Last Friday, Science struck back.
By now, most Americans are familiar with "intelligent design (ID)." The term refers to the notion that there is an intelligent agent behind the creation of the universe and the creatures in it. Although the idea is an old one, the phrase itself has only been around for about 150 years. It came back into vogue with the publication of the book, "Of Pandas and People" in 1989. Proponents of the concept insist that intelligent design should be taught in schools on an equal basis with Darwin's theory of evolution.
When the advocates of intelligent design first started their campaign, the scientific community refused to participate in the debate. Their reasoning was that intelligent design was pseudo-science and, therefore, did not even merit a place at the discussion table. For this reason, few scientists commented upon the arguments that intelligent design should be included in curriculum. The ID advocates found themselves virtually unchallenged by the scientific community as they pressed forward in their campaign.
Then intelligent design began to make inroads into the American educational system. In October, 2004, Dover, Pennsylvania’s school board adopted a policy that demanded students hear a prepared statement about intelligent design at the same time they learned about evolution. In August, 2005, President Bush suggested that fairness required intelligent design and evolution be taught side-by-side. In November, 2005, the Kansas Board of Education adopted new science standards for its public schools. The definition of science was rewritten to include supernatural explanations of phenomena. This was the third time in six years that this issue had come before the Kansas BOE and was hailed as a significant victory for the proponents of intelligent design.
The scientific community has now apparently realized the error of their ignore-it-and-it-will-go-away strategy. The December issue of Science magazine (available online 12/23) listed the major scientific breakthroughs of 2005. Lo and behold--evolution was listed as #1. The magazine says,
"[t]oday evolution is the foundation of all biology, so basic and all-pervasive that scientists take its importance for granted. At some level every discovery in biology and medicine rests on it." The lengthy article discusses advances in the study of the chimpanzee genome and goes on to talk about how species split. The magazine might as well have raised a banner declaring war on intelligent design.
My guess is that, over the next few weeks and months, we are going to see a more active debate in which the scientific community participates instead of standing on the sidelines. Biologists and other scientists are likely to demand that faith-based curriculum be taught in philosophy or humanities class rather than in a science class. Their efforts will certainly be helped by a federal judge's court decision on December 20th, barring the Dover school district from mentioning intelligent design as an alternative to evolutionary theory. Judge John E. Jones, III, rendered "a scathing opinion that criticized local school board members for lying under oath and for their 'breathtaking inanity' in trying to inject religion into science classes." (Washington Post)
It will be interesting to see how this debate shakes out. If you want more on the subject, I highly recommend the 1960 film, "Inherit the Wind." Directed by Stanley Kramer, the movie is a fictionalized version of the real-life courtroom clash between Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan in 1925 over the teaching of evolution in Tennessee. I own both the VCR and DVD versions, and the film remains one of my top ten favorite movies.