Monday, April 20, 2009

Teach the Controversy

The following is a paper I wrote for my freshman English composition class. It is here available for your enjoyment and constructive criticism.

Nic Miller
Prof J Sewell
English 112 Paper 3
13 April 2009

Teach the Controversy

In 1831, a twenty year old naturalist named Charles Darwin set sail on the HMS Beagle on a visit to the Galapagos Islands (AMNH). While there, he studied many different animals, but one group in particular caught his attention, the finches. Galapagos Finches came in many varieties, and Darwin made observations in his diary about these animals. He saw finches with long, narrow beaks who were successful at picking bugs out of narrow crevasses, and finches with short, stout beaks who could crack open nuts and eat the food inside. Over time, he came to the conclusion that these finches arose from a common ancestor. 30 years later, Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species and the world of biological Evolution by natural selection was born. A long time has passed since Darwin rocked the world with his book, and the biological sciences have never been the same. Still, there are many problems with Darwinian Evolution that are not often spoken of in the academic realm, and are rarely presented in a high school classroom. Intelligent Design (ID) is a legitimate, scientific alternative to Darwin’s problematic theory of evolution and should be given a platform in high school science classrooms in Ohio.

When Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species, it began to change the way that secular scientists thought. No longer could a biologist be content to explore the world under the assumption of supernatural causation only. Now there was an opportunity to see the world as only materialistic and naturalistic. Over time, science came to exclude the idea of the supernatural. Any question that could not be answered with a naturalistic explanation is considered to be outside the domain of science.

The theory of Evolution gained momentum throughout America in the early 20th century after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) offered to support anyone who directly opposed the legal position of the States in a classroom. Increasingly, the public bent under the perceived authority of the majority of the scientific community. In general, high schools in America now teach evolution to the exclusion of any other theory. Until recently, most schools have not even bothered to examine the problems facing evolution.

Intelligent Design was born out of the realization of some scientists that many organisms are too complex to originate spontaneously. “When we look at biology, very complex machine-like entities exist, which must be exactly as they are, or they cease to function properly” (IDEAC 2). Furthermore, some organisms or organ systems (e.g. bacterial flagella, blood clotting mechanisms) are such that they would have had no evolutionary ancestor, and therefore would not have arisen by mutation. These organisms, they say, arose specifically by design. A few common misconceptions exist regarding ID, chief among them that ID is merely a Christian worldview rebranded to appeal to a larger audience. As we will see, this is not the case.

In the last decade, high school classrooms have been caught in the crossfire over the Evolution versus Intelligent Design debate. Often when a set of Christian parents realize that a naturalistic explanation of the origin of the earth being taught to their children, they see it as incompatible with their religious beliefs, and they insist on having alternate views to Evolution presented in the classroom. Many times, Christian groups enlist the help of Intelligent Design proponents (who, ironically, often don’t share their Biblical creationist views) with scientific credentials to give credibility to their claims. This somewhat unfortunate association has brought a tremendous lack of perceived credibility onto supporters of Intelligent Design.

When thinking critically about this issue, the first questions that come to mind are questions such as “What is the controversy about? Is it scientific inquiry? Is it fueled by religion?”

The “Primary Axiom,” or central dogma of the evolution community is “that mutation combined with selection have created all biological information” (Sanford 5). This concept is untestable, and no one denies that. Rather paradoxically, this element of biological evolution isn’t strictly “scientific.” It turns nature into the deity, the agent of change (Johnson-Sheehan 6). Over the last few decades, a few highly-credentialed scientists have had the courage to challenge the Axiom. A few examples include Dr. John C. Sanford, a plant geneticist from Cornell University; Dr. John Baumgardner, a geophysicist working at Los Alamos National Laboratory with a Ph.D from UCLA; Dr. Michael Behe, Professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University; Dr. Stephen Meyer, who earned his Ph.D in History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University. These scientists and hundreds of other doctoral scientists around the globe are daily doing their science with a view of the world that differs from popular opinion. Interestingly, these ID proponents are accused of approaching their work based on their worldview, instead of basing their worldview on the evidence they gather from their work. The paradox here is this: how can one form an opinion on something that was not observed when it happened and cannot be tested, namely, the origin of life?

In the scientific community, there is no “give and take” relationship on the issue of Evolution. Either you believe in molecules-to-man, or you are wrong. No open discussion exists. Many documented cases exist of scientists losing their positions over a single article supporting Intelligent Design. Few people are open to discussing the topic. In conversation with Ken Ham, a leading creationist and founder of Answers in Genesis (AiG), I was told a story about an interview he did with Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, and a popular atheist. These are his words:

“She said to me ‘Ken, you’re a Christian, right? You and your organization approach research with a Biblical, young-earth view?’ I said ‘Yes, that’s right,’ to which she replied ‘Would you change your mind about God if the evidence led you there?’ I told her I wouldn’t. ‘Aha!’ she said ‘You’re not a scientist!’ I looked at her seriously and said ‘Eugenie you’re an atheist, right?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘You base your research and teaching on the idea that there is no God, right?’ ‘Yes’ Then I dropped the bomb. ‘Would you change your mind about God if the evidence led you there?’ There was a long silence, and she never replied. She just moved on to the next topic.”

