Monday, March 11, 2013

Is Intelligent design religion?

Image from HarperCollins

Monkey Girl: 
Evolution, Education, Religion, 
and the Battle for America's Soul  
by Edward Humes 
(Harper Perennial)

Image from Wikipedia

Of Pandas and People: 

The Central Question 
of Biological Origins 
by Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon
(Foundation for Thought and Ethics)

     There are those who believe the universe is too irreducibly complex to be the result of random processes, such as natural selection and evolution. They are called intelligent design proponents. A devout colleague of mine suggests they aren't all religious, but the only example I can find is Bradley Monton, author of Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design (Broadview Press). (Philosopher Jerry Fodor and cognitive scientist Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, authors of another often-cited book by intelligent design proponents, What Darwin Got Wrong, do not discuss intelligent design per se, only their problems with Darwinian evolutionary theory.)
     My own views on the subject are based upon the research and interviews I did for a Macomb Daily article on the 2005 Dover, Penn., school board case (if you're wondering why a Michigan journalist wrote about a Pennysylania lawsuit, it was because Ann Arbor's Thomas More Law Center was the school boards counsel), as well as the November 2007 Public Broadcasting Service NOVA television documentary “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial,” and the book Monkey Girl.
     (I haven't read Of Pandas and People, but since it plays such a large part in the case I've listed it as well. It's now out-of-print, but has been supplanted by the same publisher's The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems by William A. Dembski and Jonathan Wells.)
     Basically, the lawsuit was about whether intelligent design was creationism, because the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled creationism as religion, and thus barred from teaching in public schools. (In Dover, a statement about intelligent design being an alternative theory to Darwin's theory of evolution was required to be read before the class, and that copies of the intelligent design text book Of Pandas and People were in the school library.)
     Creationism states that the world was created by God as it says in the Bible, and that consequently the Earth is less than 10 thousand years old. Intelligent design states that the universe is too complex to be created by random forces and therefore must have had an intelligent designer (maybe God), but makes no claim as to the age of the Earth.
     The problem from the scientist's view is that there seems no way to test whether or not there is a designer. It can be argued or deduced, but not shown. Many scientists also see intelligent designer as code for God.
     The Thomas More Law Center had wanted a test case for intelligent design that could be taken all the way to the Supreme Court, but were thwarted when the district voters replaced all of the board members (at least all of the ones up for re-election that year) who supported the intelligent design statement before the verdict was reached. When the judge ruled against the old board, the case died there since the new school board wasn't interested in litigating the case.
     My biggest problem with intelligent design or creationism is: so what? Aside from its religious agenda -- There is a God -- how does it help us understand the universe? Is the intelligent designer still making things happen, making cells reproduce, making the Earth rotate and circle the sun? If so, there's no need to study anything. We just all need to pray. If, however, we live in a world of physical laws, where agriculture is needed to make things grow, engineering and maintenance are necessary to keep machines running and water drinkable, human thought and effort are necessary to create new and better products and devices, then science is necessary. Intelligent design is not, except in the same sense as religion and philosophy.
     In Dover, at least some of the opponents of intelligent design in the school were religious, were devout, but didn't want religion intruding into science. In Matthew 20:20-22, Jesus said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. I feel public school boards should keep religion out of the science classroom. If you want to convince me that intelligent design isn't religion, I need more than one atheist's opinion to convince me, and at least one theory about who is this designer if he isn't God.

     My original article, slightly edited from draft, is reprinted below.

By Stephen Bitsoli

Macomb Daily Staff Writer

     In 1925, a Dayton, Tenn. high school substitute science teacher named John T. Scopes was put on trial for the crime of teaching evolution. Although Scopes lost the case (he was fined $100, with the conviction overturned on a technicality on appeal), the anti-evolution movement was given a black eye.

     In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law mandating the teaching of creationism (basically the biblical story of the creation of the Earth and Man) in science classes, on the grounds that it wasn't science and advances a religious doctrine in violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

     Now evolution is in the courts again, this time in Dover, Pennsylvania, facing off against another alternate theory of human development known by its proponents as intelligent design. Its critics call it creationism in a white coat.

      Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District is a case in which eight families are challenging a school board decision that before evolution can be taught, the instructor must read a one-minute statement that says evolution has gaps that some believe can only be explained by intelligent design, and informing them that a book in the school library will explain the concept if they want to read it.

     The American Civil Liberties Union is plaintiff counsel, while the Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center is defendant's counsel. The ACLU claims that intelligent design is religion masked as science, and is in fact just creationism under another name. Creationism, the belief that the Bible's explanation of human (and earthly) origin is literally true, has been ruled religion by the U.S. Supreme Court, and hence illegal to be taught in American public schools. Proponents and the Thomas More Law Center claim that intelligent design isn't creationism, isn't religion, and the school board wasn't teaching it by requiring that a one-minute statement be read.

