Intelligent Design or Intelligent Designer?
by Laurence M. Vance
by Laurence M. Vance
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" ~ Genesis 1:1
"Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view." ~ Dover Area School District Press Release
The statements are not identical. In fact, although one cannot consistently hold to the Darwinian theory of evolution and at the same time accept the Christian doctrine of Creation, it is possible to advocate at the same time both evolution and intelligent design.
Although the brouhaha over a federal district court ruling late last year against the mere mention (not the teaching) of intelligent design in a public school classroom has apparently subsided, some lingering questions yet remain. The most important of these questions is simply this: Can you have intelligent design without an intelligent designer?
The case in question is Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. Ms. Kitzmiller was one of eleven parents who objected to the plan of the Dover Area School District (near Harrisburg, PA), by a vote of six to three, to have the following statement read to students in the ninth-grade biology class at Dover High School:
The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.
Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.
Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People is available for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.
As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments.
The Dover school board should have known that they were going to have a problem when the biology teachers refused to read the statement, leaving it to administrators to carry out the new policy of the school board. After a lawsuit was filed in federal court on November 14, 2004, the board was given the opportunity (which it declined) to rescind its policy, and thus avoid paying legal fees (which eventually came to $1 million). The plaintiffs contended that the school board's intelligent design policy constituted "an establishment of religion prohibited by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."
A trial was held from September 26, 2005, through November 4, 2005, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Judge John E. Jones III (appointed by President Bush) issued a 139-page ruling on December 20, 2005, in which he began by saying:
For the reasons that follow, we hold that the ID Policy is unconstitutional pursuant to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
And ended by saying:
Defendants' ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and Art. I, § 3 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Because he sought "to preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution," Judge Jones permanently enjoined the "Defendants from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District, from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID."
One of the most well-known proponents of intelligent design is the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Washington, a non-profit educational foundation that "discovers and promotes ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty." Not only did the Discovery Institute not support the intelligent design policy adopted by the Dover school board, it "repeatedly urged the school board to withdraw it, beginning long before the district had been sued."
The Discovery Institute has nevertheless recently issued "a critique of Judge John E. Jones III's controversial decision in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School Board (2005)." The book is called Traipsing into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller v. Dover Decision (Discovery Institute Press, 2006). The authors are David DeWolf, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute and professor of law at Gonzaga Law School; John West, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute and chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University; Casey Luskin, an attorney; and Jonathan Witt, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute.
The title of the book is based on a statement of Judge Jones in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case: "The Court is confident that no other tribunal in the United States is in a better position than are we to traipse into this controversial area." The authors believe that Judge Jones "repeatedly misrepresented both the facts and the law in his opinion, sometimes egregiously." He "decided to act as though it was the ‘intelligent design movement,' not the Dover school board, that was on trial." Jones was an activist judge who "had no small estimate of his own importance" and "relished the idea that he could be the first judge to issue a definitive pronouncement on ID, and he apparently was unwilling to forego that opportunity."
This is not a book against evolution or even a defense of intelligent design. It is strictly a critique of the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. The authors make it clear in the introduction why this case is "wholly unsuited" to serve as a "test case" for intelligent design. First, the leading proponents of intelligent design were opposed to the policy of the Dover school board. Second, the board members who adopted the intelligent design policy knew little if anything about the subject. And third, the case had nothing to do with the teaching of intelligent design, only the bare mention of it. The authors believe there are four reasons why this case "has little to contribute to the on-going dialogue about how to teach biological evolution in the public schools" and "deserves no deference either from other jurists or from government officials." They are:
- Kitzmiller's Partisan History of Intelligent Design
- Kitzmiller's Unpersuasive Case against the Scientific Status of Intelligent Design
- Kitzmiller's Failure to Treat Religion in a Neutral Manner
- Kitzmiller's Limited Value as Precedent
Each of these four reasons is briefly summarized in the introduction and then discussed in detail in the four chapters that make up the book. These chapters are followed by a brief conclusion, "The Need to Protect Academic Freedom," and then three appendixes. The first appendix was written by Michael Behe, the author of Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, and the "lead witness for the defense." He seeks to answer the Court's ruling that intelligent design is not science. The next appendix is an annotated bibliography of peer-reviewed publications that support the theory of intelligent design. The last appendix is a brief of amici curiae biologists and other scientists in support of the defendants in the case. There are eighty-five names listed.
