Teach the Controversy is the name of a Discovery Institute intelligent design campaign to promote intelligent design, a variant of traditional creationism, while discrediting evolution in United States public high school science courses. A federal court, along with the majority of scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, say the Institute has manufactured the controversy they want to teach by promoting a false perception that evolution is "a theory in crisis" due to it being the subject of purported wide controversy and debate within the scientific community. McGill University Professor Brian Alters, an expert in the creation-evolution controversy, is quoted in an article published by the NIH as stating that "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 and equal time requires educating students with a 'critical analysis of evolution' where "the full range of scientific views", evolution's "unresolved issues", and the "scientific weaknesses of evolutionary theory will be presented and evaluated alongside intelligent design concepts like irreducible complexity presented as a scientific argument against evolution through oblique references to books by design proponents listed in the bibliography of the Institute-proposed "Critical Analysis of Evolution" lesson plans. The scientific community and science education organizations have replied that there is in fact no scientific controversy regarding the validity of evolution and that the controversy exists solely in terms of religion and politics.
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."
With 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 the goals stated in the wedge document. Thus, the Teach the Controversy strategy has become the primary thrust of the Discovery Institute in promoting its aims. Just as intelligent design is a stalking horse for the campaign against what its proponents claim is a materialist foundation in science that precludes God, Teach the Controversy has become a stalking horse for intelligent design. But the Dover ruling also characterized "teaching the controversy" as part of a religious ploy.
The term "teach the controversy" originated with Gerald Graff, a professor of English and education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, as an admonition to teach that established knowledge is not simply given as a settled matter, but that it is created in a crucible of debate and controversy. To the chagrin of Graff, who describes himself as a liberal secularist, the idea was later appropriated by Phillip E. Johnson, Discovery Institute program advisor and father of the ID movement. 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'." In his book Johnson proposed casting the conflicting points of view and agendas as a scholarly controversy. Johnson's usage differs somewhat from Graff's original concept. While Graff advocated that a comprehensive understanding of what are considered to be "established" concepts must include teaching the debates and conflicts by which they were established, Johnson appropriated the concept to cast doubt upon the very concept of established knowledge.
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. The Foundation for Thought and Ethics also publishes the controversial pro-intelligent design biology textbook Of Pandas and People, suggested as an alternative to mainstream science and biology textbooks in the Critical Analysis of Evolution lesson plans proposed by Teach the Controversy proponents.
The Discovery Institute's strategy has been for the institute itself or groups acting on its behalf to lobby state and local boards of education, and local, state and federal policymakers to enact policies and/or laws, often in the form of textbook disclaimers and the language of state science standards, that undermine or remove evolutionary theory from the public school science classroom by portraying it as "controversial" and "in crisis;" a portrayal that stands in contrast to the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community that there is no controversy, that evolution is one of the best supported theories in all of science, and that whatever controversy does exist is political and religious, not scientific. The Teach the Controversy strategy has benefitted from 'stacking' municipal, county and state school boards with intelligent design proponents as alluded to in the Discovery Institute's Wedge Strategy.
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, often working behind the scenes to orchestrate, underwrite and support local campaigns and intelligent design groups such as the Intelligent Design Network. 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. DI's goal is to move from battles over standards to curriculum writing and textbook adoption while undermining the central positions of evolution in biology and methodological naturalism in science. In order to make their proposals more palatable, the Institute and its supporters claim to advocate presenting evidence both for and against evolution, thus encouraging students to evaluate the evidence.
Though Teach the Controversy is presented by its proponents as encouraging academic freedom, it, along with the Santorum Amendment, is viewed by many academics as a threat to academic freedom and is rejected by the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science The American Society for Clinical Investigation's Journal of Clinical Investigation describes the Teach the Controversy strategy and campaign as a "hoax" and that "the controversy is manufactured.
Along with the objection that there is no scientific controversy to teach, another common objection is that the Teach the Controversy campaign and intelligent design arise out of a Christian fundamentalist and evangelistic movement that calls for broad social, academic and political changes. The Discovery Institute manifesto known as the Wedge Document states that "design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions" and the movement's goals are defeating "scientific materialism" and " replacing "materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God." Intelligent design proponents argue their concepts and motives should be given independent consideration. Those critical of intelligent design see the two as intertwined and inseparable, citing the foundational documents of the movement such as the Wedge Document and statements made by intelligent design proponents to their constituents. The judge in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial considered testimony and evidence from both sides on the question of the motives of intelligent design proponents when he ruled that "ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents and "that ID is an interesting theological argument, but that it is not science.
