Strategies surrounding intelligent design

Indiana Republican lawmakers have suggested they will introduce legislation in 2006 that would require the teaching of “intelligent design” (ID) alongside evolution in Indiana public schools. This is part of a growing national trend by social conservatives to open a debate about the teaching of evolution and ID as part of the science curricula in public schools. Is evolution scientifically controversial? Is ID a viable scientific alternative to evolution?

The National Academy of Sciences says the answer to both questions is an unequivocal no. The NAS states, “The theory of evolution has become the central unifying concept of biology and is a critical component of many related scientific disciplines” and conclude, “Creationism, intelligent design and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science.”

In his Nov. 5, 2005, Indianapolis Star editorial, Assistant Editor Russell Pulliam argues for the mandatory teaching of intelligent design. The title, “Poking holes in evolution,” gives the ID game away. ID is not a theory, but a collection of negative arguments against evolution designed to sow doubt and promote a religious concept of supernatural intervention by creating a false dichotomy.

Pulliam wrote, “When scientists boldly proclaim the Darwinian theory of evolution, they go way beyond scientific expertise into matters of philosophy and theology.” The methods of science are limited to experiential evidence, that is, science can only make pronouncements on the natural world because it has no way of ascertaining or testing hypotheses about the supernatural as it is beyond our experience. ID proponents want evolution to be equated with philosophical naturalism and atheism to argue viewpoint discrimination by public schools.

The leaders of the intelligent design movement are quick to publicly sidestep the religiosity of their conjecture. Pulliam missed that cue when he wrote, “They say that faith has no place in matters of science, that science has its rules of evidence and observation, and that any faith-based approach to origins will step outside those rules.” Is Pulliam suggesting science can prove one’s faith? As impossible as it sounds, this would make faith unnecessary and the faiths of other religions would be shown to be false.

Mining the same vein, Pulliam wrote, “Some big leaps of faith are found in theories about mankind evolving from the animal kingdom and one species gradually changing into another. That kind of evolution can’t be observed or tested in the lab.” Pulliam’s argument from ignorance is that evolution is false because, in his mind, it can’t be proven true. Such personal incredulity is rarely informed by facts. Speciation events have been observed under laboratory conditions in worms, flies, beetles and bacteria. Speciation has been observed in the wild in all biological kingdoms. It’s evidence, not faith, which supports the idea of common descent. Laboratory evidence from DNA analysis and fossil evidence confirms the fact of our prehominid ancestry and the common ancestry of all life on Earth.

Teaching another “model” alongside evolution is nothing new. In 1982, a federal court declared unconstitutional an Arkansas statute that required the teaching of evolution and creationism in Arkansas public schools. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Edwards v. Aguillard federal court decision to strike down Louisiana’s “balanced treatment” statute that required the teaching of “creation science” along with “evolution science” because the statute “advanced the religious claim that a supernatural being created humankind.”

This is why Pulliam wants us to believe, “ID is not the same as creation science,” even though the resemblance is uncanny. Neither has generated peer-reviewed research or testable hypotheses. The term “intelligent design” became the term of choice for creationists after the Edwards decision. Its abrupt appearance came in the latter half of 1987 in the creationist biology text Of Pandas and People, where it replaced the terms “creationism” and “creationist” in early drafts.

Unwittingly, Pulliam has touched upon the sociopolitical nature of ID when he wrote, “Republicans are on the right track in calling for an end to a monopoly for evolutionary theory in teaching on origins.” Science does not subscribe to a particular ideology; it is not a democratic process, and as such, the truths that science reveals cannot be legislated. Religious ideology is behind the antievolution movement, though. Where legislators and school boards have introduced ID as part of a bill or a local school board initiative, it has been Republicans who introduced it. House Speaker Brian Bosma and other Indiana Republican lawmakers met with Carl Baugh, director of the Creation Evidence Museum, to look for ways around the constitutional prohibition against teaching creationism.

Creationists believe science is causing cultural and moral decay. Intelligent design is the latest effort to weaken the teaching of a sound scientific theory in order to advance their own doctrinal interests in science classrooms. Vacuous moral arguments against evolution were made when Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859 and they continue into the 21st century. As feminist Dorothy Parker wryly noted, “You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks.”

Brian Sell is a father, independent thinker, contractor and student.

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