‘Intelligent design': What do scientists fear?
Let's have a public debate on the merits
USA Today 31 November 2005
Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckel is a liberal Democratic strategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot.
Today: Should public schools teach “intelligent design,” the theory that the universe and its life forms are so complex that a higher cause must have been involved in making them?
Bob: Cal, I'm going to stray from the consensus liberal line on the issue of intelligent design. The Dover, Pa., school board had a good reason to allow the teaching of intelligent design as a scientific alternative to Darwinism in the school system's science classes. Despite the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community that evolution is the sole explanation for all living things, these scientists have yet to prove the theory conclusively. Not only are there still gaping holes in the evolutionary chain from single cells to man, the science crowd hasn't come close to explaining why only man among all living things has a conscience, a moral framework and a free will.
Cal: What I find curious about this debate, not only in Pennsylvania, but in Kansas and throughout the country, is that so many scientists and educators are behaving like fundamentalist secularists. Only they will define science. They alone will decide which scientific theories and information will be taught to students. That sounds like mind control to me, Bob. If their science is so strong on the issue of origins, why not let the arguments supporting intelligent design into the classroom where it can be debunked if it can't be defended? You liberals are always accusing us conservatives of censorship. It sounds like your side has picked up the disease on this one.
Bob: One reason is that your side insists on making this debate about religion. I believe there is a good science debate here. Many people believe that the Christian community is using intelligent design as a backdoor for teaching creationism. If not, this issue would not be in the federal courts in a constitutional argument over separation of church and state. But there are a number of serious scientists who believe in intelligent design as a theory of evolution based on scientific argument.
Cal: Exactly right, Bob. And many of them have advanced degrees from the same universities from which the evolutionary scientists have graduated. And what about some of the greatest names in science — men like Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Johannes Kepler and Galileo? Charles Darwin was a devout Christian as a young man, but his religious views — like his scientific ones — “evolved” as he got older. By the time he wrote The Origin of Species, he was as good a practical secularist as any non-believer. Was the later Darwin smarter than the combined wisdom of those scientists who believed the universe did not come into existence by chance but had a creator behind it? Readers can Google “scientists and intelligent design” for the names of many more scientists who believed someone was behind what we see in the sky with our eyes and beyond through a telescopic eye.
Bob: Good, now you're talking science, not theology.
Cal: But I doubt the secular fundamentalists and their judicial friends will ever allow this debate to occur. That's why I support, for this reason and many others, pulling conservative and Christian kids out of public schools and placing them in private or home-school environments where they can get a real and truthful education.
Bob: Cal, if you encourage Christian believers to take their kids out of public schools, then it's likely intelligent design will never get a fair hearing and forever be seen as Biblical creation only. That's not fair to those who want competing theories to Darwin introduced as a scientific debate, not a theological food fight.
Cal: Fair point, Bob, but the primary responsibility of parents is to their children. If they are teaching them one thing at home and in their place of worship, and they are subsidizing with their taxes the teaching of conflicting views — which are taught as truth in the government schools — they are undermining the very things in which they believe. School choice would settle a lot of this, but those politically beholden to the National Education Association aren't about to allow parents the freedom to choose where to educate their kids.
Bob: Some public school systems may well be hostile to Christian dogma, but most are looking at intelligent design as a church-state issue, and until told otherwise by the federal courts will continue to keep the debate out of science classes. You can't blame them. Nearly the entire school board in Dover was defeated over this very issue in the last election. Pulling Christian kids from public schools only helps the “Darwin only” science crowd.
Cal: Scientists have accepted theories in the past that proved to be wrong. Science is supposed to be about openness to competing ideas. But the very people who want to impose evolution as the only scientific explanation for life on the planet violate this basic tenet of science when it comes to intelligent design.
Bob: True, but these scientists will say the overwhelming body of evidence supports evolution, and no other theory comes close. Well, of course it doesn't because no other theory has been studied seriously. This crowd has a vested interest in proving Darwin correct, and anything else is dismissed out of hand. This from the same scientific community that for years believed the universe was shrinking. They have since discovered the Big Bang and now believe the universe is expanding.
Cal: You're making my point, Bob. Science advances by considering all theories and evidence, not by conspiring to teach only one to the exclusion of others. This is Flat Earth Society thinking.
Bob: But if this debate continues to be viewed as an attempt by fundamentalist Christians to get their beliefs into the public schools, then intelligent design will never get a fair hearing, and it deserves one. The scientists who view intelligent design as a science, not a dogma, believe that the smallest building blocks of life are so complex that they couldn't simply evolve from amoebas. That's about as far as I can go in my understanding of all this.
Cal: What has been set up is a false premise: that the Bible and science are in conflict and that nothing in Scripture can be tested scientifically. That is just not true. But when God asks Job — “Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?” — the question should make scientists humble about their certainties concerning the origins of the earth and of human life.
Bob: There you go again mixing science with the Bible. We both want to see intelligent design introduced into the scientific debate. Can't we leave the Bible out of this while we're trying to convince the public that this is a debate about science? It's a means-ends issue, Cal.
Cal: Some Christians are trying to water down what they really believe for the wrong reasons. It would be better for them to exit the government schools so they can teach their beliefs without compromise. For those who remain — like you — and want intelligent design taught alongside evolution, why not have a series of televised debates so the public could make up its own mind?
Bob: That's a start. The scientific community has gone out of its way to depict intelligent design as a religious view. Most people have no idea that serious scientists believe there is a strong case for intelligent design. These scientists have been denied a forum, and a series of public debates would be educational and give the intelligent design researchers a chance to tell their side.
