Those of you with broadband might enjoy one of the latest shots in the US ‘culture wars’ over creation and evolution. Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, is a two-hour documentary on the famous Dover, Pennsylvania trial which ruled that Intelligent Design was merely creationism repackaged, and that teaching it in a school classroom violated the US’s constitutional separation of church and state. It can be viewed on the Public Broadcasting Service website (www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/id/program.html).
It took about a century from the publication of The Origin of Species for an organised creationist movement to arise, and then a couple of decades before the scientific community realised it wasn’t going to go away and started to produce detailed responses to creationism. This has expanded in recent years to include more general critiques of religion, from such authors as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett.
Now, we may be starting to see the beginnings of another swing of the pendulum. February sees the release of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a film by economist and game-show host Ben Stein. Its thesis is that scientific institutions across America are in the grip of an atheist cabal who persecute anyone who dares to suggest the universe may have had a designer. In one much-publicised case, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, co-author of The Privileged Planet, was denied tenure at Iowa State University. More recently, one Nathaniel Abraham has filed a US$500,000 suit for wrongful dismissal from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He was fired in 2004 after declaring he rejected evolution-when his job specification required him to work on evolutionary aspects of zebrafish embryology.
Set against that is the case of Christine Comer, the Texas Education Agency’s director of science, who was forced to resign in December after forwarding an email advertising an upcoming talk by Barbara Forrest, co-author of Inside Creationism’s Trojan Horse. This was deemed incompatible with the agency’s avowed neutrality on the creation/evolution issue. Her boss, chairman of the State Board of Education Don McLeroy, has retained his job despite having lectured favourably about intelligent design.
Francis Collins, author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief and director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, has told the New York Times that many of his scientific colleagues were “a bit puzzled” by his faith, but generally were very respectful. If the problems claimed in Expelled actually existed, he was certain he would know about it, he said. Ben Stein claims open debate is being shut down; the reality is that there is more debate on this issue than ever, and the creationist/ID side, for now at least, is finding the scrutiny uncomfortable.