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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Reaction to the Intelligent Design Court Decision

This week, a U. S. District Judge ruled that the teaching of Intelligent Design in a school district in Pennsylvania was unconstitutional. This statement summarizes the ruling: "our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom."

The Judge, apparently a church-going Republican, also said:
To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.

My judgment is that the Judge was correct. The school board (most of whom have not been re-elected) wanted ID taught for religious reasons, and requiring that something that promotes a particular creed in the public schools should not be done. (I wouldn't want, say, Wiccan teaching in my grandson's school.)

However, that being said, if science (or other classes) teach that there is no purpose to the universe, and that living things are here solely by chance, that would also be religious doctrine, and should also be disallowed in the classroom. Proving (or disproving) such statements is outside the purview of science, although some scientists make statements like that. At least some, probably a lot, of the motivation to fight the teaching of ID has been based on such naturalistic beliefs.

I believe that we would all be better off if what is meant by "evolution" were clearly spelled out when it is discussed. Are we talking about the origin of the universe (which is outside the field of biology, and has nothing directly to do with Darwin) or about the origin of humans, or about changes like those in bacteria, selected by exposure to antibiotics?

Lest there be any doubt, I personally believe that God did, at some level or levels, design things so that the universe, and living things, including humans, are as they are. I am not sure when God did this, nor how. I am not sure how many times God may have done this.

Although I believe this, I don't believe that it is scientifically possible to prove that God did any of this. Hebrews 11:3 tells us that we understand how things began by faith. (Others, Michael Behe for one, believe that it is possible.)

I also believe that natural selection works, much as Darwin described it, and that organisms have changed over time. That does not necessarily mean that everything taught as fact in biology textbooks is true.

The most important thing about Genesis 1 is not when, or how. It is Who.


Adam said...

I agree that neither ID nor Neo-Darwinism should be taught as a starting point in the science classes of public schools. I'm not sure that explaining their existence in highschool biology is unconstitutional, but the way it's currently handled is far from perfect.

The only defense I can give to the school board is that ID was viewed as the only way to combat the overarching Naturalism that can be found in nearly every publicly-supported science class in the country (and many private ones).

I even found myself agreeing with the Dover school board out of desire to correct (over-correct?) the problems that I see with the whole situation.

Julana said...

Have you read Behe's Black Box? You really ought to. I don't believe Darwin's theory of natural selection. Behe isn't a Christian, and he doesn't accept.

Macroevolution happens because of changes at the micro level.
And things don't change at the micro level in response to natural selection.
You should read that book. It's fascinating.

One of his interesting theses: Just because you can explain how something works doesn't mean you know where it came from. That takes a leap of arrogance.

Russell Purvis said...

Dr. Labar,
I am glad you posted on this issue, for I think that more Christians should do so more adamently. However, I am one of those who thinks that we should teach the notion that there may be a higher being and driving force behind nature. I am assuming that you are not for that teaching in science classes. If not, I must say that such evidences like common awareness of morality and the fact that most of nature seems to be for a purpose. Things such as sex and the sexes are an example. If there are only two sexes and sex is the means to procreate, then it only follows that sex has a purpose. If things were driven without purpose, then we may as well have a million different sexes or reproduce asexually. With this purpose in place, their must be something making this possible. Evolution driven not by God, as you obviously believe, would end in more than neccessary or none at all. I also must ask that if something can't be seen, should it be unprovable by science? Is wind itself seen? I'll end this response now that I am rambling on and on. I do see that your reasoning is good. I hope Christ is still blessing you as you live the rest of your days. Keep up the good postings.

Russell Purvis said...

Also, I forgot, if there is anything that I misread, please correct me.

Martin LaBar said...

Julana: Yes, I've read Darwin's Black Box, even used it as a text once. Behe's thesis is interesting, and he may even be correct, but his book is not proof, in my opinion. It attempts to show that some aspects of living things are too complex to have arisen by natural selection, but saying that, and proving it, are two different things. At least some of his examples of specified complexity have been explained, since he wrote the book, without invoking a Designer. (Which is one problem with Intelligent Design. If you say that anything that you can't explain the origin of was done by God, then if you find an explanation, it seems to make God smaller. God is responsible for the things we think we can explain, as well as those we can't. He is responsible for 2 + 2, as well as infinity.) I believe Behe is a Catholic christian, but I could be wrong.

The problem with stating whether or not one believes in Darwin's theory is that "evolution" has so many different meanings. If it means "Change in a population, over time, in response to the environment," which is usually called "natural selection" and is what Darwin's theory was written about, he was right. Natural selection has occurred, for example in humans--if all humans came from one stock, there have been changes and divergence, just as would be expected from natural selection at work. Natural selection also explains insect resistance to insecticides and bacterial resistance to antibiotics very well. I believe that Behe accepts the validity of natural selection. As far as I know, all scientists, even those who are young-earth creationists (Behe isn't) also accept the validity of natural selection. These latter would say, however, that there hasn't been enough time for natural selection to have produced all the varieties of living things, but that much of this variety was specially created, or designed, by God in the beginning.

