Science
This book is chilling. It lets one see how totalitarian religious thought can begin to take hold even of a multi-cultural free society. We already knew that religious fundamentalists and many evangelicals think teaching evolutionary principles is not only erroneous, but evil. We knew they objected to teaching evolution in the schools. We knew they had concocted various intellectual constructs to deny the truth of evolution, and we knew that the most recent of these constructs, "Intelligent Design," was subtle and sophisticated enough to attract the attention of many ordinary citizens.
Since 1954, with the founding of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (of which I am the current president), many scientists and religion scholars have countered such claims by enthusiastically accepting mainstream science and exploring the implications for a modern understanding, for example in journals like Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science. Our effort has been to affirm the advances of science while preserving the ethical and philosophical insights of traditional religious traditions. And we thought we were doing our part at helping keep the society on track.
Then comes this book. It shows what we did NOT already know, namely that there is a concerted and organized plan, "The Wedge Strategy", whereby this putative "scientific" construct called Intelligent Design seeks to give itself a patina of respectability, thereby to make politicians look more credible when they try to remove legitimate science from our schools. But there is no mistaking the true goal of this movement-the Discovery Institute, through its Center for Science and Culture, seeks to "renew" American culture through the enshrinement of evangelical religious doctrines as public policy. This is a development that every person interested in the science/religion dialogue needs to be aware of and needs to give serious thought to. It is not just the general wedge strategy that needs to be understood, but the detailed tactical maneuvers as well; thus, this is a book that must be read thoroughly, and not just skimmed. Fortunately it is easy and compelling reading, and many of us will want to put copies in the hands of those in a position-whether academically or politically or otherwise-to make a difference in the future of science education.
"Creationism's Trojan Horse" is a valuable resource for scientists and science educators who watch with dismay continued assaults on science. But as Cavanaugh makes clear, the book also serves to warn of the ultimate goals of the ID movement. In a world of increasing sectarianism, the effects of "the Wedge" may reach far beyond debates over the science curriculum.
(1) Barbara Forrest & Paul R. Gross, Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, Oxford University Press 2004. [link]