Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Creationism and Intelligent Design

We are now reaching what is usually the most difficult part of this course- talking about evolution. Because Lubbock is located near the buckle of the Bible Belt, this topic is always controversial with my students here at Tech (including past Multidisplinary Science Masters Degree students). If we were meeting in a face to face setting then you would hopefully know me well enough to conclude that I am not an evil person (and if you concluded that I was evil, it would be for a better reason than believing in evolution). Obviously, the teaching of evolution in Texas schools continues to be controversial and it remains to be seen what the revised TEKS will be like. Because my understanding of the process of evolution is the most powerful tool that I have in my biological toolbag I think it is critical that you learn why I think that evolution is such a powerful tool for helping us to learn about biology. My goal is not to be controversial or step on anyone's toes and I hope that we will be able to have good discussions about this topic.

Creationism and Intelligent Design

In his book “Tower of Babel The Evidence Against the New Creationism”, Robert Pennock reviews the various types of Creationists.

“Wild-type” Creationist

God dictated the bible word for word so we must take it literally. From Genesis we know (i)God created the world from nothing in 6 days, 6000 years ago and (ii) God destroyed the world with a great flood, all current people and animals are descendents of Noah’s Arc.

There are different views of Creationism today which arises out of biblical interpretation

Most creationists consider themselves as Evangelicals
- Biblical inerrancy- can be understood in different ways
- Bible is the revealed word of God- so every word is true
- plenary verbal inspiration- Biblical writers directed by God but used own style
- inspired concepts- written down by people over time

Young Earth Creationism

Bible is meant to be taken literally on all matters of faith and the real world

-creation took 6 24 hour days
-Adam formed directly from the dust on the ground and Eve from Adam’s rib
- Jonah was literally swallowed and lived in the Belly by as great fish

1- sudden creation of the universe, energy, and life out of nothing
2- the insufficiency of mutation and natural selection in bringing about the development of all living kinds from a single organism
3- changes only within fixed limits of originally created species
4- separate ancestry of humans and apes
5- explanation of earths geology by catastrophism including a worldwide flood
6- A relatively recent inception of earth and living kinds

Dated by readings of ancestry in the Bible- 6000 to 10,000 years

Young Earth Creationists include-
1)Institute for Creation Research- San Diego - Duane Gish, Henry Morris and his son
2)Answers in Geneis- Kentucky-Ken Ham and Gary Parker
3)Center for Scientific Creationism- Phoenix

Old Earth Creationism

-still consider biblical inerrancy, just don’t read the bible literally

Days are not 24 hour human days, but are God-sized days
Others apply gap interpretation- gaps between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2
Days are “actual days” but they are not consecutive

There is a big battle between the Young Earth Creationists and the Old Earth Creationists

Progressive Creationism

Accepts much of the scientific picture of development of the universe, assuming for the most part that it developed according to natural laws.
- God intervened at strategic points along the way

Theistic Evolutionism

Theists who accept Darwinian evolution. Basically view God as a creator- started physical laws etc.

Evolutionary creationism

God directly guided the process of evolution

Intelligent-Design Creationism

Many ID proponents hold advanced degrees and positions in universities

Phillip Johnson- UC Berkely Law school
Michael Behe- Biochemist,Lehigh University Biology Department

Johnson’s view
1. personal creator
2. supernatural
3. initiated
4. continues to control the process of creation
5. in the furtherance of some end or purpose

“irreducible complexity”- some systems are complex and can only work if the entire system is in place
-therefore there is no way that they could be formed by gradual steps because there is no way that earlier versions could have been selected for

Interesting idea, but again I don’t see that it is science (even worse it doesn’t help us get anywhere- can’t make any predictions or lead to new avenues of study)

Is there a controversy between evolution and creationism?

1) Scientific controversy?

No- evolution remains the cornerstone upon which everything in biology makes sense. No “real biologist” that I know thinks that there is a problem. I know of no creation scientists or ID proponents that do not admit to being Christian and that that is a important part of why they feel as they do (I at least respect that most of these ID scientist are up front about their religious beliefs)

Theistic science- “The Bible is the ultimate scientific approach” This approach would fundamentally change the way that we approach science and the scientific community has certainly not seen the need for this.

2) Religious controversy?

The debate is often framed as being between scientists and fundamental creationists
-not necessarily the case because many mainstream Christian denominations have no trouble with evolution

-thus there may be a religious controversy between different Christian beliefs

3) Philosophical controversy?
Evolution/creation debate often linked to Gallileo and Church debate

Battle between the truth of nature and the nature of truth

Creationists have tried to use ID as a wedge to show that people are either for the religious position or against it- there is no middle ground.
-The Bible is either inerrant or worthless
-Christianity or atheism
-Certainty or sketpticism
-Absolute morality or subjectivism (relativism)

Many philosophers would argue that these issues are not so black or white.

4) Political controversy?

Controversy is a struggle for power
- whichever side gets the most votes should be the side that wins
- science be damned??

Brief History of Creationism

Modern History began with the Scopes “Monkey Trial” in 1925. The ACLU orchestrated a challenge of the Tenessee state law that banned the teaching of evolution. The trial was one of the first famous trials fought in the media featuring Clarence Darrow vs William Jennings Bryan. Bryan thought that American society was undergoing moral decay that he blamed on scientific materialism as exemplified by evolution were making people question biblical authority.

