Religious conservatives tout "intelligent design" as a "secular," "scientific" alternative to evolution
Research ››› ››› SIMON MALOY
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit challenging the Dover (Pennsylvania) Area School District's adoption of the theory of "intelligent design" -- which maintains that an "intelligent force" has directed the evolution of life on earth -- as part of its schools' science curriculum on the grounds that it is a violation of the separation of church and state. Following reports of the lawsuit on December 15, Reverend Pat Robertson expressed full support on The 700 Club for teaching the theory, and former Republican presidential candidate and MSNBC analyst Pat Buchanan led a Scarborough Country panel discussion that was heavily imbalanced in favor of teaching "intelligent design" alongside evolution -- rejecting the idea that "intelligent design" is disguised creationism. Despite the efforts of Robertson and the majority of the Scarborough Country panel to characterize "intelligent design" as science-based, most scientists and educators dismiss it, with some identifying the formulation as a thinly veiled effort to dress up creationism as science, on a par with the theory of evolution.
According to the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center (IDEA), "intelligent design" is "a scientific theory" that maintains that "life is not the result of purely natural processes, but that it was in some way designed by an 'intelligence.'"
"Intelligent design" has found its strongest support in the media from religious conservatives who consider it a viable, scientific alternative to the theory of evolution. The heavily imbalanced December 15 Scarborough Country panel, led by Buchanan, promoted this view. The panel consisted of Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Christian music artist Natalie Grant; Republican strategist Jack Burkman; and David Silverman, communications director for American Atheists and the lone dissenting voice.
In the course of the discussion, Mohler -- who declared his belief in creationism -- lauded "intelligent design" as a "scientific" and "credible" alternative to evolution, which he described later as an "intellectual pacifier for the secular left":
MOHLER: It's dishonesty to suggest that intelligent design is the same as creationism.
Very clearly, intelligent design is a scientific theory that is a credible alternative to evolutionary theory, itself a theory. And, quite frankly, the vast majority of Americans, including the vast majority of American parents, believe that this theory ought to be taught alongside evolution. The vast majority of Americans don't accept that humanity came through the process of evolution.
Later, Buchanan asked Mohler about the distinction between creationism and "intelligent design," to which Mohler responded:
MOHLER: I believe in creation, in full biblical doctrine of creation. I'm a Christian theologian.
But when I'm speaking about intelligent design as a scientific theory, I do not expect the teacher in the public schools to come out and argue for or against creation. But the theory of intelligent design comes down to this. In the entire complexity of the universe as we know it, from something as complex as the human eye to glory of the sky and all the cosmos, all the planets and their proportion, there is more information necessary there than the theory of evolution can explain.
And, according to even evolutionary theory, the information has to be there. That theory can't account for how the information gets there ahead of the mutation or the change.
Grant supported "intelligent design" as a "balancing" theory to evolution:
GRANT: And if my child has to sit in the classroom and be taught that [evolution] as an option that's held in the world, why is it that my child cannot also sit in the classroom and be taught about intelligent design as a theory, as an option, so that a child can have a balanced education? If Dave [Silverman] says that it's mythology, whatever it is that he holds to, the bottom line is, it is a theory that is held by a majority of Americans, believe that there is a God.
Robertson declared his support of "intelligent design" on the December 15 edition of the Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club. After referring to the ACLU and the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State as "crazies" and "extremists on the left who want to strip all vestige of religion from our national life," Robertson said: "There is no way to understand the universe unless we understand something about the fact that it could be 'intelligent design.'"
"Intelligent design" found some measure of credibility in the late 1990s, due in large part to the research of Baylor University mathematician William A. Dembski and Lehigh University biochemist Michael J. Behe. In 1998, Dembski applied the theory of "specified complexity" to biological systems in advocating "intelligent design." According to this theory, certain higher-level biological systems are too complex and so specific in function that the odds of them coming to be as a result of random genetic mutations are prohibitively low. In 1996, Behe introduced the idea of "irreducible complexity," which maintains that higher-order biological systems are complex to the point that they would cease to function should a single component be removed from them. Following this idea, the component functions are incapable of operating unless they are part of the whole, and therefore could not have ever existed separate from the whole, meaning the whole system must have been specifically engineered.
These theories have found little traction in the scientific community, however. Numerous critiques have been written of "specified complexity" and "irreducible complexity" questioning their scientific merit, and an August 13, 2002, National Center for Science Education (NCSE) resource article written by NSCE director Eugenie C. Scott noted that as of that point, Dembski's and Behe's theories had never been used in any published scientific research.
Scientific and educational communities have presented numerous critiques and criticisms of "intelligent design" as a whole (known commonly as ID), its merit as a scientific theory, and subsequently its suitability to be taught in science classrooms. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) published a resolution on "intelligent design" in 2002, in which the organization determined that proponents of the theory had "failed to offer credible scientific evidence to support their claim that ID undermines the current scientifically accepted theory of evolution," and had not "proposed a scientific means of testing its claims." Having reached those conclusions, the AAAS determined "that the lack of scientific warrant for so-called "intelligent design theory" makes it improper to include as a part of science education."
An article from the December 21, 2004, Chronicle of Higher Education discussed the theories of both Behe and Dembski, and also pointed out that ID "has made no headway into the science curriculums at secular universities," and that proponents of "intelligent design" have encountered profound difficulty in having their papers on the subject printed in scientific journals. The article reported that "[m]any intelligent-design proponents believe there is a conspiracy to keep their ideas out of scientific circles." However, the article also reported:
Kenneth R. Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University and a leading critic of the intelligent-design movement, says such a view turns the scientific process on its head. If a researcher's theories are rejected, he says, that means that they have failed as good science, not that they're being suppressed.
On August 4, 2004, a prominent paper on "intelligent design" was published in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The paper, titled "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories," was written by Stephen C. Meyer, the program director for the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, a leading center for the study of "intelligent design." However, the Biological Society of Washington later disavowed itself from the paper because it did not undergo a proper peer review and did not meet the scientific standards of the journal, according to a statement issued by the society.
In addition to promoting the scientific merit of "intelligent design," IDEA also asserts the theory's secularity. From a "beliefs" statement on the IDEA website:
We recognize that investigating over origins raises questions that are both religious and scientific in nature, but we are careful not to mix scientific claims with religious claims, and recognize that the two are distinct and different, though complementary to one-another.
A number of academics have disputed "intelligent design's" secularity as well, labeling it as a method of reinserting creationism into the scientific curriculum. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Louisiana law requiring the teaching of creationism in public schools along with evolution, ruling that the law violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
From the December 21, 2004, Chronicle of Higher Education article:
"I don't think intelligent design is a science," says Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences. "It's a way of restating creationism in a different formulation."
From an October 21, 2004, NCSE resource article about the Pennsylvania case:
NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott told the York Daily Record, "Intelligent design is just a sham to get creationism into the curriculum," explaining that "even if [its advocates] haven't convinced the scientific community, they have been able to convince the politicians ... And that's too bad for the students in Dover."