A bitter debate about how to teach evolution in U.S. high schools is prompting a crisis of confidence among scientists, and some senior academics warn that science itself is under assault.

In the past month, the interim president of Cornell University and the dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine have both spoken on this theme, warning in dramatic terms of the long-term consequences.

“Among the most significant forces is the rising tide of anti-science sentiment that seems to have its nucleus in Washington but which extends throughout the nation,” said Stanford’s Philip Pizzo in a letter posted on the school Web site on October 3.

Cornell acting President Hunter Rawlings, in his “state of the university” address last week, spoke about the challenge to science represented by “intelligent design” which holds that the theory of evolution accepted by the vast majority of scientists is fatally flawed.

Rawlings said the dispute was widening political, social, religious and philosophical rifts in U.S. society. “When ideological division replaces informed exchange, dogma is the result and education suffers,” he said.

Adherents of intelligent design argue that certain forms in nature are too complex to have evolved through natural selection and must have been created by a “designer,” who could but does not have to be identified as God.

By Alan Elsner

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