Every shuffle of a deck of cards leads to a 52-card sequence that has low a priori probability, but has unit probability once the cards are all on the table. Similarly, the "fine-tuning" of the constants of physics, said to be so unlikely, could very well have been random; we just happen to be in the universe that turned up in that particular deal of the cards.

Note that my thesis does not require more than one universe to exist, although some cosmological theories propose this. Even if ours is the only universe, and that universe happened by chance, we have no basis to conclude that a universe without some form of life was so unlikely as to have required a miracle.

Simplicity and Physical Law
So the argument from probability fails. Many sets of physical constants could have produced a universe with life, albeit life very unlike our own. But what about the laws of physics themselves? Can we take their mere existence as evidence for intelligent design?

Let me begin by addressing two commonsense notions: (1) you cannot get something from nothing, and (2) the order of the universe requires the pre-existence of an active intelligence to do the ordering. I will leave it to the theologians to explain how the postulate of a creator God solves the problem of creation ex nihilo, since God is something that, itself, must have come, uncreated, from nothing. Instead I will address the physics issues implied by the creation of the universe from nothing. In physics terms, creation ex nihilo appears to violate both the first and second laws of thermodynamics.

The first law of thermodynamics is equivalent to the principle of conservation of energy: the total energy of a closed system is constant; any energy change must be compensated by a corresponding inflow or outflow from the system.

Einstein showed that mass and energy are equivalent, by E=mc2. So, if the universe started from "nothing," energy conservation would seem to have been violated by the creation of matter. Some energy from outside is apparently required.

However, our best estimate today is that the total energy of the universe is zero (within a small zero point energy that results from quantum fluctuations), with the positive energy of matter balanced by the negative potential energy of gravity. Since the total energy is zero, no energy was needed to produce the universe and the first law was not violated.

The second law of thermodynamics requires that the entropy, or disorder, of the universe must increase or at least stay constant with time. This would seem to imply that the universe started out in a greater state of order than it has today, and so must have been designed.

However, this argument holds only for a universe of constant volume. The maximum entropy of any object is that of a black hole of the same volume. In an expanding universe, the maximum allowable entropy of the universe is continually increasing, allowing more and more room for order to form as time goes by. If we extrapolate the big bang back to the earliest definable time, the so-called Planck time (10-43 second), we find that universe started out in a condition of maximum entropy -- total chaos. The universe had no order at the earliest definable instant. If there was a creator, it had nothing to create.

Note also that one cannot ask, much less answer, "What happened before the big bang?" Since no time earlier than the Planck time can be logically defined, the whole notion of time before the big bang is meaningless.

Furthermore, within the framework of Einstein's relativity, time is the fourth dimension of spacetime. Defining this fourth dimension as ict, where t is what you read on a clock, i = sqrt(-1), and c is the speed of light, the coordinates of time and space are interchangeable. In short, time is inextricably intertwined with space and came into being "when" or "where" (language is inadequate to mathematics here) spacetime came into being.

Spontaneous Order
So, where did the order of the universe come from, if it did not exist at the "beginning"? Where did the laws of physics come from, if not from some great lawgiver? We are now beginning to grasp how the laws of physics could have come about naturally, as the universe spontaneously exploded in the big bang.
To understand this, we first have to recognize the prejudice that is built into the whole concept of physical law. When Newton developed mechanics and gravity, the Judeo-Christian notion of God-given law was already deeply engraved in his thinking, by his culture. Even today, science is interpreted by public, media, and scientists alike as the process of learning the "mind of God."

However, the laws of physics, at least in their formal expressions, are no less human inventions than the laws by which we govern ourselves. They represent our imperfect attempts at economical and useful descriptions of the observations we make with our senses and instruments. This is not to say we subjectively determine how the universe behaves, or that it has no orderly behavior. Few scientists deny that an objective, ordered reality exists that is independent of human life and experience. We simply have to recognize that the concept of "natural law" carries with it certain metaphysical baggage that is tied to our traditional, pre-scientific modes of thought. We are going a step beyond logic to conclude that the existence in the universe of order, which we conventionally label as the laws of nature, implies a cosmic lawgiver.
 It seems to me an argument could be made for the logical point of view that as mind-bogglingly sophisticated & complex as the universe seems to us, it might appear hopelessly chaotic & barbarically simple to some higher form of life.  This ‘higher’ form may not even be defined by cognitive abilities beyond our ken, but might be as ordinary as some sense perception that we cannot imagine since we do not possess it…

We are gradually learning that several of the laws of physics, those that seem the most universal and profound, are in fact little more than statements about the simplicity of nature that can almost go unsaid. The "laws" of energy, momentum, and angular momentum conservation have been shown to be statements about the homogeneity of space and time. The first law of thermodynamics, conservation of energy, results from there being no unique moment in time.

Conservation of momentum follows from the Copernican principle that there is no preferred position in space. Other conservation laws, such as charge and nucleon number, also arise from analogous assumptions of simplicity.

For the mathematically inclined, the conserved quantities are generators of the symmetry transformations involved. A homogeneous universe, one with a high level of symmetry, is the simplest of all possible universes, just the kind we would expect to happen by accident. In such a universe, many conservation laws will automatically exist.

In general, the conservation laws need no explanation beyond the mathematical symbols used to represent the corresponding symmetry. On the other hand, an observed violation of a conservation law would demand an explanation, for then we would have evidence for a deviation from simplicity and homogeneity. To explain this deviation, we have to go beyond the assumptions that require the fewest parameters, that is, are the most economical.

By an equally simple but somewhat different argument, the second law of thermodynamics is found not to be some underlying principle of the universe, but rather an arbitrary convention we humans make in defining the direction of time. Nothing in known fundamental physics forbids the violation of the second law. No mechanical principle prevents the air emptying from a room when you open the door, killing everyone inside. Physics does not forbid a human from growing younger or the dead rising! All that has to happen for these "miraculous" events is that the molecules involved are accidentally moving in the right direction at the right instant. Of course these miracles are not observed to happen except in fantasies, but only because they are so highly unlikely.

We introduce the second "law" to codify what all of human experience testifies, that air does not empty from a room, people do not grow younger, and the dead do not rise. But these events are not impossible, just highly improbable. Influenced, like Newton, by our culture, we falsely state that these unlikely events cannot happen because the second law "forbids" them from doing so.

The second law of thermodynamics, along with the arrow of time and the notions of causality and determinism, arise as statistical statements about the likelihood of events that emerge as principles we invent to describe the world of everyday experiences.

Other, more complex and less universal laws of physics appear to arise from spontaneously broken symmetries. When a quantity such as momentum is observed not to be conserved, we introduce the notion of a "force" to break the corresponding spatial symmetry. By this means, the force laws and other principles that give structure to the universe arise as spontaneously broken symmetries--accidental, uncaused events that occurred in the first fraction of a second of the big bang as the expanding universe cooled. The process can be likened to the formation of structure in a snowflake from water vapor, or the magnetizing of a bar of iron cooled below the Curie temperature.

The Appearance of Structure
While the details of the symmetry-breaking mechanism referred to here are not fully developed, and further work may negate this picture, (again, an example of open-mindedness to new evidence ID does not share…) we have at least one highly successful example of how the process of spontaneous structure formation from underlying symmetry and chaos can have come about. The current theory of elementary particles, the so-called Standard Model of quarks and leptons (the electron and neutrino are examples of leptons), agrees with all existing observations about the material world.  In two decades since its inception, no violation of the Standard Model has been observed.

Within the framework of this model, electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces are viewed as low-energy manifestations of a single, unified electroweak force that applies at higher energies and smaller distances. At the level of most observations, these forces are vastly different. The electromagnetic force acts over macroscopic distances, while the electroweak force is confined to the atomic nucleus. The two forces differ enormously in strength. Yet the Standard Model treats them in a unified fashion at high energies, and explains their differing structure by means of spontaneous symmetry breaking that occurs at lower energies. Just the fact that gravity holds no sway at sub-cellular level, makes it easy for me to imagine that other physical laws change at the sub-atomic level…

Further progress in understanding these fundamental mechanisms has been slowed by the canceling of the Superconducting Supercollider that would have probed beyond the Standard Model.  A less ambitious (although still gigantic) project is going ahead in Europe, but it will be a new millennium before physicists have the data they will need to determine whether spontaneous symmetry breaking is indeed the process by which the laws of physics evolved in the first fraction of a second of the big bang. Currently, all we can say is that we have one firm example, and many theoretical suggestions, that will not be tested experimentally for another decade. Even if they all fail these tests, it seems highly unlikely that the process will yield evidence for the creator of Judeo-Christian-Islamic theology.

Implications for Education
In critically examining evidence for or against intelligent design to the universe, it must be understood that we are following the traditional practice of science, seeking a scientific explanation for observations about the universe that have been previously attributed to the action of supernatural deity. Believers will call us nasty names, like "atheist" and "secular humanist," Only nasty if you agree with their POV and accuse us of undermining faith and morality. These issues of truth versus social & psychological well-being were argued thoroughly by great minds back in the appropriately named Age of Enlightenment.

Certainly we cannot be dogmatic in our approach, or appear to be preaching a religion of "scientism." If we do, then we have no more right to a piece of the science curriculum than the religionists.

As in any scientific investigation, we must emphasize our commitment to the scientific process and agree to accept whatever the conclusion of that process may be. If that conclusion is evidence for supernatural intelligent design, then so be it. But if we cannot find such evidence, then we should not feel compelled to soothe the sensitivities of believers by leaving unchallenged the assertion that their sectarian prejudices have scientific merit. We must speak out forcefully whenever anyone claims scientific authority for beliefs that fail the objective tests of scientific method.

I realize that the ideas I have covered in this essay will be very difficult to explain in the classroom, even at the university level where few students study physics at anything more than a minimal, descriptive level--if they study it at all.  Nevertheless, we should not leave the field open to those who demonstrate no commitment to scientific truth.

