The battle for American science

One of the first signs that something was changing came in March last year in the suburbs of northern Atlanta, when people started talking, a little more frequently than might be expected, about mousetraps. It was hardly unprecedented in the US that a group of local parents should be lobbying for their children to be taught that evolution was a disputed theory, not a fact. But the way some of them were doing it was new, which is where the mousetraps came in. Unlike some of the openly evangelical Christian lobbies, they didn’t want schools to teach creationism – the theory that God created the universe in seven days – they only wanted to air a theory known as Intelligent Design. ID holds that the living cell is “irreducibly complex”, like a mousetrap. Remove the spring from a mousetrap and it isn’t just an inferior mousetrap; it isn’t a mousetrap at all. It had to have been created by an intelligent designer. It was the same, they said, for cells, and so life must have been designed by some kind of intelligence. Critics called this “stealth creationism” – religious dogma masquerading as science – but the ID proponents got their way, thanks partly to wording in President Bush’s new education bill. Schools in Atlanta are now theoretically entitled to “teach the controversy” (though officials have urged teachers to stick to evolution for now, sparking a lawsuit) – and textbooks presenting Darwinism as fact have stickers inside, pointing out that it might not be…,13026,933055,00.html