Even though Bryan officially won his case (Scopes was fined $100) the general public generally agreed that evolution had won (Bryan tried to defend the Genesis version of creation on the stand and was torn apart by Darrow).

Textbook publishers were uninterested in controversy so they basically excluded evolution from biology books up until the end of the 1950s.

In the 60s the sputnik scare revitalized American Science teaching – BSCS curriculum contained evolution.

In 1973 Tenesee passed a law saying that anyone who taught evolution also had to teach the Genesis account. In 1975 this law was found unconstitutional because it was blatantly including religion

Over the next several years creationists passed laws in several states requiring the teaching of “creation science”

1982 case in Arkansas challenged a law requiring the teaching of creation science. The case brought in experts on evolution, thermodynamics and geology also experts on religion to answer the question-was creation science really science?

Judge Overton defined science as “what scientists do” and “what is accepted by the scientific community”. He dentified the “essential characteristics” of science (based on the ideals of the philosopher of science Michael Ruse)

1. It is guided by natural law
2. It has to be explanatory by reference to natural law
3. It is testable against the empirical world
4. Its conclusions are tentative; i.e., the are not necessarily the final word
5. It is falsifiable

Overton ruled that creation science fails to meet the essential characteristics and was thus not science. From religious testimony he ruled that creation science was religious so the law violated the establishment clause.

2004 Georgia case

Required placement of sticker on biology books as “a theory not a fact”
Judge ordered the stickers removed

2004 ID case- Dover Pennsylvania

The policy required students to hear a statement about intelligent design before ninth-grade lessons on evolution. The statement said Darwin’s theory is “not a fact” and has inexplicable “gaps.” It referred students to an intelligent-design textbook, “Of Pandas and People.” (which turns out to be a creationist book that basically had the words “creation” replaced by the words “intelligent design”.)
Judge Jones, a Republican and a churchgoer appointed to the federal bench three years ago. decried the “breathtaking inanity” of the Dover policy and accused several board members of lying to conceal their true motive, which he said was to promote religion. A six-week trial over the issue yielded “overwhelming evidence” establishing that intelligent design “is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory”

ID “may be true, a proposition on which the court takes no position, ID is not science.” Among other things, he said intelligent design “violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation”; it relies on “flawed and illogical” arguments; and its attacks on evolution “have been refuted by the scientific community.”

How do Creationists and proponents of Intelligent design attempt to attack evolution?

The IDers (and other creationists) often take these approaches to get their message across

1) Try to refute evolution
Set up a false dichotomy that there are two possible explanations for the origin of the life either by evolution or created by the Judeo-Christian God. They try to show weaknesses in evolution and then having shown that evolution is wrong we are forced to accept their view of creationism. However, here are many other possible creation stories than Genesis.

2) Equal time approaches
There are two valid scientific alternatives so it is only fair to present both ideas. This doesn’t work for two reasons- (i) there are not only two alternative (Australian aboriginals and Mayans have their own creation stories)and (ii) hese other approaches are not science because they inherently bring in a supernatural creator.

3) Force of Numbers

IDers from the Discovery Instute presented a petition showing that 400 scientists dissented from Darwinism- took them 4 years to get this many signatures. 128 signees were Biologists and virtually none of them conducted research that had anything to do with the subject (the one signatory I know from Tech is an Electrical Engineer).

Some scientists responded with The Four Day Petition, whose name A Scientific Support For Darwinism is an allegorical reference to the Discovery Institute's A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism, a petition that took four years to generate just over 400 signatories. This project, The Four Day Petition, ran from Sept 28th , 2005 to October 1st , 2005. R. Joe organized the Four Day Petition with no outside funding or professional society’s assistance and generated 7,732 verified signatories of concerned scientists, all by word of mouth (well e-mail actually). Of those signatories 6,965 are US residents including 4066 with a PhD.
“My genuine thanks to the thousands of you who felt strongly enough about this petitions statement to make the time during those four days to pass the word onto your personal network of peers. The response to your efforts was tremendous. Your efforts resulted in a response 1809% higher than the Discovery Institutes at a rate 697,000% faster. It is also interesting to note that the Discovery Institute budget is $4,000,000 a year while mine is, well non existent J These results are not bad my friends, not bad at all.”

4) Because Creationists have repeatedly had their ideas judged to be a religious they have tried to argue that evolution is really a “secular religion”

5) The Kansas Board of Education has taken a couple of clever strategies. They eliminated evolution from the state science standards. Teachers remain free to teach it, but won’t be tested on it which basically eliminates it from the curriculum. When in 1999, the board eliminated most references to evolution, a move Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould said was akin to teaching "American history without Lincoln."

The Kansas School Board then tried a new approach and rewrote the definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena.

No wonder - "The 10 Worst Jobs in Science," as listed by Popular Science magazine, October 2005: #3 is Biology teacher in Kansas


  1. Thats really interesting all the facts you compiled. What do you think will happen if the state board writes in language that makes us teach ID? I'd hate to have to move out of state!

  2. The trouble with science education, I believe, is that we are at the whim of what the state board decides.