An Inquiry Into Intelligent Design Education – Alexander Orion Anthony

By Alexander Orion Anthony

The question what is to be taught?” is so fundamental to culture that the way in which a society answers it reveals that society’s most revered values. It is a question that canbe examined under the various lenses of philosophy, science, and law. In the United States, the results of such an examination are unambiguous: Intelligent Design falls at legal hurdles, violates educational philosophy, and fails to measure up to science. Intelligent Design (ID) should not be taught in public schools in the United States because teaching it would violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, and, more importantly, because Creationism is a paradigm as inaccurate and outdated as alchemy, humourism, and Flat Earth theory.

“The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause.”1 Such a brief manifesto is neither revolutionary nor explicitly theological, suggesting that ID is a pluralistic concept applicable to a variety of belief systems. This is, however, misleading: ID is a monolithic movement, driven by the Fellows of the Discovery Institute think tank. The conception of ID cannot be extricated from the Creationist tradition. Barbara Forrest, leading historian of the movement, stated in testimony as an expert witness in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case that “all of the leaders [of ID] are [associated with Discovery Institute.]”2 According to Stephen Meyer “The term intelligent design came up in 1988 . . . [in reference to] a theory that the presence of DNA in a living cell is evidence of a designing intelligence.”3 Despite the political advantage rendered unto ID proponents through the term’s tricky branding, allied Creationists made no attempt to veil the bond between the movement and ideological Christianity. According to one leading Creationist, “We are a Christian organization and use the term [ID] to refer to the Christian God.4

Denying such a link to the Christian tradition, the Discovery Institute has argued that the theistic underpinnings of ID are insignificant, even coincidental. “As it happens,” one defense reads, “many of these fellows thinkthat new discoveries in science either support, or are consonant with, a ‘broadly theistic’ world-view,”5 Such apologies aim to propagate the idea the ID is guided by scientific method, not Christian fundamentalism. That proposition, however, becomes farcical in light of “The Wedge Strategy,” a Discovery Institute fundraising document leaked to the public. The document focuses on increasing media exposure for the ID movement and debunking scientific materialism. The Wedge is unconcerned with inquiry into the truth or falsity of ID; no claim exhibits the least tentativity. The document is full, however, of ideological goals: “to replace materialistic explanations with theistic understanding;” “[to have] Major Christian denomination(s) defend(s) traditional doctrine of creation & repudiate(s) Darwinism;” “[to have] seminaries increasingly recognize & repudiate naturalistic presuppositions,” et cetera.6 Such overtly antiscientific and explicitly religious precepts leave little room for defense: the Discovery Institute and ID are born of religion, not science. This is significant because the religious nature of ID makes it subject to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”7 Though the Establishment Clause applies only to federal jurisdiction, the Fourteenth Amendment’s “due process” clause extends protection to individuals from the states as well. State incorporation of the Establishment Clause was instituted through the 1947 Everson vs. Board rulings.8

“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government . . . can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another.”9

The Everson ruling was operationalized by the 1971 Burger court institution of the Three-Part Test, which specifies that a law, to be considered Constitutional, must 1. have a secular aim, 2. must not primarily advance or inhibit religion, and 3. must not create an “excessive entanglement” between state and religious affairs.10 A law which either allows or compels schools to teach Intelligent Design violates at least two facets of the multipronged test. It may be conceded that teaching ID has some secular aim, namely promotion of instructional freedom, but undoubtedly advances religion (as the “designer” is simply another name for the Christian God.) Additionally, the use of texts and recognition of ideologies created by an expressly religious organization for religious motivations surely constitutes excessive entanglement. This is exactly what Judge John E. Jones III ruled in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case.

The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to thefacts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.11

The judicial precedent has been set in an even-handed, rational ruling–it is illegal to teach Intelligent Design in public school.

