Box 1. Cast out from class

From the following article:

Intelligent design:  Who has designs on your students' minds?

Geoff Brumfiel

Nature 434, 1062-1065(28 April 2005)



Caroline Crocker says that she hadn't meant to start a controversy when she mentioned intelligent design while teaching her second-year cell-biology course at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, last semester. But many of her colleagues say that the soft-spoken molecular biologist, who received a PhD in immunopharmacology from the University of Southampton, UK, has gone too far. Sitting in an empty teaching lab, Crocker tells how she has been barred by her department from teaching both evolution and intelligent design. "It's an infringement of academic freedom," she says. She is appealing the case to a grievance committee.

Crocker is one of a handful of professors nationwide who are introducing intelligent design into college-level teaching. Some, like Crocker, try to work the idea into their biology classes, but increasingly, intelligent-design advocates are teaching their material outside the science curriculum in special seminars and one-time courses, says Barbara Forrest, a philosopher at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.

Those efforts meet with a mixed response from faculty members and administrators on campus. Michael Behe, an intelligent-design advocate and biochemist at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, teaches an elective first-year seminar on 'popular arguments on evolution'. "The majority of my colleagues disagree with me," he says. "But my chairman supports my right to have my own views and argue them in a public setting."

In contrast, William Dembski, a mathematician at Baylor University in Texas and another prominent intelligent-design researcher, says that he is no longer allowed to teach on campus. "Essentially I've had about a five-year sabbatical," he complains. Stories such as Dembski's make some intelligent-design supporters fearful of expressing their views in public. One researcher, approached by Nature for this article, declined to be interviewed because he did not yet have tenure.

Darwinists are divided over whether intelligent design deserves a classroom airing. Forrest says that she believes professors shouldn't be allowed to teach unsubstantiated scientific concepts to their students. "This is not a question of academic freedom, this is a question of professional competence," she says. But Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, which vehemently opposes teaching intelligent design in high schools, takes a different view. She thinks such discussions are more acceptable in a college environment, but believes it must be made clear to students that intelligent design is theology, not science.

Crocker hopes that she will be allowed to continue talking to students about intelligent design. Her lectures drew criticism from some and praise from others — notably, she says, her Muslim students seemed to like it. She maintains that the talks help students to think independently about ideas such as evolution. "My goal is to teach students to think for themselves," she says.

Whether and in what form her intelligent-design teachings will continue is now up to faculty members and administrators. "The university doesn't have a policy or a rule on whether certain topics should be discussed," says Daniele Struppa, a mathematician and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at George Mason University. But, he adds, he questions whether a concept with theological underpinnings really belongs in a science course. "I'm a Buddhist," he says. "But I don't think we should teach reincarnation in biology classes."