The Intelligent Design debate
Several months ago the issue of teaching intelligent design along with evolution (neo-Darwinism, the dominant theory of evolution taught today) came to the forefront when the Dover Board of Education decided to implement that change in their curriculum. Probably all of us in Southern York County have read articles and editorials about it or have heard it on the news.
What strikes me is the lack of accurate information about what intelligent design is all about. If you listen to some sources you might think it involves teaching Biblical creation alongside of evolution, but that’s far from the truth. A more common approach is to not even address what intelligent design is, but imply or state that everyone knows that evolution is all but a proven fact and any other view must involve religious dogma or fanaticism that has no place in the classroom. This latter argument is useful to the anti-intelligent design position because it tends to delegitimize and stifle any serious look at intelligent design on its own merits.
What is intelligent design?
Intelligent design is a scientific theory holding “that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not by an undirected process such as natural selection.”  Unlike creationism which attempts to prove the accuracy of the Biblical account of creation, intelligent design theory attempts to follow accepted scientific empirical methods to determine whether what we see in nature is the result of design (intelligent cause) or of an undirected cause such as natural selection. The teaching of intelligent design in the classroom need not (and in the public classroom probably should not) involve religion or the Bible at all since it attempts no determination of what the intelligence might be.
The strong reaction by proponents of evolution in opposition to teaching about the theory of intelligent design is puzzling if this is a question of science. On the surface it would appear that if intelligent design theory is so inaccurate then teaching it alongside of evolution would be a great way to illustrate the superiority of evolutionary theory. You would also expect to see frequent references to its scientific weaknesses.
Science versus religion?
One argument is that intelligent design theory is based on a philisophical or religious ideology and is thus invalid. The problem with that argument is that the same can be said of Darwinian evolution. Few people realize that Darwin didn’t come to the theory of evolution based on scientific evidence. He was seeking a naturalistic explanation for what exists in nature and developed evolutionary theory as a plausable answer. He then set out to support that theory.
These two theories then represent two ideologies. Neo-Darwinism begins with the philosophy that everything has a materialistic, natural cause and that there can be no other possibility. We just need to discover what that naturalistic cause is. What this does is eliminate non-natural causes without even considering their possibility, a rather unscientific approach. Intelligent design removes that restriction, thus opening the door to non-natural causes such as a purposeful intelligence. Proponents of both ideologies use scientific methods to support their theories. Neither can claim they are driven purely by scientific evidence free of philosophical or religious (or anti-religious) notions. They spring from different worldviews, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Dampening effect on scientific research?
Another reason some Darwinists object so strongly to teaching an alternative to evolution is the fear it will stifle science. This is a more understandable and reasonable argument. After all, if God (or some form of intelligence) simply created what we see in nature then doesn’t it follow that it is beyond our understanding? If so then why study it? Scientific research could come to a standstill, a totally unacceptable outcome. It is important to address this fear.
Let’s suppose everyone agrees that chance can not explain what we see. Does it follow that scientific research into how it got to be as we see it then end? Certainly not! Even if one believes that God created everything in nature, it does not follow that research into causes ends. “Charles Darwin said ‘I look at every thing as having resulted from designed laws.’ If there are designed laws, then there is a designer who has engineered and placed those laws in order so that the cosmos can function.”  I believe that God sometimes acts directly to bring things into existence, and that was a major causal factor for what exists in nature. He nonetheless also works through natural processes and laws He made possible to achieve a result by a series of events. Furthermore, there is much we can learn by researching how nature works and has evolved since it was first originated. That means that even with intelligent design theory there is a strong place for research since we can learn and benefit from these natural laws and processes. In this there is no conflict between science and religion.
What should be taught?
An increasing number of scientists are coming to the conclusion that neo-Darwinian evolution is not tenable based purely on science. Such challenges to Darwinian evolution focus not on alternatives such as intelligent design, but rather on the problems of evolution itself. There are many such problems that are unfortunately seldom taught. The theory of evolution is almost always presented uncritically as though everything supports it when that is just not the case.
A proper treatment of any theory includes presenting some of the theory’s shortcomings from credible sources such as peer-reviewed scientific journals. This should be the practice in all public schools regardless of whether intelligent design is taught. The option for school districts and teachers to include the scientific theory of intelligent design in their curriculum should also be allowed though not mandated by the government. It is every bit as valid as neo-Darwinian evolution.
1. Discovery Institute
2. John Clayton, “Looking for Peace in the Science and Religion Relationship” 2004