Cal: Surely C-SPAN would carry the debate if the scientists were prominent enough. Anyone opposing the debate would be rightly labeled a censor and anti-academic freedom. That should make the liberals choke. Sound like a good idea to you, Bob (except the part about choking liberals)?
Bob: I'm all for it. I just wonder if the Darwinists will show up.
'Intelligent design' about faith, not science
Letters USA Today 6 December 2005
I was disappointed to read the Common Ground commentary by Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel regarding "intelligent design." While I'm sure the authors are excellent evaluators of public policy, it is obvious that they are ignorant of the ways of science ("'Intelligent design': What do scientists fear?" The Forum, Thursday).
They completely misunderstand the issue. I would challenge them to identify a scientist who maintains that evolution and intelligent design shouldn't be debated. Besides, the real issue is not public debate, but whether the teaching of non-science should be mandated in the science classes of public schools.
Scientific theories are potential explanations of observed phenomena that can be subjected to objective tests. Only by subjection to such tests does a theory gain acceptance in the scientific community. Important theories such as continental drift and catastrophic extinction events, for example, were initially rejected by science and became widely accepted only after convincing evidence from multiple sources was presented and reviewed by the scientific community.
Evolution has repeatedly been subjected to such tests, and debate continues on the mechanisms by which it occurs — but its validity is not in question. Even most proponents of intelligent design do not argue about the existence of biological evolution, only the mechanism behind it.
By its very nature, intelligent design cannot be tested, and "evidence" to support it consists largely of claims that certain biological features are "too complicated" to have occurred without an unnamed guiding intelligence. Intelligent design is a matter of faith, not science, and such matters should not be mandated in public school, and certainly not in science classes.
Derek Barkey, Lake Forest, Calif.
Allow critics to be heard
Finally some intelligent discussion regarding intelligent design.
Whatever happened to truth being revealed by its ability to withstand critical discussion in the public arena, instead of being imposed by fiat?
If evolution is correct, and defensible in all aspects, its proponents should not fear critical examination and honest debate. When scrutiny of the evidence validates either position, it will not be necessary to legislate a defense or inhibition of opposing thought.
Douglas Puckering, Lummi Island, Wash.
OK, let's debate topic
Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel propose a public debate on the scientific merits of intelligent design, and Beckel wonders whether "the Darwinists will show up."
You bet we will! In fact, we'll host.
We challenge the top "intelligent-designists" to a debate of the scientific evidence for intelligent design, to be held at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland the first week of January.
"Doubting Thomas" Cal's nihilistic suggestion to subject the Bible to scientific analysis is too big a project for this event, but an hour or so sounds like just about how long it should take to dispatch any scientific claims for intelligent design.
The question is, will the designists show? Calls go out every day to present scientific data at scientific conferences. The designists are always busy that decade. Meanwhile, the scientific data supporting evolution continue to pour in on a daily basis and produce spinoff applications that create new medicine, more productive crops, cleaner water and better living for billions of people worldwide.
The Darwinists show up to work every day in thousands of labs around the globe. Mr. Thomas and Mr. Beckel, your guys are the ones who don't show.
January. Cleveland. The "science" of ID. Put up or shut up.
Patricia Princehouse, Department of Biology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland
Don't censor design theory
Science is always based on observations, almost always on measurements and preferably is based on what can be demonstrated experimentally. The intelligent design theory, which has recently been in the news, does not meet these criteria.
And neither do the theories of the natural origin of life nor the development of more complex forms of life from simpler forms of life. Strictly speaking, they cannot be considered science, but they are possible theories.
Some argue that intelligent design should be restricted to philosophy or history classes, but then so should the other two theories. But that would be wasting a great opportunity to teach science students how science works, and the difference between theories and facts. Censorship of the intelligent design theory would be bad for both science and education.
Dave Nelson, Billings, Mont.
Theory isn't testable
Intelligent design (ID) is dismissed by scientists because it isn't science. It does not meet the definition of science, and the Kansas board of education had to alter its definition of science in order to wedge ID into the curriculum — a point Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel somehow missed. To be a scientific theory, it must be testable and it must be refutable.
ID can't be tested, and because it is a belief and not provable, it can't be refuted.
ID's entire existence is predicated on:
• Claiming there are "holes" in evolutionary theory.
• Claiming that some biological structures are, in the opinion of the observer, so complex that they must have been "designed."
• Declaring that, without proof, ID must be the reason for these first two claims. Proponents put forward not a single testable hypothesis to back this.
There is no point in debating the issue, either, because that is not how scientific theories are established. Darwin and current scientists didn't win a debate contest. Evolution is science backed by more than a century of research and thousands of experiments. Debating ID makes as much sense as having a debate over the validity of astrology vs. astronomy or alchemy vs. chemistry.
Scientists do not "fear" intelligent design. What they do fear are attempts to redefine science to include non-scientific theories and then teaching that to children in science class.
Mark Gottschalk, Huntington Beach, Calif.
Cal Thomas completely contradicts himself regarding the teaching of the "theory" of intelligent design in public schools.
On the one hand, he demands that competing theories be taught in public schools, while on the other hand, he insists that conservative Christian parents should take their children out of public schools so that they can indoctrinate them with only one belief regarding the origins of this planet.
I guess Thomas wants one group of children to be sheltered from having to face ideas that conflict with their own, while at the same time insisting that other children be forced to listen to "scientific theories" that cannot be supported with any quantifiable scientific data or observation.
Kevin Little, Atlanta
Richard B. Hoppe
Note that the offer is to host a debate on the scientific evidence for intelligent design. Not evolution bashing, not ID of the gaps, but actual affirmative evidence, if any there be, for intelligent design in biology. Wonder if the ID creationists will shake themselves free from the Disco Institute labs in which they’re beavering away at the ID research program and show up.