“I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure — that is all that agnosticism means.”
Those words were uttered by Clarence Darrow in the famous Scope’s “monkey” trial that took place more than eighty years ago. And yet, to this day, a debate over belief, science, and religion is still occurring within intellectual circles, the general public, and in politics. One of the more recent examples of this was Kitzmiller v. Dover, a court case that considered the constitutionality of ‘intelligent design.’ ‘Intelligent design,’ a theory that purports to be science, claims that “the complexity of the natural world could not have occurred by chance.” Most scientists, however, dismiss ‘intelligent design’ as disguised creationism. Ian Barbour’s four categories of the relationship between science and religion (conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration) help illuminate the different perspectives of the plaintiffs and defendants. In the end, Judge E. Jones III, striking the movement with a hard blow, ruled against ‘intelligent design.’ This was a good decision for three reasons: ‘intelligent design’ is horrible science (it is not testable), dismal philosophy (there are myriad examples of things in the world that let the viewer infer that it is not designed), and it blurs the line between church and state.
The main issues in Kitzmiller v. Dover were: the soundness of evolution and ‘intelligent design’ as science, the separation of church and state, and the philosophy of science itself. The whole ordeal started when Dover, Pennsylvania’s school board adopted a new policy that forced high school biology teachers to notify their students of criticisms and alternatives to the theory of evolution by natural selection. Eleven parents saw the new policy as a “Trojan horse for religion in the public schools” and sued the school board. In the courtroom, ‘intelligent design’ advocate Michael Behe, a professor at Lehigh University, talked at length about “irreducible complexity,” the idea that certain biological systems (the human eye and bacterial flagellum for example) are too complex to ever be formed by chance and adaptation. The plaintiffs noted, however, that science is only concerned with things that can be falsified and tested; ‘intelligent design’ with its invocation of an abstract higher power and its reliance on a philosophy that mimics William Paley’s “watchmaker,” seems to lack the ability of either. The judge, however, was not concerned with all the philosophy and complex biological talk as an end but as a means to discover if “intelligent design” was a scientific theory or a religious one. In his scathing decision against the teaching of ‘intelligent design,’ Judge Jones called the decision to teach the controversial theory one of “breathtaking inanity.” He also concluded that ‘intelligent design’ was a religious theory citing the Discovery Institute’s (a think tank in Seattle that supports ‘intelligent design’) “Wedge Document” that listed one of their goals as replacing current scientific practice with “theistic and Christian science.” Although philosophy of science and the soundness of evolutionary theory were discussed widely in the trial, the explicit connection of ‘intelligent design’ to religion was its downfall.
The reaction to ‘Kitzmiller’ was varied. Most conservative intellectuals seem embarrassed by intelligent design. For example, Charles Krauthammer has called ‘intelligent design’ a “fraud…whose only holding is that when there are gaps in some area of scientific knowledge…they are to be filled with God” and Ross Douthat has written that “intelligent design fails conspicuously.” Conservatives who actively promote ‘intelligent design,’ however, were very disappointed with Judge Jones’ ruling. Michael Behe, one of the defense’s lead witnesses, claimed that the ruling “went way over what …a judge is entitled to say” and Steve Chapman, the founder of the Discovery Institute, called the decision a “disaster…as a public relations matter.” “It has given a rhetorical weapon to the Darwinists,” he said. Pro-evolutionists and liberals, on the other hand, were extremely happy with the ruling. “His logic is flawless, and he hit all of the points that scientists have been making for years,” a professor of mathematics who participated in the trial was quoted as saying and Jerry Coyne, a professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, wrote that the decision sent a “message across the country” to all school boards that “risk ridicule and legal opprobrium by inviting intelligent design into its classrooms.” The opinions ranged from jubilation to dismay.
Ian Barbour outlined four categories concerning the relationship between religion and science: conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration. The conflict model postulates that religion and science clash; the most widely cited example used for proof of this is Galileo’s trial. The independence model claims that science and religion can’t conflict since they are completely different realms of experience. Stephen Jay Gould endorsed this model when he claimed that science and religion are “non-overlapping magisteria” and the National Academy of Science wrote in their policy statement in 1981 that “Religion and science are separate and mutually exclusive realms of human thought whose presentation in the same context leads to misunderstanding of both scientific theory and religious belief.” The dialogue model proposes that there are many parallels between science and religion; science is not completely objective, for instance, and religion should be held to a rational standard. Lastly, the integration model holds that science and religion gain “mutual support” from each other. An example of this can be seen in many religious scientists espousing of a “natural theology.”
