Letter to Members of Congress Re: Intelligent Thought

Letter to Members of Congress Re: Intelligent Thought

John Brockman [2.16.06]

[ED. NOTE:] Last week, the sixteen scientists who contributed essays to Intelligent Thought: Science versus the Intelligent Design Movement, wrote a letter that was addressed individually and sent with a copy of the book to every member of Congress. — JB

June 16, 2006

To Members of Congress:

We, the authors and editor of Intelligent Thought, are sending you a copy of the book in hopes that you will consider its message. The book is largely about Intelligent Design (ID), the latest incarnation of creationism. ID is a movement that threatens American science education and with it American economic predominance and credibility.

The recent federal court decision in Dover, Pennsylvania found that ID was not a scientific theory, but a form of religion in disguise. Judge John Jones III, a churchgoing Republican appointed by President Bush, concluded that teaching this doctrine in the public schools represents both bad education and an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. President Bush’s science advisor, John H. Marburger, has affirmed that ‘evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology’ and ‘intelligent design is not a scientific concept.’ And Newt Gingrich has stated that ID has nothing to do with science and shouldn’t be taught in science courses.’ 

Reason and law triumphed in Dover. But ID and its spinoffs continue to threaten American education by ignoring the massive evidence for evolution—the central principle that unites all the biological sciences— and by substituting adherence to religious dogma for the scientific method.

Our country cannot afford substandard science teaching. Indeed, a national science test just administered by the Department of Education showed a decade-long erosion of scientific proficiency among American high school seniors. We won’t cure this problem by questioning scientifically established facts (evolution) and theories (natural selection) and replacing them with unsupported conjectures based on faith. 

The controversy over ID vs. evolution is not a scientific controversy. Every scientific body in the US has opposed ID and affirmed the reality of evolution. The “controversy” is about whether sectarian religious views should be taught in the science classroom. Most theologians readily accept evolution, finding it compatible with their faith. In 1996, Pope John Paul II officially endorsed evolution, and even with a recent change in Vatican leadership, the Catholic Church’s position has remained unchanged.

As the world grows more complex, and we face scientific challenges such as addressing global warming, developing sustainable energy sources, and preventing the spread of pandemics, it is critical that America remain in the forefront of science. And the key to our preeminence is education. The study of evolution has practical benefits: it is the basis for breeding food crops, choosing animal models that can be used to treat human disorders, conserving species and their habitats, predicting which vaccines should be made to prepare for epidemics like avian flu, and manufacturing those vaccines. Science education that incorporates unscientific issues like ID is a sure path to America’s failure against competing countries. Conversely, given its importance for biology and for science in general, evolution deserves to be properly taught in American classrooms.

Respectfully yours,

Scott Atran
Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique
Department of Psychology
University of Michigan

John Brockman
Publisher and Editor
Edge (www.edge.org)
New York City

Jerry Coyne
Department of Ecology and Evolution
The University of Chicago

Richard Dawkins
Oxford University Museum

Daniel Dennett
Center for Cognitive Studies
Tufts University

Marc D. Hauser
Departments of Psychology and Organismal and Evolutionary Biology
Harvard University

Nicholas Humphrey
London School of Economics
London, UK

Stuart Kauffman
The Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics
The University of Calgary,
The Santa Fe Institute
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Seth Lloyd
Department of Mechanical Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Techology

Steven Pinker
Department of Psychology
Harvard University

Lisa Randall
Department of Physics
Harvard University

Scott Sampson
Utah Museum of Natural History and 
Department of Geology and Geophysics
University of Utah

Neil Shubin
Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy
The University of Chicago,
The Field Museum, Chicago

Lee Smolin
Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Frank Sulloway
Institute for Personality and Social Research
The University of California, Berkeley

Leonard Susskind 
Department of Physics
Stanford University

Tim White
Department of Integrative Biology and 
Human Evolution Research Center