If teachers cannot understand or explain the developments in modern physics I have outlined above, they can at least emphasize the need to pursue these issues in an open, objective, and rational fashion. They should point out the logical flaws in the anthropic probability argument, that we must count all the possible ways that life may have developed. And they can question the claim that creation ex nihilo violates the laws of physics, that science requires a miracle to produce the universe.

At the least, teachers should be made aware of the fact that modern physics and cosmology provide no compulsion to introduce the uneconomical hypothesis of a biblical creator.  They must resist those who would attempt to force their personal beliefs into the classroom through the back door of "intelligent design."
The process in which we are engaged is the search for rational evidence for or against intelligent design. It does not suffice to say that intelligent design is possible, and proponents of intelligent design have no right to re-cast the question as one in which the non-existence of intelligent design must be proven. Within the framework of Occam's razor, intelligent design is an added hypothesis and the proponent's burden is to demonstrate why it is necessary to make this hypothesis. I have argued that no evidence or rational argument for intelligent design can be found in either the data or the theories of modern physics and cosmology.  If the hypothesis of intelligent design is to be discussed in science classrooms, then good science methodology demands that we make clear that this is an uneconomical hypothesis that is not required by existing scientific knowledge.

The author is grateful to Taner Edis and John Forester for their comments on this essay.
Victor J. Stenger is professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii and the author of Not By Design: The Origin of the Universe (Prometheus Books, 1988) and Physics and Psychics: The Search for a World Beyond the Senses (Prometheus Books, 1990). This article is based on a chapter from his latest book: The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology (Prometheus Books, 1995).

Barrow, John D. and Frank J. Tipler 1986.
Begley, Sharon 1994. "Science and the Sacred" Newsweek November 28: 56.
Cole, John 1995. NCSE Reports 15, 1:2
Davies, Paul 1992. The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Davis, Percival and Dean H. Keaton 1993. Of Pandas and People. Haughton.
Hawking, Stephen 1988. A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. New York: Bantam.
Hoyle, F. and C. Wickramasinghe 1981. Evolution from Space. J. M. Dent.
Matsumura, Molleen 1995. NCSE Reports 15, 1: 7.
Penrose, Roger 1989. The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rolston III, Holmes 1986. "Shaken Atheism: A Look at the Fine-Tuned Universe." The Christian Century, December 3.
Stenger, Victor J. 1995. The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology. Amherst, N. Y.: Prometheus Books.
Wright, Robert 1992. "What Does Science Tell Us About God?" Time December 28: 38.

[1] The "mind of God" were the final words of Stephen Hawking's remarkable best-seller, A Brief History of Time (Hawking, 1988). This catchy phrase was absconded by Paul Davies for the title his book, The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World (Davies, 1992). Physicist Davies has won a million dollar prize for his writings on religion and science.
[2] Admittedly, the first moment of the universe was unique, but the implied violation of conservation of energy is exactly what gives us the zero point energy mentioned earlier in the text.



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Figure 1. Distribution of stellar lifetimes for 100 random universes in which four basic physics constants (the proton and electron masses and the strengths of the electromagnetic and strong forces) are varied by ten orders of magnitude around their existing values in our universe. Otherwise, the laws of physics are unchanged. Note that in well over half the universes, stars live at least a billion years. From Stenger 1995.

Evolution is Not the Whole Story
As the bankruptcy of creation "science" becomes increasingly recognized, a new catch phrase, intelligent design, has been adopted by those who persist in their attempts to inject creationism into the science curriculum (see, for example, Of Pandas and People, Davis 1993; Matsumura 1995 and Cole 1995 report on attempts to introduce Pandas into schools). Intelligent design is a more subtle term than creation science, one that has far broader implications than the genesis of life on a minor planet in the corner of a minor galaxy. The argument that the material universe resulted from conscious action outside itself can sound convincing, even to those who accept biological evolution as established fact. Many who agree that biblical creation is not an appropriate part of the science curriculum, because it is not science, may not object to including material that argues with greater sophistication that the universe as a whole shows evidence for design.

I can foresee proponents of intelligent design campaigning for science lessons to include statements of the sort we often read today in books and the popular press, that modern physics and cosmology have uncovered evidence for intelligence in the structure of the universe and this intelligence seems to act with us in mind (Rolston III, 1986; Wright, 1992; Begley, 1994). In fact, science has done no such thing. Just as we must continue to educate parents and teachers on the facts of evolution, we must also inform them that science has by no means confirmed the traditional belief in a created universe with humanity at its center.
Indeed, if anything science indicates quite the opposite. Astronomical observations continue to demonstrate that the earth is no more significant than a single grain of sand on a vast beach. While a created, human-centered universe can probably never be ruled out, nothing in our current understanding of cosmology and physics requires it. Furthermore, we are beginning to understand the possible physical mechanisms for the appearance of matter from nothing, and for organization without design.

Evolutionists have successfully refuted the usual argument for design that is grounded on the intricacy of biological life. They have convincingly demonstrated, to any rational person, that complexity sufficient for life could readily have emerged naturally in the primeval chemical stew. However, the processes of biological evolution on earth still depended on the pre-existence, billions of years ago, of the particles and "laws" of physics.

For example, consider the calculation by astronomer Fred Hoyle, often referred to by creationists, that the odds against DNA assembling by chance are 1040,000 to one (Hoyle, 1981). This is true, but highly misleading. DNA did not assemble purely by chance. It assembled by a combination of chance and the laws of physics.

Without the laws of physics as we know them, life on earth as we know it would not have evolved in the short span of six billion years. The nuclear force was needed to bind protons and neutrons in the nuclei of atoms; electromagnetism was needed to keep atoms and molecules together; and gravity was needed to keep the resulting ingredients for life stuck to the surface of the earth.

These forces must have been in operation within seconds of the start of the big bang, 10-15 billion years ago, to allow for the formation of protons and neutrons out of quarks and their storage in stable hydrogen and deuterium atoms. Free neutrons disintegrate in minutes. To be able to hang around for billions of years so that they could later join with protons in making chemical elements in stars, neutrons had to be bound in deuterons and other light nuclei where energetics prevented their decay.

Gravity was needed to gather atoms together into stars and to compress stellar cores, raising the core temperatures to tens of millions of degrees. These high temperatures made nuclear reactions possible, and over billions of years the elements of the chemical periodic table were synthesized as the by-product.
When the nuclear fuel in the more massive, faster-burning stars was spent, the laws of physics called for them to explode as supernovae, sending into space the elements manufactured in their cores. In space, gravity could gather these elements into planets circling the smaller, longer-lived stars. Finally, after about ten billion years, the carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and other elements on a small planet attached to a small, stable star could begin the process of evolution toward the complex structures we call life.

In recent years, creationist theologians, and even a few physicists, have heavily promoted what they claim is a remarkable fine-tuning of the basic laws and constants of physics, without which life as we know it would never have developed (Barrow, 1986; Rolston III). If the universe had appeared with slight variations in the strengths of the fundamental forces or the masses of elementary particles, that universe would be pure hydrogen at one extreme, or pure helium at the other. Neither would have allowed for the eventual production of heavy elements, such as carbon, necessary for life.

Similarly, if gravity had not been many orders of magnitude weaker than electromagnetism, stars would not have lived long enough to produce the elements of life. Long before they could fabricate heavy chemical elements, stars would have collapsed. Only the fact that the gravitational force was forty orders of magnitude weaker prevented this from happening.
In a calculation similar to Hoyle's, mathematician Roger Penrose has estimated that the probability of a universe with our particular set of physical properties is one part in 1010123 (Penrose 1989: 343). However, neither Penrose nor anyone else can say how many of the other possible universes formed with different properties could still have lead to some form of life. If it is half, then the probability for life is fifty percent.

Ignoring this absent link in their chain of logic, promoters of intelligent design put forward the so-called anthropic coincidences as evidence for a universe that was created with humans in mind. I have heard Christian philosopher William Lane Craig make this claim in a debate on the existence of God. In the same debate, Craig contended that the great age of the universe, which dwarfs human history, is in fact a sign of God's plan for humanity because billions of years were needed to allow life to evolve. (Craig evidently accepts evolution). You would have thought God could be a lot more efficient. And Craig did not rationalize why humanity rather than cockroaches was the goal God had in mind.

So as you see, we have a lot more explaining to do after we explain how life developed on earth by natural processes. Even if life evolved naturally on earth with no outside interference, the existence of stars and planets, quarks and electrons, and the very laws of physics themselves can be presented as evidence for intelligent design to the universe. Furthermore, given the egocentrism that seems to characterize the human race, convincing people that the universe was designed with them in mind is as easy as convincing a child that candy is good for him.

Perhaps the universe was created for the sole purpose of producing you and me. I have no objection to discussing the possibility, as long as the discussion is critical, rational, and objective. The most common argument that is still given by believers when they are asked to present scientific evidence for a creator is: "How can all of this (gesturing to the world around us) have happened by chance?" As we have seen, the most brilliant exposition of the case for evolution will not answer this question, because it still presumes the pre-existence of laws of physics and values of physical constants that had to be delicately balanced for human (and cockroach) life to evolve.

The Argument from Probability
Before addressing the question of how the laws of physics can have come about in the absence of intelligent design, let me provide a response to the arguments from probability outlined above.

If we properly compute, according to statistical theory, the probability for the universe existing with the properties it has, the result is unity! The universe exists with one hundred percent probability (unless you are an idealist who believes everything exists only in your own mind). On the other hand, the probability for one of a random set of universes being our particular universe is a different question. And the probability that one of a random set of universes is a universe that supports some form of life is a third question. I submit it is this last question that is the important one and that we have no reason to be sure that this probability is small.

