�Intelligent Design� facing an uphill battle in Pennsylvania

A.H. Jaffor Ullah

Published on February 13, 2007

A small Reuters news item in Yahoo portal drew my attention on October 12, 2005. According to the news, a Harvard professor by the name Brian Alters, who was brought as an expert witness by the defense counsel slammed the teaching of 'Intelligent Design' as a blow to science education as he testified in the lawsuit over whether the creationists' theory should be taught in the school as an alternative to scientific theory of evolution as propounded by Charles Darwin in mid nineteenth century.

The trial, Kitzmiller versus Dover Area School District (defendant) is being set in Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania. For those of the readers who do not know what 'Intelligent Design' or ID is here is a primer. British Naturalist, Charles Darwin, proposed in 1859 in his seminal book �Origin of Species� a scientific theory of evolution, which ran counter to Biblical (and Koranic too!) account of origin of species (including human being). Many theologians (Christians) critiqued Darwin�s Theory of Evolution soon after the theory was propounded. It has been about 146 years since Darwin wrote about scientific basis of speciation, but Christian scholars vigorously defended the Creationist view (the Biblical view or The Book of Genesis). As scientists unlocked the mystery of gene in mid twentieth century, when the structure of �Double Helix� was elucidated by Watson and Crick, the Christian scholars came up with this idea of �Intelligent design� to challenge the scientific theory of Darwin. They want the ID to be a part of science curriculum. This raise a eyebrow amongst scientific communities allover the U.S.

The Intelligent Design theory is a fertile invention of Christian scholars. They say that organism�s complexity is the evidence for the existence of a cosmic designer or the God. The idea that an organism�s complexity is evidence for the existence of a supreme being (God) cosmic was advanced a long time before Charles Darwin was born. Its exponent was English theologian William Paley, who first described creator of the famous watchmaker analogy. According to Perry, who wrote in 1802, if we find a pocket watch in a field, we immediately infer that it was produced not by natural processes acting blindly but by a designing human intellect. Similarly, he reasoned, the natural world contains abundant evidence of a supernatural creator (God). The argument from design, as it is known, prevailed as an explanation of the natural world until the publication of the �Origin of Species in 1859.� The weight of the evidence that Darwin had patiently gathered convinced scientists that evolution by natural selection better explained life�s complexity and diversity. At the end Darwin wrote in 1869, �I cannot possibly believe that a false theory would explain so many classes of facts.�

The Christian theologists found some scholars to rally around the �Intelligent Design� (ID) theory. Some of them say that an organism's eye is too sophisticated and complex to have evolved by point mutations. The views of religionists were reflected in ID theory. Thus, many religionists proposed that schools should teach Intelligent Design side-by-side with Charles Darwin's scientific theory of evolution.

Many rural American school districts follow books in which one may find few paragraphs on ID design. One such school district is in Dover, Pennsylvania. There, a parent sued the school district authorities to exclude ID theory from the science book. The present case is all about this exclusion. Of ID theory, the Harvard and McGill professor, Brian Alters, said, �Probably the worst thing I have ever heard of in science education.�

The federal court trial over teaching theories of human origins in U.S. schools pits Christian conservatives, who say nature is so complex it must have been the work of a God-like creator, (the ID Theory) against teachers and scientists who back the scientific theory of evolution as proposed by Charles Darwin. This is not the first time that the U.S. court has experienced a lawsuit in which conservative Christians have gone after Darwinists. The present case in Dover, Pennsylvania, seen as a major test of the issue, has echoes of the famed "Scopes Monkey trial" of 1925 when lawyers argued in a Tennessee courthouse over the teaching of Darwin's work.

According to the present case, in Dover schools, ninth-grade biology students are given a four-paragraph statement suggesting intelligent design (ID) as a viable alternative to evolution and steering them to a book explaining the theory. The district says the policy does not amount to teaching religion. However, the 11 parents bringing the federal lawsuit say the policy is religiously based and illegal because it violates the U.S. Constitution's separation of church (religion) and state.

Professor Alters testified the statement amounted to teaching because it was an integral part of the learning process and that teaching the theory may force students to choose between God and science. Prof. Alters told the court, �Evolution does not deny the existence of God. It's not about God. You can play the game of science and still have your religious beliefs.� He warned that high school students who were taught ID theory may suffer a loss of credibility in college academics by mixing theology and science. He further cautioned the court by saying that the inclusion of ID theory engenders misconceptions not only about evolution but also about the whole process of science. In other words the textbook should only discuss Darwin's scientific basis of theory of evolution.

In America, there is a growing movement of conservatism. The presidential election of 2004 speaks in volume this growing trend. Professor Alters cited a recent survey by the 50,000-member National Science Teachers Association showing that 31 percent of its members reported being under pressure to teach creationism or other nonscientific beliefs in science classes. This movement to include creationist view side-by-side with scientific theory of evolution is also growing so much so that in at least 30 U.S. states, proponents of intelligent design (ID) are trying to introduce it into classrooms through school boards, state education standards or state legislation.

According to Reuters news, the trial in Dover, Pennsylvania, is in its third week and is expected to last into November 2005. The defense is expected to begin presenting its case on October 17, 2005. It will be interesting to read what the religionists would have to say in defense of ID. More liberal parents would file cases in the Federal Court in other parts of the U.S. where the school board under pressure from �Moral Majority� is incorporating ID theory as a part of scientific basis of evolution. Therefore, stay tuned because more is yet to come on ID theory, which is masquerading as a bona-fide scientific theory of evolution.

Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, an itinerant researcher and columnist, writes from the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. For comment, readers are requested  to [email protected] with him.