Within the ‘Kitzmiller’ case, the two clearest positions on the relationship between religion and science were the conflict model and the integration model. It is clear that ‘intelligent design’ advocates received impetus, at least partially, to promote their theory for theological reasons. For example, Michael Behe said in his testimony that “the designer is in fact God.” Yet, Behe is hoping to inform science through theology and vice versa; this is an explicit espousal of natural theology and the integration model. Staunch evolutionists, however, see ‘intelligent design’ as conflicting directly with science because it calls into question (on a theological basis) the ability of nature to transform simple biological beings into complex ones. Also, the idea that science should give credence to an invisible, supernatural being is contrary to the standards of proof that is crucial to scientific practice.
Judge Jones made the right decision; ‘intelligent design’ is bad science, bad philosophy, theologically driven, and, if taught in schools unconstitutional. One of science’s central tenets is the idea of falsification and testing. It is impossible to falsify a creator or ‘intelligent designer’ because the designer is, theoretically, outside of the material world. The most common example of this is Bertrand Russell’s “teapot” argument; Russell said that he could not disprove the proposition that there was a teapot orbiting the sun, but that didn’t mean that it was wrong for him to believe that there was no teapot. In fact, ‘intelligent design’ seems to be merely a negative theory, meaning it only criticizes evolution and doesn’t propose anything scientific of its own. In William Saletan’s words:
” They won’t say how ID works. They won’t say how it can be tested, apart from testing Darwinism and inferring that the alternative is ID. They won’t concede it to be falsifiable. All they’ll say is that Darwinism hasn’t explained some things.”
‘Intelligent design’ simply doesn’t deserve to be called “science.” Evolution by natural selection, on the other hand, can be falsified; for example, if scientists found fossils of a certain animal that were dated too early or too late to coincide with evolution, the theory would have to be revised or thrown out. Apart from being bad science, ‘intelligent design’ is also faulty philosophy. The human eye might seem to complex to be formed by natural selection (Richard Dawkins has shown this to be false ), but there are many other examples that would lead the viewer to believe that humans and animals are not designed by a sentient being but by nature. For example, “some cave animals, descended from sighted ancestors that invaded caves, have rudimentary eyes that cannot see; the eyes degenerated after they were no longer needed.” Why would a sentient designer give these animals eyes? And what about the human appendix? An appendix is “certainly not the product of intelligent design,” Jerry Coyne has written. “How many humans died of appendicitis before surgery was invented?” Also, as Neil deGrasse Tyson noted at a lecture at the Salk Institute, over 90 percent of species that have lived on Earth are now extinct; and natural, horrendous biological diseases (aggressive childhood leukemia, hemophilia, sickle cell anemia etc.) are counterintuitive to a design theory. These three examples (plus wings on the flightless kiwi bird, tooth buds on embryos of toothless animals, a coating of hair on human embryos) seem to point to gradual, natural evolution, not sentient design.
Once one has established that ‘intelligent design’ is not science and is bad philosophy, the real question is if it is constitutional to teach in public schools; or in a simpler form: is it a religious theory? For the proponents of ‘intelligent design’ (as we have seen in Michael Behe’s own words) the answer to that question is a resounding yes. A member of the Dover School Board that implemented the failed policy for teaching ‘intelligent design’ defended his position by saying: “Two thousand years ago someone died on a cross. Can’t someone take a stand for him?” Clearly, the school board had a theological, not scientific purpose. In 1971, the United States Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman, devised the “Lemon” test to see if something violated the establishment clause. The three components of the test are:
“First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.”
With this in mind, Judge Jones made the right decision, concluding that “intelligent design is based on religion rather than science, and…that intelligent design is an updated version of ‘creation science’” which is unconstitutional given that it violates all three facets of the “Lemon” test.
Judge E. Jones III was right to side with the plaintiffs, and the scientific community as a whole, in Kitzmiller v. Dover. The philosophical debate that surrounds this trial and religion in general is fascinating; and Ian Barbour’s categories help to see where different people stand. Hopefully, the growing literature and interest in this topic will further human intellect and knowledge in both the realms of science and theology.
Quoted from Devin Carpenter (Illinois). I couldn’t have said it better myself.