I have made some estimates of the probability that a chance distribution of physical constants can produce a universe with properties sufficient that some form of life would have likely had sufficient time to evolve. In this study, I randomly varied the constants of physics (I assume the same laws of physics as exist in our universe, since I know no other) over a range of ten orders of magnitude around their existing values. For each resulting "toy" universe, I computed various quantities such as the size of atoms and the lifetimes of stars. I found that almost all combinations of physical constants lead to universes, albeit strange ones, that would live long enough for some type of complexity to form (Stenger 1995: chapter 8). This is illustrated in figure 1.

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Scopes II in the Land of Dorothy

The not-very-clever farce dealing with what to teach in the biology classroom set to appear on stage in Kansas (my home state, recall), sometimes referred to as "Scopes II", seems almost universally recognized as a waste of taxpayer's money in aid of giving free press to the anti-evolutionary crowd currently crusading under the banner of "Intelligent Design". The crusaders are feeling confident because they are certain that their "new" theory is really, really scientific this time.
It strikes me just today that, for people so opposed to the idea of evolution, this group and their antics are a laboratory for the study of Social Darwinism, regardless of whether Social Darwinism is even true.

Watch in astonishment as they keep honing their "theory" in the hopes that enough people can be tricked into thinking that it's scientific! For years, decades — over a century since Darwin, I suppose — they've been casting about and trying to find some approach, some concept, any idea that will give them an edge and let them hoodwink people into believing that evolutionary biology is an enormous conspiracy perpetrated by evil scientists to convince the good Christian masses that God has died, or something like that.

For awhile it was that whole "monkey" thing and variants, but people finally seemed to start understanding what common descent really meant, and natural selection started getting the popular-press distortions that greeted other major scientific/conceptual breakthroughs, like relativity and quantum mechanics and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle; you know that scientific concepts have made progress when lots of people misunderstand them so thoroughly.

As they continue their search for something, evolving their strategy to find a non-scientific means to scuttle a branch of science politically, we've seen "creationism", "scientific creationism", and others that I can't remember the names of. Currently, the fashion is for "Intelligent Design", marketed as scientific but really just a form of "creationism" from which they believe just enough religion has been expunged to claim that it is "scientific" and not religious. This is hogwash, of course, since the evolutionary descent from biblical fundamentalism is still so clear.

Anyway, there's this event going on in Kansas. It's summarized beautifully in the article, "Your OFFICIAL program to the Scopes II Kansas Monkey Trial", by Tony Ortega, published by The Pitch, 5 April 2005. (Thanks to Josh Rosenau at Thoughts from Kansas for pointing it out.)
Mr. Ortega's writing is refreshing because he looks at the truth of the matter, rather than following contemporary journalistic non-standards of simply quoting a bunch of fools and having done with it.
For example:

Intelligent-design advocates have dressed up their arguments in scientific-sounding speech, but their objections to evolution have been around since Charles Darwin first published his theory in 1859. Intelligent-design proponents will claim that evolution is a failed theory that's being abandoned by scientists. (It isn't.) They'll say the news media suppress the huge controversy that is actually raging over evolution in scientific circles. (We aren't, because there isn't one.) They'll claim that evolution requires scientists to give up their religious beliefs and adopt an immoral, materialistic belief system. (It doesn't.) And if we're really lucky, they'll try to explain to nonscientist school-board members how the proteins in the flagella of tiny bacteria inspire their theories. He’s right in every case!

The schoolboard went to some trouble to try to find some real scientist to come and "debate" in favor of real science, but most professional scientific groups have decided to boycott the event, which is just fine. Participating really wouldn't accomplish anything except lend some legitimacy to the creationists who think they're now scientific.
Famed evolution-proponent and now-infamous atheist Richard Dawkins took their measure without any nonsense:

"As I am sure you are aware, the state of Kansas has made itself the laughingstock of the scientific world over this issue," wrote Oxford University professor and well-known author Richard Dawkins to the state board after he got his invitation. "The very idea of 'representatives from both views' presupposes that there are two views to represent…. For real scientists to share a platform with the biological equivalent of flat-earthers would be to give them the credibility, respectability, and above all publicity that they crave. I am sorry, but count me out."

Scientists, in face of an irrational, non-scientific onslaught like this, tend to come off appearing naive and tentative. I've heard explanations before that scientists tend to be gullible because we are used to dealing with Nature which, although it can be difficult to figure out, doesn't try to deceive us. Of course, ID crusaders are anti-scientific in their "theories" and their strategies to enforce biblical fundamentalism, and this tends perhaps to keep real scientists perplexed. Why, we wonder, would anyone go to so much trouble to lie and cheat and dissemble just to come over and foul our sandbox? Why don't they go and do their own science — it's open to everyone and insists on only a few simple rules. The enemy is incomprehensible — we don't even understand why they're fighting! — and we scientists would prefer just to be left alone to get on with advancing rational knowledge.*

And — goodness! — what would he have been up against? Mr. Ortega gives this sketch of one of the school board members and her fierce fight for truth:

If there were ever any question what a farce the "trial" is, [School board member and former teacher (that's scary!)] Kathy Martin removed all doubt a couple of weeks ago, when she gave an interview to the Clay Center Dispatch.

"We are not going to give up until the standards say what we want them to say," Martin told the paper. "Evolution has been proven false. ID is science-based and strong in facts."

Just to show off her stellar science credentials, Martin explained, "Man has changed and evolved, but we are not going to change back into monkeys." Her other statements regarding evolution, which included making outdated distinctions between "microevolution" and "macroevolution," came right out of the creationist playbook.

But Martin went way off-message when the Dispatch reporter asked whether ID was just Christian creationism in disguise. Her answer could only have given ID proponents’ fits: "Of course this is a Christian agenda. We are a Christian nation. Our country is made up of Christian conservatives. We don't often speak up, but we need to stand up and let our voices be heard."

Moreover, the former schoolteacher argued, "Why shouldn't theology be taught in the classroom? Morality ought to be taught in every class. Prayer ought to be allowed. Whenever a child wanted to pray in class, I prayed with them. All children believe in God. Even little children whose parents don't take them to church believe in God."

I still shake my head, lacking any comprehension of why these people feel it is so important to deny science and what it does for them, regardless of whether they believe in it. I still hope that this is just a short-term if somewhat extreme death rattle of the unenlightened and not the edge of the curtain of irrationality lowering to usher in a new dark age.
* There's some truth in the old joke about the physicist who values having both a partner and a lover: the partner will think s/he's with the lover, the lover will imagine s/he's with the partner, so s/he really can spend more time in the lab.

August 21, 2005

The word creationism, coined in 1868 in opposition to what was then called Darwinism or evolutionism, had fallen on hard times. The proponents of a theory faithfully attributing the origin of matter to God, ''the creator,'' were seemingly overwhelmed by the theory put forward by Charles Darwin and bolstered with much evidence by 20th century scientists. As a result, the noun creationism (like its predecessor, teleology, the study of purposeful design in nature) gained a musty connotation while evolutionism modishly lost its -ism.

Then along came the phrase intelligent design, and evolution had fresh linguistic competition. Though the phrase can be found in an 1847 issue of Scientific American and in an 1868 book, it was probably coined in its present sense in ''Humanism,'' a 1903 book by Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller: ''It will not be possible to rule out the supposition that the process of evolution may be guided by an intelligent design.''

The phrase lay relatively dormant for nearly a century. ''The term intelligent design came up in 1988 at a conference in Tacoma, Wash., called Sources of Information Content in DNA,'' recalls Stephen Meyer, director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, who was present at the phrase's re-creation. ''Charles Thaxton referred to a theory that the presence of DNA in a living cell is evidence of a designing intelligence. We weren't political; we were thinking about molecular biology and information theory. This wasn't stealth creationism. The phrase became the banner that we rallied around throughout the early 90's. We wanted to separate ourselves from the strict Darwinists and the creationists.''

At about that time, the traditional creationists took up the phrase. ''We are a Christian organization and use the term to refer to the Christian God,'' says John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research in Santee, Calif. ''The modern intelligent design movement looks at Dr. Phillip E. Johnson as its founder. . . . His book, 'Darwin on Trial,' kind of started it all in the early 90's. We were using intelligent design as an intuitive term: a watch implies a watchmaker.’’  (That mechanical analogy was first used by the philosopher William Paley in his 1802 book, ''Natural Theology,'' a pre-Darwinian work holding that the complexity of nature implies an intelligent creator -- namely, God.)

The marketing genius within the phrase -- and the reason it now drives many scientists and educators up the walls of academe -- is in its use of the adjective intelligent, which intrinsically refutes the longstanding accusation of anti-intellectualism. Although the intelligent agent referred to is Divine with a capital D, the word's meaning also rubs off on the proponent or believer. That's why intelligent design appeals to not only the DNA-driven Discovery Institute complexity theorists but also the traditional God's-handiwork faithful.

This banner floating over two disparate armies challenging evolutionary theory has the Darwinist scientific establishment going ape. Prof. Leonard Krishtalka of the University of Kansas lumped the armies together last month in a widely quoted definition of the I.D. movement as ''nothing more than creationism in a cheap tuxedo.'' Reached by my researcher, Aaron Britt, Professor Krishtalka added: ''It's a sophisticated camouflage of Genesis-driven creationism. Intelligent design sounds scientific, and they couch it as science instead of religion. It's frighteningly Orwellian.'' Alan Leshner, C.E.O. of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says: ''Whether or not there is or was an intelligent designer is not a scientific question. It's not an alternative to evolution. What they are trying to do is get religion in the science classroom.''

Media scorn piles on: the liberal pundit Jonathan Alter of Newsweek finds ''the threat to science and reason comes less from fundamentalists who believe the earth was created in six days than from sophisticated branding experts and polemical Ph.D.'s,'' while the conservative columnist-psychiatrist Charles Krauthammer in Time denounces ''this tarted-up version of creationism.'' The cartoonist Signe Wilkenson of The Philadelphia Daily News has President Bush pointing to a convoluted map labeled ''Iraq Strategy'' with a general in a pupil's chair asking, ''So when can we study intelligent design?''

