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BAKHTIAR: Well, now that weve seen where life could be headed, lets take a look at where its been.
As controversial as genetic engineering is, the study of our origins is perhaps even more volatile. The issues been burning between theologians, scientists and a host of others for decades.
As our Joel Hochmuth reports, now a new school of thought is adding fuel to the fire.
HOCHMUTH (voice-over): The debate is as old as life itself: Why are we here and how did we come to be? Ever since Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands and then published his Origin of Species, evolution through natural selection has been the prevailing scientific theory. But are there cracks in that long-held consensus?
According to 19-year-old Joe Baker, the answer is a resounding yes.
JOE BAKER, HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR: I believed in evolution for a long time, eighth grade through ninth grade. And, as someone presented to me the facts of science, I began to question what I believed.
HOCHMUTH: The high school senior from Perkasie, Pennsylvania, is on a personal crusade. He claims many examples of Darwinian evolution in his schools biology textbooks are simply wrong and wants his school board to put labels in those books warning students about the alleged errors.
BAKER: This isnt about typos. These are the main icons that are used to teach evolutionary theory. Many of them are fraud.
I think the remedy for all of this is having people like me stand up and say, you know, this is wrong, at least in their classes. And maybe, if they get really radical, go up and stand against the school board.
HOCHMUTH: So far, at least, it seems he isnt getting very far.
STERLING: There is misinformation in textbooks. We do not have control of publishing companies.
BAKER: Well, these arent…
KAREN STERLING, PENNRIDGE SCHOOL BOARD: And I …
BAKER: These arent small errors.
STERLING: … am not–I understand that theyre not small issues. And we dont deal with any small issues here.
If it was just talking about the errors in textbooks, we believe that we have a staff that can handle that. When you start moving off the science-based theories and into the religious-based theories, youre moving into areas that dont belong in the biology classroom.
BAKER: I personally am not asking for any of these to be taught or brought in–anything that I believe to be brought into the science curriculum, but for the evidence that they have to be taught honestly.
Could everyone here who supports me please stand up?
HOCHMUTH: While Joes crusade is personal, he is not alone. He raises questions voiced by a growing minority of scientists and scholars in an emerging field called intelligent design. They question some of the basic tenants of traditional Darwinism and propose life on Earth is here by design rather than chance.
Among them is Jonathan Wells, who holds Ph.D.s in both theology and biology.
DR. JONATHAN WELLS, AUTHOR, ICONS OF EVOLUTION: As I looked more and more and dug a little bit deeper, I found many misrepresentations in the biology textbooks and, at that point, became convinced that even the general pattern of Darwinian evolution was false–or at least it distorts the evidence to make itself look truer than it is.
HOCHMUTH: One of the most glaring examples, says Wells, are illustrations of vertebrate embryos still found in some textbooks. It turns out theyre based on drawings faked more than a hundred years ago to make them look more similar than they really are and to make a stronger case for common descent.
Another example is the peppered moth, used for decades by evolutionists as evidence of natural selection. Studies have shown that, after the Industrial Revolution, darker varieties predominated–the conclusion: that darker moths were better camouflaged on trees blackened by pollution and harder for predatory birds to find, an example of survival of the fittest. But theres a problem.
WELLS: When biologists looked more closely, they realized that they couldnt even show that peppered moths rest on tree trunks in the wild. And it turns out that these textbook photos showing them on tree trunks have all been staged. And I think thats bad science.
HOCHMUTH: The mainstream scientific community is firing back at Wells objections. Jerry Coyne is an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago studying genetics and the origin of new species.
JERRY COYNE, EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: The problems with the examples that Wells point out, like the pepper moth, were not discovered by Jonathan Wells; they were discovered by other scientists, including myself. And we have published these problems in the scientific literature. So Wells is merely dredging them up again and pretending that, you know, he found them.
WELLS: But the textbooks still teach them as though there were nothing wrong with them.
