Not such intelligent design
Not such intelligent design
By Richard Colling - Chicago Tribune, 11/27/05
A high-profile trial is on public display in the Dover, Pa., school district's federal court case.
Christians can't afford to oppose evolution
This controversial case concerns the fate of a new intelligent design science curriculum that some parents say is creationism in disguise.
A second important case, to be decided outside the courtroom in the arena of public opinion, also looms large. This case concerns how the public views Christians. And while perhaps not immediately apparent, either way the Dover school board case turns out, intelligent design will continue to severely damage the case for God and Christian faith.
Even worse, the damage is largely self-inflicted by Christian leaders' unwitting and undiscerning endorsements of intelligent design.
The fuel driving this science education debate is easy to understand. Scientists are suspicious that Christians are trying to insert religious beliefs into science.
They recognize that science must be free, not subject to religious veto. On the other hand, many Christians fear that science is bent on removing God from the picture altogether, beginning in the science classroom--a direction unacceptable to them.
They recognize that when scientists make definitive pronouncements regarding ultimate causes, the legitimate boundaries of science have been exceeded. For these Christians, intelligent design seems to provide protection against a perceived assault from science.
But does it really lend protection? Or does it supply yet another reason to question Christian credibility?
The science education debate need not be so contentious. If the intelligent design movement was truly about keeping the legitimate plausibility of a creator in the scientific picture, the case would seem quite strong.
Unfortunately, despite claims to the contrary, the Dover version of intelligent design has a different objective: opposition to evolution. And that opposition is becoming an increasing liability for Christians.
The reason for this liability is simple: While a growing array of fossils shows evolution occurring over several billion years, information arising from a variety of other scientific fields is confirming and extending the evolutionary record in thoroughly compelling ways.
The conclusions are crystal clear: Earth is very old. All life is connected. Evolution is a physical and biological reality.
In spite of this information, many Christians remain skeptical, seemingly mired in a naive religious bog that sees evolution as merely a personal opinion, massive scientific ruse or atheistic philosophy.
Coupled with these ideas, the anti-evolution tack of intelligent design proponents continues to propagate the myth that God and evolution are mutually exclusive realities. Scientific discovery does not require one to discard God.
So is this the essence of intelligent design: choosing between biological reality and God?
If so, don't expect many takers --or teachers. Genuine Christian faith extends beyond physical reality, not instead of it.
The science education battle addresses an extremely critical issue: how science will be appropriately defined.
Hopefully, the middle ground will prevail, defeating the thoroughly unscientific extremes of naturalistic atheism and literal creationism. But another critical question flowing from the science-faith discussions is how Christians will be defined.
This question will largely be answered on the basis of public perceptions of scientific understanding among proponents of intelligent design.
Final arguments are now finished in Dover's federal lawsuit, and the two cases being tried in that quiet community will soon be decided. When the verdicts are in, my prediction is that Dover's intelligent design education proposal will fail. Regarding the case for Christian faith, until intelligent design becomes more intelligent, the best hope is for an appeal
Richard Colling is a professor of biology at Olivet Nazarene University