To counter the ''sophisticated branding experts'' who flummoxed establishmentarian evolutionaries with intelligent design, opponents of classroom debate over Darwin's theory have come up with a catchily derisive neologism that lumps the modern I.D. advocates with religious fundamentalists: neo-creo. The rhyming label was coined on Aug. 17, 1999, by Philip Kitcher, professor of the philosophy of science at Columbia University, in a lively and lengthy online debate in Slate magazine with the abovementioned Phillip Johnson, professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley: ''Enter the neo-creos,'' Kitcher wrote. ''Scavenging the scientific literature, they take claims out of context and pretend that everything about evolution is controversial. . . . But it's all a big con.'' Johnson replied: ''I want to replace the culture war over evolution with a healthy, vigorous intellectual debate. The biggest obstacle is that the evolutionary scientists are genuinely baffled as to why everyone does not believe as they do. That is why they appear so dogmatic, and why they tend to slip into sarcasm and browbeating.''

I.D. advocates like to point to Albert Einstein, an apostle of order in the universe, who repeatedly rejected a statistical conception of physics with his famous aphorism, ''I cannot believe that God plays dice with the world.'' However, his recent biographer, Dennis Overbye, a science reporter for The Times, says: ''Einstein believed there was order in the universe but that it had not been designed for us.'' Overbye also notes that Einstein wrote the evenhanded ''Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.''

I will leave the last word on this old controversy with its new phraseology to the neuroscientist Leon Cooper, a Nobel laureate at Brown University. He tells all of today's red-faced disputants: ''If we could all lighten up a bit perhaps, we could have some fun in the classroom discussing the evidence and the proposed explanations -- just as we do at scientific conferences.''

Re "A Web of Faith, Law and Science in Evolution Suit" (front page, Sept. 26):
It's about time for another Scopes trial, since it seems that our country has a short memory and is regressing.
Perhaps Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District will officially distinguish what is true science and what is religion clothed in science.
Why can't intelligent design be part of a social science class or cultural history, or even a survey class in religion?
But to place it in a science or a biology class, when it clearly falls into the category of faith, is a mistake and should be resisted, even by legal means if necessary.
Where is H. L. Mencken when you need him?
Brad McIntyre
Little Chute, Wis., Sept. 26, 2005

To the Editor:
As you report, the Dover case has been referred to as Scopes II, but this time it is the secularists who have assumed the doctrinal role.
In the original Scopes trial, religionists were trying to prevent the teaching of an evolutionary process to explain human life. In the Dover trial, it is the secularists who are trying to prevent any reference to an evolutionary process that does not admit an exclusively deterministic (thus, no Creator) explanation.
Now who's narrow-minded?
Thomas M. Doran
Plymouth, Mich., Sept. 26, 2005
The writer works for the Ave Maria Foundation. The foundation provides financing to the Thomas More Law Center, which represents the Dover school district.

To the Editor:
It is ludicrous to argue that teaching "intelligent design" in high school biology classes is motivated by educational impulses, rather than by religion.
It has never been a school's role to introduce students to every theory and hypothesis for every natural or historical phenomenon.
Curriculums have always privileged certain paradigms over their rivals, because educators have recognized that when it comes to teaching, some explanations are better than others.
You quote Sheree Hied of Dover, Pa., who supports the decision of the school board last year to require high school biology classes to hear about "alternatives" to evolution, including intelligent design theory. She says, "I think we as Americans, regardless of our beliefs, should be able to freely access information, because people fought and died for our freedoms."
But keeping quasi-religious hypotheses out of our classrooms is a matter of education, not freedom.
Those parents who want their children to be introduced to intelligent design theory should exercise another of their freedoms, by enrolling their kids in Sunday school.
Adam Goldenberg
Cambridge, Mass., Sept. 26, 2005

To the Editor:
Two different meanings of the word "theory" underlie the effort to frame intelligent design and Darwinian evolution as alternative scientific theories.
In popular usage, a theory is a speculation, not necessarily supported by evidence, and only in that sense is intelligent design a theory.
In science, a theory is a coherent and consistent way to account for a wide array of observations and experimental results. It also generates testable predictions. When the explanatory and predictive power of a theory becomes overwhelming, it can be regarded as fact.
Darwinian evolution has long since passed that test and is solidly established as the foundation of modern biology.
Even the most well-established scientific theory can be disproved by new contradictory evidence. It cannot be overturned, nor should it be challenged as an alternative, by a speculation based on religion.
Evelyn M. Witkin
Princeton, N.J., Sept. 26, 2005
The writer is professor emerita of genetics at Rutgers University and a 2002 National Medal of Science recipient.

To the Editor:
The battle over "intelligent design" is not about what we can know about our world and why we know it. It is not about religion. It is about inculcating an ideology into young minds too immature to challenge it.
It is about using public power for private ends, and purposely playing out our politics in courts of law. We owe our children more responsible behavior, in religion as well as in science, and most of all, in our politics.
David Kilian
Cleveland, Sept. 26, 2005

H L Mencken's Creed

     I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind - that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.     

I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.
     I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty...
     I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.
     I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech...
     I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.
     I believe in the reality of progress.
     I - But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.


September 27, 2005
Agreeing Only to Disagree on God's Place in Science

It was on the second day at Cambridge that enlightenment dawned in the form of a testy exchange between a zoologist and a paleontologist, Richard Dawkins and Simon Conway Morris. Their bone of contention was one that scholars have been gnawing on since the days of Aquinas: whether an understanding of the universe and its glories requires the hypothesis of a God.

The speakers had been invited, along with a dozen other scientists and theologians, to address the 10 recipients of the first Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowships in Science and Religion. Each morning for two weeks in June, we walked across the Mathematical Bridge, spanning the River Cam, and through the medieval courtyards of Queens College to the seminar room.

We were there courtesy of the John Templeton Foundation, whose mission is "to pursue new insights at the boundary between theology and science," overcoming what it calls "the flatness of a purely naturalistic, secularized view of reality."

On matters scientific, Dr. Dawkins, who came from Oxford, and Dr. Conway Morris, a Cambridge man, agreed: The richness of the biosphere, humanity included, could be explained through natural selection.

They also agreed, contrary to the writings of Stephen Jay Gould, that evolution is not a crapshoot. If earth's history could be replayed like a video cassette, the outcome would be somewhat different, but certain physical constraints would favor the eventual appearance of warm-blooded creatures something like us, with eyes, ears, noses and brains.

Then, just millimeters from complete accord, they forked in orthogonal directions. For Dr. Dawkins, an atheist, the creative power of evolution reinforced his conviction that we live in a purely material world. For Dr. Conway Morris, a Christian, nature's "uncanny ability" to converge ? (The evidence points rather, to a convergence on the much more successful* life-form: bacteria, for whom we are food… success of a life-form is easily defined by the one thing all life-forms have in common: replication.  This, obviously, is the purpose of life, whoever does it best is the most successful.) on moral, (Moral? What does this mean? Despite Kant’s attempts to argue an ‘innate’ morality in humans, I think the evidence suggests otherwise.) loving creatures like ourselves testified that evolution itself was the handiwork of God.

Dr. Dawkins seemed as puzzled by this leap as he was exasperated. "We agree on almost everything," he said. Why insist on adding in a deity? When it came to science, Dr. Dawkins exclaimed, Dr. Conway Morris's God was "gratuitous."
Momentarily flummoxed, the paleontologist muttered to himself, and some of the fellows murmured their disapproval. But however abrupt Dr. Dawkins may have sounded, he had scored a crucial point.

Science is the name we give to the practice of finding physical explanations about the universe. Anything spiritual you bring to the table is extraneous, a matter of personal belief.

Scientists can study religion as a neurological or anthropological phenomenon, and religious leaders are free to offer opinions on the moral implications of new technologies. But the Templeton people are after something far more ambitious and volatile: "to join science with faith," as the philosopher Boethius put it. Fifteen centuries later, amid the gothic spires of Cambridge, the debate was smoldering on.

A Foundation With a Mission

There is a journalistic tradition of biting the hand that feeds you. A few days earlier, in the van from Heathrow Airport to Cambridge, several jet-lagged reporters spoke skeptically about our host and its well-publicized agenda. The creation of Sir John Marks Templeton, a 92-year-old Presbyterian investor and billionaire who lives in the Bahamas, the Templeton Foundation is said to earn so much from its endowment that it struggles to give it all away.

By financing programs like "Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest" and "The Origin of the Laws of Nature and the Existence of God," Templeton almost single-handedly sustains the modern movement to reconcile science and religion - or, as some see it, he is keeping it alive on its death bed with extraordinary means of support.

This is not about intelligent design. While the foundation assumes the existence of a deity, it rejects biblical literalism as much as it does New Age fuzziness; no "crystals and faeries," it admonishes grant seekers.

While the winner of the annual Templeton Prize "for progress in religion" has almost always been a Christian, the award has occasionally gone to a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu or a Jew. The name of the honor, currently worth $1.5 million, was recently broadened to recognize research on "spiritual realities," a term that many scientists, Dr. Dawkins surely among them, would consider an oxymoron.

In its guidelines, the foundation says it is unlikely to sponsor projects that would bring together science and religion by letting one subsume the other. Nor is it interested in "approaches that erect walls between religion and science and begin with the assumption that they should never have anything to do with each other."

That, at least tacitly, is how many scientists approach the divide - by compartmentalizing, treating science and religion as what Dr. Gould called nonoverlapping magisteria ("noma" for short). Michael Faraday, a Christian and one of the premier scientists of the 19th century, put it like this: "I do not think it at all necessary to tie the study of the natural sciences and religion together, and in my intercourse with my fellow creatures that which is religious and that which is philosophical have ever been two distinct things."

