Monday, January 23, 2006

Skeptics using Intelligent Design for fundraising

The two major skeptical organizations in the U.S.--Michael Shermer's Skeptics Society and Paul Kurtz's Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) (or, actually, its parent organization, the Center for Inquiry)--have both decided to use combatting the threat of Intelligent Design as a major platform of their most recent fundraising campaigns.

The Skeptics Society sent out a card-sized folded mailing with a photo of Darwin on the front with the caption "Help us keep religion out of the science classroom!" The inside reported on recent events, such as Cardinal Schonborn's New York Times piece that the Discovery Institute and their PR agency, Creative Response Concepts, helped arrange. It continues with facts about the amount of funding the Discovery Institute receives, quotes from Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, and Jonathan Wells, Harris and Pew poll results showing the general public's ignorance on evolution. So how will collected funds be used to combat Intelligent Design? Apparently Shermer has a new book coming out this year titled Why Darwin Matters: Evolution, Design, and the Battle for Science and Religion (Henry Holt/Times Books), copies of which will be sent "to every Congressman, Senator, and Governor in America, along with the relevant state boards of education, and state legislative bodies contemplating passing pro-creationist legislation." That doesn't strike me as a particularly productive way to combat ID--I suspect most of the recipients will not read the book.

There are other bullet items listed--publication of "a special volume of essays on evolution and Intelligent Design creationism collected from the pages of Skeptic magazine, to be published by the Skeptics Society and widely distributed to science teachers throughout America to give them the intellectual tools they need to deal with ID and creationism." Another is to "distribute free copies to teachers" of the existing booklet How to Debate a Creationist. That sounds much more worthwhile, though I think that it would be more productive to give teachers tools like Eugenie Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction and Mark Isaak's Counter-Creationism Handbook (the online version of which is here--some of the best teacher and student resources are already free and online).

The bonuses for contributors include a free book from a selection of six for $100 "Supporters" (In Darwin's Shadow by Tim Callahan is the only one that appears directly relevant to the topic). $500 "sponsors" get a free 3-year subscription to Skeptic; $1000 "benefactors" get two free tickets to the 2006 Skeptics Society conference on "The Environmental Wars"; and $5000 "patrons" get dinner with Shermer and "a world-renowned scientist (to be announced)" and a private tour of Mt. Wilson's 100-inch telescope and use of the 60-inch telescope, along with the gifts the other levels get.

The Center for Inquiry sent out a more elaborate package, including a DVD presentation promoting the "New Future Fund," a campaign to raise $26.6 million, "the largest sum ever raised in the name of humanism, skepticism, and scientific naturalism." The four major goals for the use of the money are "Legal Activism," "Opposing Creationism/Intelligent Design," "Transnational Development," and "Outreach and Education." The second item, "Opposing Creationism/Intelligent Design," discusses Intelligent Design, and says that "CSICOP is fighting back, mobilizing grassroots outreach and expert scientists when ID proposals threaten. We're especially aggressive online, publishing a stable of online columnists and a dynamic new website, Creation & Intelligent Design Watch." The website has a pretty substantial amount of content, with the November/December Skeptical Inquirer (a special issue on "Evolution and the ID Wars") as the centerpiece (along with other CSICOP-related articles, including many of Chris Mooney's Doubt and About articles), links to items appropriate for classroom use on the left side, and links to current news stories on the right side.

Now, I'm all in favor of a diversity of approaches to promote critical thinking and combat Intelligent Design's political actions, but everyone should keep in mind that the two organizations actually doing the most in this arena are the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), which is the only organization devoted entirely to fighting creationism and promoting accurate teaching about evolution, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has provided the legal support for every major creation/evolution courtroom battle. By all means support the Skeptics Society and Center for Inquiry's programs, but if Intelligent Design is a concern, please be sure to support the NCSE and ACLU.

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