John G. West Political Scientist and Cultural Critic

Banned Book of the Year: Of Pandas and People

Published at Evolution News

Sept. 23-30 is “Banned Books Week,” sponsored by the American Library Association. In commemoration of this annual event, I’d like to submit my nomination for the top banned book of the past year: Of Pandas and People, published by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics.

An early pro-intelligent design textbook, Pandas was at the heart of the lawsuit filed by the ACLU against the hapless school district in Dover, Pennsylvania. The Dover school board wanted teachers to tell students that if they desired information about intelligent design they could go to the school library and read Of Pandas and People. What an outlandish idea: A school district actually wanted to encourage students to consult a book for more information!

According to the ACLU, this proposal was tantamount to imposing “theocracy.” While I did not favor the Dover policy, the idea that it was an affront to the First Amendment to make Of Pandas and People available to students on a voluntary basis is simply Orwellian. In fact, it was the ACLU that was offending the First Amendment by engaging in book banning. Unfortunately, ACLU attorneys were able to convince federal judge John E. Jones to go along with their efforts.

Evolutionists used to pride themselves on supporting academic freedom. No more. Now they are out to censor any expression of ideas they don’t like.

They’re not just banning books. They are banning curriculum and even people. Earlier this year, Darwin-only activists bullied the Ohio State Board of Education into repealing a model lesson plan encouraging students to critically analyze key evidences used to support Darwin’s theory. Now Darwinists are trying to unseat members of the Kansas State Board of Education because they also encouraged students to study the evidence for and against Darwin’s theory. If you happen to be a teacher or college professor who is skeptical of Darwin, watch out, because Darwinists are trying to ban you too!

At George Mason University, biology professor Caroline Crocker made the mistake of favorably discussing intelligent design in her cell biology class. She was suspended from teaching the class, and then her contract was not renewed.

At the Mississippi University for Women, chemistry professor Nancy Bryson was removed as head of the division of natural sciences in 2003 after merely presenting scientific criticisms of biological and chemical evolution to a seminar of honors students.

In Minnesota, high school teacher Rodney LeVake was removed from teaching biology after expressing doubts about Darwin’s theory. LeVake, who holds a master’s degree in biology, agreed to teach evolution as required in the district’s curriculum, but said he wanted to “accompany that treatment of evolution with an honest look at the difficulties and inconsistencies of the theory.”

In Washington state, high school teacher Roger DeHart was driven out of two school districts by Darwin-only activists incensed that he wanted to inform students of some of the scientific weaknesses with Darwin’s theory. (Part of DeHart’s story is told in the Icons of Evolution DVD.)

But it’s not only books and teachers who Darwinists have targeted for reprisals, it is also students.

In 2005, Ohio State University doctoral candidate Bryan Leonard had his dissertation defense placed on hold after three pro-Darwin professors filed a bogus complaint attacking Leonard’s dissertation research as “unethical human subject experimentation.” Leonard’s dissertation project looked at how student beliefs changed after students were taught scientific evidence for and against modern evolutionary theory. The complaining professors admitted that they had not actually read Leonard’s dissertation. But they were sure it must be unethical. Why? According to the professors, there is no valid evidence against evolutionary theory. Thus — by definition — Leonard’s research must be tantamount to child abuse.

Of course, the ultimate goal here is to ban ideas. Darwinists want to prevent anyone from hearing criticisms of Darwin’s theory or learning about alternatives to Darwinism such as intelligent design. Indeed, left-wing writer Chris Mooney has tried to convince journalists that they have a duty to censor expressions by ID proponents in the newsmedia.

For all of their rhetoric about the supposedly “overwhelming evidence” in favor of Darwin’s theory, many evolutionists act as if they are extremely insecure.

Open debate seems to terrify them. Perhaps they recognize that the scientific evidence for their position isn’t so overwhelming after all.

It is a measure of Darwinists’ insularity that most don’t seem to understand what a losing strategy they’ve adopted. If they truly believe they can stop intelligent design or criticism of Darwin through censorship, persecution, and book banning, they are living in another universe. Most Americans don’t like to be told there are some ideas too dangerous for them to hear. The more Darwinists try to impose their views through coercion, the more they are going to lose in the court of public opinion.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.
Discovery Institute