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Darwinism, Design, and Public Education

Multiple Authors

This balanced volume contains essays by both supporters and critics debating intelligent design and whether design should be allowed in public school science classes. The scholars approach the question from the standpoints of constitutional law, philosophy, rhetoric, education, and science.

Legal scholar David DeWolf, and Discovery Institute Senior Fellow, argues that teachers should have the academic freedom to teach intelligent design in the classroom because of its empirical, nonreligious basis. John Angus Campbell, Discovery Fellow, sees intelligent design as the pedagogical and historical antithesis to Neo-Darwinism, both of which must be taught if students are to properly understand biological origins. Pro-design technical arguments reach into many forums:

William Dembski finds that many scientific fields already use design reasoning to detect design via “specified complexity,” Stephen Meyer applies such reasoning to argue for design of the encoded information in DNA and the origin of life, while Michael Behe argues that irreducibly complex molecular machines were designed. Stephen Meyer, Paul Chien and others argue that there is design indicated by the rapid origin of the animal phyla during the Cambrian explosion. And Paul Nelson, and Jonathan Wells argue that design is the best explanation for homology and genetic convergence in biology.

Discovery Senior Fellow David Berlinski subtly divulges his “intellectual unease” with Darwinism. He begins, in his straightforward manner, by pointing out the inconsistencies of modern Darwinian thinking, addressing problems in the fossil record, language, information, and the nature of complex biological life. He poses the one question Darwin fails to answer, Why?, and is met with only “verbal shrugs” and vague confusion within the evolutionist camp. Rather than explaining the diversity and complexity of life, randomness presents Darwinists with the greater problem of its undirected “alien influence.” In the end, Berlinski writes that evolutionary theory is “in the doubly damned position of having compromised the concepts needed to make sense of life” while simultaneously conceding that the theory does little to explain them.

CSC Fellow Walter L. Bradley’s contribution is incredibly relevant for the debate over Darwinism and education because it examines what high school biology textbooks actually say. Bradley, an expert on the origin of life, has the most accurate and straightforward assessment of leading texts and the different areas of science they teach. As Bradley illustrates, the picture these texts paint does not correspond with the evidence. From exaggerated experimental results to outdated atmospheric models, “the errors, overstatements, and omissions found in the high school biology texts we examined all tend to enhance the plausibility of [evolution] — [they] mislead students and impede their acquisition of critical thinking skills” (p. 218).

CSC Program Advisor Philip Johnson outlines the problem for arguing intelligent design is not one of a lack of evidence, but one of standing. That is to say, the problem is not that there is any deficiency of information to support the ID argument, but that a “materialist prejudice bars the door,” making it so that “advocates of ID cannot get a hearing regardless of how much evidence they have” (p. 550). After outlining the problems for objectivity in evolutionary science, Johnson explains the rhetorical strategy of the ID movement: “break through the materialist prejudice by separating the two components [the study of empirical evidence and the materialistic philosophy] of the contemporary definition of science” (p. 552). Johnson’s illuminating insights go right to the heart of why intelligent design is not accepted by the scientific elite and what must happen in order to change that.

Discovery Senior Fellow and science curriculum author Michael Keas opens up this chapter with a quote from the Scopes trial: “Evolution and the theories of evolution are fundamentally different things” (p. 135). This essay on the different meanings of “evolution” makes distinctions in order “to show that critique of evolution in one sense [does] not necessarily count as critique of evolution in the other sense. To assume otherwise would be to commit the logical fallacy of equivocation.” It is this fallacy that Keas combats in the teaching of science, helping teachers to make the distinction in order to help students “distinguish evidence and observations from inferences and theories” (p.136). Keas then takes the reader through six different meanings for the term “evolution,” the most concerning being “The Blind Watchmaker Thesis,” which posits that evolution is an “unsupervised, impersonal” process. It is this definition that the National Association of Biology Teachers holds to be integral to their core, materialistic philosophy, and it is the conflagration of this meaning with the other, scientifically supported meanings which should concern educators and parents.

The balance in the volume is illustrated by numerous articles critical of intelligent design, who are not affiliated with Discovery Institute. Celeste Michelle Condit argues that the natural origin of rock bridges provide a useful analogy to defeat Behe’s arguments about the supposed unevolvability of irreducibly complex machines. Bruce H. Weber contends that we should not rule out evolutionary explanations, arguing that there are many promising accounts for biochemical evolution in the scientific literature. Massimo Pigliucci attacks the funding sources of design proponents and suggests that natural selection can produce specified complexity. Michael Ruse proposes that critics are far more valuable in intellectual debate than are friends, and goes on to call design “religion,” and explains that neither religiously oriented “popular” versions of Darwinism nor intelligent design belong in the classroom. Ruse contends that the science classroom should only teach “professional Darwinism.”

Other contributors not associated with Discovery include Mark DeForrest, David DePew, Steve Fuller, Eugene Garver, Donald Kennedy, Brig Klyce, Malcolm Lancaster, John Lyne, Gordon C. Mills, Warren A. Nord, Alvin Plantinga, William Provine, Marcus Ross, and Chandra Wickramasinghe.