In the debate surrounding the linking of the motives of intelligent design proponents to their arguments, following the Kansas evolution hearings the chairman of the Kansas school board, Dr. Steve Abrams, cited in The New York Times as saying that though he's a creationist who believes that God created the universe 6,500 years ago, he is able to keep the two separate: Afterward, Lawrence Krauss, a Case Western Reserve University physicist and astronomer, in a New York Times essay said:
The roots of the intelligent design movement's strategy are found in the past attempts of creationists to force religious views into public school science classes. The most recent of these was creation science, which sought to provide a scientific veneer for the biblical account of Genesis. The characteristics of the intelligent design movement are a direct response to the tactical and legal failings of earlier creationist movements. Design proponent's strategies represent a natural evolution of the "creation science" movement, proceeding still further in the direction of claiming the mantle of science while denying their religious intentions in argument.
For example, the judge in the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial noted in his ruling that evidence presented comparing the drafts of the intelligent design textbook Of Pandas and People before and after the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard ruling showed that the definition given in the book for creation science in pre Edwards drafts is identical to the definition of intelligent design in post Edwards drafts; cognates of the word creation - creationism and creationist, which appeared approximately 150 times were deliberately and systematically replaced with the phrase 'intelligent design'; and the changes occurred shortly after the Supreme Court ruled in Edwards that creation science is religious and cannot be taught in public school science classes.
A rudimentary form of the teach the controversy strategy had emerged first among creation scientists following the Supreme Court's Edwards v. Aguillard decision. The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) prepared an evaluation of what the movement should try next, suggesting "school boards and teachers should be strongly encouraged at least to stress the scientific evidences and arguments against evolution in their classes . . . even if they don't wish to recognize these as evidences and arguments for creationism." Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education says this comment shows that the teach the controversy strategy was "pioneered in the wake of Edwards v. Aguillard.
Prior to the September 2005 start of the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial, the "Dover trial," prominent intelligent design proponents gradually shifted to a "Teach the Controversy" strategy. They had realised that mandates requiring the teaching of intelligent design were unlikely to survive challenges based on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and that an unfavorable ruling had the effect of legally ruling intelligent design a form of religious creationism.
Thus, the Discovery Institute repositioned itself. It publicly abandoned advocating for any policies or laws that required the teaching of intelligent design in favor of a Teach the Controversy strategy. Institute Fellows reasoned that once the "fact" that a controversy indeed exists had been established in the public's mind, then the reintroduction of intelligent design into public school criteria would be much less controversial later.
The best illustration of this shift in strategy is comparing the Discovery Institute's 1999 guidebook Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula which concludes "school boards have the authority to permit, and even encourage, teaching about design theory as an alternative to Darwinian evolution" to 2006 statements by Phillip E. Johnson, that his intent was never to use public school education as the forum for his ideas and that he hoped to ignite and perpetuate a debate in universities and among the higher echelon of scientific thinkers.
With the December 2005 ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, wherein Judge John E. Jones III concluded that intelligent design is not science, intelligent design proponents were left with the Teach the Controversy strategy as the most likely method left to realize the goals stated in the wedge document. Thus, the Teach the Controversy strategy has become the primary thrust of the Discovery Institute in promoting its aims. Just as intelligent design is a stalking horse for the campaign against what its proponents claim is a materialist foundation in science that precludes God, Teach the Controversy has become a stalking horse for intelligent design. But the Dover ruling also characterized "teaching the controversy" as part of a religious ploy.
By May 2006 the Discovery Institute, in a carefully calculated move, sought to broaden the faltering "teach the controversy" strategy to include examples of other supposed legitimate scientific controversies. In Ohio and Michigan where school boards are again reviewing science curricula standards the Discovery Institute and its allies proposed lesson plans that included global warming, cloning and stem cell research as further examples of controversies that are akin to the alleged scientific controversy over evolution. All four topics are widely accepted by the majority of the scientific community as legitimate science, and all four are areas where US political conservatives have been known to be critical of the scientific consensus. Members of the scientific community have responded to this tactic by pointing out that like evolution whatever controversy may exist over cloning and stem cell research has been largely social and political, while dissident viewpoints over global warming are often viewed as pseudoscience. Richard B. Hoppe, holder of a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Minnesota, described the tactic in the following way:
With the Dover ruling describing "teach the controversy" as part of the same religious ploy as presenting intelligent design as an alternative to evolution, intelligent design proponents have moved to a fallback position, emphasizing contrived flaws in evolution and over-emphasizing remaining questions in the theory what they call the Critical Analysis of Evolution. The Critical Analysis of Evolution strategy is viewed by Nick Matzke and other intelligent design critics as a means of teaching all the intelligent design arguments without using the intelligent design label. Critical Analysis of Evolution continues the themes of the teach the controversy strategy, emphasizing what they say are the "criticisms" of evolutionary theory and "arguments against evolution," which continues to be portrayed as "a theory in crisis." Early drafts of the critical analysis of evolution lesson plan referred to the lesson as the "great evolution debate"; one of the early drafts of the lesson plan had one section titled "Conducting the Macroevolution Debate". In a subsequent draft, it was changed to "Conducting the Critical Analysis Activity". The wording for the two sections is nearly identical, with just "debate" changed to "critical analysis activity" wherever it appeared, in the manner of how intelligent design proponents simply replaced "creation" with "intelligent design" in Of Pandas and People to repackage a creation science textbook into an intelligent design textbook.
