Last year, the Dover School District Board in York County adopted a policy that makes students aware that evolution is a theory and not fact. The policy also states, ”Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view.”
Representing 11 parents who object to the policy, the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have sued the school district claiming the policy violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The trial began Sept. 26. Armed with a 1987 Supreme Court decision declaring that teaching creationism in public schools is a violation of the Establishment Clause, the ACLU will argue that intelligent design is creationism repackaged. But is it really?
Creationism is an a priori argument drawn from a particular interpretation of the Genesis account of creation. In the context of a public classroom, that means the God of the Bible is the starting point. Drawing from a literal reading of Genesis, creationists postulate a ”young earth” and six 24-four hour days of creation.
Intelligent design, however, is an a posteriori argument, the inference drawn from complex structures in organisms and the universe. Instead of attributing their design to God, or undirected processes and natural selection, this theory merely posits an intelligent cause behind life and the cosmos.
As science, intelligent design is much more disciplined and modest in its claims than either the theory of evolution or creationism. Intelligent design theory merely infers, but does not attempt to identify, a designer. Unlike creationism and the theory of evolution, it does not make dogmatic religious or philosophic claims about the origin of life.
Creationism and the theory of evolution, unlike intelligent design theory, are insular in their approach to science. Creationists reason downward from an article of religious faith and conduct their science within that paradigm; the creationist’s article of faith does not admit of any alternative. Evolutionists, too, reason downward from an article of faith and conduct their science with the same dogmatic zeal and selectiveness of their creationist counterparts there is simply no room at the inn for dissidents or competing theories.
Like creationism, then, the theory of evolution is an a priori argument drawn from the evolutionist’s article of faith that the origin of life and the cosmos can only be explained by undirected natural processes. This is a metaphysical claim, not scientific fact.
Still, it is not in dispute that one may infer an evolutionary process from the data, but that is not what the evolutionist does, he does not infer it, he begins with it, asserts it as an article of faith, and then squeezes data through the colander of metaphysics.
The evolutionist screams that the theory of evolution is as well established as the theory of gravity. But that is not true. And that is why critical examination of the theory of evolution should be permitted in public schools. There are many holes in Darwin’s theory. That does not make his theory wrong; it does counsel that the absolutist claims made on behalf of it should be rejected.
Good science requires an open mind. There is more than a little irony, then, in the evolutionists attempt to paint intelligent design theory with the creationist brush when it is the evolutionists who have the most in common with the creationists.
Both creationists and evolutionists believe in the infallibility of their creeds (though I think the creationists have the better part of the argument here). To be sure, their creeds are antithetical, but it is the reception of their respective creeds among the faithful as infallible and exclusive explanatory tools that binds them together. It removes them from the realm of science and places them in the middle of religion and philosophy.
Creationism requires a student to affirm the creed that God created the heavens and the earth, and the theory of evolution requires that a student affirm the creed that there is no God. Neither claim is scientific, neither can be empirically verified.
Intelligent design theory, on the other hand, does not require that any creed about the origin of life and the cosmos be affirmed, it merely points to the evidence and suggests that the best explanation (though not the only explanation) is a designer, whoever or whatever that may be.
It is hard to imagine that Dover’s students would not benefit from being told that there are gaps in Darwin’s theory and that the intelligent design theory offers a competing explanation. Failure to provide such an explanatory note implicitly gives state approbation to evolution’s creed that there is no God.
It has been reported that the trial is going to last six weeks. I hope not. It cannot possibly take six weeks to make the point that inferring a designer is not a religious exercise or an endorsement of religion. If the judge permits a trial of that length on the narrow question before him, he will likely be looking to make a final judgment about the origin of life and the cosmos. This would be heady stuff even for a federal judge.
Brian Fahling is a constitutional lawyer and analyst at the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy in Tupelo, Miss.