Evolution and Intelligent Design Footnotes

Section 1: Science as a Way of Knowing

(1) Ways of knowing used in society include the following:

  • Authority: Parents, teachers, community leaders, and physicians are all figures of authority. The level of trust we have in them depends on our personal experiences and access to knowledge about them.
  • Belief: God or gods, or other external or internal supernatural powers can impart or support beliefs. There are numerous deities and levels and types of belief within any society.
  • Logic: Logic includes tests and rules that help to identify what is true and false. It is an important element of scientific inquiry but is limited by its lack of reference to the natural world.
  • Scientific Inquiry: Science provides knowledge based on empirical evidence from the natural world. Science is the only way of knowing that provides explanations that are testable and verifiable. Ideas in science accumulate over time and are subject to revision and change.

(2) Science is based on testable observations of the natural world. There are four main components of the scientific method beginning with facts gained through observation, followed by a process of experimentation based on testable hypotheses, and, if there is sufficient evidence and support from the scientific community, the ultimate development of a theory.

The four main components of scientific inquiry are: (text in quotes are definitions used by the National Academy of Sciences)

  • Facts: “An observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as “true.”
  • Hypothesis: A testable statement of the relationships among things in the natural world that can be confirmed or disconfirmed. Testing of hypotheses enables incorrect statements to be discarded and supports further testing of those that look promising.
  • Laws: “Generalizations that describe phenomena.” They state what will happen under certain circumstances and may change as circumstances change.
  • Theories: “A well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses”. Theories can generate new hypotheses and predictions.

(3)  Much of this confusion can be attributed to inadequate science education and poor interpretations of science in the media, but scientists themselves must acknowledge their role and make a greater effort to explain to the public what science is and what it is not. The intelligent design movement has been successful in exploiting this confusion to discredit the scientific basis of evolution and support their own views.

Section 2: Science and Society

(1) The theory of evolution is based on the principle of natural selection (descent with modification) proposed by Charles Darwin and others in the mid 19th century.  Modern evolutionary theory, referred to as “neo-Darwinism” or “evolutionary theory” has progressed beyond Darwin’s ideas to include genetics and molecular biology and the investigation of additional natural mechanisms of evolution such as genetic drift. Evolutionary theory provides a robust explanation for how life on earth evolved over the last four billion years through the passing on of heritable traits from one generation to the next.
 
Evolutionary theory plays a role in and is supported by key concepts in scientific disciplines as diverse as chemistry, geology, physics, and astronomy. It has played a fundamental role in the development of medical sciences, especially in genetics, disease resistance, and immunology. Although there is lively discussion about the role of different evolutionary mechanisms, there is no alternative theory with any credibility accepted by evolutionary biologists, or indeed the scientific community as a whole, about the validity of the theory of evolution.  In a poll of 460 college and university science professors in Ohio, 93% said they were not aware of “any scientifically valid evidence or an alternate scientific theory that challenges the fundamental principles of the theory of evolution.”

(2) A poll of 460 college and university science professors in Ohio found that 84% thought there was no conflict between accepting the theory of evolution and a belief in God. Science is based on what is termed “methodological naturalism,” a rule of science that limits an explanation of natural phenomenon to natural causes. It has no opinion on the role of spirituality, only that it is not part of science. A related but philosophical view called “materialist or philosophical naturalist,” goes beyond methodological naturalism to say that only natural causes exist (i.e. there is no God). This is an important distinction as accusations that scientists and especially evolutionists are by definition materialist naturalists, and therefore atheists, is common in the intelligent design literature and should be countered.

(3) Although many religions advocate a literal interpretation of the bible that states life began 10,000 years ago, a number of main stream religions support the theory of evolution as an explanation of the origin of humanity and the diversity of life on Earth. The Roman Catholic Church has held this position for over 50 years, and it was reaffirmed in 1996 by Pope John II. In response to recent efforts to include intelligent design in the science classrooms, religious organizations and individual clergy have published statements and initiated outreach efforts to support the teaching of evolution.

(4) Loss of scientific integrity is taking place through the deliberate misrepresentation or disregard of science that does not support certain political or ideological beliefs. Intelligent design is one more instance in which this is played out. UCS is mobilizing scientists and citizens to combat ideological and political interference in science.

Section 3: Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design

(1) The theory of evolution is based on the principle of natural selection (descent with modification) proposed by Charles Darwin and others in the mid 19th century.  Modern evolutionary theory, referred to as “neo-Darwinism” or “evolutionary theory” has progressed beyond Darwin’s ideas to include genetics and molecular biology and the investigation of additional natural mechanisms of evolution such as genetic drift. Evolutionary theory provides a robust explanation for how life on earth evolved over the last four billion years through the passing on of heritable traits from one generation to the next. 
 
Evolutionary theory plays a role in and is supported by key concepts in scientific disciplines as diverse as chemistry, geology, physics, and astronomy. It has played a fundamental role in the development of medical sciences, especially in genetics, disease resistance, and immunology. Although there is lively discussion about the role of different evolutionary mechanisms, there is no alternative theory with any credibility accepted by evolutionary biologists, or indeed the scientific community as a whole, about the validity of the theory of evolution.  In a poll of 460 college and university science professors in Ohio, 93% said they were not aware of “any scientifically valid evidence or an alternate scientific theory that challenges the fundamental principles of the theory of evolution.”

(2) According to the Intelligent Design Network, “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection.”  There are a range of beliefs in the actual role of a “designer” among the intelligent design community. Some attest that living things were designed much as they are found at present, while others accept that living things have changed over time but that a designer (i.e. intelligent cause) had a direct role in the process.