Even Isaac Newton, whose obsession with alchemy and biblical prophecy bordered on fanaticism, called for a strict distinction between religion and "philosophy," as science was called in his day: "We are not to introduce divine revelations into philosophy, nor philosophical opinions into religion."
For the reconcilers, noma is considered a nonstarter. Accepting it would mean that the centuries-old divergence between these two domains would continue unopposed. It would also mean the end of the Templeton grants.

God, the Fine-Tuner

Modern science is sometimes said to have grown from the Christian belief in a single supreme being who created and sustains an orderly cosmos. Since he could have written the laws any way he wanted, it follows that they can only be discovered empirically, not deduced from first principles as Aristotle tried to do. The Book of Nature must be studied as assiduously as the Book of God.

Historians go on to describe how science shed its theological chrysalis and went its separate way. The result is what the Templeton people call "flat science." Early in the seminars, Denis Alexander, a Cambridge immunologist and Christian, made the radical suggestion that science reclaim its theistic roots, taking as its deepest premise the existence of God.

Another speaker, John Polkinghorne, a Cambridge physicist turned Anglican priest, saw profound significance in the fact that humans - rational, conscious creatures endowed with intentionality and free will - find themselves in a universe with laws they can understand. In "The Faith of a Physicist," he gives his take on the big bang theory with God stepping in to ensure a chemistry "fine tuned" to generate life.

Listening to the reconcilers and reading their books, even an agnostic could appreciate how the beauty of the cosmos might compel one to believe in something transcendent. Or is it simply that, being born of it, it must needs be beautiful to us? But what writers like Dr. Alexander and Dr. Polkinghorne are talking about is not just the awe one feels hiking above the timberline or inhaling the ocean air. They are looking to science for something far more specific - the constant, hovering presence of the kind of God described in Sunday school, who watches over us and responds to our prayers.

This is not the God of deism, who cranked up the universe and let it run. In drafting the principles of physics he left trapdoors - what Dr. Polkinghorne calls "causal joints" - through which to intervene, placing the earth in a hospitable orbit or unleashing the cascade of mutations needed for a microbe to evolve into a man. The trick is to do this without appearing to violate his own laws.

Some theologians speculate that this happens on the subatomic level, when a particle appears to dart probabilistically, with a roll of the quantum dice. Maybe it is God doing the shuffling, and what appears to mortals as quantum indeterminacy is divine intervention in disguise.

Others propose that God acts through nonlinear dynamics, in which microscopic fluctuations give rise to potentially earthshaking results - chaos theory's "butterfly effect." Here too the influence would be undetectable. With or without the guiding hand of the creator, reality would appear the same.

An Elusive Common Ground
Dr. Dawkins has written that "a universe with a supernatural presence would be a fundamentally and qualitatively different kind of universe from one without." If the God hypothesis is meaningful, it should be subject to a test. But the theistic gloss Dr. Polkinghorne and others give to science is immune to this kind of scrutiny. It has, by design, no observable consequences.

The reconcilers insist that the same is true for the belief that there is nothing but matter and energy, that you can be either a materialist or a theist and still do good research. But for many scientists, entertaining supernatural explanations is a violation of the craft. A study reported in Nature in 1998 found that only 7 percent of the members of the elite National Academy of Sciences believed in God. For biologists the figure was just 5.5 percent.

"You clearly can be a scientist and have religious beliefs," Peter Atkins, an Oxford University chemist, has said. "But I don't think you can be a real scientist in the deepest sense of the word because they are such alien categories of knowledge."

Cloistered inside the walls of Cambridge, we listened as a theologian wondered whether Christ's powers of healing might be quantum mechanical, and a physicist considered whether Jesus would appear on other planets in extraterrestrial form. Trying their best to collide, Dr. Gould's nonoverlapping magisteria seemed farther apart than ever, two great ships passing in the night, pointed in opposite directions.

September 29, 2005
Intelligent Design Advocates Fight Back
Filed at 9:52 p.m. ET

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- A group of Nobel Prize winners should have done more homework before criticizing proposed science standards in Kansas, advocates of the guidelines said in a letter Thursday.

Intelligent design advocates pushing new standards, which would expose students to more criticism of evolution, say the laureates' complaints are an attempt to suppress debate on the issue.

The letter was signed by Bill Harris, a professor of medicine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Greg Lassey, a former middle school science teacher, who helped draft the disputed language.

''We all want good standards,'' the letter said. ''However, demeaning rhetoric that does not address specifics but serves only to belittle and misrepresent the changes is not helpful.''

Earlier this month, 38 laureates, including prominent chemists, physicists and medical experts, asked the State Board of Education to reject the proposed standards.

The laureates, led by Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, said evolution is the foundation of biology and that it has been bolstered by DNA studies.
Many scientists see intelligent design as another form of creationism, which the Supreme Court has banned from public schools.

Intelligent design theorists believe the complexity of the natural world cannot be explained except by attributing creation to some higher intelligence.
The Kansas board expects to vote this year on the standards, which will be used to develop tests for students but would allow local boards to decide how science is taught.

August 28, 2005
Show Me the Science
Blue Hill, Me.

PRESIDENT BUSH, announcing this month that he was in favor of teaching about "intelligent design" in the schools, said, "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought." A couple of weeks later, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader, made the same point. Teaching both intelligent design and evolution "doesn't force any particular theory on anyone," Mr. Frist said. "I think in a pluralistic society that is the fairest way to go about education and training people for the future."

Is "intelligent design" a legitimate school of scientific thought? Is there something to it, or have these people been taken in by one of the most ingenious hoaxes in the history of science? Wouldn't such a hoax be impossible? No. Here's how it has been done.

First, imagine how easy it would be for a determined band of naysayers to shake the world's confidence in quantum physics - how weird it is! - or Einsteinian relativity. In spite of a century of instruction and popularization by physicists, few people ever really get their heads around the concepts involved. Most people eventually cobble together a justification for accepting the assurances of the experts: "Well, they pretty much agree with one another, and they claim that it is their understanding of these strange topics that allows them to harness atomic energy, and to make transistors and lasers, which certainly do work..."

Fortunately for physicists, there is no powerful motivation for such a band of mischief-makers to form. They don't have to spend much time persuading people that quantum physics and Einsteinian relativity really have been established beyond all reasonable doubt.

With evolution, however, it is different. The fundamental scientific idea of evolution by natural selection is not just mind-boggling; natural selection, by executing God's traditional task of designing and creating all creatures great and small, also seems to deny one of the best reasons we have for believing in God. So there is plenty of motivation for resisting the assurances of the biologists. Nobody is immune to wishful thinking. It takes scientific discipline to protect ourselves from our own credulity, but we've also found ingenious ways to fool ourselves and others. Some of the methods used to exploit these urges are easy to analyze; others take a little more unpacking.

A creationist pamphlet sent to me some years ago had an amusing page in it, purporting to be part of a simple questionnaire:

Test Two
Do you know of any building that didn't have a builder? [YES] [NO]
Do you know of any painting that didn't have a painter? [YES] [NO]
Do you know of any car that didn't have a maker? [YES] [NO]
If you answered YES for any of the above, give details:

Take that, you Darwinians! The presumed embarrassment of the test-taker when faced with this task perfectly expresses the incredulity many people feel when they confront Darwin's great idea. It seems obvious, doesn't it, that there couldn't be any designs without designers, any such creations without a creator.
Well, yes - until you look at what contemporary biology has demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt: that natural selection - the process in which reproducing entities must compete for finite resources and thereby engage in a tournament of blind trial and error from which improvements automatically emerge - has the power to generate breathtakingly ingenious designs.

Take the development of the eye, which has been one of the favorite challenges of creationists. How on earth, they ask, could that engineering marvel be produced by a series of small, unplanned steps? Only an intelligent designer could have created such a brilliant arrangement of a shape-shifting lens, an aperture-adjusting iris, a light-sensitive image surface of exquisite sensitivity, all housed in a sphere that can shift its aim in a hundredth of a second and send megabytes of information to the visual cortex every second for years on end.

But as we learn more and more about the history of the genes involved, and how they work - all the way back to their predecessor genes in the sightless bacteria from which multicelled animals evolved more than a half-billion years ago - we can begin to tell the story of how photosensitive spots gradually turned into light-sensitive craters that could detect the rough direction from which light came, and then gradually acquired their lenses, improving their information-gathering capacities all the while.

We can't yet say what all the details of this process were, but real eyes representative of all the intermediate stages can be found, dotted around the animal kingdom, and we have detailed computer models to demonstrate that the creative process works just as the theory says.

All it takes is a rare accident that gives one lucky animal a mutation that improves its vision over that of its siblings; if this helps it have more offspring than its rivals, this gives evolution an opportunity to raise the bar and ratchet up the design of the eye by one mindless step. And since these lucky improvements accumulate - this was Darwin's insight - eyes can automatically get better and better and better, without any intelligent designer.

Brilliant as the design of the eye is, it betrays its origin with a tell-tale flaw: the retina is inside out. The nerve fibers that carry the signals from the eye's rods and cones (which sense light and color) lie on top of them, and have to plunge through a large hole in the retina to get to the brain, creating the blind spot. No intelligent designer would put such a clumsy arrangement in a camcorder, and this is just one of hundreds of accidents frozen in evolutionary history that confirm the mindlessness of the historical process.

If you still find Test Two compelling, a sort of cognitive illusion that you can feel even as you discount it, you are like just about everybody else in the world; the idea that natural selection has the power to generate such sophisticated (sophisticated to us, with brains only slightly larger than that necessary to control our motor actions) designs is deeply counterintuitive. Francis Crick, one of the discoverers of DNA, once jokingly credited his colleague Leslie Orgel with "Orgel's Second Rule": Evolution is cleverer than you are. Evolutionary biologists are often startled by the power of natural selection to "discover" an "ingenious" solution to a design problem posed in the lab.

