Intelligent Design Defended

Who’s afraid of irreducible complexity?  As followers of the evolution/creation controversy are aware, the intelligent-design court case that won the most public attention was Kitzmiller v. Dover in 2005.  In that case, school board members introduced the intelligent-design textbook Of Pandas and People into the curriculum of the school district of Dover, Pennsylvania.  They required ninth-grade biology teachers to read a statement that evolution was only one way to understand the origins of life.  In the end, Federal Judge John Jones ruled against the use of intelligent-design materials in public schools, deciding in line with US Supreme Court precedent that if such curricular materials did not have a primarily secular purpose, they could not be used in public schools.

In a recent review of two new books defending the scientific legitimacy of intelligent design–or at least the scientific problems with neo-Darwinism–Howard Kainz of Marquette University celebrates the fact that even atheists can find holes in neo-Darwinism.  Are such books good news for religious anti-evolutionists?  Kainz seems to think so, but I believe the case is much more complicated.

First of all, the US Supreme Court and Judge Jones have not insisted that scientific arguments against evolution are not proper for public schools.  Rather, the “Lemon test” coming out of the Supreme Court’s 1971 ruling in Lemon v. Kurtzman stipulated three rules for testing the acceptability of public aid to religion in schools.  First, the government action must have a secular purpose.  It must not primarily advance or inhibit religion.  And it must not result in “excessive government entanglement” with religion.

The reason Dover’s intelligent-design curriculum did not pass the Lemon test was not because no scientists questioned the validity of the neo-Darwinist explanation of the origins of life.  Rather, the Dover curriculum was easily proven to be a strategic way for religious creationists to repackage their message in a way they thought might be more palatable to public schools.  The authors of the textbook at issue, for instance, Dean Kenyon and Percival Davis, left a paper trail in their various editions.  In earlier editions, the Biblical source of the authors’ ideas is far more prominent.  In reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), the authors and their publisher consciously and explicitly toned down religious references to produce a cleaner, less explicitly religious textbook.  The same thing was true of the Dover school board members who introduced intelligent design into Dover schools.  It was not difficult for a reasonable observer to conclude that their motivations were primarily religious.  They hoped to advance religion, not to advance scientific understanding of the complexities of evolutionary theory among Dover’s ninth-graders.

The fact that “atheist” writers can find fault with neo-Darwinism, or that atheists can appreciate the notion of intelligent design, would not have had any impact in the Dover case.  Instead, a case will need to come before a federal court in which mainstream scientists themselves insist that the modern evolutionary synthesis must be taught as one explanation among others.

The second reason why books like these ought not be taken as a victory for religious anti-evolutionists is because they prove that the strongest critics of neo-Darwinism are not Bible believing creationists but rather mainstream scientists themselves.  As I’ve argued in other posts (see my anti-evolution imagined arguments against mainstream scientists’ “closedmindness” here and here; and my pro-evolution rejoinder here), creationists sometimes claim that the only reason they are not listened to by mainstream science is because of a vast evolutionist conspiracy.  If mainstream scientists only considered the weaknesses of the modern evolutionary synthesis, they insist, they would agree that neo-Darwinism can’t hold water.

But books like these demonstrate the fallacy of such notions.  The harshest critics of evolution are often evolutionists themselves.  Instead of asserting an intellectual totalitarianism to block all criticism of evolution, evolutionists are the most pressing critics of their own beliefs.  Their intellectual training pushes them to question all preconceived notions, even their own.


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1 Comment

  1. Concerned Parent

     /  February 24, 2016

    The only problem with this assertion is that evolution is taught as fact in government funded and run educational systems. You have rabid atheists running around the world espousing the virtues of godlessness and then reinforcing those same sentiments in public schools. Why are my children not being taught that there are glaring holes in the evolutionary theory? Not to promote some religion, but mere facts that point these students to ask new questions of science. Maybe even giving some students the desire to answer those same questions in a scientific manner, and finding them in places scientist had historically failed to look because of a predefined paradigm that obviously is not correct?


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