The case against ID education is not just legal, but also rational. ID simply does not constitute science. Though philosophy of science is filled with differing viewpoints, there are a number of tenets that are generally agreed upon. In the 1981 Creation science case McLean v. Arkansas, philosopher of science Michael Ruse mentioned specific criteria which can be used in the demarcation of science: science is “explanatory” in nature, “testable against the material world,” “tentative,” and “falsifiable.”12 On a case-by-case examination, evolution, the dominant origin theory (and basis for most of modern biology) fares far better than ID. Each gives answers about why things are one way or another-though the grounds for ID’s explanations are certainly suspect. Evolutionary theory is “testable against the material world;” it is substantiated by fossil records, biological structures, andeven, on a smaller scale, laboratory experimentation. ID, however, is not; its sole bases are scriptural and ideological. Evolutionary theory is tentative; it could be responsive to contrary evidence (though this is hypothetical: evidence against evolution is ly nonexistent.) ID is not tentative because it is based on unalterable ideological “truth,” not material fact. Finally, evolution is falsifiable; the discovery of living dinosaurs with no fossil record linking to a past organism would violate the evolutionary basis of speciation and falsify evplution.13 ID is not falsifiable; a “designer” cannot be empirically disproven on the basis of material fact. What then, are the supposed biological bases for ID theory, and are they reasonable? ID theory is based on complexity. Irreducible complexity is the idea that it can be inferred from extremely complex design that there must be an intelligent designer. ID advocates point to specific examples: bacterial flagella, cilia, and the adaptive immune system.14 However, not one peer-reviewed paper has supported these claims.15 In fact, many responses have identified how such complexity could indeed be reduced to evolutionary mechanisms.16, 17 “Specified complexity”–secondary evidence for ID–is no better received in the scientific community and just as widely debunked.18, 19 Neither of these ID arguments are valid. Nor is ID a product of science, in light of both the movement’s history and its failure to measure up to accepted scientific standards. What, then, is ID? It is, like all fideist progeny, little more than specious metaphysics which does not belong in a science classroom.

Works Cited:

1 Top Questions. N.D. The Discovery Institute: Center for Science and Culture. Online. Accessed 1 8 May

2 Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al., Case No. 04cv2688. Testimony: Dr. Barbara Forrest.

3 Safire, William. “Neo-Creo.” The New York Times. Aug 21 2005.

4 Ibid.

5 The Discovery Institute. The ‘Wedge Document ‘: ‘So What?’ Seattle: The Discovery Institute, 2003.

6 The Discovery Institute. The Wedge. Seattle: The Discovery Institute, 1997.

7 The Constitution of the United States, Amendment 1.

8 Eisgruber, Christopher L., and Sager, Lawrence G. “Equal Regard.” Law and Religion: A Critical Anthology. Feldman, Stephen M, New York: New York University Press, 2000.217-221.

9 Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947.) Majority Opinion.

10 Levy, Leonard, W. The Establishment Clause: Religion and the First Amendment. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1986. 130-13 1.

11 Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al., Case No. 04cv2688.

12 McLean et al. vs. Arkansas (1982.) Testimony: Dr. Michael Ruse.

13 Ibid.

14 Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al., Case No. 04cv2688. Testimony: Dr. Michael Behe.

15 Ibid.

16 Shanks, Niall, and Joplin, Karl. “Redundant Complexity.” Philosophy of Science. Jun 1999. 268-298.

17 Zimmer, Carl. “Testing Darwin.” Discover. Feb 2005.

18 Rosenhouse, Jason. “How Anti-Evolutionists Abuse Mathematics.” The Mathematical Intelligencer. Vol 23, No 4, Fall 2001. 3-8.

19 Elsberry, Wesley. “Information Theory, Evolutionary Computation, and Dembski’s ‘Complex Specified Information.’ ” Talk Reason. Online. Accessed 24 May 2006.

Alexander Orion Anthony lives in DeSoto, Texas, and recently graduated from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts with a concentration in playwriting. He will be attending Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., in the fall. He hopes to major in either Philosophy or Film Studies. Alex, an atheistic Bright, is also an accomplished pianist and filmmaker with a keen interest in linguistics, critical theory, and epistemology.

He received a $100 cash award for his “honorable mention” 2006 essay.

Freedom From Religion Foundation