As a candidate for a school board seat in the semirural locale of North Mason County along the Hood Canal, John Campbell is pledging to "turn heat into light." There's been discord in the district lately as board members have bickered with the teachers union and among themselves over finances and other matters. A retired communications professor, Campbell says he has the skills to foster a more civilized dialogue, "restore trust," and "establish transparency."
One thing he has failed to disclose, however, is his link to the "intelligent design" movement and the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based think tank that is a leading proponent of the neo-creationist theory that life and other aspects of the universe came into being not by evolution but by the work of an intelligent "cause."
Campbell is a fellow at the Discovery Institute and has written articles in favor of "making students aware of the arguments for and against Darwin's theory of evolution," including intelligent design, as he put it in a written statement [NOTE: link is to a PDF] he submitted in the closely watched Dover, Pa., court case fought over teaching intelligent design there. (A scathing opinion by the judge scuttled the local school board's plan to do so and served as a major setback for the intelligent design movement.) He also co-authored a book with Stephen Meyer, director of the Discovery's Institute's Center for Science and Culture, called Darwinism, Design and Public Education.
In a two-page biography posted on his campaign Web site, campbell4kids.com, Campbell notes that he has co-authored a book, but doesn't give its title. Furthermore, the site includes no mention of his Discovery Institute fellowship, instead highlighting his experience in "minor surveying and major brush whacking" in 1960 and his association with the Boy Scouts, as well as faculty jobs at the University of Washington and the University of Memphis.
"Notice how he's running as John Campbell, not John Angus Campbell," says Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland,Calif.–based nonprofit opposed to the teaching of intelligent design. Campbell uses the latter name at the Discovery Institute and in his writings on intelligent design. "Is he trying to hide that he's running for school board, or that he is who he is?" Scott wonders.
By phone from Belfair, Campbell insists he isn't hiding anything. He says he hasn't mentioned his work on intelligent design because "it hasn't come up as an issue" and "it's not part of my motive in running."
"I am not going to touch curricula," he adds.
He also says that, despite his advocacy for bringing intelligent design into the classroom, he himself is a "Darwinist." He says he sees debating Darwin as a way of engaging students' interest and sharpening their critical thinking skills. "Rather than demonizing people that believe in ID, I think there are ways people could use their ideas to study Darwinism more closely," he explains.
Scott isn't buying it, not least because she says evolutionary biology has advanced way beyond Darwin's 19th-century tracts, so that a real follower of modern science would never call himself a "Darwinist." As for Campbell's opponent, an incumbent named Glenn Landram who teaches business at Evergreen State College, he says he doesn't know enough about intelligent design or the Discovery Institute to make an issue of it.