Fish Out of Water – Andrew Payne

By Andrew Payne

No matter the faith or following, across the span of civilization, humans have always pondered their origins. In the beginning, there were myths of creation, heroic escapades, and benevolent finds who watched over our primitive hunter-gatherer These elaborate fancies functioned as explanations for the troubling and baffling natural world. As millennia passed, humans grew up. In the modem age, there is cinema, flight, and DNA splicing. However, some among the global society have chosen not to accept humankind’s maturation; instead, they stand by their myths of creation, their heroic escapades and benevolent Gods. There’s nothing wrong with a little good faith, as long as it is not passed off as something else entirely. Intelligent Design fits neatly into this realm of faux-science, and in the interest of true education the theory should not be taught in public schools.

The best way to defeat Intelligent Design is to first understand it. Intelligent Design is the theory that certain features of the universe are best explained by intelligent cause, not by undirected process like natural selection.” This concept of proof by design is known as a Teleological argument. Note that this definition does not automatically imply Christian beliefs. Whether intelligent life refers to God Almighty or some alien race, Intelligent Design maintains that organisms are too complicated to have occurred independently of some higher power. This theory originated in ancient Greece with Aristotle and was first applied to Christian ideologies in Aquinas’ Summa Theologka in 1273. One of the first criticisms of this view comes from Voltaire’s Candide.

Most of the debate over teaching alternatives to evolution has involved Creationism. Such is the case with the famous Scopes trial, as well as several landmark decisions in the last few decades (Supreme Court decision banning creationism as unconstitutional in 1987) and even weeks (Nevada recently proposed a constitutional amendment to mandate a disclaimer for evolution). In fact, at least fourteen different states have had recent, major conflicts over the freedom to teach creationism in the classroom.

Given the intense polarization of the issue, it would be best to define the viewpoints of both sides as well. For those in support of Intelligent Design, the first point is obviously that the theory should be taught in schools. Alternatives to evolutionary theory are necessary because evolution provides no viable explanation for the origins of life; further, believers claim that there are holes in the explanations of other phenomena, an example being the Cambrian explosion (a sudden, large increase in the variety of fossils in Cambrian-era rock strata). Such advocates also feel that Intelligent Design is supported by the arguments of Irreducible Complexity (a human cell cannot be broken down into smaller pieces) and the Fine-Tuned Universe (many species would not be viable if the Earth’s environment were slightly different, in climate especially). While there is no proof of Intelligent Design–called a science of “effect,” not “cause”–supporters claim that there is no flawless proof for natural selection, either. In any case, teaching Intelligent Design leaves the topic open for debate. For those who are against Intelligent Design, the stance is simple: Intelligent Design is inherently religious and thus should be kept out of public schools.

Given the stances for both sides, the question at hand is obvious: is Intelligent Design a science? The answer is simply no. In order to fit science curricula in one school system, the definition of science had to be changed from a “natural explanation” of the world to a “supernatural explanation.” In a field based on observation and elucidation, there is no evidence to be observed under Intelligent Design: God or no God, the watchmaker often cited by believers created the world and let it be, without any evidence beyond what can be imagined. The astronomer of the Vatican says that Intelligent Design is not a “science, even though it pretends to be . . . [it is] a particular version of Christianity.” Haught, the Georgetown Professor of Theology says that it is “bad science, bad theology . . . [It] cannot be proven . . . [and] diminishes God by reducing [Him] to a mere cause in natural events.” Even in private schools, evolution is taught in science class; Intelligent Design is taught in Theology, if ever. Besides, in a discipline ruled by thought and logic, the arguments for Intelligent Design aren’t very logical: one Design supporter in Dover commented that, if there were no Intelligent Design, our world would be a materialistic one, where “human beings are neither accountable nor responsible.” This statement is a logical fallacy known as unpalatable consequences, where the argument against a statement is that its implications are negative. Whether or not human beings have a purpose in this world has little to do with the scientific merits of Intelligent Design, of which there are none.

It is clear that Intelligent Design is not scientific, but is it really inherently religious like the aforementioned professionals stated? The answer here is a resounding yes. It is true that Intelligent Design is not by definition a Christian belief; in fact, it has no technical religious ties whatsoever. However, in almost all cases the theory functions as a Christian belief. First of all, it is marketed as Christian: the theory has been touted as a way to eliminate discrimination against Christian students, and, despite neutral court testimony, Intelligent Design is often referred to as a Christian belief among fellow Christians and is supported by Christian groups. Intelligent Design is also practiced as Christian. At Dover, one representative told the crowd that they had “just voted God out of [their] city.” The law firm involved considered the attack on religion a “sophisticated genocide.” Another Dover citizen complained that “this country was founded on Christianity . . . Someone died on a cross two thousand years ago. Why can’t we support him?” Intelligent Design is also now preferred at the Vatican over other explanations. While Intelligent Design is not religious in name, the evidence sure paints it as a Christian theory.

Despite the religious ties, is it so definite that Intelligent Design cannot be taught in schools? The answer, again, is yes. “Separation of Church and State” is a term flung around easily, but the Constitution does not declare this verbatim. One board member in Dover mentioned this. However, while whether or not Intelligent Design is debatable, any official establishment of religion is unconstitutional (a violation of the First Amendment) and if Intelligent Design is religious it is therefore unconstitutional as well.

As to the other religious protection in the First Amendment, freedom from religious discrimination, Intelligent Design does not fare well here either. Intelligent Design is supposed to open up students to alternative origins, but in essentially every case the only alternative suggested is Christian in nature. In order to be fair, it would be necessary to cater to other alternatives. This is not feasible given the broad range of faiths. Buddhists, for instance, do not follow Intelligent Design because they do not consider a true beginning to the universe. Given the inability to adequately teach alternatives, evolution is taught because of scientific viability. President Bush approved of teaching Intelligent Design “so people can understand what the debate is about.” In the scientific community, however, there is little debate over evolution’s validity.

As to whether Intelligent Design can be taught in schools, there really are no other questions to ask. The theory is not scientific and therefore cannot be a science. The theory is religious and, therefore, is not constitutional. Even if it were, teaching the religious Design is not practical and is actually rather self-serving and narrow-minded. Regardless of Intelligent Design’s merits in life as a belief system, it has no place in public schools or in any learning institution.

“I am attending the University of California-Berkeley. My major is currently undeclared, but I plan to pursue writing (most likely journalism). My interests including video games and television (like most teens, I would assume), but I also appreciate trivia: I regularly watch game shows and I have volumes of random trivia books that my father bought me as a kid. I also am heavily involved in various extracurricular activities (band, more band, theatre, editor of the school literary magazine).”

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

Freedom From Religion Foundation