Although Traipsing into Evolution is certainly a valuable resource about what is wrong with the ruling in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, this is a ruling that should never have been made.
As mentioned above, the plaintiffs' contention was:
The ID Policy constitutes an establishment of religion prohibited by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Judge Jones made this statement near the beginning of his ruling:
We initially observe that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." U.S. Const. amend. I. The prohibition against the establishment of religion applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.
The ruling is bogus, and for two reasons.
First, the applicability of the First Amendment to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment (the incorporation doctrine) is a myth that can only be sustained by a perversion of the Constitution, as I have previously written about.
Second, reading a statement in a public school about intelligent design, or even teaching it, is neither establishing a religion nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Not when Congress and the military have paid chaplains. Not when the Supreme Court's sessions are opened with the Court's Marshal saying "God save the United States and this honorable court." Not when the National Motto inscribed on our coins is "In God We Trust." Not when the oath of office for members of Congress ends with "So help me God." As R. Cort Kirkwood wrote about the case in a recent issue of Chronicles:
The decision was based on the palpably absurd and well-worn notion that teaching something, anything, about religion in a public school is "unconstitutional" and violates the "wall of separation between Church and State." Of course, it isn't the Constitution or the First Amendment that prohibits teaching religion in schools. The real prohibitive agent in these cases is the steamer trunk of erroneous case law cited by the judge and hoked up by anti-Christian, leftist courts that would have no power if the locals refused to abide them.
But as I said, this is a ruling that should never have been made.
The decision of a local school board in the state of Pennsylvania is the business of the state of Pennsylvania, not the federal government. It is the states that have language in their constitutions authorizing public education, not the federal government. The federal government, whether through its Goals 2000: Educate America Act or its No Child Left Behind Act or its Elementary and Secondary Education Act, should have nothing to do with local public schools. Whatever happened to the Republican calls for abolishing the federal department of education?
In a truly free market, educational services would be no different than any other services. Parents concerned about the issues of creation and evolution could shop around for the school of their choice. Atheists could have a school in which evolution is presented as the truth and all other explanations for the origin of life a lie. Bible-believing Christians could have a school in which the Genesis account of Creation is presented as the truth and all other explanations for the origin of life a lie. Intelligent design proponents could have a school in which their viewpoint is presented as the truth, regarding either evolution or creation as the means how a designer brought things about. Some schools might offer parents to choose from among three different biology courses, each presenting one of the three perspectives under discussion. Other schools may wish to present all three views as possibilities, or simply skirt the issue altogether.
But since we don't have a truly free market in education, what should advocates of intelligent design do? They have several options, but one thing is for sure, as, again, R. Cort Kirkwood writes:
The evangelicals and supporters of intelligent design must give up this fight and every other one as well, from contraceptives and school prayer to dress codes and homosexuals at the prom. The only intelligent course is to pull their kids out of the public schools. Private Christian academies are everywhere. Parochial schools abound. Better yet, there is homeschooling. Indeed, any serious Christian knows that putting a child in public school is a grave sin, given the crippling, lowbrow academics and anti-Christian cultural toxins to which such children are exposed.
Until Christian parents learn that their future lies outside the public schools, they will only strengthen the anti-Christian leftists they want to dethrone. To defeat them, parents must deprive schools of the malleable minds required to propagate their anti-American, anti-Christian ideology.
As constitutional attorney John Eidsmoe concluded in his article about the Kitzmiller case for The New American: "To ensure that our children are taught properly, we should consider the form of education our Founding Fathers believed in and practiced — private and home schools."
