Last year, Portland State University graduate student Barbara Shaw was in Powell's, browsing the science section, when she saw something odd.
"I noticed that there were a lot of these intelligent design books in the evolution section," says Shaw, who's researching the evolution of sloths, anteaters, and armadillos as she works on her Ph.D. "I took one of each, and it was about a three-foot stack. I thought, this is wrong."
Books on intelligent design—or, the idea that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection," according to the conservative Christian Discovery Institute think tank, a leading proponent of the notion—shouldn't be in the science section, Shaw argues.
"They're not science. Intelligent design by its very definition is invoking supernatural powers," she adds. The problem is, libraries and bookstores use the Dewey Decimal or the Library of Congress' systems to shelve books, and both systems lump intelligent design books in with science. A more appropriate Dewey Decimal location would be the "science and religion" section, Shaw argues.
Indeed, the issue of whether intelligent design is science or religion—and, specifically, whether it should be taught in public school science curriculums—has been addressed in the federal courts, with Judge John E. Jones III ruling in December 2005 that intelligent design "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."
After speaking with a friend who's a Multnomah County librarian—who was also running into confusion over how to shelve books on intelligent design—Shaw and other graduate students launched a petition calling on the Library of Congress to "to re-classify [intelligent design] books into sections other than the science section." She plans to present the petition on "Darwin Day"—Charles Darwin's birthday—in February 2009. (In the meantime, Shaw has heard there are "guerilla evolutionists" around the country who sneak around libraries and bookstores, re-shelving books.)
In the past few months, the petition—online at sciencea2z.com—has zipped around scientists' email lists, and racked up signatures from over 800 scientists, and over 600 "informed citizens."