Wisconsin Anti Intelligent Design Bill First in Nation
Bill banning intelligent design draws national notice
Restricts teaching of intelligent design
By Judith Davidoff
Religious conservatives around the country are up in arms over a Wisconsin bill that would ban the teaching of intelligent design as science in the state's public schools.
Focus on the Family, the evangelical Christian advocacy group led by founder James Dobson, panned the legislation this week on its Web site.
"If you can't beat them, keep them from showing up for the game," the group opined. "That's the tack Wisconsin evolutionists and liberal lawmakers are taking in attempting to ban the study of intelligent design in public schools."
Baptist Press, the online wire service of the Southern Baptist Convention, based in Nashville, also was critical. It called the introduction of the bill by Democratic Rep. Terese Berceau "an unprecedented political move to protect evolution."
Meanwhile, the University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists who helped draft the Wisconsin proposal are contacting friends and allies in other states, hoping to curry the introduction of similar legislation around the country.
"We think what we've introduced is just a standard for science education and we would like it adopted nationwide," said Alan Attie, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who helped draft Berceau's bill.
Attie said the Baptist Press and other critics are misrepresenting the bill as banning intelligent design and creationism from the classroom.
"We're not planning to do that at all," he said. In fact, Attie said, the bill provides an opportunity to fully explore the question of what is science and how it should be defined. "We see this as a wonderful teaching moment," Attie added.
The proposal has been popular blog material since Berceau announced it last week. A search on Google's new blog search turned up 48 references to the bill.
William Dembski, one of the leading proponents of intelligent design, is offering a $1,000 award to the first teacher in Wisconsin who would challenge the policy by teaching intelligent design as science within a public school curriculum.
On his Web site, Dembski said Berceau's bill bodes well for proponents of intelligent design, which proposes that biology was shaped by an intelligent creator.
"I take this as a clear sign that we are winning," he said.
"Wisconsin may well be evolution's Waterloo," Dembski added.
Berceau said her office has received more than 50 phone calls and e-mails from all over the country about the bill and almost all have been favorable.
Berceau said only one person in an e-mail called her a "communist" and an "atheist."
"If the Christian right is interested, they're not calling me."
Gary McCaleb, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian law firm based in Scottsdale, Ariz., said in an interview that his firm would take a hard look at the legislation.
"Mandating a point of view and trying to enshrine your current science in law is, to me, just scientists begging for disaster," McCaleb said. "It's very problematic to have scientists trying to shut down the debate."
Attie said he and the other UW scientists backing the bill are doing just the opposite.
"We're trying to uphold standards for science education, but by no means do we want to stop discussion. We've very interested in discussing this issue at length, but we want truth in labeling. Intelligent design is religion and it's not science."