Monday, October 24, 2005

Discussion Topic: Intelligent Design

I posed this question as a topic over at The Contrarians Website but since they haven't touched it yet I thought that I'd pose it here and let my readers comment. I'll reply to anyone who wants to comment. Think of this as my version of the Sunday New York Times Op Ed Page. I sent out some emails to various people in science, skeptical thought and politics to comment on this topic. I got some very well thought out editorial comments that I will post below the topic. I thank everyone who answered my email; it is much appreciated. Some Congressman that I queried responded with a format email response that said they couldn’t address any of my concerns, as I did not live in their district. I thought that was interesting. I wonder if a Senator or Representative thinks that when she is interviewed by a news program?


Some on the political right think that we should be teaching “Intelligent Design” in the classroom as an alternative to Evolution. Is this wise since it is not even considered a valid theory by most scientists? Intelligent Design seems like a Theological issue not a Scientific one. Does the government have the right to dictate what our science teachers can teach? Also, do you think that if Intelligent Design is a valid theory or alternative to Evolution then wouldn’t a mandatory section of World Religions be just as valid a subject in Social Studies class to give students a sense of what other religious ideas are available and practiced? As long as we are on the subject of alternatives, shouldn't we be teaching the basic concepts of Buddhism, Hindu and Native American Creation Stories too?


Below see some comments collected from various people I posed this question to. Mr. Michael Shermer, Publisher of the Skeptic Magazine answered first before the bell went off. Thak you Mr. Shermer.

Opinion Editorial, Los Angeles Times, Sunday, August 7, 2005

“Why God’s in a Class by Himself.”

By Michael Shermer

Intelligent Design (ID) creationism has resurfaced in the news again after President George W. Bush’s remarks were (mis)taken by IDers to be a solid endorsement by the president for the teaching of ID in public school science classrooms. (Bush’s science adviser, John H. Marburger 3rd, said in a telephone interview that “evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology” and “intelligent design is not a scientific concept.”)
There was considerable media hype over the story, and I did a number of interviews, including a query from a reporter who asked for my opinion about whether one can believe in God and the theory of evolution. I replied that, empirically speaking, yes you can, the proof being that 40 percent of American scientists profess belief in God and also accept the theory of evolution, not to mention the fact that most of the world’s one billion Catholics believe in God and accept the theory of evolution. But then this reporter wanted to know is if it is logically consistent to believe in God and the theory of evolution. That is, does the theory of evolution—if carried out to its logical conclusion—preclude belief in God? This is a different question. Here is my answer.

You can believe in God and evolution as long as you keep the two in separate logic-tight compartments. Belief in God depends on religious faith. Belief in evolution depends on empirical evidence. This is the fundamental difference between religion and science. If you attempt to reconcile religion and science on questions about nature and the universe, and if you push the science to its logical conclusion, you will end up naturalizing the deity because for any question about nature—the origins of the universe, life, humans, whatever—if your answer is “God did it,” a scientist will ask, “How did God do it?, What forces did God use? What forms of matter and energy were employed in the creation process?” and so forth. The end result of this inquiry can only be natural explanations for all natural phenomena. What place, then, for God?

One could argue that God is the laws and forces of nature, which is logically acceptable, but this is pantheism and not the type of personal God to which most people profess belief. One could also argue that God created the universe and life using the laws and forces of nature as his creation tools, which is also logically fine, but it leaves us with additional scientific questions: which laws and forces were used to create specific natural phenomena, and in what matter were they used? how did God create the laws and forces of nature? A scientist would be curious to know God’s recipe for, say, gravity, or for a universe or a cell. For that matter, it is a legitimate scientific question to ask: what made God, and how was God created? How do you make an omniscient and omnipotent being? Finally, one could argue that God is outside of nature—super nature, or supernatural—and therefore needs no explanation. This is also logically consistent, but by definition it means that the God question is outside of science and therefore religion and science are separate and incompatible.

Bottom line: teach science in science classes, teach religion in religion classes.

Michael Shermer is the Publisher of Skeptic magazine (, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and the author of How We Believe, The Science of Good and Evil, and Science Friction (Henry Holt/Times Books).

Here is a very well put counterpoint to my Topic by Rich Deem over at God And Science Website. I wanted to hear from people who would be opposed to my argument as well as people who agree. Thanks for contributing Rich. Just as a note, when Rich checked my website the post wasn't up yet because I had some trouble getting the post published to the site.


Intelligent design has nothing to do with creation stories and does not posit a specific means by which the designer accomplished design. Like many other writers, you don't seem to understand the nature of ID, but assume it is religion in disguise. ID is not inherently religious (in fact, it is theoretically possible that some non-supernatural intelligent species designed life on earth sometime in the past). I am a creationist and am not part of the ID movement, although I recognize that ID may provide evidence that is of interest to me

As it stands now, there is a fair amount of data supporting intelligent design in cosmology, with several cosmologists already having published studies in this discipline.

In my opinion, there is not enough rigorous evidence for intelligent design in biology to justify its teaching in the classroom. Such evidence would consist of the genetic design of irreducibly complex systems whose components were genetically unrelated without functional predecessors among related organisms. The ability to detect such systems will probably be possible within the next decade and might even be possible today, given the sequencing of a number of complete genomes. However, it is unlikely that such research would be supported by federal granting agencies because of a preconceived bias against even the possibility that intelligent design exists.

