©2006 Gary K. Clabaugh
Despite a harsh setback in the recently decided Dover School District case, advocates for the "intelligent design" doctrine continue to demand that public schools teach it. Perhaps, however, I.D. advocates should stop to consider that sometimes the worst thing that can happen is getting what you want. Let's consider some of the background here.
Intelligent design proponents assert that life forms are entirely too complicated to be the product of evolution; therefore, an intelligent designer must have been at work. The vast majority of scientists regard such metaphysical speculation as unscientific because it is untestable. Proof is precisely what distinguishes pseudo-science from science.
Intelligent design backers answer that there are two competing scientific points of view concerning the creation of life, evolution and intelligent design, and that only one, evolution, is currently taught. They also complain that educators are remiss when they fail to point out that evolution is only a theory.
The problem with their argument is that it ignores how scientific theories function. Theories aren't facts and were never intended to be. Theories are constructed to explain facts. Sure, as the intelligent design folks say, evolution is a theory, not a fact, but it is a theory that eloquently and parsimoniously explains tens of thousands of facts that have been painstakingly established via the scientific method. That is how this theory came to be a key part of the very core of modern life sciences.
The "Bush Doctrine"
During a recent interview with reporters from Texas, President Bush responded to a question about whether he supported teaching intelligent design by saying, "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought. You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas. The answer is yes." In other words, President Bush endorses the teaching of intelligent design even if he doesn't admit to believing it.
Let's call that "the Bush Doctrine." It can be summarized thus: When it comes to subjects of controversy, educators should provide students with all pertinent ideas and schools of thought.
What would a Bush Doctrine-type inquiry into intelligent design amount to? What sorts of considerations would educators have to explore?
For one thing, it would have to involve an inquiry into the nature of the putative intelligent designer(s). For instance, a question that would require immediate consideration is whether or not the designer should be understood in a theistic way. In a theistic view the designer(s) would be both transcendent and immanent. In other words, the designer is both infinite and yet still present and at work. Under the Bush Doctrine, educators would have to ask youngsters to consider if that is the nature of the intelligent designer and, if so, how the designer's work is being carried out at the moment. Notice that they are inquiring into religion rather than science. That tells us a great deal about how scientific intelligent design really is.
Many other difficulties arise once theology must be admitted to the science classroom.
—Deists, who are neither Christian nor Jew, would have a different conception of the designer(s). They believe that while God is the original designer, he, she, or it does not intervene in the world once the original construction is complete. Moreover, such a creator does not have human qualities, and does not answer prayers or cause miracles. The Bush Doctrine requires educators to familiarize students with that position and then help them inquire whether it is the true nature of the intelligent designer.
—Pantheism must also be considered. Pantheists believe that all of creation is God and God is all of creation. In this view, scientists can be said to be revealing God as they work. Logically, the Bush Doctrine requires that students consider whether, by studying evolution, they are in fact studying the very nature of God.
—Panentheists believe that God contains, but is not identical to, the universe. (This view is widely accepted among Hasidic Jews.) What implications does that have for our conception of the intelligent designer?
—Dualists, also known as Manichaeans, maintain that there is both an absolutely good God and an opposing utterly evil deity of equal potency. What will students make of this when, under the Bush Doctrine, they ponder how it relates to intelligent design? Might dualism explain, for example, what could be understood as flaws in the design? In what sense is a design "intelligent" if it gives rise to such horrible conditions as Huntington's disease?
—Monolatrists hold that there are many gods—but only the gods in which a person believes have power over them. In other words, the gods can influence only those who believe in them. Such a belief poses unique problems, not only for intelligent design but also for educators charged with creating a curriculum that considers how monolatrism applies to the descent of man.
—What implications does atheism have for intelligent design? Remember that atheism is the belief that there is no God (or gods) whatsoever. Under the Bush Doctrine, educators would have to lead students in a consideration of who or what might have carried out the design if God (or the gods) weren't involved. Students might be called upon, for example, to consider whether we may have been put here as a future food source for advanced beings from another galaxy.
—Educators would also have to lead students in considerations of the possibility of intelligent design by committee—polytheism, which did not die out with ancient Greece. Smarta Hinduism, a contemporary "soft polytheistic" (technically, "inclusive monotheistic") religion, recognizes thousands of gods and goddesses, each representing one characteristic of a supreme Absolute called "Brahman."
Creation design by a Hindu committee might be parceled out to specialists. Mortality, for example, might be the work of Kali, the goddess of time and of the transformation (notice it is not annihilation) that takes place with death. The evils that afflict humankind could be explained as the work of Dhumavati—a hideous and forbidding goddess who, nonetheless, blesses those who can discern the Divine Mother in her. Such considerations are exactly what the Bush Doctrine requires.
The Bush Doctrine also requires that students explore the possibility of a female intelligent designer. Males, after all, are merely modified females. (Nipples on men bear mute testimony to this biological fact.) So it seems reasonable to consider whether or not the intelligent designer might have been female. They might even want to consider if a committee of females did the designing.
Finally, any examination of intelligent design would have to consider what philosophers call the problem of evil. It concerns how one can reconcile the existence of an omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omnibenevolent (all-loving) Intelligent Designer with seemingly gratuitous evils such as birth defects, degenerative diseases, or calamitous infections such as AIDS.
Epicurus, a third-century B.C. Athenian philosopher, put the problem this way:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Why, then, is there evil?
All questions reviewed here, and more besides, would have to be explored if the Bush Doctrine were applied to the teaching of intelligent design. It is quite apparent that the vast majority of intelligent design partisans are not ready for that, and neither is President Bush. Moreover, such considerations plainly involve religion: not science, but religion. That is because intelligent design is not about science at all. It is a stealth tactic designed to sneakslip personal religious beliefs into the public school curriculum while undermining those aspects of science that I.D. advocates find particularly threatening.