Get Smart 

The Memphis Freethought Alliance hosts a lecture on the flaws of intelligent design.

A few years ago, Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, was asked to write an article about a think tank in Texas. That article turned into the book Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse: A Closer Look at Intelligent Design, which she co-wrote with Paul R. Gross. "I started with an article, and then as I began to uncover the facts, it just kept growing," she says.

Forrest's goal was to expose and debunk the theories behind "intelligent design," which she describes as the newest incarnation of the creationist movement. On Saturday, July 16th, Forrest will be in town to deliver a lecture hosted by the Memphis Freethought Alliance, a group dedicated to the separation of church and state.

Intelligent-design (ID) supporters appear to straddle the fence between science and faith. A leading proponent behind intelligent design is William Dembski, a mathematician, philosopher, and senior fellow with the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture in Seattle. In the late 1990s, he proposed building a think tank at Baylor University to work toward integrating science and faith. Forrest was assigned to write an article on the think tank for a secular Web site.

Dembski proposes that the structural complexity of living organisms clearly indicates a designing intelligence. Dembski is careful to define this designer as nontheistic: "Intelligent design," he's written, "presupposes neither a creator nor miracles. Intelligent design is not creationism."

But it does have political support. In 2001, Senator Rick Santorum, a Republican from Pennsylvania, introduced a resolution into the No Child Left Behind Act. It stated: "A quality science education should prepare students to distinguish data and testable theories of science from religious and philosophical claims that are made in the name of science."

Though the resolution did not become part of the official act, it was included in the report language, which is a guideline of sorts for enacting the legislation. The wording of the passage seems to be calling for separation of church and state on controversial educational issues. According to Forrest, however, it bears a closer inspection. "The advocates of ID realize they must sanitize their language in order to accomplish their goals," she says.

The report is careful to align itself with the separation of church and state, science and religion. Santorum presents intelligent design as a valid scientific school, an alternative to standard evolutionary theory that has no direct theistic convictions, which deserves a place in the educational system.

However, when one follows the semantics to their source, the language used by Dembski and Santorum appears in a different light. A document leaked to the public in March 1999 helps clarify the major goals of the Discovery Institute, Dembski's company and the source of the intelligent-design movement. This document, known as the Wedge Strategy, states clearly the institute's true intentions: "To replace materialistic [read: empirical] explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God." The vague pseudoscientific agenda of intelligent design is revealed to be raw creationism.

It is precisely this wolf in sheep's clothing that Forrest is attempting to uncover in her book. "The advocates and representatives of ID realize that they must appear to respect the divide between science and religion," she says. "They have carried out all aspects of the Wedge Strategy except for one: the hard scientific research."

Gross, her co-author, states, "There is no, repeat, no scientific legitimacy so far in the putatively scientific claims of the ID movement. This isn't just my opinion. It is the official and considered judgment of all the worldwide evolutionary scientists and of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Science Teachers Association, and the Academy of Sciences."

Here in Memphis, some prefer their creationism straight-up. In February, Shelby County school board member Wyatt Bunker proposed that county high schools put disclaimer stickers about evolution on science textbooks. He is concerned the text covers only scientific views and ignores creationist beliefs. "These days," says Forrest, "a curriculum is only as safe as the next election." n

Barbara Forrest will be speaking Saturday, July 16th, at the Central Library, 1-3 p.m.

The Memphis Freethought Alliance holds monthly meetings, which are free and open to the public. For more information, check out geocities.com/memphisfreethought.

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