This observation lets us address a slightly more sophisticated version of the cognitive illusion presented by Test Two. When evolutionists like Crick marvel at the cleverness of the process of natural selection they are not acknowledging intelligent design. The designs found in nature are nothing short of brilliant, but the process of design that generates them is utterly lacking in intelligence of its own.

Intelligent design advocates, however, exploit the ambiguity between process and product that is built into the word "design." For them, the presence of a finished product (a fully evolved eye, for instance) is evidence of an intelligent design process. But this tempting conclusion is just what evolutionary biology has shown to be mistaken.

Yes, eyes are for seeing, but these and all the other purposes in the natural world can be generated by processes that are themselves without purposes and without intelligence. This is hard to understand, but so is the idea that colored objects in the world are composed of atoms that are not themselves colored, and that heat is not made of tiny hot things.

The focus on intelligent design has, paradoxically, obscured something else: genuine scientific controversies about evolution that abound. In just about every field there are challenges to one established theory or another. The legitimate way to stir up such a storm is to come up with an alternative theory that makes a prediction that is crisply denied by the reigning theory - but that turns out to be true, or that explains something that has been baffling defenders of the status quo, or that unifies two distant theories at the cost of some element of the currently accepted view.

To date, the proponents of intelligent design have not produced anything like that. No experiments with results that challenge any mainstream biological understanding. No observations from the fossil record or genomics or biogeography or comparative anatomy that undermine standard evolutionary thinking.
Instead, the proponents of intelligent design use a ploy that works something like this. First you misuse or mis-describe some scientist's work. Then you get an angry rebuttal. Then, instead of dealing forthrightly with the charges leveled, you cite the rebuttal as evidence that there is a "controversy" to teach.

Note that the trick is content-free. You can use it on any topic. "Smith's work in geology supports my argument that the earth is flat," you say, misrepresenting Smith's work. When Smith responds with a denunciation of your misuse of her work, you respond, saying something like: "See what a controversy we have here? Professor Smith and I are locked in a titanic scientific debate. We should teach the controversy in the classrooms." And here is the delicious part: you can often exploit the very technicality of the issues to your own advantage, counting on most of us to miss the point in all the difficult details.

William Dembski, one of the most vocal supporters of intelligent design, notes that he provoked Thomas Schneider, a biologist, into a response that Dr. Dembski characterizes as "some hair-splitting that could only look ridiculous to outsider observers." What looks to scientists - and is - a knockout objection by Dr. Schneider is portrayed to most everyone else as ridiculous hair-splitting.

In short, no science. Indeed, no intelligent design hypothesis has even been ventured as a rival explanation of any biological phenomenon. This might seem surprising to people who think that intelligent design competes directly with the hypothesis of non-intelligent design by natural selection. But saying, as intelligent design proponents do, "You haven't explained everything yet," is not a competing hypothesis. Evolutionary biology certainly hasn't explained everything that perplexes biologists. But intelligent design hasn't yet tried to explain anything.

To formulate a competing hypothesis, you have to get down in the trenches and offer details that have testable implications. So far, intelligent design proponents have conveniently sidestepped that requirement, claiming that they have no specifics in mind about who or what the intelligent designer might be.

To see this shortcoming in relief, consider an imaginary hypothesis of intelligent design that could explain the emergence of human beings on this planet:
About six million years ago, intelligent genetic engineers from another galaxy visited Earth and decided that it would be a more interesting planet if there was a language-using, religion-forming species on it, so they sequestered some primates and genetically re-engineered them to give them the language instinct, and enlarged frontal lobes for planning and reflection. It worked.

If some version of this hypothesis were true, it could explain how and why human beings differ from their nearest relatives, and it would disconfirm the competing evolutionary hypotheses that are being pursued.

We'd still have the problem of how these intelligent genetic engineers came to exist on their home planet, but we can safely ignore that complication for the time being, since there is not the slightest shred of evidence in favor of this hypothesis.

But here is something the intelligent design community is reluctant to discuss: no other intelligent-design hypothesis has anything more going for it. In fact, my farfetched hypothesis has the advantage of being testable in principle: we could compare the human and chimpanzee genomes, looking for unmistakable signs of tampering by these genetic engineers from another galaxy. Finding some sort of user's manual neatly embedded in the apparently functionless "junk DNA" that makes up most of the human genome would be a Nobel Prize-winning coup for the intelligent design gang, but if they are looking at all, they haven't come up with anything to report.

It's worth pointing out that there are plenty of substantive scientific controversies in biology that are not yet in the textbooks or the classrooms. The scientific participants in these arguments vie for acceptance among the relevant expert communities in peer-reviewed journals, and the writers and editors of textbooks grapple with judgments about which findings have risen to the level of acceptance - not yet truth - to make them worth serious consideration by undergraduates and high school students.

SO get in line, intelligent designers. Get in line behind the hypothesis that life started on Mars and was blown here by a cosmic impact. Get in line behind the aquatic ape hypothesis, the gestural origin of language hypothesis and the theory that singing came before language, to mention just a few of the enticing hypotheses that are actively defended but still insufficiently supported by hard facts.

The Discovery Institute, the conservative organization that has helped to put intelligent design on the map, complains that its members face hostility from the established scientific journals. But establishment hostility is not the real hurdle to intelligent design. If intelligent design were a scientific idea whose time had come, young scientists would be dashing around their labs, vying to win the Nobel Prizes that surely are in store for anybody who can overturn any significant proposition of contemporary evolutionary biology.

Remember cold fusion? The establishment was incredibly hostile to that hypothesis, but scientists around the world rushed to their labs in the effort to explore the idea, in hopes of sharing in the glory if it turned out to be true.

Instead of spending more than $1 million a year on publishing books and articles for non-scientists and on other public relations efforts, the Discovery Institute should finance its own peer-reviewed electronic journal. This way, the organization could live up to its self-professed image: the doughty defenders of brave iconoclasts bucking the establishment.

For now, though, the theory they are promoting is exactly what George Gilder, a long-time affiliate of the Discovery Institute, has said it is: "Intelligent design itself does not have any content."

Since there is no content, there is no "controversy" to teach about in biology class. But here is a good topic for a high school course on current events and politics: Is intelligent design a hoax? And if so, how was it perpetrated?

Daniel C. Dennett, a professor of philosophy at Tufts University, is the author of "Freedom Evolves" and "Darwin's Dangerous Idea."

October 6, 2005

Seeing Creation and Evolution in Grand Canyon

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. - Tom Vail, who has been leading rafting trips down the Colorado River here for 23 years, corralled his charges under a rocky outcrop at Carbon Creek and pointed out the remarkable 90-degree folds in the cliff overhead.

Geologists date this sandstone to 550 million years ago and explain the folding as a result of pressure from shifting faults underneath. But to Mr. Vail, the folds suggest the Grand Canyon was carved 4,500 years ago by the great global flood described in Genesis as God's punishment for humanity's sin.

"You see any cracks in that?" he asked. "Instead of bending like that, it should have cracked." The material "had to be soft" to bend, Mr. Vail said, imagining its formation in the flood. When somebody suggested that pressure over time could create plasticity in the rocks, Mr. Vail said, "That's just a theory."

"It's all theory, right?" asked Jack Aiken, 63, an Assemblies of God minister in Alaska who has a master's degree in geology. "Except what's in the Good Book."

For Mr. Vail and 29 guests on his Canyon Ministries trip, this was vacation as religious pilgrimage, an expedition in search of evidence that God created the earth in six days 6,000 years ago, just as Scripture says.

That same week, a few miles upriver, a decidedly different group of 24 rafters surveyed the same rock formations - but through the lens of science rather than what Mr. Vail calls "biblical glasses." Sponsored by the National Center for Science Education, the chief challenger to creationists' influence in public schools, this trip was a floating geology seminar, charting the canyon's evolution through eons of erosion.

"Look at the weathering, look at the size of the pieces," Eugenie C. Scott, the center director, said of markings in Black Tail Canyon. "To a standard geologist, to somebody who actually studies geology, this just shouts out at you: This is really old; this is really gradual."

Two groups examining the same evidence. Traveling nearly identical itineraries, snoozing under the same stars and bathing in the same chocolate-colored river. Yet, standing at opposite ends of the growing creation-evolution debate, they seemed to speak in different tongues.

Science unequivocally dates the earth's age at 4.5 billion years, and the canyon's layers at some two billion years. Even the intelligent design movement, which argues that evolution alone cannot explain life's complexity, does not challenge the long history of the earth.

But a core of creationists like Mr. Vail continue to champion a Bible-based theory of the canyon's carving. And polls show many Americans are unconvinced by scientific knowledge. More than unconvinced, they express opinions not based on education.

Though it did not ask specifically about the global flood or six-day creation, a November 2004 Gallup survey found that a third of the public believes the Bible is the actual word of God that should be taken literally and that 45 percent think God created human beings "pretty much in their present form" within the last 10,000 years.

Gallup found in another poll that 5 percent of scientists, and fewer than 1 percent of earth and life scientists, adopted the "Young Earth" view.

The twin rafting trips epitomize the parallel universes often inhabited by Americans with polarized positions. Members of both groups said they had signed up for these charters to be surrounded by like-minded people. Indeed, all the American adults on Mr. Vail's boats voted for President Bush last fall, while all but two on the evolutionists' rafts cast ballots for Senator John Kerry.

When not running the rapids, Mr. Vail's group, which included three pastors, sat in makeshift sanctuaries of sand and stone to offer psalms and prayers of praise for their surroundings.

Some were committed creationists and others were still asking questions. But all began with a literal interpretation of the Bible, seeking examples in the rocks to support its story that God did it all in less than a week.

