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10/01/2005

Intelligent Design

     Aint_it_the_truth_2

   What some people are calling the "Scopes II" trial got under way this week in Harrisburg, Pa., as a federal judge began to hear arguments about whether high school science teachers in the Dover school district should be required to introduce students to intelligent design (ID) as an alternative to Darwinian evolutionary theory.

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           Religion in America: Intelligent design on trial

By Jay Tolson

   What some people are calling the "Scopes II" trial got under way this week in Harrisburg, Pa., as a federal judge began to hear arguments about whether high school science teachers in the Dover school district should be required to introduce students to intelligent design (ID) as an alternative to Darwinian evolutionary theory.   

   Defenders of the district's decision to mandate the teaching of ID say that intention and design are at least as plausible as random mutation in accounting for the changes that gave rise to the complex structures that make up living organisms. But 11 Dover parents have sued the school board, saying that ID is essentially a means of sneaking religious perspectives into the public schools and is therefore a violation of the separation of church and state.

   It remains to be seen whether the Dover case will end up being as significant as the famous 1925 Tennessee case that for a time barred the teaching of evolution in that state. But the current trial involves powerful organizational players–the ACLU in support of the parents, the Thomas More Law Center (funded by Domino's Pizza founder and devout Roman Catholic Thomas Monaghan) in support of the district–and key figures in the intellectual controversy, including Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, a leading proponent of the design hypothesis.

   Crucial to the plaintiffs' case is whether they can prove that ID is simply a dressed-up version of creationism. If so, teaching it would violate a 1987 Supreme Court ruling that barred the instruction of creationism in public schools on the grounds that it was based on religion.

   Whatever the verdict, no decision will likely bring an end to the debate over the issues behind the controversy. But perhaps the case will shed a stronger light on some of the key points of contention and even some of the ironies that make up this peculiar chapter in America's culture wars.

   For example:

   What is a scientific theory? Critics of ID complain that many people today carelessly equate any idea, conjecture, or hypothesis with a scientific theory. With this kind of definitional fuzziness, it is easy for ID supporters to assert that their position is no less a theory than Darwinian evolution is. Not so, say most scientists, who assert that a scientific theory is a hypothesis that has been upheld by the test of evidence, through experimentation, and that it remains a valid theory until it can be falsified, proved untrue. The problem with ID, critics say, is that its key contention—that genetic mutations leading to such marvelously complex things as the eye and visual perception can only have been intended by a sentient being–cannot be tested.

   Therefore, the critics conclude, ID does not have the status of a scientific theory. On this point, ironically, people who defend teaching ID in the schoolroom on the grounds that it could improve critical thinking might have a point: Teaching evolutionary theory alongside ID might help students begin to see the difference between a real scientific theory and a metaphysical conjecture.   

   Does the case for ID really strengthen the case of biblical creationism? Many defenders of ID don't think so. And many savvy Christian fundamentalists have also grasped that ID is a weak idea on which to pin their hopes. For one thing, proponents of ID go along with much that traditional Darwinists say. They agree that complex organisms evolved from simpler ones. They agree that natural selection is the process that determines which traits will give individuals who possess them a better chance to survive and propagate. The ID hypothesis, furthermore, gives no support to the biblical creationists' beliefs about the age of the Earth and its creatures. ID proponents agree with Darwinians that both are hundreds of millions of years old. ID does not make the confident claim that the intelligent designer is God, much less the God of the Bible. (In this respect, ID proponents sound very much like 18th century Deists, who posited a clockwork-maker god who set the universe in motion and then sat back to enjoy the unfolding of his work.)   

   Are hardcore Darwinians being a little too dogmatic when they assert that all genetic mutations are random? Is it wholly reasonable to claim there cannot be any design or intention behind what appears to be random? In other words, are some scientists unwilling to acknowledge that certain aspects of Darwinian evolutionary theory might rest as much on metaphysical assumptions as do the core assertions of the ID hypothesis?

   Doing so would not undercut the validity of Darwin's great theory. It would merely be an admission that certain parts of the theory are not yet demonstrably proven. Behind the elaborate mechanism of life there may indeed be a designing hand or mind. Or there may not be.

   What we think, either way, is a matter of conjecture, a metaphysical assumption—or what some call a matter of faith.  U.S. News & World Report

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> Are hardcore Darwinians being a little too dogmatic when they assert that all genetic mutations are random?<

Oh hell no. When evolution got to the eyeball, it stopped and sent a message to the Meta-Architects of I.D. and said, "Help us with this eye thingie." I.D. architects, said, "Okay, but we're not making it as good as the eagles because your humans don't need to hunt for rodents from a mile high in the sky." I know I've anthropmophized evolution here, but tough....if people can anthropomorphize 'designers' and get away with it, I can anthropomophize evolution. Stuff it.

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