Intelligent Design and Evolution:
A Significant Issue in Science and Public Policy

Paul Grobstein
Biology 210 Biology and Public Policy
15 February 2006

Followup to 13 February,
with notes from that discussion (italics),
responses to question posed,
and summaries of small group discussions triggered by responses.

Background

Questions to be thinking about

One approach

Your reactions/alternative/complementary approaches? Some emailed, others posted in a public on line forum. Participants each identified one statement as most like their own position and one as most different from their own position. The total identified each way (like/different) is shown for each statement. Some statements (unlettered) were received too late to be included in this phase of discussion.


A - 3/0

I think that high school students deserve to be taught evolution in biology classes. I use the word 'deserve' because one function of our public school system is (or should be) to produce well-informed citizens who can participate in debates which are an important component of democratic republics, like our own. Only after people have been exposed to evolution as a scientific theory (including fossil, anatomical, biochemical and DNA evidence that support it), can they rightfully participate in a debate about its place in society and schools. For biology teachers to deny their students the opportunity to learn about such a well-founded and important theory is selfish. If I were a chemistry teacher and I refused to teach the second law of thermodynamics because I believe in order (as opposed to entropy), I would be equally selfish. In addition, I think that Intelligent Design has no place in science classrooms. Leave it to the religion teachers (email)


B - 1/0

Is it not equally important for "well-informed citizens" that they should be "taught" intelligent design so they "can participate in debates"? Why should one be taught in one place and the other in another?

The lecture we had in class on Monday was very interesting, because it made me question how I know and believe what I am taught. How does one know that they are right? I am of the belief that evoltion should be taught in the classroom and Intelligent Design should be saved for religion class. However, I think this way, because the societal views that I support lead me to believe that is the correct way to think. Nobody knows for sure that evoltion is how things happened or that ID is how everything came to be, they are merely theories backed by supporting observations, and it is up to the individual to decide which one they find more convincing. This becomes complicated when institutions such as schools are obligated to choose for the individuals, which one they find more convincing (email)


C - 0/0

I have a tough time with this whole debate - on one hand I can understand the thought process and belief system rationalizing intelligent design, on the other I don't understand how people can overlook the overwhelming evidence for evolution for his/her religious beliefs. As we spoke about in class, I think the core of the issue does come down to what we were taught in school. I went to a small, very progressive school in Berkeley, California that stressed academia. At least half of the students were Jewish, including myself. Such were our liberal views that we debated the saying of the "National Anthem." Personally, I wasn't really made aware of the huge rift in our society over this issueŠI understood it was a religiously based approach but never did I conceive that it could be labeled science and taught in our schools as "science."

As I've been thinking more on the issue (and made some geographical relocations in the process - from California to Memphis, Tennessee), I also think that political and religious views have become so enmeshed with our current administration that we are no longer separating church and state. It seems as if there are few who take the middle road, and the majority stands on one side of the line or the other. If we looked at political affiliation, I believe we would see overwhelming support for inclusion of intelligent design in the "red states"; whereas, in the "blue states" such a change would have a difficulty garnering support.

Although none of my comments really address the policy aspect of the debate, if left singularly in the hands of the state, I believe the current generation of children will grow up learning a much different view of science. I think we can find a middle ground as long we leave out the word "science". Intelligent design should not be taught as such, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be taught at all.

I am still torn over the issue, and look forward to hearing others' opinions that differ from my own (email)


D - 3/0

As a philosophy major, I have never been able to help but see science as attempting to do the same work as philosophy; discovering "the truth" (an emphasized the). As opposed to philosophy, though, it has certainly become a god-like discourse in the West in that it does not run parallel to other ways of thinking but is rather seen as the way to answers (all alternate discourses being inferior to this way of thinking). It is to this end, that things I believe work, but are not scientifically proven, i.e. homeopathic medicine for example, are looked at strangely and as if those who believe in alternative medicine are 'crazy.' In my opinion, science must necessarily begin dialogue with other ways of thinking; it is problematic to allow it to remain a sort of universal supreme truth. Your approach seems to head in this direction; science as a dialectic. Then, one can even say that there is some sort of universal creative energy from which the universe was born... a belief even my dad, a cosmologist (studying the birth of the universe) carries with him. He does not necessarily follow a specific religious structure to this 'creative energy' but he does believe there was some sort of supreme universal force from which we emerged. Science can be a dialectic with spirituality... in terms of intelligent design, though, the Christian church must be just as open to a dialogue as the science community. It must not insist it has THE answer either. (email)


E - 2/0

I think that the over all approach that the pro-evolution community has taken to wards those who are pro-creationism is counter productive. I think that up until this point they have taken the ridicule approach to the issue.It would be more productive to support the intelligent design view point by promoting the option of religious or philosophical classes in high school as not an alternative to but rather supplement of the learning of evolution. If this strategy is pursued I feel that these classes would have to be presented like social studies classes and handle world religions in order to be inclusive.

