- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Defenders of Darwin last week charged critics of evolution with turning students against science, while advocates of intelligent design accused evolutionists of trying to prevent students from hearing half of an important scientific dispute.

“The rhetoric of the anti-evolution movement has the effect of alienating young people to science,” Kenneth Miller of Brown University told a conference hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. “It basically says the scientific community is not to be trusted. It suppresses dissent.”

Intelligent design theorists contend that the universe is too diverse and complex to be the product of random evolutionary processes, and that Charles Darwin’s theory does not adequately explain questions about the origins of life. Instead, it posits that life on Earth was designed by an unidentified architect.

Evolutionists say including intelligent design theory in public school curriculums would be a dangerous violation of the First Amendment, and would direct students away from science at a time when U.S. schools are producing fewer researchers.

During last week’s discussion in Washington, scientists who support the teaching of evolution said students should not be exposed to intelligent design, while proponents of intelligent design said schools should “teach the controversy.”

Advocates of intelligent design say they are the ones being suppressed.

Paul Nelson of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute said the scientific community should be open to criticism of Darwinism instead of acknowledging only theories that presume evolution. “If no matter what we observe, it’s always consistent with evolution, the theory of evolution is not empirical,” he said.

Defenders of evolution called intelligent design a “negative argument,” claiming it does little more than denounce evolution’s flaws. “The argument for intelligent design basically depends on saying, ‘You haven’t answered every question with evolution,’” said Mr. Miller. “Guess what? Science can’t answer every question.”

Intelligent design supporters point to Darwin’s own work. The 19th-century British scientist wrote that if it could be proved that a complex organ existed that wasn’t formed by gradual, slight modifications, “my theory would absolutely break down.” Design advocates say modern science has revealed exactly such complexities.

Evolutionists say the intelligent design movement is merely a repackaging of Bible-based creationism. Calling the movement “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Mr. Miller said: “Sorry, it didn’t work. We can still see the wolf.”

Scientists who support intelligent design are quick to point out that their theory does not attempt to identify the universe’s designer. The theory is not based on the Bible and is different from creationism because intelligent design is empirical, drawing conclusions from observations.

“The mind moves from nature to a conclusion,” said Mark Ryland, director of the Discovery Institute. “Not the other way around.”

The Rev. George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory, demarked a thick line between science and religion. He called science and religion “totally separate pursuits” and said, “Science is completely neutral with regards to religious or atheistic views.”

He said it is possible to believe in both God and evolution. “The intelligent design movement actually belittles God” because the movement “makes him a designer rather than a lover,” he said.

Mr. Nelson said students should be allowed to make judgments like that for themselves. “Theological questions will automatically be raised when students study Darwin,” he said. “Kids are shrewd. Students know when they’re only getting half the story.”

Biology teachers cannot ignore “the considerable theological content of [Darwin’s] book,” Mr. Nelson said. “Is it reasonable to ask a student to evaluate those kinds of arguments only critically? But if they try to make a positive case [for intelligent design], a piece of duct tape is put over their mouths constitutionally.”

The issue is before a federal court, which will decide whether the Dover Area School District in Pennsylvania can require that ninth-grade students hear a disclaimer before studying evolution. Last October, the school district voted 6-3 that students should hear a statement saying Darwinism is “not a fact” and contains “gaps.” The statement also notifies students that a book about intelligent design theory, “Of Pandas and People,” is available if they are interested in pursuing the idea.

President Bush in August said he thought intelligent design should be taught in addition to evolution. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, also has endorsed the theory’s inclusion.

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