Academic journal article Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

Law, Religion and Science - Determining the Role Religion Plays in Shaping Scientific Inquiry in Constitutional Democracies - the Case of Intelligent Design1

Academic journal article Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

Law, Religion and Science - Determining the Role Religion Plays in Shaping Scientific Inquiry in Constitutional Democracies - the Case of Intelligent Design1

Article excerpt


Recently a new battle has emerged that implicates law, science and religion. The battle has focused on intelligent design (ID) and the numerous legal, philosophical, and educational concerns surrounding it. In the United States, resolution of these concerns centers on two questions: Is ID science? And is ID religion? Despite the fact that ID does not meet the standards of scientific rigor, ID proponents have been able to create a remarkably well-designed marketing plan aimed at imposing a theistic naturalism in schools and scientific discourse in the U.S. and a growing number of other countries. Both the ID movement and some of its most vociferous opponents have a vested interest in suggesting that science, especially evolutionary biology, and religion are incompatible and that law should recognize this supposed incompatibility. This paper presents a philosophical and legal counterpoint.

Keywords: intelligent design, law, religion, science, education

1. Introduction

In the United States a battle rages everyday over where humanity came from, or more specifically how humans came to be human. Much of the debate is focused on whether a supposedly new concept of human origins - Intelligent Design - should be taught in public schools. Intelligent Design advocates have brought this battle beyond U.S. borders and the issue has come up, or will soon come up, in numerous other countries. Eastern Europe has been a particularly strong target for this growing movement and for the Creation Science movement before it. Yet few people know much if anything about this "new" concept, how it came to the fore, that it is actually based on religious rather than scientific arguments, and what it means for law, faith and the future of science.

Intelligent design advocates have a vested interest in this confusion. Intelligent design (ID) is in part a response to several important cases decided by the United States Supreme Court.1 Confusion regarding the history and nature of ID has the potential - so far unrealized - to serve its advocates well in future legal battles in the United States. ID is, in part, a savvy marketing response to repeated legal defeats for creationism and "creation science" in American public schools. In some other countries there are no such constitutional barriers to the teaching of Intelligent Design and it must be hoped that educators and scientists in these countries are able to keep ID from being taught as science, for as will be explained, it is not science, at least as that term is understood by scientists today; and most assuredly ID advocates want it taught as science wherever possible.

If ID advocates simply proposed their ideas in a philosophical or theological context - ideas that are already thousands of years old in those disciplines - there would be little dispute. After all, in a free society there is nothing wrong with believing in design. Freedom of religion is an important touchstone for any free society. The problem arises when ID enters the "proof game" in the scientific context - i.e., attempts to claim the mantle of science. The movement has a vested interest in doing this so that it can market its ideas in science classrooms,2 but to do so legitimately and without violating the U.S. Constitution ID must not be religion and should be science, and thus the proof game is everything to ID proponents.3

By couching ID as science and not theology ID proponents are able to argue for access to the forum of scientific debate. As will be seen, they often treat the scientific realm as a limited public forum for debate of "scientific" theories.4 They then claim ID is being discriminated against when it is excluded from that forum.5 These claims rely on free speech concepts such as viewpoint discrimination and content discrimination, often cast by ID proponents in broad terms like "academic freedom" and "fairness."6 These arguments are, however, question begging. If ID is a scientific theory it might have a place in scientific discourse, but if not such claims will fail. …

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