Sunday, December 25, 2005

Evolutionists are ecstatic about U.S. District Judge John E. Jones’s ruling in the Dover, Pa., school board case, claiming it is a major setback for the intelligent design movement. The judge declared intelligent design cannot be so much as discussed in biology classrooms in area public schools — a prohibition giving rise to free-speech concerns. Intelligent design is a “mere relabeling of creationism,” he said.

But it is doubtful this ruling is even remotely a setback for intelligent design. For decades, the judiciary has dealt these “setbacks” to any and all critics of evolution. In that time, the intelligent design movement, which began perhaps 20 years ago, has gone from strength to strength.

If it had been advanced courtesy of the public schools, the judge’s ruling would indeed have been a setback. But the schools had nothing to do with it. Intelligent design has gained adherents because a sizable number of Americans are capable of reading and thinking for themselves.

The best-known advocates of intelligent design have not attempted to advance their cause through state coercion in the schools. They understand how counterproductive such a strategy can be. Liberalism got a bad name to the extent that legislatures and courts tried to make it compulsory and its rivals illegal. The leading institutional supporter of intelligent design, the Discovery Institute in Seattle, issued a public statement after the judge’s ruling, saying it “continues to oppose efforts to mandate teaching about the theory of intelligent design in public schools.”

Discovery had opposed the original school board’s mandating a brief statement in favor of intelligent design to be read to ninth-grade biology students. It is that school board action that was declared unconstitutional by the judge.

Attempts in the 1980s to legislate “balanced treatment” of life’s origins were Bible-based and could legitimately be called “creationist.” All were struck down, eventually by the Supreme Court. But contrary to Judge Jones’s ruling, arguments that incline people to accept intelligent design are scientific, and to that extent, appropriate to the science class. They deal with such matters as the complexity of organisms at the cellular and microcellular level, the paucity of the fossil record, which has not revealed the transitional forms Darwinians anticipated, and the feebleness of the Darwinian mechanism of evolution (“the survival of the fittest.”)

Still, this doesn’t explain why design-based theories have gained so much traction in recent years. Perhaps the most important reason has been overlooked. The rise of computer science and information technology has caused many intelligent people not just to think about issues of design and the difficulties involved.

Software designers understand how precisely such information must be specified. There is no room for error. Yet each cell of the body contains a DNA chain of 3 billion nucleotides, encoded in such a way it specifies construction of all the proteins.

No one knows the source of this code or how it arose. It cannot have been by accident, but accident is the only method available to the evolutionists, who believe as a matter of dogma that early life arose from the random collision of atoms and molecules and nothing else.

It used to be said most of the DNA is “junk,” because it didn’t seem to do anything useful. But leading genome scientists such as Francis Collins of the National Human Genome Research Institute no longer believe that. And Microsoft’s Bill Gates has said DNA “is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we have created.”

The British philosopher Antony Flew said a year ago he was emboldened to turn away from atheism because he saw the implications of the structure of DNA. The cell itself, thought in Darwin’s day to be a “simple little lump of protoplasm,” is now understood to have the complexity of a high-tech factory. There are 300 trillion cells in the human body, and each “knows” its function. Cell biologists do not know how these things happen, or how they arose.

In recent weeks, I have been on many talk-radio programs, discussing my book “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science,” which includes chapters on evolution and intelligent design. What I can attest from this experience is that intelligent design arouses passionate reactions — on both sides of the issue. The phone-banks light up, as talk show hosts tell me. People are intensely interested, and (to the dismay of some professionals in the field) they feel entitled to have an opinion and express it.

I dare say not one of these people developed their interest in public school. This interest will surely only increase in the years ahead. If the Pennsylvania case acts as a precedent, students in public schools will not be allowed to learn about these things in biology. But when did such prohibitions ever work?

Some students are already sure to be thinking: “What is it in biology that we are not allowed to be taught?” Books banned in Boston notoriously became best-sellers, and design banned from biology will resurface in computer studies. Or is Bill Gates to be relabeled a closet creationist?

Tom Bethell is the author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science” (Regnery Publishing, 2005).

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