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15.4 Teach the Controversy

Teach the Controversy is the name of a Discovery Institute campaign to promote Intelligent Design. A federal court, along with the majority of scientific organizations, say the Institute has manufactured the controversy they want to teach by promoting a false perception that evolution is “a theory in crisis”. However 99.9 percent of scientists accept evolution whereas Intelligent Design has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of the scientific community.

The central claim the Discovery Institute makes with “Teach the Controversy” is that fairness requires educating students with a “critical analysis of evolution”. According to the Institute, “the full range of scientific views”, evolution’s “unresolved issues”, and the “scientific weaknesses of evolutionary theory” should be presented and evaluated alongside Intelligent Design concepts like irreducible complexity presented as a scientific argument against evolution.

The Intelligent Design movement and the “Teach the Controversy” campaign are directed and supported largely by the Discovery Institute, a conservative Christian think tank based in Seattle, Washington, USA. The overall goal of the movement is to “defeat the materialist world view” represented by the theory of evolution and replace it with “a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”

Following the December 2005 ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, wherein Judge John E. Jones III concluded that Intelligent Design is not science and “cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents”, Intelligent Design proponents were left with the “Teach the Controversy” strategy as the most likely method left to realize its goals.

15.4.1 Origin of phrase
The term “teach the controversy” originated with Gerald Graff, a professor of English and education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Discussing the 1999-2000 Kansas State Board of Education controversy over the teaching of Intelligent Design in public school classrooms, Johnson wrote “What educators in Kansas and elsewhere should be doing is to ‘teach the controversy.”

The phrase was picked up by other Discovery Institute affiliates Stephen C. Meyer, David K. DeWolf, and Mark E. DeForrest in their 1999 article, “Teaching the Controversy: Darwinism, Design and the Public School Science Curriculum” published by the “Foundation for Thought and Ethics”.

15.4.2 Overview
The campaign was devised by Stephen C. Meyer and Discovery Institute founder and President Bruce Chapman in March 2002. They knew that the dispute over Intelligent Design’s lack of scientific standing was complicating their efforts to have evolution challenged in the science classroom. Their strategy stresses open debate and evolution’s purported weakness, but does not require students to study Intelligent Design. The intention was to create doubt over evolution and avoid the question of whether the Intelligent Designer was God.

The Discovery Institute’s strategy has been to lobby state and local boards of education, local, state and federal policymakers to enact policies and/or laws that undermine or remove evolutionary theory from the public school science classroom by portraying it as “controversial” and “in crisis.”

As the primary organizer and promoter of the “Teach the Controversy Campaign”, the Discovery Institute has played a central role in nearly all Intelligent Design cases. It has provided support ranging from material assistance to federal, state and regionally elected representatives in the drafting of bills to the provision of support and advice to individual parents confronting their school boards.

Though “Teach the Controversy” is presented as encouraging academic freedom it, along with the Santorum Amendment, is viewed by many academics instead as a threat to academic freedom. It is rejected by the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Along with the objection that there is no scientific controversy to teach, the scientists say that the “Teach the Controversy” campaign and “Intelligent Design” –for which there are no scientific base- arise out of a Christian fundamentalist and evangelistic movement that calls for broad social, academic and political changes.