I noticed a raging discussion in the blogosphere regarding Intelligent Design in the classroom and I felt like I had to offer my 2 cents to the conversation. I came across the discussion at Deans World. The topic starts with ACLU Sues Over Intelligent Design, continues with FAQ on Intelligent Design, and as of now has settled with Further Thoughts On Intelligent Design. My gut instinct tells me that Intelligent Design has no place in the classroom. To be certain, I followed a link Dean provides to Questions About Intelligent Design. I feel compelled to annotate their answers to what are legitimate questions. 1. What is the theory of intelligent design? The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. In other words: The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by belief in a higher power, a God, and its design, not an undirected process such as natural selection. This is really more of an opinion than a theory. 2. Is intelligent design theory incompatible with evolution? It depends on what one means by the word "evolution.” If one simply means "change over time," or even that living things are related by common ancestry, then there is no inherent conflict between evolutionary theory and intelligent design theory. However, the dominant theory of evolution today is neo-Darwinism, which contends that evolution is driven by natural selection acting on random mutations, a purposeless process that "has no specific direction or goal, including survival of a species.” (NABT Statement on Teaching Evolution). It is this specific claim made by neo-Darwinism that intelligent design theory directly challenges Intelligent design is an opinion and as such is inherently compatible. However, that does not make it scientific in any way. Where intelligent design breaks down is in its semantic replacement of random mutations with ‘intelligently designed’ mutations. Mutations occur because of observed alterations to DNA caused an outside force or agent such as a virus or radiation exposure. For this argument, let’s say it’s by exposure to radiation.
- The cell is struck by the particle/wave that is radiation. If the particle/wave collides with the nucleus of the cell, and if it collides with the DNA within the nucleus this can cause a change in the DNA called a mutation.
- Once the mutation has occurred, it will either be repaired or not repaired depending on many different factors such as the extent of the damage (how many base pairs were altered).
- If it is not repaired, it will either be expressed, or not (this depends on where mutation is located on the DNA strand).
- If a mutation is expressed, will it be expressed in such a way that alters the organism? (Did the mutation occur in a reproductive cell or a stem cell at a time when its expression could alter the organism?)
Now for arguments sake let’s say our organism is a Finch, and that it is altered in such a way that it expresses a shorter beak than other Finches. Over successive generations, this will be either a benefit (better for eating small seeds) or a detriment (harder to eat large seeds). Under conditions that favor a short beak, evolution would favor the ancestors of this mutated bird. There would still be Finches in the population with larger beaks and smaller beaks.
Shorter beaked Finches have better odds of survival and procreation in this environment. Darwinism states that all of these things have to happen by chance. Intelligent Design dictates that there has to be a helping hand in this process. The only helping hand available is God. To have Intelligent Design in the classroom requires having God in the classroom and therefore religion. It’s just semantics. It’s also irrelevant, the argument for natural selection stands based on our understanding of facts involved in how the change occurs. Adding our belief in the guiding hand of God or randomness does not add to the argument, it only introduces opinion into the argument where it doesn’t belong.
3. Is intelligent design based on the Bible?
No. The intellectual roots of intelligent design theory are varied. Plato and Aristotle both articulated early versions of design theory, as did virtually all of the founders of modern science. Indeed, most scientists until the latter part of the nineteenth century accepted some form of intelligent design. The scientific community largely rejected design in the early twentieth century after neo-Darwinism claimed to be able to explain the emergence of biological complexity through the unintelligent process of natural selection acting on random mutations. During the past decade, however, new research and discoveries in such fields as physics, cosmology, biochemistry, genetics, and paleontology have caused a growing number of scientists and science theorists to question neo-Darwinism and propose design as the best explanation for the existence of specified complexity in the natural world.
Where the opinion comes from is not relevant. I’ve never seen a Science curriculum that included Plato and Aristotle for anything other than logical argument. Their beliefs are irrelevant. An argument based on a false premise is still false even if the logic used is correct. It is the logic that they gave science not their beliefs. Plato believed all substances to be composed of air, earth, fire, and water. How many people believe that to be the case today?
4. Is intelligent design theory the same as creationism?
No. Intelligent design theory is simply an effort to empirically detect whether the "apparent design" in nature acknowledged by virtually all biologists is genuine design (the product of an intelligent cause) or is simply the product of an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random variations. Creationism is focused on defending a literal reading of the Genesis account, usually including the creation of the earth by the Biblical God a few thousand years ago. Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design is agnostic regarding the source of design and has no commitment to defending Genesis, the Bible or any other sacred text. Honest critics of intelligent design acknowledge the difference between intelligent design and creationism.