Article Last Updated: 6/18/2005 02:57 PM=20
Intelligent design is good topic for religion, not biology, class=20
By David R. Keller
Salt Lake Tribune =20
As expected, the "intelligent design" controversy has come to Utah,
with proponents arguing that the hypothesis should be taught
side-by-side with biological evolution in public school (Salt Lake
Tribune, June 3, A1, A5).
Intelligent design theory is nothing new. Two hundred years ago,
English Archdeacon William Paley argued that we correctly attribute
the design and construction of watches, which exhibit the systematic
arrangement of parts, to watchmakers. By analogy, according to Paley,
living beings, which also exhibit the systematic arrangement of parts,
must also be attributable to a maker, or God.
Certainly, due to its importance in the history of the Western
tradition, intelligent design theory is worthy of study. For example,
it is noteworthy that Charles Darwin fully accepted Paley's account
until his expedition on the HMS Beagle.
But the agenda by certain political leaders to insert intelligent
design into the biology curriculum, and present it as a plausible
alternative to evolution, is seriously mistaken.
Combined with modern genetics, evolution by natural selection
offers a consistent, coherent and empirically verifiable account of
the genesis, structure and function of all organisms. As the unifying
paradigm of life science, evolution is scientific law.
It is easy to see why evolution is so threatening. Contrary to the
notion that humans represent the pinnacle of life on earth and are in
some way manifestations of divine intentionality, evolutionary law
demonstrates that humans are simply one type of a panoply of life
forms, all sharing the same genetic material and arising from one
common ancestor. As such, like all species, eventually Homo sapiens is
destined to become extinct, possibly hastened, ironically, by our own
Against this, the unstated but obvious motivation behind the
intelligent design agenda is to inculcate students with religious
ideology, namely, Christian monotheism. However, it appears that the
champions of intelligent design theory are unaware that the very
arguments they advocate in fact entail exactly the opposite of what
First, intelligent design theory does not evoke an omniscient,
omnipotent, omnibenevolent Lord. The problematic design and
superfluousness of some organs, not to mention the existence of
famine, pestilence and suffering, all point to flaws in nature rather
than perfection. Thus, if design in nature is the result of some
intelligent being, it is entirely possible that the earth was an
early, mediocre experiment of an infantile deity who abandoned this
undertaking and moved on to bigger and better projects elsewhere.
Second, consonant with deism, the favored theology of the founders
of this nation, God may have constructed this world, set it in motion,
and departed, ultimately unconcerned with humanity and our fortune or
fate -- hardly the loving and caring God of Christianity.
Third, elaborate and intricate projects require a team effort. So,
according to intelligent design theory, design in nature hints of a
cooperative effort by a committee of gods. Laughably, pagan polytheism
is probably not what pundits of intelligent design theory intend to
The question of why the cosmos exists or why evolution should have
occurred at all is a philosophical and theological quandary. As
religious conjecture, intelligent design theory has absolutely no
place in the biology curriculum.
From a scientific standpoint, to elucidate the complexity of
nature by positing the existence of some supernatural numinous force
beyond the pale of sensory experience is utterly devoid of explanatory
power. Explaining one mystery (life) with another mystery (God) is
neither intellectually satisfying nor academically honest.
Intelligent design theory deserves discussion in seminary and
courses on religion. But foisting intelligent design theory onto
students of biology is a waste of scarce public education resources,
especially in a state where concerns about the wise use of taxpayer
money are so conspicuous.
David R. Keller is associate professor of philosophy at Utah
Valley State College