Brass knuckles. Nunchucks. Ninja stars. These are all items that you typically would not find at a meeting of the Political Science Association. However, when I got a flier for a panel discussion with the words “evolution” and “intelligent design” emblazoned on the top, I prepared myself for battle royale.
On Thursday, October 20, the Political Science Association put on a panel discussion fusing the knowledge of Biology professors— Dr. David Alles and Dr. David Leaf— with the expertise of a Poly Sci professor, Dr. Paul Chen. I just knew that this collaboration would lead to not only the clash between science majors and religious scholars, but would also lead to absolute havoc between Democrats and Republicans.
I prepared for the ensuing bonanza by carbo-loading on crackers and eyeing the moderately full classroom. Surely, the girl leaning back in her chair with crossed arms was waiting in trepidation to whip out her bible and crush Evolutionary Theory in one fell swoop. In response, the lad— who was pushing his wide-framed glasses and sticking a greasy chunk of hair behind his ear— would stand up and wave his frail arms while squeaking out his doctrine of Darwinism.
When 5:30 p.m. struck, an announcement floated through the room, completely dissipating the tension that I perceived to be building. In order to accomplish a specific mission, students were encouraged to only ask questions of the professors, and were discouraged from expelling their beliefs in a long winded lecture. Apparently, rather than being an opportunity to yell at each other, this discussion was meant to educate us on who determines the science curriculum in public schools.
Though I was remiss about the apparent lack of bloodshed, the first professor to speak launched us into an explanation of one of the hottest issues in today’s politics.
The first professor to speak was Dr. Leaf. He introduced Evolutionary Theory to the audience, describing its basis on three components— common descent, relationships in organisms and a mechanism for passing on genetic information.
Evolutionary Theory, championed by Charles Darwin, suggests that there is a common ancestor for all organisms, and by natural selection of more fit organisms, a species evolves and adapts to their environment.
Intelligent design was first described after 1987 after the Supreme Court ruled on the case Edwards vs. Aguillard. Arkansas had put into effect a law that required the teaching of both creationism and evolution. The Supreme Court struck down the law.
In order to recover from this support, creationists shifted the specifics of their argument from espousing the Bible as the source for proof of divine creation, to a slightly different, more slippery definition.
Michael Behe, a professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University, proposed around this time that since cells are irreducibly complex, they must have been created by an “intelligent designer.” Essentially, Behe sets the foundation for Intelligent Design by agreeing that evolution occurred, but arguing that it was guided by a “designer.”
The second major proponent of Intelligent Design was Jonathan Wells, PhD. Wells took the offensive, and focused on disproving evolution, rather than proving the arguments of intelligent design. Wells’ most basic claim was that “the empirical basis for common descent is weak,” according to Dr. Leaf.
“[The] positive claims [the people who believe in intelligent design] made were easily refuted. They are easily understood as being bogus by everyone,’’ said Dr. Leaf. “They haven’t recruited any scientists because they haven’t offered anything to scientists…they haven’t offered a theory that gives people something to [test], they just offer negative arguments against evolution.”
Rather than recruit scientists, however, those who believe in creationism or Intelligent Design have been able to capture the United States. According to Dr. Leaf, about 45 percent of the US population are “young earth creationists” meaning that they believe that the earth was created around 10,000 years ago by God. 45 percent are theistic evolutionists, meaning that they believe in evolution, but also believe that God had a part in the process. Only 10 percent of the US public are evolutionists who believe that a god had nothing to do with it.
The Discovery Institute in Seattle is currently working on a tactic called the “wedge strategy.” The idea behind this is to separate the 10 percent pure evolutionists from the 45 percent theistic evolutionists to strengthen the spread of intelligent design.
The Discover Institute was originally founded in the early 90’s by moderate Republicans to focus on technology and transportation issues in the Northwest. In the mid 90’s, the DI decided to open the Center of Science and Culture. This is now the biggest think tank for support of intelligent design.
Though the scientific battle continues to rage on, the more pressing issue to the American public is the fight for our children’s minds. When high school biology teachers were surveyed nationwide, about 30 percent support the teaching of creationism and intelligent design, while 20 percent actively teach creationism in classroom, according to Dr. Alles.
The discrepancy between science classes in America’s classroom is caused by our education system. “The United States of America is the only developed nation in the world without a centralized control of education,” said Dr. Alles. Instead of federal control, a great deal of power is handed to local school districts to decide what is taught in schools, and who teaches it.
Local school district boards around the country are filled in different ways. In Washington, the Superintendent of Education appoints members of the school board. In states such as Kansas, school board officials are elected.
Kansas has been famous for the fight over what is taught in the science classrooms. Those who supported Intelligent Design campaigned vigorously to get their candidates elected to the school board. They easily won the majority. Shortly thereafter, the new school board wanted to attack the national science education standards that were in place, which were developed in 1996 by the National Academy of Science.
By revamping the definitions of what makes up science, the Kansas school board could squeak Intelligent Design into their schools without connecting it to religion. There is a great fight for Intelligent Design to be seen as pure science. This is because if Intelligent Design is separated from its Christian roots, the Constitution will not be able to stop it from entering school curriculum.
Though the struggle over what is allowed in science classrooms will not likely end soon, the overarching issue is the most relevant. “Christian reconstruction…is basically the idea that the United States should be a Christian nation. That their principals should be applied fairly literally to the law,” said Dr. Leaf.
“They were attracted to Intelligent Design, because…evolution was sort of the foundation on which other modes of thought that are not scientific— that are in the humanities— what they think are antithetical to what their Christian beliefs are based upon. So if they can kick out evolution, they can move out to the major fights, the cultural fights.”