Early in the 20th century, John Scopes was put on trial for teaching Darwin’s theory of natural selection in public schools. The main source of controversy in Darwin’s theory was that man naturally evolved from a primate rather than being created by God.
Now, in the early 21st century, the controversy surrounding evolution has been stirred up again, this time in the form of a new bill being presented to the Pennsylvania Legislature as they negotiate the budget over the course of the next two months.
The bill, if passed, would make it legal for schools to require a lesson in evolution that includes a theory called intelligent design.
Proponents of intelligent design argue that the workings of the universe are far too intricate to be the result of evolution. They argue that some force must have set everything in motion, and the debate here stems from who or what exactly is this “force.” Critics of the theory regard it as being too similar to Christian dogma.
“I don’t know what else to call it besides creationism,” said Michael Zimmerman, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh when he spoke to The Seattle Times. But is that truly the case? Creationism explicitly states that God is in fact the creator of the universe, while intelligent design simply makes a case that something more powerful than chance plays a role in mankind’s construction.
In fact, some people do not even want to discuss the religious aspects of intelligent design. Rather, they wish only to argue that there are some occurrences that Darwin’s theory cannot accommodate.
People like State Rep. Thomas C. Creighton (R., Lancaster) said they wish to broaden the scope of evolution theory to include points of view other than Darwin’s theory of natural selection.
On one hand this is a sound argument. How can children be truly educated if they are deprived of all the possible theories of a given concept? Shouldn’t they be allowed to make up their own minds as to which theory they believe is right? In fact, one could dispute that an attempt to ban intelligent design is no different than the attempt to ban Darwin’s theory.
On the other hand, if we do open the door to intelligent design we risk opening the floodgates that could potentially wash over the separation of church and state that has been a staple in modern American life. If the line is crossed, then who knows where it will be redrawn?
People in other parts of the country have argued this point, and opponents of intelligent design are concerned that it is merely an attempt to let Christianity work its way into the government.
Eugenie Scott, the director for the National Center for Science Education, sees the efforts of the Discovery Institute, an organization that promotes teaching the controversy between natural selection and intelligent design, as a public relations tool in an effort to hide the theological implications behind intelligent design.
“There’s no controversy about whether living things have common ancestors,” Scott explains.
If that truly is the case, then the motives of those who want to present Darwin’s theory as debated among scientists must be questioned. Plus, in the case of the Discovery Institute, one of its biggest benefactors is The Fieldstead Charitable Trust, a foundation run by Christian conservatives.
Is it likely that the Pennsylvania bill for intelligent design will be passed? Probably not.
Right now there are just too many questions about the true intentions of those who advocate intelligent design, and people are not going to be willing to risk losing the separation between church and state.
In the Dover Area School District, this sentiment is evident. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit against the school district for requiring ninth graders to be taught the intelligent design theory.
Perhaps one day we will be able to figure out a way to teach various theories of evolution without imposing theological views, because it really is important for children to be taught with a wide point of view. But with our country’s tendency to create conflict based on religion, it is difficult to say if that day will ever come.
Bryan Payne can be reached at email@example.com.