However, if by "natural selection" or by evolution, is meant that there is no purpose in the universe, that's a different matter. There is no scientific evidence proving that, and Christians must reject it. That's not the meaning most scientists put on the term, though. "Naturalism" is a term often used to mean that there is no purpose in the universe, or at least excluding God from explanations. It contrasts with "supernaturalism." I wonder if what you don't believe is "naturalism," rather than "natural selection," but that's up to you.
Russell: I certainly do believe, and did teach, the notion that there is a Higher Being behind nature, but I wasn't teaching in the public schools. I was, as you know, teaching in a Christian school. The United States constitution, as I understand it, means that there are some things that Christians (and others, and this should even include atheists) can't do in the public schools. I prayed, had someone else to do so, read the Bible, or presented some devotional thought, in almost all of my classes, as I expect you remember. My wife, who is as devout as I, at least, taught in a public school, and she did not do these things, although she would have liked to. She was a witness and example, and, if asked, could discuss her beliefs. Prayer can be practiced, even on public school campuses, by voluntary groups, but not as part of a State-mandated educational program. I am opposed to letting prayer and other religious practices be required by the public schools for two reasons, and so is the constitution. First, this would mean that some teachers who are not believers would be praying or reading the Bible in school, and I don't think that would be good. Second, this would open the door for other faiths to have the same privilege, and I wouldn't want that. The Judge in the Intelligent Design case believed that what the school board had passed was designed to promote Christianity. I think it was, too.

Nor do I believe in "evolution not driven by God." I believe that the law of gravity was built into the universe (so were some moral laws, but that's another story) and that natural selection was, too. God put it there. God may actually direct each and every sperm and egg, so that He drives it directly. I don't know. But in any case, He made it possible, and knew what the results would be.

I'm sorry I wasn't clearer in my post. I thought I had made clear that I believed in God's power and design. I do.
There must be some other way to deal with naturalism, but I'm not sure what it is. Maybe lawsuits against promoting atheism in the public schools?

Thanks to all of you for taking the time to read, and write.
Merry Christmas.

Mufana said...

This post and commments remind me a lot of many a class that I had with you. "What do you mean by evolution?" you would frequently ask. "Always define your terms." was another. I am currently reading "The Case for a Creator" by Lee Strobel who wrote "Case for Faith" "Case for Christ" and others. I know those should be underlined, but I may be showing my ignorance not know how to underline them. I would like your thoughts on the book if you have read or after you have read the book.

Martin LaBar said...

Mufana: I started a series of posts on Strobel's Case for Creation, but have gotten side-tracked. The last post in the series is

Dave said...

Behe admits that his definition of science would include astrology! (check court records) He is hardly a true scientist.

Then his own math proves him wrong, he tries to show evolution is so unlikely but vastly understates the probabilities.

Let's leave religion where it belongs in church and science where it belongs in the classroom.

Dave said...

One more thing Behe admited in court that he believed the designer was god. Note Judges ruling: "Moreover, it is notable that both Professors Behe and Minnich admitted their personal view is that the designer is God and Professor Minnich testified that he understands many leading advocates of ID to believe the designer to be God. "

hmmm sounds like a Christian to me Julana

True motive: bring not just religion but a specific one into pubilc schoools... ooops

Martin LaBar said...


Whether a person does reputable scientific work or not doesn't depend on their definition of science, or even on whether or not they have some strange beliefs, such as astrology. Newton was a prime example of a scientist, as great as has been, who was a little wacky in some areas of his beliefs.

Just because Behe is a Christian doesn't make all his ideas wrong, anymore than it would if he were an atheist. Granted, it would be more impressive if an atheist were a leading proponent of intelligent design.

Thanks for commenting.

Cody Thomas said...

Good insight, Dr. LaBar. I agree that Christians should not push religious ideals into secular classrooms for the sole purpose of the religious ideals. What is in the classroom, specifically science, should be solely scientific teaching without philosophical or theological implications. Also, I'm glad to hear that someone else can see that evolution is not some crazy idea that rivals Christianity. I could care less if God chose evolution as a means to His creation, and, actually, I believe that He did use some. To what extent, I have no justification to say. Genesis 1 is not a scientific account. It doesn't even say that all seven days were consecutive, even if they were literal days. All of that doesn't matter. I like how you say it: "The most important thing about Genesis 1 is not when, or how. It is Who."

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Cody, for reading and commenting.