The Dover Area School District in York County, Pennsylvania is seeking to require that science students be told that Darwin’s theory of evolution is (as it says) a theory and “not a fact,” and that intelligent design is “an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view.” In testifying as part of a federal lawsuit challenging the requirement, a textbook author and biology professor from Brown University called the requirement “terribly dangerous.”
The almost hysterical reaction of the scientific establishment to the desire to read a one-minute statement to freshman biology students about “Intelligent Design” is very interesting and revealing. It reflects, I believe, a misunderstanding of the true nature of the debate over origins. The typical argument is that, since intelligent design infers the activity of a creator, it is a form of philosophy or religion and should thus be excluded from the teaching of science. Naturalistic Darwinian evolution, on the other hand, is upheld as scientific, free from philosophical or religious implications and should be taught exclusively.
Whether we admit it or not, all assumptions concerning the origin of life operate from one of two worldviews: the super-naturalist or theistic assumption and the naturalist or atheistic assumption. A super-naturalist will hold that some outside (divine) power brought the universe and all living things into existence, while the naturalist assumes that all can be explained by random chance. Neither assumption can be proven scientifically and so must be accepted by faith alone; the mechanism of the origin of life is not experimentally repeatable and cannot really be proven scientifically. Inferences can be made based on things such as similarities among animals or patterns in the fossil record, for instance, but the conclusions reached will ultimately depend upon a person’s worldview. Super-naturalism and naturalism are both, therefore, faith commitments or, if you will, religions. Often the debate over evolution is framed in terms of a conflict between science and religion, whereas it is actually a conflict between two different worldviews or religions.
That naturalistic or atheistic evolution is the majority position on origins by the scientific establishment can be demonstrated by quoting the 1995 official position statement of the National Association of Biology Teachers:
“The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.”
Because of fear that this statement was unpalatable to the general public, it was softened in subsequent versions by the removal of the words unsupervised and impersonal. Nonetheless, in spite of the attempt to cover it up, the statement demonstrates that true orthodox evolutionary theory is closely tied to naturalism or atheism. By promoting the teaching of naturalistic evolution at the exclusion of any other position, advocates are, in essence, establishing the religion of naturalism or secular humanism in the public schools.
It is well known, although not readily admitted, that there are many significant scientific challenges to Darwinian evolution. However, because of the dominance of this dogma in the scientific community, this evidence has often been excluded from science curricula. In fact, in many instances, teachers who have attempted to raise questions about evolution have been censored. It is this perceived censorship that has led many to be attracted to a statement like the one introduced by the Dover Area School District. Perhaps the teaching of “intelligent design” as science may be a bit premature, but teachers should at least be allowed to present of all the evidence both in support and opposition to evolution. This would bring honesty back into the teaching of origins.
I do not think that evolution is such a sacrosanct dogma that it is beyond normal scientific skepticism. The whole basis of the scientific method depends upon a continual reassessment of our theories as new data is uncovered. If the proof in support of evolution is really as overwhelming as many would lead us to believe, why should there be any fear of presenting all of the evidence to students, including the students in the Dover Area School District? I contend that scientific honesty and intellectual integrity demand the presentation of all the evidence concerning evolution and not just that which supports the prevailing dogma.
Sometimes, when dealing with this issue, one gets the feeling that we are experiencing the battle of the Church vs. Galileo all over again, only this time the scientific establishment is in the role of the Church and Galileo is anyone with the temerity to challenge the reigning dogma of naturalistic evolution.