Creatio-, er, Intelligent Design

Creatio-, er, Intelligent Design


In Dover School District, just across the Susquehanna from where I live, Intelligent Design has been slipped into the science curriculum in a “camel’s nose in the tent” sort of way. Predictably, it’s been challenged, and defended, and the case is now in court.

Patrick Gillen, a lawyer defending the school district, said the case was about “free inquiry in education, not about a religious agenda. Dover’s modest curriculum change embodies the essence of liberal education.”

Who is Patrick Gillen? He works for the Thomas More Law Center, which as taken on the district’s defense for free (ACLU is heading the charge on the other side). Scripps Howard’s stories explain More Law Center as “a non-profit legal firm dedicated to the defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians;” AP uses similar language: “a public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., that says its mission is to defend the religious freedom of Christians.”

The More Law Center, on its Web site, goes a good bit further. It describes itself as “a not-for-profit public interest law firm dedicated to the defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life. Our purpose is to be the sword and shield for people of faith, providing legal representation without charge to defend and protect Christians and their religious beliefs in the public square.”

I would think that full quote would be useful in gauging the claim about “not about a religious agenda.” Of course, a person who has a religious agenda is not always necessarily acting in furtherance of that agenda. But the More Law Center seems to have no other purpose than to advocate for Christian causes.

Intelligent design claims geological and biological evidence supports the conclusion that the origin of life on earth, and at least some of its development, was the result of deliberate design by an intelligent agent. ID proponents say evolution by natural selection cannot explain the origin, complexity and diversity of life. ID makes no claims about the identity of the designer, and it couches its arguments in secular terminology.

But the ID movement is associated with some Christian organizations, and many observers see in ID a modified version of William Paley’s early 19th century “argument from design.” Critics call ID “stealth creationism.” The National Academy of Sciences and the National Center for Science Education have described ID as pseudoscience. Some of ID’s supporters advocate teaching ID in school science classes to battle what they perceive as institutionalized atheism among scientists and educators. Opponents say this is merely an end-run around legal protections against establishment of religion.

The phrase “intelligent design,” used in this sense, first was given wide publicity by legal scholar Phillip E. Johnson in his 1991 book “Darwin on Trial.” Johnson’s assertion, and a key tenet of the ID movement, is “theistic realism,” and the rejection of “philosophical naturalism.”

Modern science is religion-blind; it doesn’t denigrate faith, it simply takes no cognizance of faith. It sets out neither to prove nor to disprove theology. Scientists debate and argue but they don’t appeal to God or claim he loves limestone more than clay. There is no one chemistry book for Catholics, another for Hindus, another for Jews.

[In modern times the German and Russian scientific communities temporarily seceded, and for a time there was “German science” and “Soviet science,” but that was forced on them by a warping pressure of authoritarian politics and cults of national or ideological identity.]

The religion-blindness is real, if the science is real. It’s not like scientists simply put God in the next room and do their work aware that He is only a few steps away, so that they always somehow try to sculpt their facts and results into something not inconsistent with His Scripture.

When I see atheist and agnostic and Shinto scientists embrace creationism or Intelligent Design, in any sort of numbers, and defend it as passionately and persistently as The More Law Center does, then I’ll begin to take it seriously. When some biologist or paleontologist who has never even heard of the Bible reads an Intelligent Design text and says, “That fits the facts better than evolution by natural selection, and it explains them more coherently,” then I’ll pay attention.

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  • TM Lutas

    For the record, I believe that scientific intelligent design is bad theology. It believes that you can destroy faith by proving that God exists in a great cosmic gotcha of the created catching out the Creator. But that’s my religious faith. I believe that ID is (or at least can be) good science.

    Other than intelligent design, what is the alternative hypothesis for evolution? If nobody designing life is wrong then somebody had to have done it. The bottom line on the controversy should be whether you can design a scientific ID experiment. Here’s one that I’ve yet to have anybody declare is improper science.

    I’ll take the flagellum, an ID favorite but why not. Take an organism with flagellum and figure out what part of the creature’s DNA codes for the thing. Cut that part out and create a creature variant that does not have a flagellum but is otherwise identical. Keep looking for species until you find one that the flagellum free variant is viable and loses out to its flagellum using father (that last part shouldn’t be hard) when they compete.

    Now take the flagellum code and put it back in one gene at a time, creating further variants in all the permutations available. Test each intermediate species against the full flagellum and the flagellum free variants and measure out which variants win which competition. If all variants are less adept than both the flagellum free and the full flagellum variants, you have just discovered an evolutionary impossibility. Evolution would be put in serious doubt and it’s time to start rethinking the subject of looking for that designer.

    This is a brute force attack to the problem. There are, no doubt, more complicated, more elegant ways to go about the question. There are also a great many other variants of this experiment that could yield more or better information. This is irrelevant to the point of the exercise.

    Is the experiment science? Is it an ID experiment? If both are true than the ACLU line of attack is simply false and a distortion of science in the service of keeping men of faith out and providing advantage to atheists arguing against God.

    The reason that christians are overly concerned with science these days is mostly because the scientists haven’t been sufficiently diligent in defending the misuse of science in the service of atheism. It doesn’t take too many atheists loudly proclaiming that Darwin proves that God doesn’t exist without serious rebuttal by scientists for christians of all stripes to start worrying that there’s something fishy going on.

