We have a local talk show host who does a fine job of keeping issues of local and national interest before the listening public. On Friday he did a segment on the lawsuit against Dover Area School District's decision to have biology teachers read a statement alerting students to the fact that Neo-Darwinism is not the only game in town. The case will be heard starting tomorrow in Harrisburg, PA. I wrote an e-mail to the host in response to a couple of things I thought he said about ID on the program:
I think it's great that you're willing to talk on your show about the intelligent design issue as much as you do, and I sympathize with the "middle of the road" position you stake out on the matter.
You said two things on Friday's show, however, that may mislead some of your listeners, and I think it's important that there not be confusion on this matter.
I might have misunderstood or not heard you clearly, but I thought you said (1) that intelligent design (ID) is a religious theory and (2) that creationism is not allowed to be taught in public schools. If you didn't say these things then please disregard this e-mail. If you did say them, then I'd like to urge you to rethink them.
Neo-Darwinian evolution is a theory that states that all of life can be explained in terms of natural, mechanistic processes acting blindly and without intentional purpose. ID is the denial of this. ID advocates make two related arguments: They argue firstly that material processes are not adequate to account for the high degree of information and the exquisite depth of complexity we find in living things. They argue secondly that whatever the role of material processes was in the emergence of living things, their obvious design bears the impress of intention and intelligence.
That is as far as ID advocates can legitimately go as scientists. They do not draw any conclusions (except in some cases in their private lives) about what this intelligence is. The universe itself may be a cosmic mind as some ancient Greeks believed, or it may be subject to a world soul or spirit as Hegel and the German idealists believed. Whatever the designer is there is no way one can deduce from ID that it's the God of the Bible or the Koran or any other sacred book. Such a step requires a leap of faith that people might make personally but which can't be justified logically. In fact, it's logically possible even to be an atheist or an agnostic and still agree that ultimate reality is mind and that the universe shows intentionality.
If ID doesn't lead inevitably to the existence of the personal God of most religions then how can it be religious in any commonly understood sense? Moreover, as I wrote for a column here, ID neither entails the existence of a god nor does it prescribe worship of one. It has no church nor dogma nor trappings of a religion. Doubtless many ID adherents are religious as individuals and would like to see ID used as a means to point others to the Judeo-Christian God, but then many Darwinians are atheistic and see Darwinism as a useful tool for turning people toward materialism or naturalism.
The next time a caller calls in and says that ID is a religious theory, ask them exactly what it is about it that makes it so. I doubt that they'll be able to give a compelling answer.
You also said on your show Friday, if I heard you correctly, that creationism cannot be taught in public schools. This is not correct. The Supreme Court case that addressed this matter was Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987 which came about because the state legislature of Louisiana sought to require the teaching of creationism whenever evolution is taught. Writing for the majority, Justice Brennan (see here) said:
In other words, Louisiana teachers were free to teach those aspects of creationist theory in their classrooms that are based on scientific concepts before the creation act was passed by the legislature, and the Supreme Court took no offense at this. What the Court did, however, was say that government cannot mandate the teaching of creationism. Teachers are free to teach it if they wish provided they do so in the context of scientific investigation.
One of the questions facing the courts in the Dover case is whether local school boards have a right to determine what will be taught in their school or whether they are considered an agent of the state government, like a legislature, and thus prohibited from mandating the teaching of anything critical of evolutionary materialism.
The second question is whether the Dover policy of reading a statement to a class really constitutes teaching anything at all. You pointed out on Friday that the Dover statement certainly seems innocuous (ed: See here for a good letter on this point).
The third question, and one over which much confusion seems to exist, is whether ID is really just a form of creationism. The many critics of ID notwithstanding, it's not. Creationism is an attempt to use science to buttress a literal reading of the early chapters of the book of Genesis. However one feels about this project, that's not what ID is about. ID advocates take no stand on whether the claims in Genesis, taken literally or otherwise, are true or false. Indeed, they could all be false, and ID could still be true.
I suggest again, if you haven't done so already, that you ask a caller who makes the claim that ID is just creationism in drag to explain exactly how this is so. My hunch is that they won't be able to do it.
Keep up the good work.