When Science Evolves

By: Cait

Recently, the intelligent design movement has vehemently become synonymous with creationism, so far as to provoke comparisons of the monumental Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. Consequently, within the past few years, several states have turned upside down their school curriculums on more than one occasion in an attempt to decide what is appropriate to teach its students. Initially, several courts ruled in favor of intelligent design. Those rulings were overturned, though, claiming that evolution is scientific, while intelligent design is simply reworded creationism. But perhaps the facts of the issue should be reevaluated and examined one more time. Though sometimes the intelligent design theory is portrayed in a religious light, it is not religiously based at all; instead it staunchly follows sound scientific evidence, therefore giving it credence to be taught in the public education system.

Intelligent design is the theory that postulates that the universe has a design to it and therefore, also has a designer. Because of this claim, it is not surprising that cries of "Creationism in disguise!" resound off of courtroom walls. Many biology teachers have already balked at this idea, claiming that it threatens everything science stands for. These reactions, however, are simply a result of misinterpreted information.

To begin with, the scientists who proposed this theory, who include Michael Behe, the author of Darwin's Black Box, do not hold to any kind of religion - especially not Christianity. Thus, they do not hold to what would be considered Biblical creation, nor are they looking to undermine science. These scientists have simply done what anyone in their profession would do: follow where the evidence leads.

This evidence comes in the form of irreducible complexity. An organism that is irreducibly complex is a "single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning" (Behe 39). The evolutionary step-by-step process cannot build these types of organisms, because if they are not initially created with all of their "interacting parts" then they cannot exist at all.

But do such organisms exist? It's a question that has endured countless hours of heated debate. Opponents of the theory acknowledge that if irreducible complexity does exist, then evolution is instantaneously null and void; however, they feel that it is more myth than fact (Dawkins 125). Arguing that so-called "irreducible parts" can still function on their own with perhaps a different purpose, they conclude there are no valid examples of such simple complexity (Dawkins 123). Richard Dawkins, a published professor at Oxford University, uses the example of a bird wing, explaining that it cannot be deemed irreducibly complex because even half a wing could be put to some good use, such as lessening to blow of a fall if a bird lost his balance and toppled to the ground (Dawkins 123).

However, Behe takes the opposite stance. He proposes there are numerous examples that range from the human immune system to the bacterium flagellum (Behe 117 & 69). Dawkins retaliates by claiming those examples, such as the flagellum, are not legitimate, accusing Behe of regarding the flagellum as irreducibly complex without giving any evidence to back up the hypothesis. He argues that his opponent is very short-sided and fails to examine all of the other possibilities of how such a creature could have come into existence (Dawkins 131).

Behe acknowledges his contemporary's criticism and shortly thereafter, continues into a refutation of it. He first approaches an irreducibly complex organism from Darwin's standpoint and endures the evolutionary explanation. In the end, he points out that evolutionists always fail to say how exactly these organisms evolved. They can only merely speculate and produce guesswork, hoping that satisfies their intended audience. Behe goes onto give a rather in-depth explanation of the flagellum's biological composition, pointing out that without all its parts working exactly as they are supposed to, the organism ceases to exist. The flagellum, thus, becomes an evolutionary mystery that biologists cannot explain. (Behe 66 & 72)

Though intelligent design explains irreducible complexity very scientifically by examining an organism's structure and biological makeup, it is still rejected and deemed as "religious" by many. However, this theory does not identify a deity, nor is it tied to any type of organized religion. It also does not require faith and is grounded in fact. Not only that, but again, the scientists behind intelligent design do not hold to a young earth theory or anything else that is commonly associated with creationism. Their only goal of their theory is to investigate (in scientific terms) if, in fact, there is an inherent design to our universe. Thus, intelligent design does not violate the separation of church and state, since not only is it based in science, but it disregards religious affiliation as well, which in turn makes it a valid perspective to be expounded upon in a schoolroom setting.

It should certainly be noted that teaching this theory in schools doesn't insinuate the outlawing of evolution. This decision shouldn't be approached as having to choose between teaching one or the other. After all, isn't the goal of schooling to teach students how to investigate theories and think for themselves? Teaching both theories would give a student the chance to examine his own scientific evaluations and give him the chance to learn how to defend them if he was ever questioned - he would know why he believed what he believed - whether it be intelligent design or evolution. Furthermore, he would be able to carry on an intellectual conversation about either topic in his daily life. But most importantly, he would be able to discuss the facts of the issue, rather than just spouting off his opinion on either matter.

Why is it that, only in science, contradicting theories are not permitted to be discussed, whereas in other courses, appropriate, scholarly debate is encouraged? For instance, in literature class, different ways of interpreting text are discussed and debated; the same also holds true for classes such as history and religion. Different perspectives and ideas are generally encouraged to be introduced and discussed in schools, mostly because it helps students learn and think effectively for themselves, rather than just regurgitating memorized facts back to a teacher on a test. But in science, discoveries that challenge controversial issues are often silenced and immediately discredited. Yet if we never critically and accurately examine different theories, scientific learning eventually stops and becomes stagnant.

So why then shy away from intelligent design? It is a scientific idea that offers a different perspective to another theory. Teaching it would not mean incorporating religion, upholding creationism, or abolishing evolution. Instead, it would be a commendable way to engage students in constructive thought and intelligent debate by examining scientific theories in an in-depth manner.

Sources:

Behe, Michael. Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New
York: Free Press, 2006.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006.

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