Magazine article The Christian Century

Intelligent Design on Trial

Magazine article The Christian Century

Intelligent Design on Trial

Article excerpt

A 21-DAY Pennsylvania trial on the teaching of evolution in public schools which lasted 13 days longer than the 1925 Scopes trial--turned out to be an extended argument over the meaning of certain key words--theology, science, politics, education and especially creation. Having heard the testimony of nine experts and 25 other witnesses, a federal judge will rule on whether a religious belief in "creationism" motivated the Dover school board to require students to hear a statement about intelligent design along with the teaching of evolution. Eight families had sued the board, charging that the requirement to mention ID amounted to teaching religion.

The C-word loomed largest and may be the basis of Judge John E. Jones's decision. Much testimony at the Harrisburg trial was devoted to the questions, What is creationism and Who is a creationist? The plaintiffs argued forcefully that ID is a repackaged version of creationism. The ID theory espouses "special creation," the plaintiffs said, a doctrine at odds with evolution's idea that natural processes produced life with a common ancestry. Plaintiff experts repeatedly used the phrase "intelligent design creationism" to identify the culprit.

The defense had a range of responses. It tried to show that some board members thought creationism refers only to beliefs based on the book of Genesis, and that ID is something different. The defense also pushed the incriminating word to absurd lengths. For example, when an evolutionist confirmed that evolution "creates" life, the defense inquired whether that view should be referred to in the scientific literature as "creation evolution."

Part of the lawsuit focused on the board's decision to put an ID textbook, Of Pandas and People, in the school library. The plaintiffs called Kenneth Miller, a Brown University biologist, to testify on the errors in Pandas. Miller was an ideal witness: he is a Catholic who has spoken widely on how he has reconciled faith with salience. He said that God created the laws of evolution, a view he has elaborated on in Finding Darwin's God.

The defense tried to use this approach to its advantage. It showed that, by some lights, Miller is also a creationist. And it argued that if the presence of Pandas in the library is unconstitutional because it refers to a "master intelligence" in the universe, then Miller's book and even Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species also should be kept out of school libraries, since they use terms such as creation, creator, and God.

The trial then moved into theology. The plaintiffs' attorneys questioned two ID biologists about the "God of Christianity." The biologists admitted to their own "personal" belief in God, but said their science did not cross into questions of "ultimate causes."

Testifying for the plaintiffs, theologian John Haught of Georgetown University said there is no conflict between religion and science, and he espoused "explanatory pluralism." Science handles the "how" questions of nature, religion the "why" of existence.

Haught said ID is a form of natural theology. It offers an "old theological argument" to prove the existence of God. It is an "appalling theology," he said, since efforts to understand or limit God through nature lead to "idolatry."

Throughout the trial, the defense argued that the religious beliefs of ID theorists are irrelevant to their scientific practice. But since the plaintiffs had made personal beliefs an issue, the defense probed the beliefs of evolutionists. In cross-examination, Haught confirmed that many evolutionists are materialists who deny God.

The plaintiffs traced the origins of ID to its roots in an "archaic science" like astrology and also to old-fashioned Bible creationism. Its proponents, they said, hold to a Logos theology that springs from the Gospel of John.

The defense had its own argument regarding origins. It frequently tied the supporters of the lawsuit to the historic schools of "secular humanism," "scientism" and "atheism. …

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