As I've written about before, there have been numerous articles about the recent Dover, PA "Intelligent Design" decision that suggested that that lawsuit involved an attempt to insert ID "curriculum" into the public school system, as if ID proponents were trying to cram actual ID-related content into the course material.
In fact, as others have pointed out as well, that court case was based on nothing more than the school board's decision to have science teachers read a four-paragraph (anti-evolution) disclaimer at the beginning of the course and leave it at that. That was, of course, still wholly unacceptable, but did that disclaimer really represent ID "curriculum?" And if it didn't, what would?
And now it's starting all over again in Ohio:
See why Ohio Department of Education's own scientists have called parts of this lesson "lies" and thinly veiled attempts to teach "Intelligent Design" Creationism in Ohio's Public Schools
So what's being proposed in Ohio? Apparently, there really is some content that's being proposed, as you can read here. Depressingly, it's the same old creationist, anti-evolution rubbish you've probably seen a hundred times before -- pick nits with every aspect of evolution you can so you can conclude that the whole field is questionable. Oh, yawn.
So with all this talk about ID "curriculum," it seems fair to ask: Is there any actual curriculum? And what would it even look like? And why haven't we seen any of it? Which leads me to make the following proposal.
The next time someone proposes adding ID "curriculum" to science classes, don't get defensive. Instead, you should applaud that idea, and follow it up immediately with a request to see that curriculum because, you see, I have a plan. (It is a plan so cunning, you could pin a tail on it and call it a "weasel.")
The instant someone refers to ID "curriculum," you should ask them to define what they mean by that word. See, my idea of curriculum is generally a structured, logical progression of ideas, accompanied by, say, sample exercises, homework assignments and model tests and exams. And, frankly, I'd love to see all of that for Intelligent Design, since I'm devilishly curious as to what that would look like. Let's think about it.
If you wanted to "teach the controversy" and planned on presenting "both sides," what kind of assignments could you hand out? And how would you mark those assignments? Imagine an assignment that asked the student to summarize the evolution of the eye.
A pro-evolution answer might look something like this, discussing phases in the history of eye evolution. Would that be an acceptable assignment answer? Would it get full marks?
Contrast this with the expected pro-ID answer: "The eye is simply too complex to have evolved and thus must have had a Designer." What would you do with that answer? Would it be correct? Would it get full marks? And how could you justify giving full marks to two answers that so clearly disagree with one another? How on earth would teachers handle something like this?
And what about just normal classroom lecture material? In the case of evolution, one could easily spend an entire term discussing nothing more than the absolute basics of evolutionary biology. But what would an ID lecture look like? I'm imagining something like:
"Intelligent Design proposes that some biological features are simply too complex to have evolved without the aid of a designer. Yes, ID takes the position that some things are, well, complicated. Really complicated. Really, really, well ... you know ... complicated. Really."
I can see that being an awfully short course.
Even the ID-oriented Discovery Institute would be of absolutely no help here. Surf over there and do a search on the single word "curriculum". One search result that jumps out at you is "Incorporate Controversy into the Curriculum." Sadly, this is just an op-ed piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and I don't see teaching an entire section of a science class off of a single op-ed piece.
Another link is entitled "Teaching the Controversy:
Darwinism, Design and the Public School Science Curriculum." Mysteriously, this refers to a "hardcopy booklet" that one can order for $7 -- not exactly what you'd think of if you were considering course material. And if you broaden the search and check out Amazon, you eventually find what seems to be a related publication: "Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curriculum: A Legal Guidebook."
And while I'm sure it's nice and all to have a handy-dandy legal guidebook to figure out just how badly you're going to get sued, that book doesn't really contribute anything to the science of the discussion, does it? Which brings us full circle back to my main point.
The next time someone suggests "teaching the controversy" with Intelligent Design "curriculum," don't get all bent out of shape. Rather, you should welcome that suggestion with all the enthusiasm you can muster, followed by a request to see said curriculum which, of course, would include textbooks, workbooks, lecture notes and study plans, as well as sample assignments and exams.
This approach would not only prove that we scientists are magnificently tolerant and open-minded, but would almost certainly shut these ignorant dingbats down in an instant. How could they possibly respond? And with what? Oh, yes, it would be an awkward moment, I'm sure.
So, when it comes to ID "curriculum," I say, bring it on. I can't wait.
A DEBATE IS PROBABLY A BAD IDEA: I don't see why there's all this excitement over a debate challenge:
We challenge the top "intelligent-designists" to a debate of the scientific evidence for intelligent design, to be held at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland the first week of January.
Over the years, there have been more than enough evolution/creationism debates and they have settled nothing. I think it would be far more productive to publicly challenge the IDers to produce official classroom curriculum so everyone can take their time to see what the deal is.
BAD CURRICULUM. VERY BAD CURRICULUM. While the proposed lesson plan for Ohio makes an attempt to present an ID curriculum, it still gets into the same kind of trouble I described above. Note the "Post-Assessment" bullet points on page 2:
- Describe why scientific critical analysis of evolution is important.
- Describe one major piece of evidence used to support evolution and explain why it is important.
- Describe one piece of evidence used to challenge evolution and explain why it is important.
All right, it would be easy enough to, say, describe a major piece of evidence used to support evolution, no problem there. But what about a piece of evidence used to "challenge" evolution? What would be a possible correct answer here?
What if the student answered, "There is no major evidence that challenges evolution." Would that be wrong? Would it get no marks? Is the teacher looking for the answer, "The existence of irreducible complexity is a major challenge to evolution?" Man, this would get ugly in a hurry.