HOCHMUTH: Still, Coyne argues that traditional Darwinism doesnt depend on the examples that Wells points out. He says there are plenty of other examples, like the fossil record. But here again, Wells raises questions.
WELLS: There is quite a bit of disagreement over how these various fossils fit into some sort of progression. The disagreement is rampant in the field. And the people who studied these fossils admit to it freely, at least in the professional literature. So they themselves use the word myth to refer to this story of ape-to-human evolution.
COYNE: You dont have to know the common ancestry in order to know that evolution occurred. All you have to do is be able to see a sequence in the fossil record of organisms that change over time. And thats exactly what we have in the human fossil record. The theory of evolution has been confirmed with so much evidence over the 150 years since its been suggested that no serious scientist calls it into question anymore.
HOCHMUTH (on camera): That Darwinism should come under attack is nothing new. Ever since the theory gained widespread acceptance back in the 19th century, its faced critics both inside and outside science. Whats new about the so-called intelligent design movement is that, in a sense, it claims to have found God.
MICHAEL BEHE, BIOCHEMIST, LEHIGH UNIVERSITY: In the nucleus, youve just got all this DNA.
HOCHMUTH: Michael Behe is a biochemist at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. His research has convinced him that some molecular systems are so irreducibly complex, they must have been designed. Take, for example, the flagella that propels certain types of bacteria.
BEHE: Maybe it looks like it was designed because it was designed. So just like trying to put together a mousetrap from random parts in your garage, its very difficult to envision how different pieces that werent already adjusted to each other could come together and form something as complex as a bacterial flagellum.
EUGENIA SCOTT, ANTHROPOLOGIST: In science, you never really say, you know, this is a mystery that we cant explain and, you know, stop there. In science, you always keep looking for that natural explanation, which is why most of us consider intelligent design to be not a very good science, because its basically giving up and saying: We cant explain this; therefore, God did it.
HOCHMUTH: Eugenia Scott is an anthropologist by training and a committed evolutionist. Shes concerned the intelligent design movement may have ulterior motives.
SCOTT: The literature of the intelligent design people is very clear: They dont like evolution. They dont like common ancestry. They want God to be intervening at regular intervals to bring about the diversity of modern living things. Thats a religious statement; thats not a scientific statement.
BEHE: Let me just say, I disagree. All sorts of scientific theories have religious implications. Darwins theory has religious implications.
HOCHMUTH: Behe is a Roman Catholic, but says he does not interpret the biblical creation account literally. Within the intelligent design movement, some scientists do and some dont. But all have doubts about the Darwinian notion that life evolved through totally natural processes.
BEHE: At root, Darwinism says that life is the result of chance: chance processes, you know, with natural selection, but chance, nonetheless. Nobody intended human beings to be here. Nobody intended anything to be here. It just sort of happened. Itll go away someday.
WELLS: The ultimate question here is: Is God real? I mean, is there a God that we are answerable to who created us and gave purpose to our existence or not?
COYNE: People dont like the idea that humans are part of the evolutionary process and that they, in particular, are the sort of random blind products of this process called natural selection, and that theyre not—-were not the special products of any creative process.
And people dont like that because it–they think it deprives them of having a purpose in a universe and it makes them feel alone. You know, Im perfectly content, myself, to live with that.
HOCHMUTH: Which brings us back to Joe Baker and what he believes. He freely admits he accepts that God created the world as described in the Bible and, that in turn, God created him.
ROBERTA RECENES, PARENT: I admire him. I admire his faith. But I think hes going about it the wrong way and hes trying to impress his faith on my student and my community.
HOCHMUTH: Joe responds to such criticism by arguing his crusade is not just about faith, but facts.
BAKER: I think that students should be able to think for themselves and just test the evidence for themselves, not necessary read this in the book, but look at the–look at the–look at the fossils, study the different layers of the Earth, study the rocks and study science, the empirical tests of science and then come to their own conclusions.
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