Is intelligent design reliable science?
September 2, 2005
Many Christians look at Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection with incredulous eyes. They don’t like what they see. Darwin posited that organisms adjust to their surroundings and evolve by random selections, so that the strongest characteristics win over weaker mutations, given long, long periods of time. Writing in the Wall Street Journal in 1999, George Sim Johnson in his book Did Darwin Get It Right? poked big holes in Darwin’s theory. “The Darwinian explanation is simple, elegant and popular. But organisms are so complex and purposeful that even the most implacable Darwinist, one suspects, must keep reminding himself that what he sees is not designed.””Human DNA contains more organized information than the Encyclopedia Britannica,” asserts Johnson. “If the full text of the Encyclopedia were to arrive in computer code from outer space, most people would regard this as proof of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. But when seen in nature, it is explained as workings of random forces.”Those who push for intelligent design in public school classrooms possess strong belief that life’s origin was not haphazard. A guiding hand shaped it. When we stand in awe of the diversity of species and look through a microscope at the magnificent complexity of our eyes, for example, many Christians deduce that a higher power, intelligence beyond random natural selection gives a design to life.64% of Americans who responded to a July 7-17 2005 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press agree that some form of creationism along with evolution be taught in public schools. 38% advocate replacing evolution with belief in intelligent design within classrooms. “Teaching the controversy” is the buzzword phrase they use when putting intelligent design in tandem with evolution in school curricula.This sounds so fair and practical. Let differing views of how the world began compete. The more views expressed in biology classes, the fairer democratic teaching becomes.Even President Bush, who possesses no expertise in the study of life’s origins, likes opening up biology to more than Darwin’s point of view. “Both sides ought to be properly taught,” said the president in an August 1 2005 interview, “so that people can understand what the debate is about.” “I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought,” the president continued in measured words. “[If] you’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes.”I hold a God-centered belief in life’s origins. I believe in the handiwork of God bringing life out of chaos, order from disorder. I put stock in the bedrock affirmation that the Bible teaches, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).In college, I studied with the premier Christian philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, who now teaches at Notre Dame University. Plantinga advocates that belief in God is more plausible than its denial. Even his opponents admit that Plantinga has clearly and convincingly restated the cosmological argument for God’s existence. This argument begins with the majesty of creation and works backward to the belief that only a First Cause could have worked such complex wonder. Intelligent design is a philosophy, a way of sizing up why God created life on earth, not a scientific fact explaining how.Belief in God who created our world is not a theory in the scientific sense. It should be scrutinized in philosophy classes, argued over in history of ideas classes, and read about in literature classes. But is belief in creation by intelligent design appropriate for biology classes in public schools where scientific theories about life’s beginning on earth are explored?A scientific theory differs from religious belief. They need not be contradictory. Just different. Some Christians do not treat Darwinian evolution fairly because they dismiss it as a “mere theory.” In our vernacular, we reject hunches and crackpot ideas as “theoretical,” meaning that they lack credible evidence. Biblical defender William Jennings Bryan made many silly mistakes at the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” trial in Dayton TN. Bryan lacked formal theological training in biblical studies. He read the Bible straightforward and didn’t ask too many questions of it. He mistakenly assumed that he was defending the orthodox Christian faith in creation against atheism and agnosticism. Bryan was woefully naïve in biblical studies. He never figured out that the real fight erupted between his naive literal reading of the Bible and common sense that Darwinian natural selection gives in explaining how the world evolved.Bryan heaped scorn on Darwin for his theory in a long editorial in the New York Times (February 26, 1922). “The first objection to Darwin is that it is only a guess and was never anything more. It is called an ‘hypothesis,’ but the word ‘hypothesis,’ though euphonious, dignified and high-sounding, is merely a synonym for the old-fashioned word ‘guess.'”Bryan was wrong in equating a scientific theory with a flighty, foolish guess. Scientific theories come from facts, keen observations, laboratory experiments and cogent reasons that are scrutinized through careful study.My belief in divine creation is not based on scientific theory. Who was around at the dawn of creation? How can any of us replicate God’s wonder? Belief in artificial intelligence is a lively confidence I possess, not a scientific theory I can prove. The Reverend Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the non-profit, tax-exempt CREATIVE GROWTH MINISTRIES, enhancing Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.Vail, Colorado