Sometime in the near future, the Kansas Board of Education will vote on the teaching of intelligent design as a requirement alongside evolution in public school science classes. Recently, President George W. Bush announced his support for teaching intelligent design along with evolution, and recent polls show that 64 percent of Americans support such a change (whereas only 26 percent said they believed in natural selection, and 38 percent favored replacing evolution with intelligent design)1. It is becoming apparent that there is a good chance that this concept could soon be taught in public school science classes nationwide in the near future.
The theory of evolution states that due to natural selection and genetic variation, populations and species undergo genetic change over time. According to intelligent design, life is too complex to have been a result of evolution, and must have been designed by an intelligent agent, who most supporters believe to be the Christian God. In other words, intelligent design is thought to be a scientific theory, other than evolution, that can be used to explain the origins of life on Earth. This is an incorrect supposition that exists because of a misbelief that came about amongst people with religious rather than scientific objectives. Regardless of weather or not an intelligent being designed life on Earth, intelligent design is not a scientific theory and should not be taught in public schools as if it was.
The term ‘science’ refers to the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical world, especially by observing, measuring and experimenting2. Being that intelligent design relies on supernatural phenomena, it does not fit under this category. Furthermore, scientific theory must undergo what is known as the “scientific method” to be scientifically acceptable. The scientific method is the process by which scientists, collectively and over time, endeavor to construct an accurate representation of the world. It involves a number of important steps. These are, in proper order: observation and description, formulation of a hypothesis, experimentation to test the hypothesis, and finally, acceptance or rejection of the hypothesis3. Intelligent design does not fail to meet these steps, but instead actually reverses them. Supporters of intelligent design began with a conclusion and are currently working to prove it. Why is this important? One reason is that it is dangerous to undermine students’ understanding of the scientific method. The scientific method works to minimize bias of researchers. In other words, a scientist may often favor one outcome over another, and without this research method, results can, and often are biased; arguments favoring a conclusion are collected as doubt is cast on alternatives. Intelligent design research is being done in precisely this way: allowing bias to actually determine outcome. These researchers are known as ‘apologetics,’ and they do not conduct true scientific research4.
Intelligent design supporters argue that evolution should not be the only theory taught in public schools. After all, they argue, it is “only a theory,” and it should not be favored over other theories. While it is correct to say that evolution is a theory and not indisputable fact, scientists do not only realize that that the scientific method leads to theory, not fact, but conduct experiments and draw conclusions accordingly. The problem is the definition of the word ‘theory.’ This commonly used word refers to abstract reasoning; conjecture. But the scientific definition of ‘theory’ is not the same. According to this definition, a theory must be repeatedly tested through the scientific method and accepted by the scientific community5. While evolution has managed to pass repeated testing and acceptance since Darwin, its original founder, making it true scientific theory, intelligent design has done the opposite. It has not, and can not, be scientifically tested. This is because, weather the universe was created intelligently or not, it would operate the same, regardless. It has even managed to stay out of the scientific literature community and exist almost solely in the media, turning it into an issue of popularity rather than science.
Intelligent design has contributed nothing to modern biological theory, whereas evolutionary theory is an important tool in biological research. Bacteria and viruses evolve at extremely high rates as dangerous pathogens, which biologists work to control. It helps us understand crop production, the spread and control of pests like fire ants and other invasive species, the conservation of biodiversity, and the production of biochemicals which benefit our everyday lives6. Intelligent design can not help us combat viral evolution; it does not help us understand our physical universe. But it does have a significant purpose, in the world of theology or metaphysics. Here it can explain the nature of existence and give us a fundamental view of the world around us. Theology has important cultural and intellectual significance7 and metaphysics helps people comprehend the world and act accordingly8. These are things that science can not explain. In other words, intelligent design and evolution are in completely different realms of thought and should be kept separated to ensure the continued significance of each.
The problem with intelligent design is that its sole goal is to oppose evolution, and yet the two ideas are not even comparable since they exist as two separate ways to observe nature. Its supporters accuse science of attempting to explain everything, but scientists only aim to explain our physical world: the realm of science. The only ways that intelligent design and evolution actually conflict are in the goal of intelligent design to prove false evolution, whereas the real main idea explains a theological/metaphysical idea, which evolution does not necessarily conflict with. For example, many Americans believe that evolution occurred as scientists theorize, guided by a supreme being1. There is nothing wrong with questioning a scientific theory, but, as stated earlier, unbiased evidence should be taken beforehand. Evolution is still our “best guess” to scientifically explain the origins of life, and media-related accusations can not change that, nor should they claim to have changed that. Science is not a democracy. Intelligent design should not be taught as scientific theory.
1. Goodstein, Laurie. “Teaching of Creationism Is Endorsed in New Survey.” The New York Times.
2. Cambridge Dictionaries Online. Cambridge International Dictionaries.
3. Wolfs, Frank. Introduction to the Scientific Method. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Rochester.
4. Lane, Les. What Makes Good Science? University of Nebraska.
5. Dictionary.com. Lexico Publishing Group.
6. How does evolution impact my life? Understanding Evolution.
7. The cultural importance of theology. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
8. Importance of Philosophy. Sense Of Life Objectivists.