Intelligent Design in the Classroom

part 1, 2, 3, 4

A biology teacher tells her story to Eugenie Scott at the annual meeting of the National Association of Biology Teachers in Milwaukee. The two had never met, but this is a tale that Scott has heard countless times.

"I've had other students come to me at the end of a lecture, 'You don't believe in anything!'"

Ken Miller, a biologist at Brown University and champion of biology teachers adds, "Evolution is the central organizing principle of biology. There is a famous quote that nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution."

Miller was the key witness for the parents group in the Dover, Pennsylvania trial. He is the author of numerous biology textbooks, used in as much as a third of America's high schools. He's also written a book called Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution.

"I think the key issue is, where does meaning and where does value come from? How do we decide who we are and where we came from?" he asks.

Miller, a Christian himself, points to a quote from philosopher Francis Bacon for a possible answer. A quote, in fact, that Charles Darwin used at the front of On The Origin of Species. "Bacon wrote that one cannot be too educated in the book of God's words or in the book of God's work. Now, the book of God's words, Bacon meant the Bible, but when he said the book of God's works, he meant nature, and that was a point that Darwin took to heart and that is basically that science could come closer to an understanding of divine purpose in the universe by looking closely at that universe itself. And that's one of the reasons why I, and an awful lot of scientists who are also religious people, see a harmony between our scientific work and religious belief."

A survey of scientists conducted by historian Ed Larson in 1997 showed that as many as 40 percent of biologists, physicists and mathematicians are believers in God. However, there isn't a single scientific organization in the United States that has endorsed intelligent design. And nearly all have come out with statements strongly supporting the scientific status of evolution, including the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"Intelligent design is a very specific and actually very old fashioned kind of anti-evolutionism," says Miller. "It's what classical philosophers have called the 'argument from ignorance.' If we don't know how something happened, we can count that as evidence for design."

Miller acknowledges that most scientists would admit we "cannot explain everything about our natural history, but we know enough to be sure that Darwin's mechanism, natural selection, was at the heart of it." But Miller argues intelligent design is far from an alternative scientific theory. It's merely a critique of evolution.

"The supporters of intelligent design," says Miller, "like to pretend that they have a novel, radical and revolutionary scientific idea and given time, that idea will find support."

Miller says they like to cite the big bang theory of the expansion of the universe, pointing out that this theory wasn't very popular either when it was first advanced, but eventually it won the scientific battle of opinion.

"Well, that's absolutely true," says Miller, "but curiously, the people who support it, the big bang idea, didn't run around trying to write their ideas into curriculum. They didn't try to influence state legislatures. They didn't hire a public relations firm, they didn't fight by op-eds. They went out to the field and the laboratory. They made measurements, they did experiments and they detected a predictable background radiation. If the advocates of intelligent design were doing the same thing, I wouldn't have a problem."

Instead, Miller and other opponents point to something called the "wedge document," written in 1999 by the Discovery Institute, which outlines the goals that Miller mentions. Obtained anonymously and circulated on the internet, the document details a 20-year plan to "overthrow" materialism and exchange it with a "theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God." Intelligent design, the proposal said, "will function as a wedge."

Their use of media has been one of the Discovery Institute's most powerful tools.

Since then, the Discovery Institute has been funding the production of documentary-looking films for national distribution, generating press releases, placing op-eds nationwide and providing a savvy institutional structure to get its message out.

The Discovery Institute even attempted to control the content of this radio documentary by calling up fellows of the Institute, with whom we'd scheduled interviews, saying don't talk to them, claiming they were afraid we would portray them as "religious fanatics."

To the credit of the Discovery Institute or not, the press has been dogging this story, playing its own role in the intelligent design movement's growing momentum. "The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, L.A. Times, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, all of these major outlets have done big stories within the last six months, and in some cases, several stories," says Eugenie Scott. "This has certainly encouraged people to see, 'What's going on in my school district.'"

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