On page 26 of this issue, you’ll find a roundup of the science software that more than 700 of your colleagues have identified as the most effective in augmenting science instruction. All the materials listed there are designed to enhance the teaching of science.

Elsewhere around the nation, however, efforts are under way that could have the effect of undermining the teaching of genuine science. From the days of the Scopes “Monkey Trial” in 1925, to the heyday of “creation science,” and now, in their latest incarnation as advocates of “intelligent design,” certain dogged factions have, in effect, wanted science instruction to evolve backwards: from Darwin’s “natural selection” to the “natural theology” favored in mid-19th century England.

Those factions are still at work, and they’re getting smarter. It’s as though a chronic ailment has come out of remission and once again is poised to inflict serious harm to the body politic. Like a virus strain adapting to defend against previously successful remedies, the advocates of anti-science are infecting school curricula again. But this time, they are using a far subtler line, relying on the ignorance of the public and press about science affairs, using citizens’ sense of tolerance and fair play to win baseless theories equal time with substantiated ones, and attempting to portray the scientific establishment as hidebound for refusing to support ID as the next big thing.

Here, from a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, are just a few places where outbreaks have been spotted:

Georgia, November 2004: A lawsuit is filed against the Cobb County School District over this disclaimer inserted into textbooks: “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.”

(Just for the record, “theory” is not the antonym of “fact,” as C.R. Cohen recently reminded readers of the Washington Post. It is “a schema of explanation… The validity of any theory is a function of how completely it accommodates the greatest number of pertinent facts. In this respect, evolution has more than proven itself. Indeed, to reject evolution is to reject modern science and all the technological goodies it has brought about.”)

Pennsylvania, October 2004: A Dover, Pa., school board votes to include intelligent design in the district’s science curriculum, making it the first such school district in the country.

Oklahoma, April 2004: Textbook legislation passes after it is stripped of a provision that all textbooks include a disclaimer describing evolution as “a controversial theory which some scientists present as scientific explanation for the origin of living things” and “the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced a world of living things.”

In a seminal article titled “One Nation, Under the Designer” in the December 2004 issue of Phi Delta Kappan, Mark Terry, a science instructor, refers to the 2002 battle over the science curriculum in Ohio: “Behind the elaborate ID facade, this effort was simply an attempt to bring a religious orientation into the public schools via, of all places, the science classroom. And that was just a step in the overall plan to put the U.S. on a course toward the theocracy envisioned in the Wedge Strategy.”

Space does not allow an explication of the “wedge strategy” Terry attributes to intelligent design proponents, but here’s an indication of what it entails, according to Terry:

“The strategy is to move, relentlessly, from standards battles, to curriculum writing, to textbook adoption, and back again doing whatever it takes to undermine the central position of evolution in biology.”

Terry goes on to warn that the proponents of intelligent design are sowing great confusion among school districts and state standards boards. As the federal No Child Left Behind Act shifts to science instruction and focuses on bringing assessment standards to the high school level, it is likely that the debate surrounding the science curriculum will intensify.

Science educators, their education colleagues, and citizens at large must resist this new assault. Because if, in the name of “fair play” and “equal time,” those who advocate belief over fact in science are allowed to distort the curriculum, they’ll wind up making monkeys of us all.