John Calvert on origins
John Calvert on origins
Kansas city Star - Sat, Aug. 19, 2006

Instruction needs ‘clear thinking,’ not rhetoric AS I SEE IT
A recent editorial seeks “clear thinking” about origins, but its inflammatory rhetoric undermines that goal.

“Where did life come from?” isn’t easy to answer. I believe clear thinking starts with four conclusions that most can accept, although we may argue about the details:

First, accounts of origins are generally built on one of two causal concepts: Life derives from (a) only material causes or (b) from both material and intelligent causes.

Stories about materialistic origins argue that because we cannot observe an intervening intelligent cause, nature is a self-existing product of interactions of matter, energy and the forces. Chemical evolution explains how life might have arisen from a chance combination of chemicals. After replicating life starts, biological evolution writes the rest of the chapters using imagined random mutations and natural selection.

Articles about teleological origins argue that many natural systems, such as the genetic code, are observed to have all the characteristics of systems designed by human intelligence, such as the Morse Code. Since material causes alone are challenged to explain these information-rich systems, it is logical to infer their origin from intelligence. Although we cannot observe the past intelligence at work, it can be inferred from what has been left behind.

Second, all explanations about ancient origins are scientifically controversial. They rely on a constantly changing mix of circumstantial evidence and lots of imagination to construct subjective historical narratives about unobservable remote events not amenable to experimental confirmation.

Third, any origins story unavoidably affects religion, ethics, morality and even government. Materialistic theories support religious views such as atheism, humanism, scientism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc., while teleological theories support traditional theistic religions like Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Materialists use “human reason” and science to provide direction to life, and traditional theists rely on prayer and wisdom reflected in religious texts.

Fourth, in our country, government is constitutionally required to be neutral as to religion. Public schools may not take sides in any debate “respecting” “religion.”

Any clear thinking requires schools to avoid any bias that favors one origins story over another. This scientifically controversial subject that unavoidably affects religion cries out for scrupulous scientific objectivity.

Instruction standards adopted last year in Kansas reject preconceptions in favor of critical scientific analysis of the prevailing materialistic origins story. It is not entirely objective, because it does not encourage discussion of the alternative. However, it is a move toward better origins science that is religiously neutral.

John Calvert is managing director of Intelligent Design Network Inc., a nonprofit organization seeking institutional objectivity in origins science. He lives in Lake Quivira.