Myths About Intelligent Design

January 1, 2006

In December a decision by U.S. District Judge John Jones in Dover, Pennsylvania once again put the topic of intelligent design in the news. He ruled that the school board’s actions were unconstitutional and merely an attempt to smuggle religious views into a science classroom.

Media coverage of the Dover case and the broader topic of intelligent design have often been inadequate. When I have spoken on this subject, I have found that many Christians don’t have an accurate perspective on this subject. So let me take a moment to address some of the myths surrounding this scientific theory.

First, proponents of intelligent design are not trying to smuggle religion into the classroom. While that may have been the intent of some of the Dover school board members, it is clear that is not the desire of scientists working on intelligent design. The Discovery Institute is one of the leading think tanks in the area of intelligent design and it actually opposes the idea of requiring it be taught in the classroom. They are pursuing it as a scientific theory not as a public school curriculum.

It might be worth noting that what Judge Jones struck down was a requirement that a short statement be read in class that mentioned the phrase “intelligent design” twice. It also allowed students to look at a supplemental text on intelligent design titled Of Pandas and People. The students would be instructed from the standard biology textbook published by Prentice Hall, but would be allowed to also read from the supplemental text if they desired.

Second, intelligent design is not just the latest modified attempt to introduce creationism into the classroom. Judge Jones and the media make it seem like the same people who promoted scientific creationism in the 1970s and 1980s are the same people pushing intelligent design now. That is not the case. None of the leaders of the intelligent design movement have been involved with creationist groups like the Institute for Creation Research or Answers in Genesis or Reasons to Believe. In fact, if you go to the websites of many creation groups, you will find they are often critical of intelligent design because it does not specifically identify a creator.

Third, intelligent design is much more than a refutation of evolution. It provides a positive model that can be tested. Judge Jones argued that “the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into a science classroom.”

Scientists pursuing intelligent design are doing much more than just criticizing evolution. They are proposing new ideas that can be tested. For example, Michael Behe (author of the book Darwin’s Black Box) suggests that molecular motors within the cell exhibit what he calls irreducible complexity. He shows that the bacterial flagellum requires numerous parts to all be present simultaneously for it to function. It is a testable model that other scientists can verify or refute using scientific data.

The ruling by Judge Jones won’t end the debate about intelligent design. But at least when we debate its merits or flaws, we should get our facts straight.

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