The focus of the movement is on requiring intelligent design be taught as an alternative to evolution in the science classroom. There are a large number of websites and blogs devoted to intelligent design. It has been very successful at creating a false controversy that many community leaders, including politicians and school board members, have come to accept as true. The intelligent design movement has also been good at attaining media attention that adds credibility their claims.

(3) The main tenet of intelligent design is what its supporters call “irreducible complexity”, the idea that some structures found in nature are too complex to be explained by natural selection. Irreducible complexity is based on a misconception of how natural selection works. The assumption that all parts of a complex structure must have the same function throughout the development of the organism or be fully functional along every step of its evolution is incorrect. In fact structures may have one function at one time and be adapted for another use later on. In some instances what might now be seen as complex may have begun as a byproduct of another structure with little or no function in its initial stages. Natural selection is not the only mechanism for evolution and some phenomenon that may not be adequately explained by natural selection may be explained by other evolutionary mechanisms. 

(4) The intelligent design movement separates itself from creationism through the proposition that intelligent design is a scientific theory not a religious belief and should be considered as a valid alternative to evolutionary theory. There is no public declaration of God as the designer, a strategy by which attempts to avoid first amendment principles regarding separation of church and state.

Section 4: Why Intelligent Design is not Science

(1) The main tenet of intelligent design is what its supporters call “irreducible complexity”, the idea that some structures found in nature are too complex to be explained by natural selection. Irreducible complexity is based on a misconception of how natural selection works. The assumption that all parts of a complex structure must have the same function throughout the development of the organism or be fully functional along every step of its evolution is incorrect. In fact structures may have one function at one time and be adapted for another use later on. In some instances what might now be seen as complex may have begun as a byproduct of another structure with little or no function in its initial stages. Natural selection is not the only mechanism for evolution and some phenomenon that may not be adequately explained by natural selection may be explained by other evolutionary mechanisms. 

(2) The National Academy of Sciences defines a scientific theory as a “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses”.  A theory can lead to new testable hypotheses and predictions. A theory must include the following criteria:

  • It must be tested by experimentation and observation of the natural world.
  • It must be falsifiable (i.e. experiments must conceivably exist that could prove it false).
  • It cannot be proven, only confirmed or disconfirmed.
  • It is subject to revision and change.

Intelligent design does not meet these criteria (i.e. it cannot be tested by observation and experimentation in the natural world, and the existence of an “intelligent” agent in the origin of life can not be tested nor is it falsifiable.) 

(3) Science is based on testable observations of the natural world. There are four main components of the scientific method beginning with facts gained through observation, followed by a process of experimentation based on testable hypotheses, and, if there is sufficient evidence and support from the scientific community, the ultimate development of a theory.

The four main components of scientific inquiry are: (text in quotes are definitions used by the National Academy of Sciences)

  • Facts: “An observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as “true.”
  • Hypothesis: A testable statement of the relationships among things in the natural world that can be confirmed or disconfirmed. Testing of hypotheses enables incorrect statements to be discarded and supports further testing of those that look promising.
  • Laws: “Generalizations that describe phenomena.” They state what will happen under certain circumstances and may change as circumstances change.
  • Theories: “A well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.” Theories can generate new hypotheses and predictions.

(4) Intelligent design does not adhere to the scientific method. Proponents argue that objectivity in intelligent design results from the use of the scientific method but intelligent design is not based on developing mechanisms to explain the phenomenon they propose, or in testing theory, but instead relies predominately on challenging existing explanations and identifying areas where information may be lacking. Intelligent design proponents do a good job of putting evolutionary scientists at the defensive by pointing to specific instances and then leaving it to the scientists to explain the phenomenon or show how it arose naturally. In recent years, scientists have successfully explained several “problems” posed by intelligent design proponents. In an attempt to amend the Kansas Science Education Standards in 2002, the intelligent design proponents attempted to redefine science by removing the core concept of “natural explanations of observable phenomena.” 

(5) A poll of 460 college and university science professors in Ohio found that 84% thought there was no conflict between accepting the theory of evolution and a belief in God. Science is based on what is termed “methodological naturalism,” a rule of science that limits an explanation of natural phenomenon to natural causes. It has no opinion on the role of spirituality only that it is not part of science. A related but philosophical view called “materialist or philosophical naturalist,” goes beyond methodological naturalism to say that only natural causes exist (i.e. there is no God). This is an important distinction as accusations that scientists and especially evolutionists are by definition materialist naturalists, and therefore atheists, is common in the intelligent design literature and should be countered.

Section 5: Science Education and Intelligent Design

(1) Cases such as the 2005 action against the Dover County, PA schools board’s attempt to bring intelligent design in to the classroom have been won through failure of the proposed policy to pass what is called the “Lemon test.” The Lemon Test sets forth the requirements for a law or stature to comply with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Failure to pass any one of the following three parts of the test result in a finding that the law is unconstitutional.

  1. Purpose: it must have a secular legislative purpose;
  2. Effect: its primary effect must neither advance nor inhibit religion; and;
  3. Entanglement: it must not foster excessive entanglement between government and religion.

Section 6:  Fairness and Balance in the Classroom and Beyond

(1) Issues of fairness must also extend to science teachers and students. Given the very limited time in the science curriculum allotted for teaching evolution it is essential that the “balance” sought is in the intellectually challenging debates regarding patterns and processes of evolution not on whether evolution occurred.

(2) The intelligent design movement separates itself from creationism through the proposition that intelligent design is a scientific theory not a religious belief and should be considered as a valid alternative to evolutionary theory.  There is no public declaration of God as the designer, a strategy that avoids first amendment principles regarding separation of church and state.