As a Christian, I am perfectly content exercising my first amendment rights by publishing how the scientific evidence supports the Christian worldview and creation model. A religious view that cannot be supported in the free marketplace of ideas is not worthy of faith. I do not support the establishment of any particular religious interpretation by the government schools, since it is possible that the one established might not be Christian.

I did not see any blog on this topic at your link and hope you will consider this e-mail before making the same foolish claims that so many make regarding ID and the religious connection.

Rich Deem


The Phoenix said...

This is such a touchy subject.

I would say in the public schools, teachers should stay away from anything religious. I don't mean they shouldn't learn about the religion from a HISTORICAL perspective.

If parents want their children to receive information regarding intelligent design or anything religious, they should send their child to a religious school, or Sunday school.

melly said...

That last letter was very interesting and informative.
Have you read Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer. He brings a totally creationist view point. I don't know how valid his scientific claims are (it is a fiction novel after all), but it's very interesting.

Interesting or not, I do not think they should teach something most scientists don't agree to, as Rich Deem himself points out.

ObilonKenobi said...

It's obvious from the way I posed the question that I think that ID has no place in our schools. It harkens too close to religion and my views on religion are very obvious. G-d belongs in church because scientists don't have the qualifications to teach it. As such, religious leaders have no training or understanding of how to teach science. It is obvious that the dogma of the church is too slow and entrenched to allow for scientific thought. Isn't that obvious when you learn that in 1979 the church opened up an investigation to expose the details of the Galileo case! Why bother?

Anonymous said...


I've read about ID - it seems just as plausible an argument as Evolution. In fact the thought I had was that it could include some one from outer space. Up your alley! It doesn't specifically speak of a God. You know my beliefs and what I've read and heard ID can be scientifically argued as well as Evolution.

What are people afraid of the Truth? The Truth is Out There!

Colin Purrington said...

Teaching "intelligent design creationism" (IDC) in science class is a bad idea, but there are several contexts that make it more or less bad.

In the worst case scenario, a teacher with creationist leanings is the science teacher. He or she will be, of course, _delighted_ to teach IDC, and will presumably sell it to students as if IDC were actually a scientific concept, which it is not. How common is this scenario, however? In the United States, it would be very, very common. Belief in the supernatural, and belief in biblical truth, is very high even among teachers hired to teach science. Teacher suspicion of evolution tends to increase if they don't have a higher degree in science, too, so that means anti-evolution teaching is likely to be higher among the lesser-qualitified elementary school teachers and middle school teachers.

Another scenario is a teacher who thinks that evolution is a completely well-supported theory and that IDC is just intellectual garbage, formulated my mushy-brained, pro-religion zealots. Given an opportunity to bash IDC in front of his or her students, he or she will. As for the above scenario, this means that one particular religion (Christianity) will be discussed to the exclusion of all other religions. In one case it will be praised, and in the other, laughed at. But for both cases it will be, essentially, illegal because it establishes one particular religion over another.

The final scenario that is likely to exist is in classes where the teacher could really care less about promoting/bashing supernatural explanations for natural phenomenon. He or she is just worried about teaching the academic standards, and getting the students to perform well on standardized tests. Diluting real science with IDC or other fad anti-science will have an immediate, and negative, impact on such scores, and the teacher will probably just skip over the IDC altogether. But he or she lives in the United States, and students (overwhelmingly anti-evolution due to indoctrination during elementary school years) will bring the topic up in class over and over again. It would not be pretty.

There are other scenarios, too, but all of them end up with U.S. public school graduates becoming dumb and dumberer. From a realists point of view, I think they only way to teach American's about evolution is to teach it to kids when they are in elementary school. Children of this age are being told at home that evolution is silly if not satanic, and are being told that everything we see has been created (rather recently!) by God. Therefore, instruction that counters these parental "facts" should be delivered via the school system...and delivered at the age when it might actually do some pedagogical good. If high school graduates in the United States still believed in Santa Claus, I'd bet good money that we'd have massively-expensive "interventions" in kindergarten, just to ensure that our citizens didn't have strange, unrealistic expectations about gifts during adulthood.

For Christmas, I want IDC to go to another, even more backward country. And, yes, I've been very, very good this year.

ObilonKenobi said...

Colin, What a great response and a new viewpoint on why and how evolution should be taught in schools, at younger levels like elementary. Personally, I do not remember when evolution was taught to me in school but I guess it was high school biology. I seem to be always aware of the fact that we descended from other less evolved life forms but that may be just my very education and scientific minded parents. (BTW I also attended Hebrew school until I was 13 so kids can balance scientific truth with religion. At least this kid can.

Your argument should be applauded but I think that the authority over children is always with the parents and if parents insist on teaching ID at home that's fine but that doesn't mean the public school system should bow down to it. I mean wasn't separation of church and state a tenet of this country's origin?

Of course, we can include ID into the curriculum of our public schools but that would push us further down the competitive ladder and we'd have to import all our scientists from foreign countries or risk becoming an ignorant consumer-oriented public seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. I see us becoming more and more like that every year, especially since Election year 2000!

Bones of Time said...

When has it ever been demonstrated that "science" has anything to do with the theory of evolution? In order for science to be valid, it must be observable in coming to a conclusion. The only reason the concept of evolution is thought to be "science" is because it is claimed to be such, but it does not fit the deffinition. These people have nothing else to offer, so the have to do something, and give it as much respectability as possible so the ignorant will respect it.