Intelligent Design Takes Center Stage
In the past, schools were urged to teach creationism or 'teach the controversy.' Now, intelligent design is the new war cry.
The debate over "intelligent design
," a topic on the borderland between science and theology, has climbed its way to two new pinnacles lately: the White House and the Vatican.
Last month, a leading cardinal said that despite church acknowledgment of evolution, it still teaches divine design in nature. When President Bush was recently asked whether he supported teaching intelligent design in public school science, he said students should learn all views. [Read transcript of Bush's remarks.
For Americans, the idea of finding design and purpose in nature is not unusual, according to polls. But when compounded with the politics of public schools, the authority of science in society, and the culture war led by religious conservatives, "design" can be a fighting word.
It all began when Charles Darwin said his theory of evolution had disproved design in nature. He declared that natural causes could explain life. Although the world looked designed, he said, it actually was produced by the blind action of the environment on random variations in organisms.
A century and a half later, Darwin's stance continues to be official among U.S. science organizations and in biology textbooks. Advocacy for design is taken as not only an attack on Darwinian evolution, but on science itself.
Design was not the war cry back in the 1980s, when Christian conservatives tried to mandate a Bible-oriented "creation science" in schools. In 1987, the Supreme Court ruled it an unconstitutional intrusion of religion, but added that a "variety of scientific theories about the origins" of life could be taught.
More recently, design theory has presented itself as part of that scientific variety. Evolutionists have called it a revived creationism, a Trojan horse trying to sneak inside the gates of the science classroom.
Despite the heated rhetoric, both the evolutionist (E) and intelligent design (ID) sides have sophisticated arguments, which are worth a brief rehearsal:
E: Science only looks at natural causes, such as laws and chance. Purpose and design are religious concepts.