Basically I think it is just fundamentally incorrect to teach religion as science. Evolution is the story of creation that science has come up with, so in a science class that is what should be taught. I found it really interesting how many religious officials stated the opinion that evolution was basically "the tool" of God and should be taught. Also it is really irresponsible for people to not teach their children standard global information based on their personal beliefs. Just be cause you know what evolution is doesn't mean you agree and ultimately I think that is what it comes down to. (email)


F - 2/0

My father once worked with a man who not only believed in creationism, but also believed that Adam and Eve were the first human beings and that the bones of dinosaurs were actually planted in the ground by Satan to test one's faith in God. Both he and my father worked in a government lab and both produced and published interesting new research in their respective fields. My father however is a firm believer in evolution and that all the creatures on this planet are the product of natural selection. Both men have done solid research, both have gone through the rigors of Ph.D. programs and both have at some time in their lives come into contact with the ideas presented in creationism, intelligent design, and evolution. Yet neither came up with the same conclusion about the origins of life.

The concept of choice and making conclusions for myself is something that I hold sacred. I believe that everyone should have the option to choose his or her own beliefs. Yet the question remains where should one learn these beliefs? The fact is that the education system in this country is strained for recourses. The scarcest resource of all is time. There simply are not enough hours in the school year to fully cover all the things that ought to be covered so some things must get left out.

As for what to include in science classes, I believe the greater scientific community should dictate what to teach. Though there are some exceptions, my father's coworker being one of them, most scientists believe evolution via natural selection is the best explanation for why living things are the way they are. But students should be informed that alternative explanations exist and they should be informed where to find information on those explanations (i.e. the library). Students should only be tested on evolution in the science class. They are free to believe or not believe in evolution but they should know the principles behind it so that they may be well versed in how the general scientific community explains our origins. (forum)


G - 0/2

I agree with a lot in Kimberly's post above, and with the comment made in class that religion and science need not be mutually exclusive. I think that part of what makes the debate so volatile is the sense that a person's religious beliefs are somehow reflective of 'intelligence'. I have heard people say, "no one in their right mind could argue against evolution" and that people who believe in intelligent design are "wacko". These types of comments are counterproductive. We need to recognize that that many successful and well-educated people believe in a higher power. It also seems that among people who subscribe to an evolutionary story as put forth by science, there is a spectrum of beliefs or acceptance of the traditional story. I personally believe in what is called "Theistic Evolution", or that the biological process of evolution is ultimately guided by a higher power. This is just one example of how a person's understanding of evolution can combine both the spiritual and the scientific.

The question remains, of course, what should teachers and school administration do? Moreover, what do states do in terms of regulating what is taught and how? I think it would be dangerous to allow parents to dictate what is taught in school, but they counter this argument by saying it's their child and most likely their tax money involved. I almost see some parallels between the debate as to whether or not to teach sex education in public schools; it becomes an argument about 'morality' and again, the role of schools in a child's overall development.

I think ultimately, and this echoes a bit of what Kimberly said, that we should be teaching the science of evolution but allowing individual choice--give students the information and allow them to decide how that fits with their set of observations. (forum)


H - 4/0

I agree with much that has been said so far so I will try and state some other thoughts. Intelligent Design is an interesting idea in comparison to evolution. We spoke about looking at the scientific process in the manner of a summary of observations. Evolution is supported by a tremendous summary of observations, but one can also say, "I see many patterns, I see that organisms and the ecosystems around us function with harmony, with precise mehcanisms that allow them to do so. I recognize the chance of life at all coming about to begin with is by a very slim chance". While many probably won't claim that they see or have the experience of knowing directly that God or any other higher power created the world, this summary of observations is not invalid either. So in that sense the two views are equally valid, although evolution appears to have more variety and volume of observations supporting it. I suppose though that I am still attached to the classical way of evaluating the world, through scientific experimentation and the fact that if one cannot produce a falsifiable hypothesis, it is not scientifically valid. In this sense ID is simply not science. It's possible one could try to produce such hypotheses, but the fact that ID proponents don't seem too motivated to do so really just makes it sound like they're just trying to oppose evolution with Abrahamic values. Any way I look at it, it really is just belief. Belief is not what science is based upon. I would support looking at evolution critically; it should not just be accepted either. Look at the concept of Punctuated Equilibrium, which challenged certain aspects of the theory. It would be a great exercise in schools to scrunitnize the paradigms of science, understand why they hold up. ID must be subjected to the same thing. I think more than anything that is what must be preserved in schools: teaching to think critically about any and everything. (forum)


