The battle over intelligent design rages from Pat Robertson’s declaration that God would refuse divine protection to citizens of Dover, Pa., for refusing to teach ID in their schools to more than 400 churches that planned to observe the 197th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth as “Evolution Sunday” on Feb. 12.
Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., however, opted for a more balanced approach, setting aside two Wednesday nights in January to better educate members about the debate over whether ID is a science and if it should be taught as such in public schools.
Advocates of intelligent design contend that nature is too complex to have evolved by chance and infer the existence of an intelligent designer. Opponents say it is just an updated version of “creation science,” which attempts to debunk evolution by using scientific-sounding terms.
In the first session, Pastor Chris Caldwell gave a broad overview of intelligent design and touched on some of the church/state concerns.
Starting with a disclaimer that he is a pastor and not a trained scientist, Caldwell said his view is that ID scientists “are not quacks that should be dismissed out of hand,” but they “are a small minority in the scholarly community” and “are much better at poking holes in existing theories than mounting a convincing case for their own.”
Caldwell said people of faith should reject both “scientific fundamentalism,” which views religion as irrelevant, and “Christian fundamentalism,” which begins with the proposition that the first chapters of Genesis are literally true and views any other theory as anti-religious.
Caldwell said for him: “The main thing is that God created the world. He could have done it in a week or over millions of years, but the vital issue is having the faith that God did it.”
Broadway Baptist is located not far from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a conservative school, which in 2004 announced formation of the Center for Science and Theology, appointing William Dembski, formerly of Baylor, as its first director.
“You see patterns all over the place that are best explained as a result of intelligence,” Dembski said recently at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. He compared it to looking at Mount Rushmore.
“Wind and erosion did not create that rock face,” Dembski said, according to Baptist Press. “It required an intelligence. In this case we know who the intelligence was. It was an eccentric artist named Gutzon Borglum.”
But University of Louisville professors invited to a panel discussion on the second Wednesday night session at Broadway Baptist came down firmly against ID on both scientific and historical grounds.
Panelist Michael Perlin, who has a doctorate in microbiology, said it isn’t surprising that there are gaps in the data supporting evolution. No one knows everything about anything, he said, but there are ideas for which the evidence is so bountiful that they are accepted as scientific law, such as that the earth orbits the sun and there is gravity.
“There may be people who believe otherwise, but we don’t teach those other ideas, because there is no scientific basis for them,” he said, quoted in the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Perlin said evolution is another of those scientific facts, and it is supported both by the fossil record and by observable micro-evolutionary changes, such as mosquitoes developing a resistance to the pesticide DDT.
The debate over intelligent design concerns not only scientists. Since the late 1990s there have been numerous attempts to force inclusion of intelligent design into science curriculum in public schools as an alternative to evolution.
In December a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that teaching ID in schools violates the First Amendment’s clause that says government may not establish religion. “The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory,” declared U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III. ID opponents hailed it as a victory both for science and the separation of church and state.
Caldwell said he agrees with the judge in the Pennsylvania case, in his conclusion that the effort to require exposure to ID in schools had been a thinly veiled effort to teach a particular set of religious beliefs.
“I believe that God is an ‘intelligent agent’ with a purpose for Creation,” Caldwell said. “But that is ultimately a theological, not a scientific statement.”
The event also drew attention from newspaper columnist David Hawpe.
“What bothers me about intelligent design is that it makes God sound like some kind of celestial cobbler,” Hawpe wrote in his column dated Jan. 22. “If that were the case, let’s face it, His work would leave a lot to be desired. That doesn’t square with a God who is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, and beyond our ken.”
Hawpe said he also bothered “that the national conversation about intelligent design gets twisted into a conflict between Christians and non-believers–between ‘people of faith’ (the formulation with which George Bush strokes followers, while neatly slandering opponents) and those who have no faith.”
“It’s nothing of the sort,” Hawpe said. “Plenty of Christians embrace evolution as a way that God might have created the heavens and the earth. Others just don’t know. Most people figure only He knows. You can’t tease out a mathematical proof. We’re talking about faith, here, not multiple regression analysis.”
Caldwell said he is “proud to be the pastor of a church where it is assumed that faith is strong enough to stand on its own two feet and does not need the government as a body guard.”
“We should not take lightly the damage done to our Christian witness when fundamentalist Christians make God out to be something so weak that his truth cannot stand on its own,” he said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Recommended resources on intelligent design:
“Pastoral thoughts on the issue of Intelligent Design,” Presented by Chris Caldwell as the mid-week study at Broadway Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky., January 5, 2006. Available at http://www.broadwaybaptist.org/staff-pastor.html
Of Pandas and People, The Central Question of Biological Origins, 2nd Edition. (Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon, Eds. Dallas: Haughton, 1993).
Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing. William A. Dembski, Ed. ISI Books: Wilmington, Delaware, 2004. See many of Prof. Demski’s writings online at http://www.designinference.com/
“Darwin in the Dock,” Margaret Talbot. New Yorker, December 5, 2005, 66-79.
The Christian Century Dec. 27, 2005, issue on ID.