The campaigns of intelligent design proponents seeking curricular challenges have been disruptive, divisive and expensive for the affected communities. In pursuing the goal of establishing intelligent design at the expense of evolution in public school science classes, intelligent design groups have threatened and isolated high school science teachers, school board members and parents who opposed their efforts. The campaigns run by intelligent design groups place teachers in the difficult position of arguing against their employers while the legal challenges to local school districts are costly, diverting funding away from education and into court battles. For example, as a result of Dover trial, the Dover Area School District was forced to pay $1,000,011 in legal fees and damages for pursuing a policy of teaching the controversy.
Four days after the six-week Dover trial concluded, all eight of the Dover school board members who were up for reelection were voted out of office. Televangelist Pat Robertson in turn told the citizens of Dover, "If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city." Robertson said if they have future problems in Dover, "I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them.
Critics, like Wesley R. Elsberry, say the Discovery Institute has cynically manufactured much of the political and religious controversy to further its agenda, pointing to statements of prominent proponents like Johnson:
To the absence of actual scientific controversy over the validity of evolutionary theory, Johnson said:
And to the resistance of science educators over portraying evolution as controversial or disputed, Johnson said:
Elsberry and others allege that statements like Johnson's are proof that the alleged scientific controversy intelligent design proponents seek to have taught is a product of the institute's members and staff. In the Dover trial's ruling the judge wrote that intelligent design proponents had misrepresented the scientific status of evolution.
According to published reports, the nonprofit Discovery Institute received grants and gifts totaling $4.1 million for 2003 from 22 foundations. Of these, two-thirds had primarily religious missions. The institute spends more than $1 million a year for research, polls, lobbying and media pieces that support intelligent design and their Teach the Controversy campaign and is employing the same Washington, D.C. public relations firm that promoted the Contract with America.
The Discovery Institute aggressively promotes its Teach the Controversy campaign and intelligent design to the public, education officials and public policymakers. Its efforts are largely aimed at conservative Christian policymakers, where it is cast as a counterbalance to the liberal influences of "atheistic scientists" and "Dogmatic Darwinists." As a measure of their success in this effort, on 1 August 2005, during a round-table interview with reporters from five Texas newspapers, President Bush said that he believes schools should discuss intelligent design alongside evolution when teaching students about the origin of life. Bush, a conservative Christian, declined to go into detail on his personal views of the origin of life, but advocated the Teach the Controversy approach - "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought... you're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes." Christian conservatives, a substantial part of Bush's voting base, have been central in promoting the Teach the Controversy campaign.
In some state battles, the ties of Teach the Controversy and intelligent design proponents to the Discovery Institute's political and social activities have been made public resulting in their efforts being temporarily thwarted. The Discovery Institute takes the view that all publicity is good and that no defeat is real. The Institute has shown a willingness to back off, even to not advocate for the inclusion of ID, to ensure that all science teachers are required to portray evolution as a "theory in crisis." The Institute's strategy is to move, relentlessly, from standards battles, to curriculum writing, to textbook adoption, and back again doing whatever it takes to undermine the central position of evolution in biology. Critics of this strategy and the movement contend that the intelligent design controversy diverts much time, effort and tax money away from the actual education of children.
The movement consists primarily of a public relations campaign meant to sway the opinion of the public and that of the popular media, and an aggressive lobbying campaign, directed at policymakers and the educational community, which seeks to undermine public support for teaching evolution while cultivating support for what the movement terms "intelligent design theory." Its near-term goal is greatly undermining or eliminating altogether the teaching of evolution in public school science, and with the long-term goal of "renewing" American culture by shaping public policy to reflect conservative Christian values. Intelligent design is central and necessary for this agenda as described by the Discovery Institute: "Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."
The ID movement grew out of a creationist tradition that argues against evolutionary theory from a religious (usually Evangelical Christian and Fundamentalist Christian) standpoint, and the 1987 US Supreme Court decision Edwards v. Aguillard, which prohibits the teaching of creationism in public school science classrooms. Although ID advocates often claim that they are only arguing for the existence of a "designer," who may or may not be God, all the leading advocates do believe that the designer is God, and frequently accompany their allegedly scientific arguments with discussion of religious issues, especially when addressing religious audiences. In front of other audiences, they downplay the religious aspects of their agenda.