I - 0/1

The biggest problem I have with the current debate is the fact that all the people who want to teach "intelligent design" MEAN that they want to teach creationism, but they don't say it. As far as I can figure, the minute you take the "god" out of intelligent design, those who now are the first to support it will be the first to object to it. There are many "alternative" forms of intelligent design: the world was created by a sentient, living arm so that it could create the perfect host (Arm of Kannon, all life was made possible by a race of beings that travel the galaxy making planets and all life will eventually be destroyed by a being known as Jenova, or bishounen son (Final Fantasy VII), life in the galaxy is all an imperfect representation of an older, extinct race (Star Trek; The Next Generation), we are all the creation of his Noodlieness, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and I'm sure the list goes on. Now, I ask those who want "intelligent design" taught in schools, "Do you REALLY want to imply to the kids that we were created by some dessicated arm in it's search for a host?" (forum)


J - 0/0

I agree that teaching creationism and intelligent design is incredibly problematic as the basis for Intelligent design is in belief and our society believes many things. In a country like Saudi Arabia, where religion is uniform and deeply integrated into education and governemnt, creationism is more conceivable. I think the motivation for this debate is in many ways much more important and meaninful in terms of understanding future science policy issues, then the resolution of it. We discussed briefly how Authority plays a unique role in science knowledge and teachings as Science is often associated with truth instead of continued learning. I think that Science and religion have always had a very unique relationship in that authority relationships seem to come to a crux. Moral, Familial, Personal and Religious authorities somehow influence a lot of the way people live, and Science is often viewed as an authority which can somehow replace the rest of them. I think a stigma is associated with science, that if it is not controlled it will go rampant and ultimately hurt everyone. We see this idea joked about in movies, but we see it especially evident in the medical community. The idea that someone can beat the odds and outsurvive doctors' predictions (science), is extraordinarily prevalent. Science is assumed by many to be a truth which can only be outweighed and overpowered by the belief in a supernatural which disobeys it Maybe this is where part of the debate stems from as now science is providing answers (evolution) for questions which for forever have only been able to be answered through supernatural. (forum)


K - 4/0

I think that people should have the right to believe in whatever they want to believe. If one wants to believe in evolution, Intelligent Design, or the flying spaghetti monster, one should be able to. However, it is important to understand the difference between beliefs and science. As we discussed in the previous class, science is a commitment to a "summary of observations" and the creation of stories based upon these observations. While Intelligent Design does seem to have the "creation of a story" aspect covered, it seems to be lacking the summary of observations to support these stories. Faith alone in the notion that a higher being controls the fate of the universe is not enough. By no means do I think that evolution is the one and only "Truth" as there are no "Truths" in science. However, there are a large number of observations and stories that support the theory of evolution, which is lacking for the ID theory. So in sum, if proponents of the ID theory are able to make observations about the presence of a higher being controlling the universe, I would certainlly consider it is a valid scientific theory. Until then, I just can't seem to accept it as something that should be studied in science class. (forum)


L - 2/0

One of my problems with Intelligent Design is that it presupposes that everyone is on the same page as far as the supernatural entity goes. I have no qualms with people who believe in God or a variety of gods or spirits or what have you. However, as far as I am aware, Intelligent Design isn't the teaching of the many possible stories of how people and the world came into being. It tends to be the teaching of one creation myth. Because of this, I do not find it appropriate to have Intelligent Design be a large factor in either education or policy. I can understand that Evolution is a relatively new concept compared to how long ID has been taught, but that does not mean that it should be the continuing basis. Further, Intelligent Design is not just an explanation for how life was created. It forces on people an entire philosophy of how they should live, act, or think, based on a belief system that might not be everyone's. I acknowledge everyone's right to believe what they want and indeed it might not be bad to teach a variety of different ideas, but in the end, I do not think that ID should be our final politically established story. (forum)