David K. DeWolf

David K. DeWolf is a Professor of Law at Gonzaga School of Law in Spokane, Washington and a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. A graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School, Professor DeWolf has clerked for the Honorable Stephen Bistline of the Idaho Supreme Court. He has written a briefing book for public school administrators, Teaching the Controversy: Darwinism, Design and the Public School Curriculum.

William A. Dembski

Board of Directors, Discovery Institute
A mathematician and philosopher, Bill Dembski is the author/editor of more than 20 books as well as the writer of peer-reviewed articles spanning mathematics, engineering, philosophy, and theology. A past philosophy professor, he retired in 2014 from active research and teaching in intelligent design (ID) to focus on the connections between freedom, technology, and education — specifically, how education helps to advance human freedom with the aid of technology. Bill Dembski is presently an entrepreneur who builds educational software and websites. He lives in Iowa.

Stephen C. Meyer

Director, Center for Science and Culture
Dr. Stephen C. Meyer received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in the philosophy of science. A former geophysicist and college professor, he now directs the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. He is author of the New York Times-bestseller Darwin’s Doubt (2013) as well as the book Signature in the Cell (2009) and The Return of the God Hypothesis (forthcoming in 2020). In 2004, Meyer ignited a firestorm of media and scientific controversy when a biology journal at the Smithsonian Institution published his peer-reviewed scientific article advancing intelligent design. Meyer has been featured on national television and radio programs, including The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, CBS's Sunday Morning, NBC's Nightly News, ABC's World News, Good Morning America, Nightline, FOX News Live, and the Tavis Smiley show on PBS. He has also been featured in two New York Times front-page stories and has garnered attention in other top-national media.

Michael J. Behe

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Michael J. Behe is Professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. He received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in 1978. Behe's current research involves delineation of design and natural selection in protein structures. In his career he has authored over 40 technical papers and three books, Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA that Challenges Evolution, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, and The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, which argue that living system at the molecular level are best explained as being the result of deliberate intelligent design.

Paul Nelson

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Paul A. Nelson is currently a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute and Adjunct Professor in the Master of Arts Program in Science & Religion at Biola University. He is a philosopher of biology who has been involved in the intelligent design debate internationally for three decades. His grandfather, Byron C. Nelson (1893-1972), a theologian and author, was an influential mid-20th century dissenter from Darwinian evolution. After Paul received his B.A. in philosophy with a minor in evolutionary biology from the University of Pittsburgh, he entered the University of Chicago, where he received his Ph.D. (1998) in the philosophy of biology and evolutionary theory.

Jonathan Wells

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Jonathan Wells has received two Ph.D.s, one in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, and one in Religious Studies from Yale University. A Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, he has previously worked as a postdoctoral research biologist at the University of California at Berkeley and the supervisor of a medical laboratory in Fairfield, California. He also taught biology at California State University in Hayward and continues to lecture on the subject.

Walter Bradley

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Walter L. Bradley received his B.S. degree in Engineering Science (Physics) in 1965 and his Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering in 1968, both from the University of Texas (Austin).  He subsequently taught at the Colorado School of Mines, Texas A&M University as Full Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and for 10 years at Baylor University as a Distinguished Professor. His research area has been Materials Science and Engineering, with a focus on the mechanical properties of plastics and polymeric (plastic) composite materials, fracture and life prediction. He has received more than $7 million in research funding and published more than 150 refereed technical papers and book chapters.  He has been honored by the American Society for Materials and the Society of Plastics Engineers as Educator of the Year. His most recent work has focused on converting agricultural waste into functional fillers for engineering plastics to provide new economic opportunities for poor farmers in developing countries.

Phillip E. Johnson

Former Program Advisor, Center for Science and Culture
Phillip E. Johnson taught law for more than thirty years at the University of California — Berkeley where he was professor emeritus until his passing in 2019. He was recognized as a leading spokesman for the intelligent design movement, and was the author of many books, including Darwin on Trial, Reason in the Balance and Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds.

Michael Newton Keas

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
After earning a Ph.D. in the history of science from the University of Oklahoma, Mike Keas won research grants from such organizations as the National Science Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies. He experienced some of the last historic moments behind the Berlin Wall as a Fulbright scholar in East Germany. Keas serves as lecturer in the history and philosophy of science at Biola University and on the board of directors of Ratio Christi, an alliance of apologetics clubs on college campuses. He has written numerous articles, including “Systematizing the Theoretical Virtues” in the top-tier philosophy journal Synthese. This essay analyzes twelve traits of reputable theories, and has generated dialogue across many fields. With a quarter-century of experience teaching science and its history to college students, Keas is qualified to lay out the facts to show how far the conventional wisdom about science and religion departs from reality. He has done so in the ISI book Unbelievable: 7 Myths about the History and Future of Science and Religion.