The strategy outlines a public relations campaign, of which teaching the controversy is part, meant to sway the opinion of the public, popular media, charitable funding agencies, and the scientific community in order that they should effect an "overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies". Wedge advocates have stated they hope to reinstate a "broadly theistic understanding of nature" to replace materialism. Phillip Johnson, the architect of the strategy, invokes the metaphor of a wood-splitting wedge to illustrate his goal of splitting apart the concepts of science and naturalism. A fundamental part of the Wedge strategy is the rejection of naturalism as unnecessary to science. Though the alternative to naturalism is supernaturalism, ID proponents avoid this word when speaking to mainstream audiences, substituting euphemisms like "non-natural" or skirting the issue altogether. Critics of the campaign characterize this as a semantic subterfuge made in the hope that it will enable ID proponents to skirt the First Amendment prohibition against promoting religion in public schools.
According to critics of the intelligent design movement, the Wedge document, more than any other document issued by the Discovery Institute, betrays the Institute's and intelligent design's political rather than scientific purpose.
For example, the National Association of Biology Teachers, in a statement endorsing evolution as noncontroversial, quoted Theodosius Dobzhansky: "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" and went on to state that the quote "accurately reflects the central, unifying role of evolution in biology. The theory of evolution provides a framework that explains both the history of life and the ongoing adaptation of organisms to environmental challenges and changes." They emphasized that "Scientists have firmly established evolution as an important natural process" and that "The selection of topics covered in a biology curriculum should accurately reflect the principles of biological science. Teaching biology in an effective and scientifically honest manner requires that evolution be taught in a standards-based instructional framework with effective classroom discussions and laboratory experiences.".
Prominent evolutionary biologists such as Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne have proposed various 'controversies' that are worth teaching, instead of intelligent design. Dawkins compares teaching intelligent design in schools to teaching flat earthism: perfectly fine in a history class but not in science. "If you give the idea that there are two schools of thought within science, one that says the earth is round and one that says the earth is flat, you are misleading children.
Tufts University Professor of Philosophy Daniel C. Dennett, author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea, describes how they generate a sense of controversy: "The proponents of intelligent design use an ingenious ploy that works something like this: First you misuse or misdescribe some scientist's work. Then you get an angry rebuttal. Then, instead of dealing forthrightly with the charges leveled, you cite the rebuttal as evidence that there is a 'controversy' to teach." Such a controversy is then self-fulfilling and self-sustaining, though completely without any legitimate basis in the academic world.
Critics of the Teach the Controversy movement and strategy can also be found outside of the scientific community. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, described the approach of the movement's proponents as "a disarming subterfuge designed to undermine solid evidence that all living things share a common ancestry." "The movement is a veneer over a certain theological message. Every one of these groups is now actively engaged in trying to undercut sound science education by criticizing evolution," said Lynn. "It is all based on their religious ideology. Even the people who don't specifically mention religion are hard-pressed with a straight face to say who the intelligent designer is if it's not God. Bill Maher said of Teach the Controversy "You don't have to teach both sides of a debate if one side is a load of crap.
Critics also allege that the Discovery Institute has a long-standing record of misrepresenting research, law and its own policy and agenda and that of others:
Johnson's statements validate the criticisms leveled by those who allege that the Discovery Institute and its allied organizations are merely stripping the obvious religious content from their anti-evolution assertions as a means of avoiding the legal restriction on establishment. They argue that ID is simply an attempt to put a patina of secularity on top of what is a fundamentally religious belief and agenda.
Given the history of the Discovery Institute as an organization committed to opposing any scientific theory inconsistent with "the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God", many scientists regard the movement purely as a ploy to insert creationism into the science curriculum rather than as a serious attempt to discuss scientific evidence. In the words of Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Education:
Though Teach the Controversy proponents cite the current public policy statements of the Discovery Institute as belying the criticisms that their strategy is a creationist ploy and decry critics as biased in failing to recognize that the intelligent design movement's Teach the Controversy strategy as really just a question of science with no religion involved, is itself belied by Discovery Institute's former published policy statements, its "Wedge Document", and statements made to its constituency by its leadership, and in particular Phillip E. Johnson.
Writes Johnson in the foreword to Creation, Evolution, & Modern Science (2000): Johnson's words bolster the claims of those critics who cite Johnson's admission that the ultimate goal of the campaign is getting "the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools."
Amid this political and religious controversy the clear, categorical and oft-repeated view of established national and international scientific organizations remains that there is no scientific controversy over teaching evolution in public schools.
Biologist Tom A. Langen argues in a journal letter entitled "What is right with ‘teaching the controversy’?" that teaching students about this controversy will help them understand the demarcation between science and other ways of obtaining knowledge about nature. Similar positions have been expressed by atheists Julian Baggini and Aaron Sloman.