Intelligent Design Has a Place in the Classroom
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
A court ruling yesterday was a major defeat for the teaching of intelligent design. A federal judge has struck down a plan in the Dover, Pennsylvania, schools that required biology students to hear a statement supporting alternatives to evolution. The judge used strong language to repudiate intelligent design. He called it a `thinly veiled attempt to force religion into the teaching of science,' and he said it violated the Constitution. Well, yesterday, we heard a commentary in favor of that ruling. Today, commentator Joe Loconte says this ruling should not be the last word on the subject of intelligent design.
Defenders of evolution are calling the ruling the `death knell' for intelligent design. District Court Judge John Jones even criticized intelligent design theory as nothing less than the `progeny of creationism.' Not so fast.
We've heard declarations like that before. Back in the 1920s, a new scientific theory emerged to explain the origins of the universe. Its advocates claimed that the facts were on their side, but their theory seemed to echo the biblical story of creation. For decades, many scientists said it looked like a subversive attempt to mix science and religion. The controversial new theory would come to be called the big bang. At the time, however, many scientists believed the universe had no beginning point; that it was static, neither expanding nor contracting. And they let loose a hailstorm of criticism, even as the evidence for the big bang kept piling up.
Many scientists, distressed by the religious implications of the theory, offered some pretty wacky alternatives. Even Albert Einstein searched hard for another explanation. He introduced, somewhat capriciously, a cosmological constant into his equations to counter the argument for an expanding universe. He later admitted it was the greatest mistake of his career.
By the 1960s, however, evidence for the big bang seemed overwhelming and had finally gained widespread support by the scientific establishment. It ranks as one of the greatest achievements of contemporary physics. Like Fox Mulder from the television show "The X-Files," some scientists just want to believe; not in God, but in his absence, no matter what the evidence suggests.
The intelligent design theory is an effort to decide, by empirical observation, whether the apparent design in nature is actual design. Is the astonishing complexity of life more likely to be the product of an organizing intelligence, or could it reasonably be explained by chance and mechanical natural laws?
I'm neither a physicist nor a fundamentalist, but it seems to me that the court ruling in the Dover case claims that the question of intelligent design is settled. But the history of scientific ideas reminds us that dogma can be held as easily by the scientist as by the priest.
SIEGEL: Joe Loconte is a fellow in religion at The Heritage Foundation.