When they made camp, Dr. Scott's rafters, nearly half with Ph.D.'s in science, had evening discussions of tidal patterns and plateau shifts, as well as tutorials on tactics in the evolution debate. Most of them ardently secular, a few practicing believers, they started with what they see as unchallengeable facts about the Earth's age, and dismissed creationism as unscientific. After each "geology moment," Dr. Scott play-acted the creationists, saying sarcastically of their evidence, "My part of the lesson is always a lot shorter and less detailed."

Mr. Vail, whose book on the Grand Canyon scientists tried to ban from park stores last year, describes this natural wonder as "Exhibit A" for Young Earth creationists. Dr. Scott calls it a scientists' Louvre.

To Kathryn Crotts, 56, a pastor's wife from Greensboro, N.C. , touching the canyon's basement rock was a spiritual moment.

"In the book of Genesis, it talks about God walking the face of the earth," Mrs. Crotts explained. "Maybe His footprints are there."

But to Charlie Webb, 58, an emergency-room doctor in Colorado Springs, it is evolution that answers "the great philosophical questions why are we here, where did we come from."

"Evolution is the basis of biology, biology is the basis of medicine," said Dr. Webb, dismissing the flood explanation as childish and pathetic. "You're messing with something important when you mess with evolution."

For eight days and 280 miles, with a reporter along for half of each journey, the groups relaxed on motorized rafts, hiked the hills, dined on Dutch-oven delicacies, frolicked in waterfalls and admired rainbows, each awed by what they see as truth.

Origins of Two Journeys
About 4.5 million people visit the Grand Canyon each year, peering over the rim and perhaps popping into a gift shop, where Mr. Vail's book, "The Grand Canyon: A Different View," ranked 17th among 800 products sold last year. Some 22,000 hardy souls raft its river.

Mr. Vail, 57, a former corporate computer manager, took his first trip in 1980, and soon "turned in my three-piece suit for a pair of flip-flops." He had been guiding full time a dozen years when a pilot celebrating her 40th birthday rode on his raft and whispered the Gospel in his ear.

That fall, in a tent in the Himalayas, he recited the Sinner's Prayer in the Bible she had sent with him, and, he said, "I came home a child of Christ."
Back on the river, Mr. Vail said, "I started asking, 'How does what I see here in the canyon relate to what I read in God's word?' " He attended creationist seminars, married the airline pilot, and in 1997 founded Canyon Ministries, which brings some 200 Christians to the river each year.

His 2003 book, a coffee-table-quality photo gallery with quotations from Scripture, has sold 40,000 copies, despite science organizations' protests of its sale in park shops.

Dr. Scott, 59, first chartered a canyon expedition in 1999. A former professor of physical anthropology, she has run the National Center for Science Education, a 3,800-member advocacy group based in Oakland, Calif., for 17 years.

Among the rafters on this year's trip were Susan Epperson, 64, a former high school biology teacher who was the plaintiff in the 1967 Supreme Court case that found Arkansas' law banning the teaching of evolution unconstitutional, and Ken Saladin, 56, a professor at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville who has been protesting any mix of church and state for 30 years.

"I won't defend evolution," Dr. Scott said in exasperation one evening. "We don't defend the spherical Earth. We need to stop defending, as they put it, Darwinism, and just make them show they have a scientific view."

At orientation, when the rafters wrote their names on mugs, Libbi Hendley, 52, who owns a newsstand in Boone, N.C., with her husband, marked hers with the Christian fish symbol. In the other group, Eric Hildeman, 34, a Milwaukee seminarian turned atheist accountant, wore a cap with the same symbol, filled with the word "Darwin."

Worship in a Glorious Cathedral
"Isn't this a wonderful cathedral to meet in?" the Rev. Stephen Crotts, a pastor in Greensboro, N.C., asked the congregation encircling him on a Sunday morning.

The worshipers sat on the ground, many of them barefoot. The rushing river and canyon wrens accompanied the impromptu choir along with Mr. Vail's wife, Paula, on flute and 17-year-old Andrew Panes, who brought a guitar from England. The preacher had three days' growth.

"What is this place that God created saying to you and me?" asked Mr. Crotts, 55. "One of the things it says to me is I'm small and God and the world He created is huge. This is a man-dwarfing place."

Religion permeated Mr. Vail's trip, the group bowing heads before meals and hikes. At lunch one day, four women clustered in a tight hug, praying for one who had multiple sclerosis.

"We just need to talk to the only person who can do anything about it," said Linda Lomax, 58.

When Lucy Panes, 20, shouted, "Oh my God!" after a guide doused her with river water, she immediately covered her mouth, only to be admonished by her mother, Diana, "Please don't shout that."

Diana Panes began questioning evolution, which she had studied in school like most everyone else, seven years ago when Andrew came home from school asking whether Genesis was fable or history, and about dinosaurs dating back millions of years.

"I was gobsmacked," Mrs. Panes recalled.

So she started reading, attending lectures, watching creationist videos. "I don't want to believe in fairy tales. I'm interested in truth," Mrs. Panes said.
Convinced that Jesus himself believed the global flood and genealogy of Genesis were true historical accounts, "the whole thing becomes his reputation at stake," Mrs. Panes, 54, said of why she felt compelled to come to the canyon to see for herself. "For years there were huge areas I couldn't answer. My faith was devotional."

Of the explanations offered by Mr. Vail and other creationists, she said, "For me it was just the most immense relief that it didn't have to remain a mystery forever."

Questions and More Questions
But Brenda Melvin, 46, a nurse practitioner, was not so sure. "My Christian heart wanted to believe, but my scientific mind had questions," Ms. Melvin said. "I believe totally that God created heaven and Earth - I don't know how he did it, I don't know exactly when he did it. What about ‘why’ he did it? I don't know that we're ever going to learn the answers here."

Her pastor, Paul Phillips, also did not accept Mr. Vail's explanations of rock layers and fossil remnants without question. "Whatever he says, I'm just trying to think: There's a really smart person, there's tons of really smart people, that think the other side," he said.

For Mr. Phillips, 42, the most profound revelation came not about when the canyon was carved, but why: Genesis recounts the great flood as God's harsh judgment on a world filled with sin.

"If I'm a sinner, and this is the punishment for sin, then I might want to rethink my position before God," he said. "If you acknowledge a creator and a designer, then you have to deal with that entity. If it just happened, then I don't have to worry about an entity that ripped apart the earth."

Faith in Science
"I've always believed in evolution," Irene Rosenthal, 71, a semi-retired psychologist, said over soup one night.

"Accepted evolution," interjected George H. Griffin, 58, a retired law enforcement officer in Colorado. "That's what Genie wants us to say," he said, referring to Dr. Scott. "Genie said anyone who said 'believed' would have to walk home."

Dr. Scott and others cringe at creationists' charge that Darwin's theories have become dogmatic faith, that creationism and evolution are just two parallel belief systems, equally plausible and unprovable. "We have faith in science, but it's not a religion," said Herb Masters, a retired firefighter. "It's a faith in a body of knowledge."

While the creationists sang hymns, Dr. Scott taught her crew a biologist's ditty about the amphioxus, a fishlike invertebrate in the human evolutionary line, to the tune of "It's a Long Way From Tipperary":

It's a long way from amphioxus - it's a long way to us.
It's a long way from amphioxus to the meanest human cuss.
Goodbye fins and gill slits,
Hello lungs and hair!
It's a long, long way from amphioxus,
But we come from there.

Most on the science trip were atheists or agnostics, dismissive and at times disrespectful of religion. Standing under a gushing waterfall, they joked about baptism. When a white dove appeared after a harrowing hike, Dr. Scott teased, "It's a sign!"

But six of the rafters said they belonged to churches or synagogues, four attending weekly. Alan Gishlick, with silver-painted toenails sticking out of his Tevas and a shoulder tattoo of a Buddhist word puzzle meaning "Knowledge makes me content," said he was a "devout Christian."

"Ultimately, creationism is not just bad science to me, it's bad Christianity, it's Bible worship," said Mr. Gishlick, 32, a paleontology Ph.D. "There's just no reason to look at these patterns of layered sediment, or in the fossil record, or at the stars, and think that what you're seeing isn't what you're seeing. God doesn't require you to be stupid, to deny what you see, to deny what you know." Fundamentalists counter that it is God’s way of testing faith.

Ms. Epperson, who sings in the choir at her Presbyterian church and brought her Bible along on the trip, said, "The more you learn about science, the more magnificent God is.

"I can look at a rainbow, and I know that white light can hit water droplets and it gets dispersed and the light spreads out and has lots of different colors," she said, "and I also say, 'Thank you, God, for the rainbow.' "

She said she asked God whether her role as an evolution advocate was meant to be her mission. "I say, 'God, if this is wrong, if I'm wrong, please strike me with lightning, because I don't want to be walking down the wrong path.' "

Same Object, Different Views
Walking along a path in the Redwall limestone, Mr. Vail splashed water on fossilized outlines of nautiloids, large aquatic critters that present one of creationists' chief complaints about standard canyon geology.

Mr. Vail said fossils preserved death without decay, suggesting catastrophe, and that huge numbers of nautiloids in a six-foot layer spreading some 5,700 square miles could only be the result of a massive flood.

Examining a vertical outline of a nautiloid, Mr. Vail ridiculed the geology explanation, saying it would have had to "stand there like that for tens of thousands of years while it got buried."

"Anybody want to buy that one?" he added.

A similar question came to the science group from a creationist student of Professor Saladin who had sent him a long e-mail message to ponder on his trip. Mr. Gishlick said scientists had not documented the billions of nautiloids creationists cite and had found no stunning pattern in their orientation, citing the very vertical fossil Mr. Vail had mentioned.

"These guys don't look like they were buried in something chaotic," he said. "They look like they floated down to the bottom."

Some around the circle complained about the credence being given to the creationist argument in order to answer it.

"I don't really care how they reconcile Noah's flood with scientific things - it's about religion," protested Mary Murray, 54, an artist from Laguna Beach, Calif., who came with her biology-professor husband. "We shouldn't be talking about religion at all in the public schools."