M - 4/2

The policy issue I find most intriguing in the Intelligent Design debate is the purported ability to suggest alternatives to well established lessons in education. All classes must be built on a foundation of agreed upon facts and while there will always be mysteries and gaps, I find it shocking that any person can approach schools and propose that the lessons the state has agreed upon are not valid and demand that schools are obligated to teach alternatives. Evolution is an easy mark because the Bible supplies another alternative easily, however, if school boards allow people create their own lessons, where will it end? Before a social studies teacher presents materials on the Holocaust, should he or she be obligated to read a message saying some have doubted the authenticity of this event and direct students to consider a massacre only one theory of what occured? What's next, people standing up to doubt and "discount" the "theory" of gravity, spanish pluperfect conjugation, and rules of baseball? Just because some people have doubts on a subject does not mean that subject's foundation is inherently flawed and the entire world needs to be made aware of those people's distrust. Some people find variety in education beautiful and beneficial to children, encouraging them to seek their own answers. However, I believe that children should be taught what is overwhelmingly considered fact and encouraged to explore it outside of the classroom. Schools should not have to share their classroom space with religion, conspiracy theories, or overprotective parents. (forum)


N - 0/12

The debate between Intelligent Design and Evolution is difficult. Both side argue with convincing evidence. Intelligent Design will note to flaws in the theories of evolution, such as a lack of records of transitional organisms (such as no fossil records for stages in between primates and human beings). Evolution comes up with interesting theories such as natural selection. How then are we supposed to choose what is right, when neither can indisputably disprove the other?

I believe that it takes faith to believe in either Intelligent Design of evolution. Additionally, evolution, or at least the man who it is linked to had flaws from the beginning. Darwin believed that people of different races and ethnicities were of another species. Moreover, he believed that men were naturally more intelligent and stronger than women. We know that these beliefs are false; therefore maybe some of his other theories are false as well. I would argue that both ID and evolution be taught so that all students have a good idea of what the debate is about. Give students all evidence from both sides. Moreover, I think that those who are adamant about evolution are not necessarily opposed to creation. Rather the may simply be opposed to GOD being mentioned in the classroom. (forum)


I looked a few of the articles in the New York Times section on the Evolution Debate (http://nytimes.com/pages/science/sciencespecial2/index.html) and was impressed with what some of them had to say. I especially liked the articles "At Churches Nationwide, Good Words for Evolution" and "In 'Design' vs. Darwinism, Darwin Wins a Point in Rome," because they spoke to the possibility of combining beliefs of science and religion in a simple and flawless way. My personal beliefs fall into the 'existing life forms are as they are because of an initial creative act by a supernatural being with a plan and intent.' I do believe that evolution got us to our current state and form, and that it continues to mold organisms through adaptation and natural selection. At the same time, I do believe in God, but have had somewhat of a hard time figuring how they fit together. I have my own ideas, but was never sure how others felt on the subject. I attended a progressive church growing up, enough at least that we studied other religions as a part of Sunday school. We never talked about evolution and how it fit in with God's plan to my recollection. The "Good Words for Evolution" article addressed a new event called Evolution Sunday, that was started in response to the Dover, PA attempt to discredit the teaching of evolution in schools. The point is to show that you can accept God as truth while accommodating evolution within that. Rev. Patricia Templeton, who serves at a church North of Atlanta, GA, is quoted saying, "A faith that requires you to close your mind in order to believe is not much of a faith at all." Part of the doctrine of Evolution Sunday states that the theory of evolution is "a foundational scientific truth" and to reject it "is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children." This makes a lot of sense, and signals that these churches are open not only to believing in God, but also to believing in and participating in the world around them. The recognize that science is a part of that world and cannot be ignored. The 'Darwin Wins a Point in Rome' article points out that the Vatican newspaper (not official but close), backed up the PA court decision that intelligent design should not be taught in opposition with evolution. The paper recognized that evolution is a scientific theory, and that the church's teachings are not on the same, scientific level. This also says, essentially, that there is "no need to see a contradiction between Catholic teachings and evolution," a point brought up by a former Dominican priest and current professor at the University of California at Irvine. While these articles didn't completely iron out my difficulties in combining science and religion in my own mind, they served to support my beliefs that God exists and that evolution is an undeniable scientific process that has transformed us throughout history. (forum)


