Scientific Integrity and the Rise and Fall of Intelligent Design Creationism

Saturday, February 13, 2016: 1:30 PM-4:30 PM
Marshall Ballroom West (Marriott Wardman Park)
Robert T. Pennock,Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
The Dover case was more than a defense of evolution education; it was a defense of scientific integrity.  This is because Intelligent Design (ID) Creationism was not just an attack upon evolution, but upon science itself.  ID leader Philip Johnson, a UC Berkeley law professor, developed what he called the ID “wedge strategy” to undermine science’s naturalistic method and to establish a “theistic science.”  A leaked document from the Discovery Institute laid out the ID plan for a revolution to overthrow scientific materialism and what they saw as its destructive moral, cultural and political effects. ID aimed to replace the standard natural explanations of science with ones based on the purposeful, supernatural actions of God. Their terminology was slightly different but their arguments against evolution were the same as previous form of creationism.  My main roll as an expert witness in the trial was to explain the methodological rules that scientists follow and why ID was not just bad science, but counterfeit science; it was sectarian religion masquerading as science.

The ID movement never recovered from its loss in Dover and many of its core leaders have moved on to other pursuits.  But more significant than their defeat has been the unappreciated positive effect of the case in helping to stimulate STEM education reform.  The Dover trial was a wake-up call to scientists that they needed to do a better job explicitly covering aspects of science that they take for granted.  Among many initiatives, new national standards emphasize the centrality of evolution and also the nature of science and there has been a surge in efforts to figure out how to teach these better.  In the trial I also testified about some of my scientific research with evolving digital organisms that allow one to experimentally observe evolution in action.  One can see not only that evolution can produce so-called “irreducibly complex” traits, but also engineering designs that are better than those of human engineers. We have also developed Avida-ED <>, an education version of one of our research platforms, which allows students to do evolutionary experiments themselves.  It is now used in undergraduate and high school biology classes all around the country.  Evidence from classroom assessment studies we have conducted show that such hands-on experience improves student’s understanding and acceptance of evolution.  Finally, we are now also working on how to better teach values of integrity that are essential to the exemplary practice of science.