The government has officially recognized evolution as the answer for the origin of life, and it tolerates no dissent. In Traipsing into Evolution, the authors recount the case of Richard Sternberg, an evolutionary biologist with Ph.D.'s in molecular evolution and theoretical biology, whose career as a researcher at the Smithsonian Institution was recently destroyed, even though he held to neither Creation nor intelligent design. Dr. Sternberg's grave sin was, as editor of a scientific journal affiliated with the Smithsonian (Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington), overseeing the publication of an article by a Cambridge-educated philosopher of science in which it was argued that intelligent design was the best explanation for the rapid appearance of higher life-forms since evolutionary theory couldn't account for the vast profusion of multi-cellular species.
So not only is this a ruling that should never have been made, it is a case that should have never materialized in the first place.
Regardless of what Christian proponents of intelligent design say about science and academic freedom, we know that the reason they call for the mention or the teaching of intelligent design in the classroom is because it is the closest thing that Christians can get to the teaching of Creationism in public schools.
We also know that evolutionists are against intelligent design, not because it is unscientific, but because it dares to question the established religion of evolution. Evolutionists are nervous because they see the introduction of intelligent design into the classroom as a first step on the road to Creationism, which is a dogma they abhor.
The Dover school board contained six members who were sympathetic to the biblical account of Creation. They couldn't get away with mandating the teaching of biblical Creation or prohibiting the teaching of evolution. They couldn't even get away with requiring the presentation of both views. In the case of Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law (the Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction Act) which mandated that if either topic were addressed, teachers were required to discuss the opposing view as well. The school board members tried a backdoor approach — they would require a statement to be read (not a principle to be taught) that there were gaps in evolutionary theory, and that intelligent design was an alternative explanation of the origin of life.
So let's return now to where we began: Can you have intelligent design without an intelligent designer? Proponents of intelligent design think so. The authors of Traipsing into Evolution have certainly said so:
As a scientific theory, ID only claims that there is empirical evidence that key features of the universe and living things are the products of an intelligent cause. Whether the intelligent cause involved is inside or outside of nature cannot be decided by empirical evidence alone.
ID proponents from the beginning have repeatedly argued that design theory does not rely on supernatural causation, and they have consistently maintained this position whether writing for religious or secular audiences.
Thus, the theory of intelligent design does not investigate whether the designing intelligent agent was natural or supernatural because it assumes that things designed by an intelligence may possess certain perceptible properties regardless of whether that intelligent agent is a natural entity, or in some way supernatural.
We are also told in Traipsing into Evolution that two of the most prominent scientists who believe in intelligent design, and who also testified in the Kitzmiller case, Michael Behe and Scott Minnich, do not believe "in a literal reading of Genesis."
Other Christians, however, think not. They see intelligent design as simply a modern form of the teleological argument for the existence of God as articulated by William Paley (1763—1805) and others. But since proving the existence of God does not prove that the biblical account of Creation is true, some Christians don't see intelligent design as a threat to evolution at all. They view as unacceptable the attempt by scientists to have the best of both worlds via intelligent design by recognizing flaws in Darwinian evolution and at the same time rejecting the Genesis account of Creation. Conservative Christians take literally the Creation account in Genesis chapter one because they recognize that Creation is mentioned throughout the Old and New Testaments. They see the doctrine of Creation as interwoven with the other doctrines of the Christian faith like the Fall, the Atonement, and the Incarnation.
Can you have intelligent design without an intelligent designer? It really comes down to one's view of the Bible itself. Conservative Christians reason that if the first verse in the Bible cannot be trusted, then the whole book is suspect. Advocates of intelligent design disagree, and proponents of evolution are indifferent. But regardless of your position, the idea that the mention in a classroom of either Creation or intelligent design as an alternative to evolution somehow violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is ludicrous.
May 16, 2006
Laurence M. Vance [send him mail] is a freelance writer and an adjunct instructor in accounting and economics at Pensacola Junior College in Pensacola, FL. He is also the director of the Francis Wayland Institute. His new book is Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State. Visit his website.
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