A national debate on the teaching of evolution in public classrooms has erupted over a community turned upside down by a trial still pending and a recent landmark school board decision, igniting passionate responses from “intelligent design” supporters and those who say the idea is creationism masked by scientific language. On campus, Mills students also weighed in on the debate.
The Kansas Board of Education voted 6-4 on Nov. 8 to include intelligent design alongside evolution in the state’s science curriculum. Intelligent design holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power.
On that same day, in Dover Penn., voters ousted fundamentalist Christian school board members, as community members awaited the outcome of Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District. At issue is the former school board’s decision to incorporate intelligent design in its biology curriculum. The trial was brought on by Dover families who say that intelligent design promotes a biblical view of creation and should not be taught in school.
Under debate was a statement from a document prepared by the Dover School Board to be read to ninth-graders before the teaching of evolution, says:
“Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested … The theory is not fact. Gaps exist in the Theory for which there is no evidence … Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view … Students are encouraged to keep an open mind.”
The debate was brought to Mills recently in psychology professor Dean Morier’s Science and Pseudo-science class. Wesley R. Elsberry, the Information Project Director from the Oakland-based National Center for Science Education in Oakland gave a presentation to students last Monday defending the teaching of evolution in public schools.
Elsberry said intelligent design is the religiously-motivated successor to creation science’s socio-political movement. He explained that intelligent design is different from creation science in that the religious element is removed from the way the ideology is presented.
On Wed. Nov. 9 after the defeat of the Dover school board members, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson warned residents of the rural town that disaster may strike there because they “voted God out of your city.” He later said, “If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin.”
Sophomore Janna Denig, who was present during Elsberry’s discussion said she believes people can be religious and still accept the theory of evolution. “Science isn’t sterile-God can be behind science and evolution,” she said. “The fundamental issue is the separation of church and state. People want to see God in government.”
Pope Benedict XVI is another voice in the debate. On Wednesday while speaking to a general audience in Vatican City he said, “In the beginning there was the creative word. In the beginning this word that created everything and created this intelligent project that is the cosmos – is also love.”
“How many of these people are there today? These people, fooled by atheism, believe and try to demonstrate that it’s scientific to think that everything is free of direction and order,” he said.
A query to student-news asking for the opinions of students regarding intelligent design garnered only two responses; both students were opposed to the ideology of intelligent design being taught in public schools.
“I strongly oppose the concept of intelligent design because I feel it is simply a politicized version of creationism that the religious right is trying to get into school curricula,” said junior Diana Galbraith.
In August, President Bush endorsed the teaching of intelligent design.
Morier said of the Dover trial, “The real test is the continuation of church and state. Intelligent design masquerading as science is ridiculous. It has no standing in the scientific community.”
Morier took issue with the way some media and intelligent design advocates refer to intelligent design as a theory rather than an idea when a theory must be supported by scientific evidence. “Scientific language does not make science,” he said.
The implications of the Dover trial are far-reaching according to Nick Matzke, the Public Information Project Specialist for NCSE. “It looks like this will be the test case for intelligent design’s legal strategy,” he said.
“[An outcome in favor of intelligent design] would be a tremendous step backward for humanity,” said sophomore Stacey Ellis.