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Mindful of the constitutional dangers, the Kansas dissidents have not called for bringing God explicitly into the classroom. Instead, anti-evolution activists and I.D. advocates are making what appears on its face to be a perfectly reasonable request. Evolution has not been proved with 100% certainty, they say. Some legitimate scientists think I.D. is more persuasive. So, in a frequently repeated I.D. catchphrase, "teach the controversy."
That's the position of John West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. A nonpartisan but generally conservative think tank, the institute was founded in 1990 by George Gilder, a Nixon speechwriter turned technology evangelist (TIME in 1974 called him the U.S.'s "leading male-chauvinist-pig author"), and his Harvard roommate Bruce Chapman, director of the Census Bureau during the Reagan Administration.
Discovery has received funding from Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., an ultraconservative savings-and-loan heir. While it does a wide variety of public-policy research (the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave Discovery $9.35 million, for example, to come up with new transportation ideas for the Pacific Northwest), it is best known as a major center of research and advocacy for I.D.
Putting God in the classroom is clearly illegal, but Discovery Institute strategists believe that even a push for I.D. might run afoul of zealous judges--as it has in Georgia. So the institute advocates that schools should continue teaching evolution but also present what West calls "some of the scientific criticism of major parts of the theory."
But many scientists--and science teachers--don't think there is any valid criticism. Sure, some 350 scientists have signed a declaration challenging evolution. But many tens of thousands of scientists reject I.D.'s core argument--that evolution can't produce complex structures. Take the eye. I.D. theorists say it could not have evolved bit by bit because a bit of an eye has no survival value; it would never have been passed on. Biologists see it differently. They say, for example, a primitive, light-sensing patch of skin--a forerunner of the retina--could help animals detect the shadows of predators.
Then there's the assertion that evolution is "just" a theory. "They are playing on the public's lack of understanding of what a scientific theory is," says Bingman. "It's more than a guess. It's a set of hypotheses that has been tested over time." Evolutionary theory does have gaps, but so do relativity, quantum theory and the theory of plate tectonics. West says those are different because scientists in these fields, unlike evolutionists, aren't afraid of intellectual debate. Evolutionists counter that they have welcomed challenges. They developed the theory of punctuated equilibriums, for example, to address the fact that species remain unchanged for long periods, then suddenly start evolving.