Teaching the Controversy

My colleague, Taner Edis, Associate Professor of Physics at Truman State University, sent the following e-mail to a mailing list in which we both participate. The e-mail is reproduced here with permission. Read it carefully before you gloat about the shellacking we think our side is delivering in the Kitzmiller trial.

For some years now, I’ve been teaching a “Weird Science” course where students have to argue about paranormal and fringe-science subjects such as UFOs or ID.

Well, I just finished the few weeks of ID-related discussion for this year, and again, it looks to me that ID has a formidable political edge – as much because of the liberal instincts of my students as the religiously conservative.

I started off by inviting Guillermo Gonzalez (Iowa State is not too far away) to come and present the case for ID. I explained the basics of Behe and Dembski, and explained some of the flaws critics point out in books such as WIDF. I had a colleague from biology over to explain why biologists accept evolution.

In the end, most students (and this is a smart crowd of students, just mostly non-science majors) ended up thinking there is an awful lot of technical stuff being thrown about by PhD’s on both sides, and so we don’t really know [that is, no one knows] whether Darwinian evolution or ID is true. And so in our discussions about the political and educational aspects of ID, their political instincts took over. And those who supported ID being discussed in high school biology classes invariably did so on impeccably liberal grounds – fairness, critical thinking and so forth. “Teach the controversy” sounded very reasonable to them.

No surprises to anyone here, I’m sure. But it hardly inspires confidence, nonetheless.

I met Professor Edis’s class last spring, and I can attest that they were bright and engaged. They would not, I will venture, argue in favor of teaching the controversy between astrology and astronomy. We may recognize that intelligent-design creationism is exactly analogous to astrology, but they evidently do not. The Discovery Institute’s propaganda and disinformation machine is winning.

If you wanted to coin a phrase, you might say that liberalism, by being open-minded to a fault, contains the seeds of its own destruction.


WIDF is the book, Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism, edited by Matt Young and Taner Edis, Rutgers, New Brunswick, 2004.

Guillermo Gonzalez is an Assistant Professor of Astronomy at the University of Iowa and coauthor of The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery, by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, Regnery, Washington, 2004.