CBS News Sunday Morning
October 23, 2005
By random mutation — or by design?
Those two different explanations for the diversity of life are in conflict in a court case now under way in Pennsylvania.
And they are in conflict outside the courtroom, too, in many places.
Rita Braver examines the controversy over "intelligent design," on CBS News Sunday Morning.
There are questions, Braver observes, we cannot stop asking: Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here? There have never been any easy answers, or universal agreement.
But on a 40-acre spread in northern Kentucky, a new, privately funded, $25 million project is under construction. Called "The Creation Museum," it’s dedicated to one premise about how the whole world came to be.
"The real purpose is to say the Bible’s true, and it’s history. Genesis is true," explains Ken Ham, founder of the Answers in Genesis ministry.
It rejects years of findings by mainstream scientists that different species of creatures came into being over the course of hundreds of millions of years, through the process of evolution.
"You basically say in this museum that dinosaurs and human beings existed at the same time?" Braver asks.
"Oh, absolutely," Ham answers, "because, you know, the Bible teaches that God made land animals on day six, alongside of Adam and Eve."
Ham understands that Supreme Court decisions mandating separation between church and state mean his point of view cannot be taught in public schools.
Still, says Braver, he sees a glimmer on the horizon: a new theory called "intelligent design" is bringing hope to Christians like himself, who don’t believe in evolution.
"They see it as a way of, maybe this is how we can try to get the school students to at least hear of another view," Hamm says.
The underlying premise of intelligent design, Braver points out, is that recent advances in molecular biology have enabled scientists for the first time to peer into the inner workings of a single cell, revealing mechanisms so complex that they couldn’t possibly have evolved by chance, and must have been deliberately designed, especially when it comes to DNA, the building block of life.
The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, cradle of the intelligent design theory, produced a video saying, "There is, in fact, no entity in the known universe that stores and processes information more efficiently than the DNA molecule. Every DNA has 3 billion individual characteristics."
"In other words," asserts Stephen Meyer, who holds a doctorate in the history of science, and is director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, "we’re seeing something that, in any other realm of experience, would trigger an awareness of design. And therefore, we think the best inference is that things were actually designed."
He says that intelligent design is based entirely on observable scientific evidence, and that it’s not creationist theory.
But, he acknowledges, "It’s consistent with a view that many people in our culture hold, that there is some larger purpose, derived from a creator."
And would that be Christian creator, Braver wondered.
"Well," responded Meyer, "many people have different interpretations of that."
Says Miles Eldridge, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, "Nobody buys for a moment that they have in mind the creature from the black lagoon, or any other possible intelligent designer. They’re clearly referring to God."Eldridge is curator of an upcoming exhibit on biologist Charles Darwin, whose studies in the Galapagos Islands led to his landmark publications on the origins of the species 1859 which inspired, as Eldridge puts it, "monumental sea changes in our thinking about who we are and how we came to be."
Darwin theorized that all living things evolved from the same simple organisms. Over countless generations, random mutations, or changes have occurred, with the strongest specimens surviving and reproducing, a process known as "natural selection." That process eventually led to the formation of new species and higher forms of life, including humans.
But in this country, Darwin’s theory met resistance from the outset. Back in 1925, Tennessee high school science teacher John Scopes was put on trial, and banned from teaching evolution.
Today, of course, religion has been banished from the science class.
But now, notes Braver, there’s a court case going on over teaching intelligent design, in Dover, Pa., where the school board says it should be allowed.
Just to show how complicated this issue is, the folks at the Discovery Institute, the major proponents of intelligent design, don't support the school board, because of reports, says Meyer, that, "They justify the policy using an explicit statement of religious purpose, which is not only unconstitutional, it’s incongruous with what we’re trying to do, which is make a scientific case for the idea of intelligent design."
In fact, although Meyer and his colleagues say that the theory of intelligent design is purely scientific, they also say it’s too new to be a requirement in public school science classes.
But they're demanding something else.
"We think," says Meyer, "that students should be informed about the growing criticism of Darwinian evolution."
A small but growing number of scientists now challenge some of the fundamental tenets of Darwinism, Braver reports. They point, for example, to a tiny bacterium, with moving tails, known as flagella, and insist that its intricate workings could not be the result of a genetic accident.
"Well, maybe that’s what they believe, but for biologists, we know differently," remarks biochemist Maxine Singer, who says there are clear evolutionary explanations for this and other issues raised by the intelligent design theory.
A member of the National Academy of Science, and former head of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, she says intelligent design is not science, it’s a leap of faith: "The whole concept of science is, you’re always asking new questions. But, intelligent design says, 'This is the end of questions, because here’s the explanation: Some intelligent designer said this is the way it’s gonna be.' And so, for kids in schools, it closes their minds, not opens them."
What about the argument that students should at least be taught that there’s a controversy over Darwin’s theory?
"There are controversies," Singer replies, "over the mechanisms of evolution, and we should be teaching those. But there is no controversy in science about whether evolution occurs or not."
Nevertheless, Braver says, evolution, the idea that we are all descended from apes, has never been popular in this country.
A new CBS News news poll found that 51 percent of Americans believe God created human beings in their present form. Three states have now adopted policies that would allow teachers to introduce scientific criticisms of the Darwinian theory of evolution.
So it’s no surprise that the question of intelligent design is capturing people’s attention.
President Bush made headlines when he said intelligent design should be taught and, just a week ago, on the program "West Wing," a fictional presidential candidate was asked: "Do you believe the theory of intelligent design and the theory of evolution should be taught alongside each other in public schools?"
The character in the show responded, "Absolutely not. One is based on science, the other based in faith."
That fictional character isn't the only one who thinks so.
John Haught, a research professor of theology at Georgetown University and author of several books on religion and evolution, argues that science is just not equipped to deal with spiritual, or philosophical questions.
"There’s a point in our quest for understanding, it seems to me, where the question of what the ultimate explanation of things is, is quite legitimate and needs to be asked," he says. "But science does not ask ultimate questions. It asks questions about proximate, physical causes."
"So, by definition, science is just not wired to pick up any signals of some ultimate intelligence or ultimate wisdom," Haught adds.
But at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, Ham says the theory of intelligent design is going to reopen debate in this country about religion in the science classroom.
"At least they’re starting to get people to think about the issue," Ham says. "They’re battling it in public. And I believe you’re gonna see a lot more. You’re seeing that culture war in America, and you’re gonna see that culture war heat up."
That means, concludes Braver, that the answers to age-old questions — like who we are and why we're here — may remain as elusive as ever.
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