The Name Game: How Creationism Became Intelligent Design and Why It Should Not Be Taught in Classroo: Eitan Horwitz

By Eitan Horwitz


Etian Horwitz

We commonly use euphemisms to avert those highly sticky situations in which we realize an unpleasant truth. Euphemisms are the “friendly” fire that occur in war zones, the custodians who clean our toilets, and the undocumented workers that are living in the “shadows” of the United States. Those who have caught onto the usefulness of the euphemism tactic are able to spin an issue in whichever direction they choose. You could even say that a catchy new euphemism could be used to reinvigorate a dead argument by creating the illusion that there is a new issue at hand.

In 1989, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) did exactly that, with their usage of the concept of “intelligent design” in their school-level textbook, Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins. Proponents of “intelligent design,” including the Discovery Institute, a nonprofit conservative Christian “think tank,” retired legal scholar Philip E. Johnson, and leading activist William Dembski, all have the common goal of debunking Darwin’s theories of evolution and replacing it with “intelligent design” within the curricula of public schools. The proponents of “intelligent design” are the same fringe group who lobbied for creationism to be taught in public science classes. Highly distraught with the Supreme Court’s decision in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), which struck down the teaching of creationism in public school science curricula as unconstitutional, advocates of teaching creationism in the classroom turned to “intelligent design.” But intelligent design was no different than creationism. All that had changed were terms such as creator and creationism to designer and intelligent design. Through language, intelligent design is attempting to associate itself with science, in an effort to gain some semblance of legitimacy.

But language aside, intelligent design is identical to creationism. In accordance with the United States Constitution’s Establishment Clause found in the First Amendment, the teaching of creationism, a Judeo-Christian religious belief, is unconstitutional because Congress can “make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” There is no question that creationism is a religious belief, and however clever “intelligent design” proponents are in language, they are merely barking up the same tree; only this time they are equipped with catchy new phrases.

Seventy-two Nobel Prize-winning scientists and 17 state academies of science who filed an amicus brief on behalf of Aguillard’s side during the case of Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), were enough to convince all but two of the Supreme Court justices (Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William Rehnquist dissented), that a law by the state of Louisiana to teach creation science whenever evolution was taught was unconstitutional. After this decision, the phrase “intelligent design” began to appear out of nowhere. The well-known “intelligent design” school textbook, Of Pandas and People, saw major editorial changes after 1987, including the deletion of references to creator and creationism and their replacement with the terms intelligent design and intelligent designer. In fact, even the title had changed; the 1983 edition had been titled Creation Biology until authors “settled” on a more appealing title: Of Pandas and People. Beginning in the early 1990s, Of Pandas and People found its way into classrooms in various states around the country. Some school districts shied away from using the intelligent design textbook in fear of litigation and public criticism, while others wished not to become embroiled in a great controversy. It was only a matter of time until the school districts that chose to use the textbook would be challenged in a court of law. On December 20, 2004, a school district in Dover, Penn., became the first to be directly challenged on whether its requirement to teach “intelligent design” as an alternative to evolution was unconstitutional.

If there is any legal argument against “intelligent design,” Judge John E. Jones’ III ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2005) should suffice. The decision came after a suit brought forth by 11 parents in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, challenging the legality of the Dover school mandate requiring ninth grade teachers to read a statement aloud to the students that questioned the validity of Darwin’s theory and also offered Of Pandas and People to students wishing to explore “other” explanations of the origin of life. After many key witnesses and controversial representation on both sides (the American Civil Liberties Union on the plaintiffs’ side, and the Thomas More Law Center, the self-proclaimed “Christian Answer to the ACLU”), Judge Jones ruled that teaching “intelligent design” in public school biology classes violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as well as Article I, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania State Constitution, because intelligent design is not science and furthermore, its “religious nature would be readily apparent to an objective observer, adult or child.” Almost immediately, Jones was accused of being an activist judge; Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly went as far as to call Jones a fascist. But the critics of Jones’ decision may have forgotten that Jones is a conservative Republican, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002.

Why hasn’t evolution, with all of the evidence supporting it including Darwin’s theory, put the whole intelligent design/creationism argument to rest? Didn’t the Scopes Trial discredit creationism and miraculous bible stories in general? Haven’t the rulings in Edwards v. Aguillard and Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District placed creationism in the category of religious beliefs and erased any possibility of it being taught as a scientific fact? People’s devotion to their faith is part of the reason why some are apprehensive about embracing the evolution idea. But it is not faith alone that has kept the “intelligent design” concept alive and well, despite all of its legal setbacks. Some devout Christians and Jews have accepted the idea of evolution even though it is incompatible to the creation stories of their religions. The late Pope John Paul II was even quoted as saying that evolution was “more than a hypothesis.” So what exactly is the reason for the existence of any continuing debate on intelligent design? For one, the opposition has mainly been composed of parents whose children have been taught intelligent design and who actually are aware that it is an infringement of the separation of church and state. Aligning themselves with these parents are civil rights groups such as the ACLU, which rouse strong emotions from haters and supporters alike. The scientific community, who should be in the forefront in the opposition to intelligent design, lack a cohesive voice in debate and sometimes have no official stance. If the scientific community were not as fragmented and specialized as they currently are, they could counter the faulty yet organized efforts of the Discovery Institute.

The argument for evolution as the origin of life is undeniably strong; the facts are all on the table, and the evidence is more than mere guesswork. A so-called “missing link” in evolution that clearly shows a transition from sea creatures to land animals was recently found in the form of tiktaalik roseae, a creature that could live in the interphase of water and land, and which scientists are saying evolved into the first land life that could walk on four limbs. Darwin’s study of finches also enhances the idea of evolution and natural selection. Contrary to many intelligent design proponents, evolution is not a conspiracy to undermine Christian beliefs, nor is it some unsubstantiated claim that remains to be proved. So, in this time of hardship for intelligent design proponents, they can rely on an old saying with a new twist; when the going gets tough, come up with another term for creationism.

“This fall, I will be attending the University of Wisconsin at Madison and I have recently been notified that I have been accepted to the Honors Program in their College of Arts and Sciences. For majors, I am considering either history or political science; two subjects that interest me both inside and outside the classroom. In my free time, I enjoy reading the newspaper or watching the national news, playing the violin, playing football with my friends, spending time with my family, and watching movies. My interests are not limited to that of course, as I am always open to trying new things.”

Eitan Horwitz of Rochester, N.Y., received a $500 cash scholarship for his third-place winning essay from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Freedom From Religion Foundation