[COMMENT: This is one of the best commentaries on this issue I have seen. It puts the issue right where it should be, the nature of science itself, and our deep need for a return to open, honest discussion of public issues. Pray for our leadership to pick up on this -- across the board. See my definition of 'science' and also my definition of 'religion'. And, if you really want to get into the epistemological issues, look at The Authority of the Bible in a Scientific Age. E. Fox]
By Brian Fahling
(AgapePress) - Dover, Pennsylvania finds itself in the national spotlight as the putative successor to Dayton, Tennessee, the rural community where the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial played out on the national stage.
This small, blue-collar community in rural Pennsylvania finds itself in the crosshairs of an ongoing and heated national debate about the propriety, even constitutionality, of public schools offering an alternative to and critical examination of the theory of evolution.
Last year, the Dover School Board voted to adopt a policy that makes students aware that evolution is a theory and not fact. The policy also states: "Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view."
Representing 11 parents who object to the policy, the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have sued the school district claiming the policy violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. The trial began on Monday.
Armed with a 1987 Supreme Court decision declaring that teaching creationism in public schools is a violation of the Establishment Clause, the ACLU will argue that intelligent design is creationism repackaged. But is it really?
Creationism is an a priori argument drawn from a particular interpretation of the Genesis account of creation. In the context of a public classroom, that means the God of the Bible is the starting point and assumed ground of life's origin and the origin of the cosmos. Drawing from a literal reading of Genesis, creationists postulate a "young earth" and six 24-hour days of creation. All empirical data are subject to and analyzed within this interpretive grid.
Intelligent design, however, is an a posteriori argument; it is the inference drawn from examination of complex structures in living organisms and the universe. Instead of attributing the design evident in these structures to God, or undirected processes and natural selection, the intelligent design theorist merely posits an intelligent cause behind life and the cosmos. The inference is not held as the only possible explanation, merely, for now, the most plausible.
As a matter of science, intelligent design theory is much more disciplined and modest in its claims than either the theory of evolution or creationism. Intelligent design theory merely infers, but does not attempt to identify, a designer from evidence that even evolutionists agree has the appearance of being designed. Unlike creationism and the theory of evolution, intelligent design theory does not make dogmatic religious or philosophic claims about the origin of life because such claims are beyond the competence of science to make.
Creationism and the theory of evolution, unlike intelligent design theory, are insular in their approach to science. Creationists reason downward from an article of religious faith and conduct their science within that paradigm; the creationist's article of faith does not admit of any alternative. Evolutionists, too, reason downward from an article of faith and conduct their science with the same dogmatic zeal and selectiveness of their creationist counterparts -- there is simply no room at the inn for dissidents or competing theories.
Like creationism, then, the theory of evolution is an a priori argument drawn from the evolutionist's article of faith which holds that the origin of life and the cosmos can only be explained by undirected natural processes. This is a metaphysical claim, not scientific fact.
Still, it is not in dispute that one may infer an evolutionary process from the data, but that is not what the evolutionist does; he does not infer it, he begins with it, asserts it as an article of faith, and then he proceeds to squeeze all data through the colander of his metaphysic.
The evolutionist stomps his feet screaming that the theory of evolution is as well established as the theory of gravity. But that simply is not true. And that is why critical examination of the theory of evolution should be permitted in public schools. By all accounts there are many holes in Darwin's theory. That does not make his theory wrong, but it does counsel that the extravagant and absolutist claims made on behalf of the theory should be rejected.
Good science requires an open mind.
There is more than a little irony, then, in the evolutionist's attempt to paint intelligent design theory with the creationist brush when it is the evolutionists who have the most in common with the creationists.
Both creationists and evolutionists have as their starting point a belief in the infallibility of their creeds (though I think the creationists have the better part of the argument here). To be sure, their creeds are antithetical to each another, but it is the reception of their respective creeds among the faithful as infallible and exclusive explanatory tools that binds them together, removing them from the realm of science and placing them squarely in the middle of religion and philosophy.
Creationism requires a student to first affirm the creed that God created the heavens and the earth, and the theory of evolution requires that a student affirm the creed that there is no God. Both are exclusive claims, neither is scientific, neither can be empirically verified.
Intelligent design theory, on the other hand, does not require that any creed about the origin of life and the cosmos be affirmed, it merely points to the evidence and suggests that the best explanation (though not the only explanation) for the design found in nature and the cosmos is a designer, whoever or whatever that may be.
It is hard to imagine that Dover's students would not benefit from being told that there are gaps in Darwin's theory and that intelligent design theory offers a competing explanation for the origin of life and the cosmos. Failure to provide such an explanatory note implicitly gives state approbation to evolution's creed that there is no God.
It remains to be seen what the outcome of this current struggle will be. It has been reported that the trial is going to last six weeks. I hope not. It cannot possibly take six weeks to make the point that inferring a designer from things that appear to be designed is not a religious exercise or an endorsement of religion.
If the judge permits a trial of that length on the narrow question before him, he will likely be looking to make a final judgment about the origin of life and the cosmos. This would be heady stuff -- even for a federal judge.
Brian Fahling is senior trial attorney for the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy in Tupelo, Mississippi.
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