Not in Our Classrooms is a small, impressive book that will be a valuable resource for anyone interested in the various aspects of “intelligent design” and the evolution-creationism debate. Editors Eugenie C. Scott and Glenn Branch, both of whom are with the National Center for Science Education, are among the nation's leading defenders of the teaching of evolution, and their outstanding compilation of articles will be useful to anyone who likewise wants to defend the teaching of evolution and improve science education.
Scott's opening chapter (“The Once and Future Intelligent Design”) puts the evolution-creationism controversy into historical context, covering most of the landmark events from the late 1800s to the present: the distribution of The Fundamentals (a collection of essays in defense of historic Christianity, published nearly a century ago), the Scopes “monkey trial,” the revival of evolution in high school biology classrooms led by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, the work of Henry Morris (a young-earth creationist and founder of the Institute for Creation Research), and some of the lawsuits associated with the controversy (e.g., Epperson v. Arkansas, McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, Edwards v. Aguillard). The bulk of the chapter, however, focuses on the most recent version of creationism—that is, intelligent design—and its milestones, including the publication Of Pandas and People, by Percival Davis and Dean Kenyon; the crusade against evolution carried out by Phillip Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial; and the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision. Scott also discusses some creationist strategies (e.g., “teach the controversy”) and the scholarly pretensions of intelligent design. This chapter is one of the best summaries available for the history of the modern controversy involving creationism and evolution.
The chapter is followed by “Analyzing Critical Analysis: The Fallback Antievolutionist Strategy,” in which Nicholas Matzke and Paul Gross analyze the many evolving forms of creationism (e.g., creation science and its born-again cousin, intelligent design). The authors review creationists' recent uprisings in Ohio and Kansas, then discuss several fallacies of creationists' arguments, including their misrepresentations of phylogenetic trees and transitional forms, Haeckel's exaggerated similarities between the early developmental stages of vertebrate embryos, and the concept of “irreducible complexity.” As Matzke and Gross note, the “objections to evolution are not serious scientific arguments; they are superficially investigated and poorly reasoned talking points... aimed at uninformed audiences.”
Martinez Hewlett and Ted Peters, authors of “Theology, Religion, and Intelligent Design,” are self-described “theistic evolutionists” who “embrace healthy science as an expression of [their] religious faith.” Their chapter, which focuses on the history of the design-based argument, discusses William Paley's Natural Theology, Johnson's Darwin on Trial, Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box, and William A. Dembski's mathematics-based claims for intelligent design. Hewlett and Peters then offer a critique of intelligent design and discuss how the controversy is affected by religious diversity.
The purported controversy...is illusory; nearly all scientific professional organizations have published statements supporting the teaching of evolution in science classrooms, and rejecting the teaching of creationism.
Jay Wexler gives an outstanding analysis of the constitutional issues associated with creationist teaching in “From the Classroom to the Courtroom: Intelligent Design and the Constitution.” This chapter pays special attention to the Edwards and Kitzmiller decisions, and provides an excellent summary of the legal issues involved in each case. It should be required reading for all teachers, school administrators, and school-board members.
Brian Alters, in “Evolution in the Classroom,” tells readers about the realities of teaching evolution in high school classrooms. He opens the chapter with an excerpt from a letter Stephen Jay Gould sent to McGill University: “I don't think that any job in the entire world—and I include Popes, Presidents and Generals—could possibly be more important than teaching science to secondary school students.” Alters then explains that antievolutionists often raise the specter of scientific controversy regarding the validity of evolution—claiming, for example, that some scientific evidence questions evolution—and demand that teachers “teach the controversy.” The purported controversy, however, is illusory; nearly all scientific professional organizations have published statements supporting the teaching of evolution in science classrooms, and rejecting the teaching of creationism.
The last chapter, “Defending the Teaching of Evolution: Strategies and Tactics for Activists,” discusses what people who want to improve science education can do to promote the effective teaching of evolution. Complacency is the enemy, says author Glenn Branch. Despite their many legal defeats and the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting biological evolution, antiscience activists will not stop trying to undermine science education and eliminate evolution from high school biology classrooms. If the evolution-creationism issue hasn't flared up in your community, it most likely will, at which time you can turn to this chapter to learn how to thwart the creationists' well-organized (and well-funded) efforts to corrupt science education.
In summary, Not in Our Classrooms is a powerful, accessible introduction to the many facets of intelligent design. There are several good books about the evolution-creationism controversy, but none is better than Not in Our Classrooms. If you read just one book about this subject, read this one. Then give the book to others and urge them to do the same. It is a valuable resource.