UI Statement on Intelligent Design Not End of Discussion
October 9, 2005
When University of Idaho President Timothy White announced last week that
the UI would not allow alternate theories to evolution in science classes,
he tapped into an issue with a long, long life.
Evolution went on trial against creationism in 1925, and it's been on and
off the front pages ever since.
But that doesn't mean it's cooled off any. White announced in a campuswide
memo Thursday that UI would teach evolution in science classes and any
alternate theories only in social sciences, philosophy or religion
classes. The reaction was swift from supporters and opponents of
evolution, as well as those who saw White's announcement as an
infringement on free speech.
"If my boss can tell me, in effect, what the script is, how to read from
that script, then I've lost my independence as a faculty member," said
David DeWolf, a professor at Gonzaga School of Law who is also a senior
fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based organization that
supports the study and teaching of intelligent design, the theory that
life is too complex to have arisen without a designer.
But among most scientists, professors and researchers, no debate over
evolution exists, professors and academics say. What White announced was
standard operating procedure at almost all universities - evolution, the
consensus view of the scientific community, is taught in biology classes,
with theories of creation, design and spirituality fitting into other
"In science classes you have to teach science," said Pat Carter, an
associate professor of biology at Washington State University.
"Intelligent design is not science, and evolution is. ? I think he needed
to say that."
That isn't necessarily a judgment of intelligent design's worth,
professors say, but of which category of study it belongs in. Science is
focused on observable, measurable and repeatable facts - one criterion for
a scientific hypothesis is that it must be possible to prove or disprove
it. Intelligent design requires inferences that cannot be tested or
measured, they say.
"Intelligent design is not taught in any science classroom - period," said
Robert Prusch, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Gonzaga
University. "What is unusual in this case is you have a university
president who came out and made a statement."
Others question what harm there is in discussing the possibility of a
designing force behind all life. Stephen Barke, a pastor with the WSU
campus Christian group Chi Alpha, said he understands that intelligent
design is not a scientific theory in the same sense that evolution is and
doesn't think it should be taught as an equal theory.
But he doesn't think universities should prevent professors from
"As far as teaching in the classroom, science is dealing with things that
are observable and repeatable," he said. "When you get to the idea of God,
it's difficult to prove.
"But to tell scientists they can't teach there's a possibility of a god
who designed the universe is also wrong."
White, who studied biology as an undergraduate and graduate student, could
not be reached this week to comment. He suffered a heart attack early
Friday and is recovering in a Spokane hospital.
Bob Zemetra, head of the Faculty Council at UI, said the response from
instructors has been mostly positive. Two faculty committees have drafted
resolutions in support of the statement.
And UI spokesman Harold Gibson said Friday that White's announcement was
not a ban on any discussion of intelligent design in classrooms, but a
statement that it would not be included in science curricula. It doesn't
prevent discussing the matter; it just prevents it being taught as a
"You don't find a lot of anthropology being taught in an accounting
class," he said.
Intelligent design essentially argues that Darwin's theory of species
developing slowly, gradually and randomly can't explain the complexity of
some biological mechanisms.
One of those mechanisms cited is the bacterial flagellum - the little
whip-like device that bacteria use to move around - and one of the
scientists who say the flagellum indicates the presence of an intelligent
designer is UI biologist Scott Minnich.
Minnich is scheduled to testify in a Pennsylvania case in which parents
are attempting to have intelligent design removed from a high school
curriculum. Zemetra said Friday that White's announcement was intended in
part to make sure people knew that Minnich was acting as an individual and
not on behalf of the university.
Minnich said Friday he had no idea such an announcement was coming and
that he has never taught intelligent design in a classroom - though he's
spoken publicly in support of the theory and is listed by the Discovery
Institute as one of a handful of scientists who support intelligent design
theory. His testimony in the Pennsylvania case isn't related to his
university work, he said.
"I'm not teaching intelligent design in my class," he said. "I never have.
It's never been taught before at the university, and I don't advocate that
it be part of the curriculum."
Minnich scheduled a meeting with White to discuss it Tuesday and said he
wants to get clarification on several points, including why White issued
the statement when he did and whether it is intended to prevent all
discussion of intelligent design in classes.
But Minnich said he's very aware of the sensitivity of the topic. Over the
course of his career as a molecular biologist and professor at UI, he said
he's discussed intelligent design on only a few occasions with students
who brought it up.
In those cases, he says, he emphasizes that his view is far outside the
consensus - "some view it as heretical."
A graduate student in microbiology, Randal Fox, agreed Friday that Minnich
did not teach intelligent design in his classroom.
Fox said he supports the basis of White's statement - that only evolution
follows the scientific model of testing observable evidence to explain the
progression of life. Still, he said, White's statement gave some faculty
"Even those who believe the same thing he does ? feel he shouldn't be in a
position to define exactly what's taught," Fox said.
'FAR FROM OVER'
Prusch, the GU dean, said it was common when he taught freshman biology
classes to hear from students on the first day of class who were shocked
to find evolution taught in a Catholic university.
At WSU, both Carter, the biologist, and Backe, the pastor, say students
approach them with questions about the conflicts between religion and
All three say such conflicts aren't inevitable - that science and
religious belief are not mutually exclusive.
Barke said he believes in evolution as an explanation for the progression
of life, but thinks it's possible, for instance, that God designed an
Carter, who is Jewish, said the fact that science doesn't address the
question of the existence of God doesn't mean it can't be examined in
"The thing about intelligent design or any of the creationist ideas is
that there's no science there," he said. But "I don't ever want to make
somebody be non-religious."
But peaceful co-existence seems unlikely between evolution and intelligent
design. For one thing, intelligent design supporters aggressively dispute
portions of Darwinian evolution, and point out what they call problems in
For another, they say they're not a creationist movement - the Discovery
Institute's Web site says it is "agnostic" on the question of what kind of
a designer is involved, just that life appears to be designed rather than
DeWolf, the GU law professor, said, "Can random mutation and natural
selection provide a persuasive explanation of how a complex, highly
organized system came about? That dialogue is far from over."
Most scientists do think mutation and natural selection can explain life -
that organisms developed their complexity extremely slowly, over billions
of years. Carter said that though there may be certain components of
evolution about which there are still unknowns, the theory overall is
supported by "mountains of evidence" from a hundred years of research, and
that thousands of researchers every year do work that provides more
Among scientists, he said, there is no debate. But on a political and
social scale, there may always be one.
Fox, the UI grad student, said the conflict really only exists at the most
extreme ends of the spectrum.
"At one extreme, they say evolution proves there is no God," he said. "The
other extreme is, God proves there is no evolution.
"People jump to one extreme or the other, instead of seeing how different
ideas can work together."
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