Through four days, Mr. Vail mentioned public schools only once, saying that 80 percent of Christians walked away from their faith when studying science that confounded the creation story. "It's foundational to our faith," he said, throwing a stick into the sand in frustration. "We're raising a generation of confused children, and it's the public schools that are doing it!" I’m guessing he’s not smart enough to recognize the irony in these words!

That morning, Mr. Vail led his troops up a rocky overlook to scout Hance Rapid before running through its 30-foot drop.

"As you look at the rapid from up here, you can see the run," he pointed out. "You can see where the rocks are. You can see the bump - that's obviously somewhere you don't want to go. You can pick your way through the waves.

"When you're back on the boat, look at the rapid as you're coming into it and see how much you can see," he continued. "We can read God's word and we know what we're supposed to do. It's real clear up here what we're supposed to do."


Divided Over Evolution

August 31, 2005

Teaching of Creationism Is Endorsed in New Survey

Correction Appended
In a finding that is likely to intensify the debate over what to teach students about the origins of life, a poll released yesterday found that nearly two-thirds of Americans say that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools.

The poll found that 42 percent of respondents held strict creationist views, agreeing that "living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time."

In contrast, 48 percent said they believed that humans had evolved over time. But of those, 18 percent said that evolution was "guided by a supreme being," and 26 percent said that evolution occurred through natural selection. In all, 64 percent said they were open to the idea of teaching creationism in addition to evolution, while 38 percent favored replacing evolution with creationism.

The poll was conducted July 7-17 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The questions about evolution were asked of 2,000 people. The margin of error was 2.5 percentage points.

John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum, said he was surprised to see that teaching both evolution and creationism was favored not only by conservative Christians, but also by majorities of secular respondents, liberal Democrats and those who accept the theory of natural selection. Mr. Green called it a reflection of "American pragmatism."

"It's like they're saying, 'Some people see it this way, some see it that way, so just teach it all and let the kids figure it out.' It seems like a nice compromise, but it infuriates both the creationists and the scientists," said Mr. Green, who is also a professor at the University of Akron in Ohio.

Eugenie C. Scott, the director of the National Center for Science Education and a prominent defender of evolution, said the findings were not surprising because "Americans react very positively to the fairness or equal time kind of argument."

"In fact, it's the strongest thing that creationists have got going for them because their science is dismal," Ms. Scott said. "But they do have American culture on their side."

This year, the National Center for Science Education has tracked 70 new controversies over evolution in 26 states, some in school districts, others in the state legislatures.

President Bush joined the debate on Aug. 2, telling reporters that both evolution and the theory of intelligent design should be taught in schools "so people can understand what the debate is about."

Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader, took the same position a few weeks later.

Intelligent design, a descendant of creationism, is the belief that life is so intricate that only a supreme being could have designed it.

The poll showed 41 percent of respondents wanted parents to have the primary say over how evolution is taught, compared with 28 percent who said teachers and scientists should decide and 21 percent who said school boards should. Asked whether they believed creationism should be taught instead of evolution, 38 percent were in favor, and 49 percent were opposed.

More of those who believe in creationism said they were "very certain" of their views (63 percent), compared with those who believe in evolution (32 percent).
The poll also asked about religion and politics, government financing of religious charities, and gay men and lesbians in the military. Most of these questions were asked of a smaller pool of 1,000 respondents, and the margin of error was 2.5 percentage points, Pew researchers said.

The public's impression of the Democratic Party has changed in the last year, the survey found. Only 29 percent of respondents said they viewed Democrats as being "friendly toward religion," down from 40 percent in August of 2004. Meanwhile, 55 percent said the Republican Party was friendly toward religion.

Luis E. Lugo, the director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, said: "I think this is a continuation of the Republican Party's very successful use of the values issue in the 2004 election, and the Democrats not being able up until now to answer that successfully. Some of the more visible leaders, such as Howard Dean and others, have reinforced that image of a secular party. Of course, if you look at the Democratic Party, there's a large religious constituency there."

Survey respondents agreed in nearly equal numbers that nonreligious liberals had "too much control" over the Democratic Party (44 percent), and that religious conservatives had too much control over the Republican Party (45 percent).

On religion-based charities, two-thirds of respondents favored allowing churches and houses of worship to apply for government financing to provide social services. But support for such financing declined from 75 percent in early 2001, when Mr. Bush rolled out his religion-based initiative.

On gay men and lesbians in the military, 58 percent of those polled said they should be allowed to serve openly, a modest increase from 1994, when 52 percent agreed. Strong opposition has fallen in that time, to 15 percent from 26 percent in 1994.

An article yesterday about a poll on Americans' views on the teaching of creationism misstated the margin of error of findings taken from a smaller sample of respondents who were asked about religion and politics, government financing of religious charities and gays in the military. It was 3.5 percentage points, not 2.5.


August 3, 2005

Bush Remarks Roil Debate on Teaching of Evolution

Correction Appended
WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 - A sharp debate between scientists and religious conservatives escalated Tuesday over comments by President Bush that the theory of intelligent design should be taught with evolution in the nation's public schools.

In an interview at the White House on Monday with a group of Texas newspaper reporters, Mr. Bush appeared to endorse the push by many of his conservative Christian supporters to give intelligent design equal treatment with the theory of evolution.

Recalling his days as Texas governor, Mr. Bush said in the interview, according to a transcript, "I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught." Asked again by a reporter whether he believed that both sides in the debate between evolution and intelligent design should be taught in the schools, Mr. Bush replied that he did, "so people can understand what the debate is about."

Mr. Bush was pressed as to whether he accepted the view that intelligent design was an alternative to evolution, but he did not directly answer. "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," he said, adding that "you're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes."

On Tuesday, the president's conservative Christian supporters and the leading institute advancing intelligent design embraced Mr. Bush's comments while scientists and advocates of the separation of church and state disparaged them. At the White House, where intelligent design has been discussed in a weekly Bible study group, Mr. Bush's science adviser, John H. Marburger 3rd, sought to play down the president's remarks as common sense and old news.

Mr. Marburger said in a telephone interview that "evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology" and "intelligent design is not a scientific concept." Mr. Marburger also said that Mr. Bush's remarks should be interpreted to mean that the president believes that intelligent design should be discussed as part of the "social context" in science classes.

Intelligent design, advanced by a group of academics and intellectuals and some biblical creationists, disputes the idea that natural selection - the force Charles Darwin suggested drove evolution - fully explains the complexity of life. Instead, intelligent design proponents say that life is so intricate that only a powerful guiding force, or intelligent designer, could have created it.

Intelligent design does not identify the designer, but critics say the theory is a thinly disguised argument for God and the divine creation of the universe. Invigorated by a recent push by conservatives, the theory has been gaining support in school districts in 20 states, with Kansas in the lead.

Mr. Marburger said it would be "over-interpreting" Mr. Bush's remarks to say that the president believed that intelligent design and evolution should be given equal treatment in schools.

But Mr. Bush's conservative supporters said the president had indicated exactly that in his remarks.

"It's what I've been pushing, it's what a lot of us have been pushing," said Richard Land, the president of the ethics and religious liberties commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Land, who has close ties to the White House, said that evolution "is too often taught as fact," and that "if you're going to teach the Darwinian theory as evolution, teach it as theory. And then teach another theory that has the most support among scientists."

But critics saw Mr. Bush's comment that "both sides" should be taught as the most troubling aspect of his remarks.

"It sounds like you're being fair, but creationism is a sectarian religious viewpoint, and intelligent design is a sectarian religious viewpoint," said Susan Spath, a spokeswoman for the National Center for Science Education, a group that defends the teaching of evolution in public schools. "It's not fair to privilege one religious viewpoint by calling it the other side of evolution."

Ms. Spath added that intelligent design was viewed as more respectable and sophisticated than biblical creationism, but "if you look at their theological and scientific writings, you see that the movement is fundamentally anti-evolution."

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called the president's comments irresponsible, and said that "when it comes to evolution, there is only one school of scientific thought, and that is evolution occurred and is still occurring." Mr. Lynn added that "when it comes to matters of religion and philosophy, they can be discussed objectively in public schools, but not in biology class."

The Discovery Institute in Seattle, a leader in developing intelligent design, applauded the president's words on Tuesday as a defense of scientists who have been ostracized for advancing the theory.

"We interpret this as the president using his bully pulpit to support freedom of inquiry and free speech about the issue of biological origins," said Stephen Meyer, the director of the institute's Center for Science and Culture. "It's extremely timely and welcome because so many scientists are experiencing recriminations for breaking with Darwinist orthodoxy."

At the White House, intelligent design was the subject of a weekly Bible study class several years ago when Charles W. Colson, the founder and chairman of Prison Fellowship Ministries, spoke to the group. Mr. Colson has also written a book, "The Good Life," in which a chapter on intelligent design features Michael Gerson, an evangelical Christian who is an assistant to the president for policy and strategic planning.

"It's part of the buzz of the city among Christians," Mr. Colson said in a telephone interview on Tuesday about intelligent design. "It wouldn't surprise me that it got to George Bush. He reads, he picks stuff up, he talks to people. And he's pretty serious about his own Christian beliefs." These Christians don’t seem as smart as the others who realize they are supposed to pretend this is a scientific debate…

Correction: August 4, 2005, Thursday:
An article yesterday about comments by President Bush on the teaching of evolution misstated a word in a quotation from Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, who praised Mr. Bush's comments on the theory of intelligent design, which disputes the idea of natural selection in explaining the complexity of life. Mr. Meyer said, "We interpret this as the president using his bully pulpit to support freedom of inquiry and free speech about the issue of biological origins" - not "biblical origins."

Intelligent Design
Humans, Cockroaches, and the Laws of Physics
Victor J. Stenger

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