The geocentric model. The four humours. Sue Ellen shot JR. Every generation has its ultimately outmoded theories, and intelligent design may be next on the chopping block.
The essential concept of intelligent design, according to the Discovery Institute– a Seattle-based think tank and supporter of intelligent design– is: “Certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.” Because the Discovery Institute is instrumental in the fight to have intelligent design taught in schools, they are very careful to avoid making a clear statement about who the “intelligent cause” or creator is, according to Dr. Leaf. By doing this, the Discovery Institute hopes to get around the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment– which calls for the separation of church and state– and to have intelligent design put into the curriculum of public schools.
However, the recent court case Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District has dealt a possibly crushing blow to the movement.
In this case, the Dover area school district made a requirement that a statement was to be read in ninth grade biology classes. From the district’s statement: “Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations. Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view.” Students were also directed to read the alternative intelligent design textbook “Of Pandas and People.”
According to Wikipedia, some teachers refused to read the statement, citing the Pennsylvania code of education, which states that teachers cannot present information that they believe to be false. A school administrator then read the statement to the classes.
Eleven parents of students in the Dover school district got the help of the American Civil Liberties Union in filing suit against the school district in December of 2004.
The defendants were represented by the Thomas More Law Center which was described by both Dr. Leaf and Wikipedia as “a conservative Christian, not-for-profit law center.” Its motto is “The Sword and the Shield for People of Faith.”
Dr. Leaf identified the main issues considered during the court case as “whether or not the defendants had religious motivation, whether their actions had effects of promoting or prohibiting religion and whether or not intelligent design is science.”
In regards to the defendant’s religious motivation, Judge John E. Jones III said the following: “The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.”
So what is the real purpose behind intelligent design policy? According to Dr. Leaf, the Discovery Institute had the following to say, “Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialistic world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”
The Discovery Institute is one of the most prominent ID think tanks. They are based in Seattle and receive most of their funding from Christian philanthropists, according to Dr. Leaf.
The Discovery Institute tried to distance themselves from the case early on, withdrawing some of the star witnesses from the defense, however, according to Wikipedia, certain members of the Dover Board of Education were concerned about teaching evolution in schools, so they were given legal advice by the Discovery Institute in the summer of 2004.
Also, according to Dr. Leaf, the very textbook that the Dover schools recommended for students, “Of Pandas and Peoples,” had fingerprints of the Discovery Institute all over it: the authors of the book are fellows of the Discovery Institute and they also developed the legal strategy of teaching intelligent design through the textbook.
In regards to the textbook, Dr. Leaf referenced the revealing findings of Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Louisiana State University. After analyzing early drafts of the textbook “Of Pandas and Peoples,” Forrest found a very interesting trend: Before the year 1987, when the book was originally titled “Creation Biology,” words dealing with creationist theory appeared almost exactly the same number of times in the book as words having to do with intelligent design.
In fact, the creationism words appeared to have been replaced by those pertaining to intelligent design due to the almost exact frequency and placement of the latter. This was further shown by Forrest, as she pointed out what Dr. Leaf cleverly called a “transitional word fossil”: in an earlier draft, one of the sentences was, “Evolutionists think the former is correct, creationists accept the latter view.” After 1987, the following sentence was found: “Evolutionists think the former is correct, cdesign proponents accept the latter view.” Note the “transitional word fossil,” the c on the left of the word design.
So what’s so important about 1987 that caused this replacement? According to Dr. Leaf it was the Supreme Court ruling of Edwards v. Aguillard that forced teachers to teach creationism as unconstitutional because it was specifically designed to promote a particular religion.
In response to this evidence, Judge Jones said the following: “By comparing the pre- and post-Edwards drafts of “Pandas,” three astonishing points emerge: (1) the definition for creation science in early drafts is identical to the definition of ID; (2) cognates of the word creation (creationism and creationist), which appeared approximately 150 times were deliberately and systematically replaced with the phrase ID; and (3) the changes occurred shortly after the Supreme Court held that creation science is religious and cannot be taught in public school science classes. This word substitution is telling, significant, and reveals that a purposeful change of words was effected without any corresponding change in content.”
One of the most prominent witnesses for the defendants was a famous biochemist, professor at Lehigh University and absolute supporter of intelligent design, Michael Behe. A small slip of the tongue by this witness, pointed out by Dr. Leaf, helped to expose a lucid connection between intelligent design itself and the promotion of religion: “The plausibility of the argument for intelligent design depends upon the extent to which one believes in the existence of God.”
If all of that evidence wasn’t enough to give the defense a headache, next comes the question of whether or not intelligent design is a science. This has been a source of feverish debate for many years, with staunch believers on both sides. One of the causes for criticism of the intelligent design campaign is that they have not made any positive steps to prove their idea; they have only set out to cut down the Theory of Evolution.
Behe’s central theory was one of the most prominent and independently positive of the intelligent design campaign. He argued that organisms are composed of irreducibly complex systems which cannot have evolved with natural selection. One of the examples used to elucidate this idea was that of the blood clotting cascade, which relies on many steps without which clotting would not occur in humans.
However, Dr. Leaf faced this particular example head on: he agreed that removing one tiny step from the complex pathway wouldn’t result in blood clotting in humans, but he cited the fact that if factor twelve was knocked out, the blood of whales and dolphins still clots. Also, if three factors were removed, the blood of puffer fish clots “just fine.” According to Dr. Leaf, “[the idea] just turns out to be wrong; it falls apart.”
Another knock against the credibility of intelligent design as a science, according to Dr. Leaf, is the fact that, to date, the intelligent design movement has yet to have submitted their work to peer-reviewed scientific journals. The purpose of peer review, according to Wikipedia, is to make “an attempt to ensure that articles meet the journal’s standards of quality, and scientific validity.”
Behe claimed during the Dover court case that he had his book, “Darwin’s Black Box: the Biochemical Challenge to Evolution,” peer-reviewed. However, Dr. Leaf pointed out that the information presented in the case suggested otherwise: Robert Shapiro, one of the “peer-reviewers” said to have been “acting as editorial consultant, rather than peer reviewer…the principal concern of the editor …. [was] that the book be marketable, rather than factually correct.”
After illustrating the blows that intelligent design camps took during the Dover trial, Dr. Leaf further cited events that he believed were tied to crippling the intelligent design movement: the removal of the Dover School Board, the removal of intelligent design-friendly language and an intelligent design lesson plan in Ohio State Science Standards, and the mobilization of moderate Republicans in Kansas to run for State School Board against pro-intelligent design conservatives.
Towards the end, Dr. Leaf answered a question as to whether or not the foundations of intelligent design, or creationism, would collapse. He stated that we won’t know “until the next word change from ‘intelligent design theory’ to ‘fill in the blank theory.”
Dr. Leaf’s lecture on intelligent design was sponsored by the Secular Student Alliance, which is an Associated Students organization devoted to bringing students with or without faiths together to learn from each other through open discussions and friendly discourse. To contact this club, e-mail Monty Vonn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 510-2501.