Thanks to those who have shared their time and thoughts thus far. IÕd like to briefly emphasize a couple points that were mentioned earlier. First: there exist normative gradations for stories. Stories that feature functionality and usability, preferably some predictability, are better than those that are deficient in these areas. And so broad, vague, and adumbrative stories are of less import. There is little need to be apologetic for this reality, though condescension is also not warranted. The usability of a theory is important. Second: being entirely inclusive is ineffective. There is a tendency to reconcile two opposing factions, to not draw lines in the sand. But not only does there exist cultural factionalization (manifest in trivial forms such as placid, monotonous orations for the evolution community and religious fervor and crazy gesticulations for the ID community), but there are substantive differences between the two. There exists a multiplicity of perspectives on reality. Attempting to include them all would render the story entirely ineffectual. Pick the perspective that is effectual, that provides a basis for conducting positive research, for pursuing positive questions, and for making a positive difference in the world. (forum)


I grew up in a moderately Christian household. My family and I went to church every Sunday, and I was taught the basics of my religion in Sunday school with other willing and innocent children. As I got older, my faith dwindled unconsciously. However, when I went away to boarding school, I reclaimed my religion and my faith for myself (these two aspects of Christianity I consider to be very different from one another). Over the subsequent years, my faith has grown and my belief in God has strengthened. However, despite my love for God and the happiness that he brings to my life, I remain absolutely anti-evangelical. I believe that faith and belief in God can not be taught to a person, nor forced upon anyone unwilling to listen. If people feel pressured to convert, it gives all Christians a bad name. Yes, I do have a strong background in Biology. I believe wholeheartedly in evolution. However, I donÕt believe that God and science have to be mutually exclusive. I believe that faith in any religion is a very personal matter, and should not be brought into the public arena. It is something that everyone must discover for themselves in their own time, and not at the set schedule of a school curriculum. Therefore, I think that any discussion of intelligent design should be banned from the science regime in schools. (forum)


Pick from this list a position that you feel is most like and another that is most unlike your own. Meet in small groups of like and unlike to consider one or more of the issues outlined that you think can be usefully addressed together. Write a joint statement about the outcome of your conversation for general class discussion and posting either in the on-line forum or by email.


Group H

Group H was composed of three who agreed with the statement, one who was neutral, and one who disagreed slightly. The part of the statement that was troublesome was the part that said that belief was not what science about. We went on to debate the difference between scientific belief and religious belief. We came to the conclusion that religious belief functions from a lack of facts whereas scientific belief functions from a collection of facts. We then went on to debate the policy aspect. There was the question of how much input the community should have, considering it was their tax dollars at work. Someone else pointed out that tax money goes to pay many different things and that a citizen has to accept that they might not agree with how it is spent but that it is a part of living within a governed society. Another question that came up was whether school was the place to learn about ID and other perspectives. We thought of the option of having just the bare facts of evolution presented and nothing else, no other supplementary classes so that students could pursue their views on their own time from other resources. Going back to the statement though, we wondered whether it might be better to present ID in some fashion so as to stimulate discussion and critical thinking.

So our conclusion was thus: That there should be a uniform policy on what should be required to be taught in school. One possible policy would be to teach evolution in biology as it stands and to offer supplementary classes that would expose students to ID and a variety of other perspectives, both religious and cultural (although with limitations, since it would be impossible to look at everything).


Reflections

I think the discussion arrangement used is a promising one, that could be employed in other contexts. Clearly the need for open conversations that respect the starting positions of all involved is compelling, and this effort showed that within this student population such open conversations are not only possible but by and large welcomed.

The effort was to put together small discussion groups of people who had starting positions different from each other. That students did not clearly exhibit significant differences in their choice of two statements made this a little difficult to achieve. One might perhaps encourage participants to cluster statements first and then pick similar/different clusters. There is probably also less variation in this audience than there would be in others.

I was myself struck by the largely middle ground positions most students took. And by a sense that many students felt the issue to be one that required action by authorities (either legal or scientific) despite a history suggesting that neither authoritative solution could be effective. On the flip side, I was encouraged by the feeling expressed by a number of students that there was an important role for education in this public policy issue (making it clear for example that evolution does NOT at the moment account for the origin of life), that the conception of science as a competing "Truth" was an important component of what needed to be altered, and that it needed to be more widely appreciated that evolution and religion were not necessarily incompatible.

One would need more than the one and a half hours on each of two days (Monday, Wednesday in this case) to provide truly adequate background in terms either of the history of this issue or of relevant biological observations. One would like also to have more time for reactions to positions to evolve in successive small group sessions.




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