Most evolutionary scientists refute the idea of ID in the classroom because they believe it insinuates the supernatural, which is untestable. Intelligent Design proponents are quick to disagree. ID stays diligently away from the words “God” or “divine” because they sound too much like Creationism, and ID is already too closely associated with Creationism. In fact, in Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School Board, Judge John E. Jones based much of his ruling on the idea that Intelligent Design is merely a religious idea reclothed to look scientific. This is not the case. ID is a structured hypothesis about the mechanism of natural selection coupled with an intelligent causal agent.

In an article on Intelligent Design and its scientific validity, John West, a former political science professor, writes “While Intelligent Design may have religious implications (just like Darwin’s theory), it does not start from religious premises.” (West 2) However, when Christian parents realize that the science being taught in the classroom is incompatible with their religious beliefs, they also quick to realize that teaching Biblical Creationism in addition to Darwinism will not be possible. That would only add to the problem of partisanship, and soon we would be forced to include a Buddhist view, a Hindi view, and so on. As a result, they turn to Intelligent Design as a scientifically-supported hypothesis. This unfortunate condition has become detrimental to ID. The idea that ID is a cover for religion is patently false. Instead, it is an idea that remedies the problem of origins. Intelligent Design scientists, by and large, were once evolutionists who began to see the great many insurmountable problems facing Evolution by natural selection.

But is Evolution unlikely enough that it needs to be challenged in the classroom, or do the majority of people accept the idea without question? To answer that question, I’ll introduce the data from a Zogby poll taken January 29-31, 2009, on the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birthday. 1,004 people were interviewed on the telephone, and during the interview they were asked this question: “Charles Darwin wrote that when considering the evidence for his theory of evolution, ‘...a fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.’ Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree with Darwin’s statement?” Fully three-fourths of the group indicated that they were open to questioning evolution’s validity. Clearly, Darwinism has not swept the masses off their feet. On the subject of genetic mutation, the driving force of progressive evolution, Dr. Jerry Bergman writes “The core mechanism of evolution is the occurrence of mutations. . . Most mutations were at one time thought to be neutral, that is, they have no adverse effects on the organism. It is now known that many or most of these mutations are. . . “very slightly deleterious. . .” (100). This new evidence suggests that organisms would not be able to withstand the rigors of natural selection for as long as is necessary, nor would they be able to foster the many diverse species.

Having Intelligent Design taught in schools will likely be the product of a court decision. Take for example the Dover, Pennsylvania area school board. In October 2004, the Dover school board in voted 6-3 to pass the following resolution: “Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of origin including, but not limited to, intelligent design” (Kitzmiller 1). The school read a statement to the students explaining that “Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence.” A parent, Tammy Kitzmiller, filed suit, claiming the statement was unconstitutional. The district court ruled that the statement was in violation of the First amendment. In Kitzmiller vs. Dover, the ruling suffered from a judge who stereotyped ID as merely Creationism rebranded. In intellectual terms, this is equivalent to claiming someone believes in a flat earth.

Interestingly, many ID scientists are not actively trying to put their theory in schools because they fear over-politicizing the argument. Some, however, are taking a stand in favor of teaching the controversy. In 2002, 52 Ohio scientists (mostly doctorates) signed a statement that said “We affirm that where alternate scientific theories exist in any area of inquiry (such as wave vs. particle theories of light, biological evolution vs. intelligent design, etc.) students should be permitted to learn the evidence for and against them.” That year, Ohio revised the standards of science education so that students in grades 9-10 “grasp an understanding of the historical perspectives, scientific approaches and emerging scientific issues associated with Earth and space sciences” (Ohio 221).

Despite this distinction, there is little or no practical direction for teachers presenting evolution and its problems. It is the burden of the Intelligent Design scientists to supply the high school teachers with the research that shows the evidence against evolution that supports design. Books which discuss the problems facing both theories must be made available and public to the students. Any instructor that is uncomfortable or unwilling to discuss the controversy regarding Darwinism and Intelligent Design must make these books available to the students. Significant publications by doctoral scientists who support ID include The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems and Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome. Furthermore, schools should include this alternate theory in the testing regiments to assure understanding of the problems facing evolution.

As standards change, they will be challenged by people unwilling to allow Darwinism to be questioned. The courts must then do their part in assuring that the schools recognize ID as a legitimate scientific theory and not a rebranding of a religious idea. The authoritarian dictatorship of the evolution majority must end and a legitimate conversation must begin. Colleges and high schools must begin to support open discussion of the alternatives, just as 76% of Americans believe they should.

Works Cited
Bergman, Jerry, Ph.D. “Progressive Evolution or Degeneration.” Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Creationism. (2008) 99-110

Center for Science & Culture. Report on 2009 Zogby Poll about Evolution and Academic Freedom. Seattle, WA: Discovery Institute, 2009

Covaleskie, John F. “Three Why’s: Religion and Science in School.” Educational Studies 43 (2008): 7-16.

Darwin. American Museum of Natural History. 2009. 9 March 2009

Ham, Ken. Personal Interview. 1 Jan. 2009.

Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center. "Intelligent Design Is a Scientific Theory." Opposing Viewpoints: World Religions. Ed. Mike Wilson. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2006. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. University of Akron. 25 Mar. 2009

Johnson-Sheehan, Richard and Lawrence Morgan. “Darwin’s Dilemma: Science in the Public Forum.” Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. 38.1 (2008): 53-73.

Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board. No. 04cv2688. United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. 20, Dec. 2005.

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