    Proper science is first and foremost an examination of how the universe works. If God exists, science should be comfortable with that. If God doesn’t exist, science should be comfortable with that too. What science as a field should not be comfortable with is being made into a football to serve extraneous ideologies of any stripe, whether political or theological. Atheists try to cloak themselves in the mantle of science, often making claims that are unsubstantiated by actual research. That’s an abuse that everybody should speak out against. Too many scientists aren’t and they are reaping the inevitable whirlwind.

  • David

    I agree with TM Lutas – the reason this has become an issue is because of a significant number of scientists claiming that science proves Atheism. As that is clearly refutable (i.e. can’t prove a negative), it distorts the whole scientific process.

    I previously wrote about this here

    If the upshot of the debate in PA is that the scientic claims get backed down a notch to “we have no idea how life actually began. Here are some possibities…” that’d be great by me…

  • Justin Gardner

    Me, I’m a “militant” agonstic.

    In other words, you don’t know and I don’t either.

  • jimbo

    Count me as an agnostic very much opposed to ID as clearly sectarian religious doctrine. However, there is a politicization and dogmatism about some science that is feeding this kind of backlash. Two examples are global climate change and evolutionary psychology. OK, so much of the evidence points to a warmer global climate in recent decades, and that is strongly associated with increased inputs of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. It does not follow that humanity is the only cause of global warming. It does not follow that projections based on scanty data will fall out exactly in accordance with the models. Most especially it does not follow that Kyoto is the only way to deal with this problem. Evolutionary psychologists have hijacked Darwin to make a case for existing social inequities. In both cases a little scientific humility and emphasis on uncertainty might take some of the steam out of the irrational anti-science that is manifest in the ID movement.

  • william

    I’d just to say that there are plenty of Christians out there that don’t believe in creationism or intelligent design and accept evolution as a viable, best-we’ve-got theory (aren’t all theories?) on to how we came about.

    Although I am not Catholic, many of you would be surprised to know that evolution is taught in catholic schools and that the old testament – along with creationism – is not regarded as fact. Inspired word of God? Yes. Historical, scientifically and logically accurate? No. It was John Paul II himself who said that evolution is more than theory.

    “”Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studiesâ€â€?which was neither planned nor soughtâ€â€?constitutes in itself a
    significant argument in favor of the theory.”

    From my expeirence, it is the protestant Christian sects, such as Baptists, that promote ID.

    As for the case, I think its simple. Since intelligent design is inherently a Christian theory (not a theory of all Christians, but a theory thought up and funded by Christians), the school board will have to prove how this is not gov’t sponsored religion. If the school board can prove that multiple faiths subscribe to ID, they might have a something to stand on… but even then, the gov’t is in the business of not promoting ANY religion.

  • BrianOfAtlanta

    Modern science is religion-blind; it doesn’t denigrate faith, it simply takes no cognizance of faith. It sets out neither to prove nor to disprove theology. Scientists debate and argue but they don’t appeal to God or claim he loves limestone more than clay.
    Well, in theory, at least.

    The sad (from a purely scientific perspective) truth is that this doesn’t stop some scientists (and the lay people that follow them) from setting up evolution as a competitor to or as proof against theology. When evolution is trumpeted as a St. George going up against the dragon of theology, you can’t expect the people who happen to like their dragon, from getting upset and taking up arms against this crazed knight who has no business swinging a sword on their turf.

    As long as the lunatic fringe of supporters of evolution continue to insist that it has any bearing on religion, you’re going to find regular people regarding it as simply a competing religious philosophy and not as a scientific theory. Can you really blame them for considering it to be fair game?

    I like to think most believers in evolution (I’m one of them) are honest, but the zealots get all the attention.

  • John

    Since when did the Evolutionist strike the first blow? I believe all this came from Christianity that found evolution an afront to their beliefs and tried to have it wiped from existence. Look, you may find Atheists that believe Evolution is a point of defense for their belief, but can you really name a scientist employing Evolution as proof that there is no God? It’s not in their interest to show there is no god, and not in the interest of science. The truth is that Darwin was a God fearing man, and quite disturbed when he found out that people were employing his theory as stating there was no God.

    Religion is driving this argument, not Atheists. To be frank, most Atheists like myself could care less what religious people believe. But don’t try to tell me that I should take your faith seriously, when you do not take mine in any other way than as counter to yours.

  • John


    the thing missing in your flagellum experiment is the change in physical environment. Maybe the flagellum is best for that environment, but not for another, place the non-flagellum against the flagellum in a different environment, and the non-flagellum might win out.

    You did not prove that Evolution does not work, you proved that it did. Competition with the more worthy creature (flagellum) surpassed against the less.

  • Joshua

    If intelligent design is indeed just creationism in disguise, the implications represent a double-edged sword for Christianity at large. Specifically, it suggests that at least some Christians see fit to water down the Biblical account of creation with secular language just so it can be taught in public schools. If they are willing to sell out the Book of Genesis to secularism for public consumption, then what other parts of the Old Testament – and even the New Testament – would they consider secularizing for the same purpose?

    Carried to its logical extreme, this approach would result in the creation (no pun intended) of what would amount to Christianity without Christ: an entire set of secular teachings, parallel to those in Scripture but with no explicit reference to God or His son, all for the sake of inclusion in the public square. The trouble with this approach, of course, is that these parallel teachings, rather than leading people toward Christianity as presumably intended, could just as easily take on a life of their own and end up competing with Christianity for adherents.

    Although I do not favor the teaching of creation in public schools, I find that to be a far more respectable option than intelligent design. At least creation theory is honest enough to call God what He is.