|| Intelligent Design a Threat
to Science Education, Says Prominent Biologist and Author
by Anne C. Paine
The anti-evolution movement is alive
and well and thriving in Ohio. In the past, the movement formulated
its arguments in religious terms, but today, in a savvy attempt to
gain political and educational credibility, proponents have adopted
modern scientific language and a new name: intelligent design. For
scientists and those interested in true science education, intelligent
design is a national threat.
So contended Kenneth R. Miller, professor of biology at Brown University
and author of Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common
Ground between God and Evolution, in his Oct. 5 lecture at Oberlin
The lecture, titled "The Emperor's New Curriculum: Ohio and the
Battle over Darwin," was part of the symposium celebrating the
dedication of the Oberlin College Science Center. Miller is the co-author
of a series of high-school and college biology textbooks that are
used by millions of students nationwide.
The discussion was particularly timely, held just two weeks before
a committee of the Ohio Board of Education approved a set of science
standards. The vote came after a 10-month debate over what Ohio's
1.8 million public-school students should learn about the origin and
development of life on Earth. As part of that debate, Millerwho
during his Oberlin lecture described himself as a devout Catholicparticipated
in a board-sponsored panel discussion on intelligent design last spring.
Although intelligent design by name didn't make it into the state
standards, the committee did allow for the teaching of alternative
theories, including intelligent design, if local school boards choose
to include them in their curricula. The full Board of Education will
vote on the standards in December.
The intelligent design movement is funded by the Discovery Institute,
a Seattle-based organization that bills itself as a think tank working
on a variety of contemporary issues. Institute fellows, all of whom
hold impressive academic credentials, give the institute an air of
respectability, Miller said. These fellows produce reports, publish
books, and host conferences on intelligent design.
Phillip E. Johnson, an advisor to the
institute's Center for Science and Culture, toured Northeast Ohio
shortly after the committee vote and hailed the decision as a victory.
Intelligent Design Proponent
Hails Ohio School Board Vote as Victory
Just a week after a State
Board of Education committee completed a set of science
standards for Ohio's public-school students, one of intelligent
design's most outspoken advocates toured Northeast Ohio,
hailing the vote as a victory that "liberated"
teachers to discuss all theories of human origin.
Intelligent design holds that
there is a transcendent intelligence, and that some form of "intelligent
intervention" is required to form life. The movement's arguments,
said Miller, are not new.
"In his own time, Darwin's
ideas were attacked as a threat to a God-centered understanding of
mankind's place in the living world. Intelligent design proponents
see evolution as the basis for a lot of bad' things: lawlessness,
homelessness, abortion, homosexuality. Anti-evolutionism is not an
argument about science; it's an argument about society," Miller
said, projecting an anti-evolution cartoon depicting the evils associated
with the theory.
A basic tenet of intelligent design is that some features of biological
organisms are simply too complex to have evolved. Simultaneous evolution
of so many different features is an improbable event, say intelligent
design proponents. This is the concept of irreducibly complex design.
The corollary is that if any single part of a system is missing, the
entire system will be nonfunctional.
To disprove these tenets, Miller discussed differences in the chemical
makeup of the blood of whales and dolphins and that of terrestrial
mammals. Whales and dolphins lack one of the key chemicals involved
in clotting in humans, an adaptation, Miller said, to living in deep
waters. If the intelligent design theory were to hold true, whales
and dolphins would not be able to live without these chemicals in
In a less serious example, Miller turned one of intelligent design's
favorite illustrations of irreducibly complex structures on its head.
Behe, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and professor of
biological sciences at Lehigh University, often uses a five-part mousetrap
to prove the concept of irreducibly complex structures, Miller said.
The idea is that without all its parts, the mousetrap cannot function.
Using Behe's own trap, Millermuch to the audience's delightshowed
slides of simplified designs that he and his colleagues have devised.
Starting with a four-part trap, he worked his way down systematically
to a functioning one-part mousetrap.
"The intellectual underpinnings of the movement turn out to be
wrong. The evidence for intelligent design depends a priori
that an evolutionary pathway is impossible," Miller said.
The evolutionary process continues today in the form of bacterial
resistance to drugs, in changes in mosquitoes, and in the development
of new species. "Evolution gives rise to everything we see in
nature," Miller said.
The danger of the intelligent design movement, according to Miller,
is that it distorts the scientific process.
"Intelligent design proponents depict science as a closed community,
but they overlook the fact that science deals with novel claims all
the time. Science subjects ideas to research, then to peer review.
Ideas win acceptance in this way, scientific consensus develops, and
ideas eventually end up in textbooks and curricula. Intelligent design
does not put its ideas though this process. They want to inject their
ideas directly into textbooks. This would be a terrible message to
kids about how science works: take your idea and get political support
for it," Miller said.
"So what does all this have to do with The Emperor's New
Clothes?"' Miller asked, referring to his lecture title. "Well,
you know the storyat the end the guy had no clothes on. The
evidence for intelligent design vanishes the same way, because there's