     Richard Thompson is chief counsel for Thomas More Law Center, but he said he wasn't the lead counsel in the Dover case, just one of three. The others are Patrick Gillen and Rob Muise. 

     The case was concluded (Nov. 4). Following three weeks during which both sides can file pleadings, the judge will begin deliberations. A verdict is expected before January.

     By that time, eight of the nine members of the Dover School Board will be out of office. They were defeated for reelection by a slate of Democrats who vowed to reverse the intelligent design decision (though voters may have been unhappy at the publicity and the cost of litigation too).

      It was unclear at press time if the election results will affect the expected appeals. Before the election, Thompson told The Macomb Daily that regardless of which side prevails, appeals up to the U.S. Supreme Court were almost certain.

     Thompson insists that intelligent design isn't creationism in a white coat but a competing and perhaps complementary scientific theory.

     Creationism, Thompson said, starts with creation stories within Genesis and uses them as a basis.  From the Bible creationists deduce that the Earth (if not the universe) is only between six and 10 thousand years old, not four-and-a-half billion.

     Intelligent design, Thompson said doesn't address the age of the Earth, and It doesn't deny there has been change over time in living organisms. (ID proponents) look at empirical data and come to a different scientific conclusion than evolutionists, Thompson said, namely that life is irreducibly complex and couldn't happen by accident or natural selection. He repeated the example given by Michael Behe, a Roman Catholic microbiology professor who testified at the Dover trial, of bacterial flagellum, which has a fully functioning motor with 40 moving parts ... all of which had to be in place to have any value. 

      Thompson has also insisted that intelligent design isn't religion. Yet on the Thomas More Law Center Web site, it states that its raison d'etre is to defend religion: The Thomas More Law Center is 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.

     After the Nov. 8 election, another religious observer, televangelist Pat Robertson, denounced the citizens of Dover for ousting the school board for religious, not scientific reasons. According to the Reuters news service, Robertson said, If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city. Intelligent design seems, at the very least, to have a strong religious component.

     Regardless of what happens (in the Dover case), Thompson said, the genie is out of the bottle. You're going to see intelligent design popping up all over the country.

     Intelligent design isn't a monolith, Thompson said. He advised be careful that you're not speaking with a closet creationist. The National Center for Science Education details one such disagreement in an article called Discovery Institute and Thomas More Law Center Squabble inAEI Forum.” 

     Thompson acknowledged that one board member in Dover had wanted to add creationism to the curriculum, until informed that the U.S, Supreme Court ruling precluded it. When some Dover residents contacted Thomas More about other ways of balancing evolution, Thompson said, we told them about intelligent design.

     Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, said flatly that Intelligent design is another word for creationism, period, and that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that you can't mandate creationism be taught in public schools. I don't think it even has a scientific veneer. The agenda behind this is the teaching of religion in public schools.

     She referred to testimony that suggested the author of Of Pandas and People, the intelligent design book in the Dover School libraries, originally used the term creationism and later substituted the term intelligent design. (In the original manuscript, there was at least one example of sloppy search-and-replace of creationists with design proponents: it read cdesign proponentsists.) They're just not happy with (the U.S. Supreme Court decision).

      Paul Drummond, a science consultant for the Macomb Intermediate school District, president elect of the Michigan Science Teachers Association and executive director of the Metro Detroit Science Teachers Association, said I don't consider (intelligent design) a science. More, he said, it's not a theory. A theory is not just an opinion. It's much more rigorous.

He quoted a statement from the National Academy of Sciences which states that a theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that incorporates tested hypotheses, laws, facts and inferences.

     Intelligent design, as Drummond understands it, holds that there are some things that exist in nature, such as the human body or a leaf, so complex that suggest there is an intelligent design behind them, an intelligent designer.

     Drummond said that science is one way of knowing things, but not the only way. It doesn't have a market on truth, but it is different from philosophy or theology, which Drummond said is the proper place for intelligent design. Science looks at what is the evidence, what is testable.

     By contrast, questions such as “ Is there a God? or (is there) life after death? are outside the purview of science, Drummond said, and are properly the purview of philosophy or theology.

The reason intelligent design isn't science, Drummond said, is because it doesn't lead us to anything that could test the existence of a designer.

     Intelligent design proponents, such as Michael Behe, instead find holes or gaps in evolutionary theory, even propose tests for how you could test evolution (one suggestion: study 10,000 generations -- about two-years’ worth -- of a bacterium and see if it produces a variation or mutation as complex as the motor-like bacteria flagellum) without testing them themselves.

     Behe's own fellow faculty at Lehigh University issued a statement that the (Department of Biological Sciences) faculty are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory ... . It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific, while noting that The sole dissenter from this position (is) Prof. Michael Behe.

     Intelligent design proponents, Drummond said, claim there is a debate in the scientific community about evolution, but There is little or no debate on whether evolution has taken place, only the mechanism.


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