Feature: The Intelligent Design Controversy in Higher Education
This week on The Coral Ridge Hour we look at Intelligent Design, a movement which is gaining adherents at colleges and universities around the world. But what about professors who dare to challenge evolution by presenting alternatives to students? As you are about to see, the consequences can be severe.
The main focus will be the case of Caroline Crocker, a former professor of biology at George Mason University. Six years ago, in the course of her research, she came to see that Darwinian evolution was scientifically indefensible and untrue. This TV report details the ordeal she endured for the cause of scientific truth in the face of those seeking to suppress it. Edward Sisson, her attorney, will also be featured along with the GMU IDEA club president Christine Chenette and myself (the co-founder of the club). (This is the same band of rebels who were featured in a cover story by the prestigious scientific journal Nature last year.)
The news report will be featured as part of the Coral Ridge Hour, but before I offer any more details, I need to state an important disclaimer: The views of the Coral Ridge organization do no necessarily reflect my views nor the views of other authors at Uncommon Descent.
That said, go to www.coralridgehour.org to get local listings of the shows. The broadcast will also be available on the internet after Sunday. So don’t worry guys if you miss it on TV. The show will last an hour. The news report will air somewhere in between parts of a religious service, but I don’t know where. However, the internet version will carry only the news report, so you all may just decide to watch that.
In addition to Caroline Crocker’s case, this story will touch on the plight of pro-ID students in our nation’s universities. The number of ID friendly students is hard to estimate, but the best numbers I have indicate the biology curriculums have between 10%-33% pro-IDers at the freshman level. No one really knows at this time how many of those will matriculate to graduation. Furthermore, these polls were conducted with varying degrees of rigor and scope. I’ve seen estimates as high as 40% of students accepting special creation, and maybe as many as 75% are at least curious about the topics of ID and special creation. There may indeed be a revolution in the making, and only time will tell, but I’m cautiously optimistic. One can only imagine the effect on scientific culture if legions of Michael Behe’s, Paul Nelson’s, Jon Wells’, Bill Dembski’s, Phil Johnson’s start graduating from our nation’s schools in the next 20 years. You get the picture. :=)
But the aspect I focus on in this essay is not the TV special, but what the TV special signifies with Coral Ridge choosing to air the story, namely, the fact Evangelicals and creationists are warming to ID. Coral Ridge and the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) are among the first organizations that I’m aware of to have given a degree of endorsement to ID, and this broadcast is important in elevating ID’s reputation among the Evangelicals.
At Uncommon Descent we have celebrated the recent friendliness the Catholic Church has extended toward ID. What is less appreciated is that various Protestant denominations and creationists are beginning to warm to ID. This is good news for ID, because contrary to what critics of ID would have you think, there have been significant rifts between creationists and IDers. But equally important is the fact that creationists are beginning to understand that creationism is theologically premised, but ID is not.
There are many nuances to the relationship between creationists and IDers, and these nuances are not easily described. In brief, the IDers have been welcoming, but the creationists have not always reciprocated. Here was the state of affair six years ago from an IDer’s perspective:
Intelligent Design Coming Clean, November 11, 2000 by Bill Dembski
Theists of all stripes are to be sure welcome. But the boundaries of intelligent design are not limited to theism. I personally have found an enthusiastic reception for my ideas not only among traditional theists like Jews, Christians, and Muslims, but also among pantheists, New-Agers, and agnostics who don’t hold their agnosticism dogmatically. Indeed, proponents of intelligent design are willing to sit across the table from anyone willing to have us.
That willingness, however, means that some of the people at the table with us will also be young earth creationists. Throughout my brief tenure as director of Baylor’s Michael Polanyi Center, adversaries as well as supporters of my work constantly pointed to my unsavory associates. I was treated like a political figure who is unwilling to renounce ties to organized crime. It was often put to me: “Dembski, you’ve done some respectable work, but look at the disreputable company you keep.” Repeatedly I’ve been asked to distance myself not only from the obstreperous likes of Phillip Johnson but especially from the even more scandalous young earth creationists.
I’m prepared to do neither. That said, let me stress that loyalty and friendship are not principally what’s keeping me from dumping my unsavory associates. Actually, I rather like having unsavory associates
In contrast to IDers like Bill rolling out the red carpet, there has been a disappointing lack of reciprocity from the creationists, and occasional hostility. This was epitomized by an irritating YEC promotional campaign against ID: Intelligent design: is it intelligent; is it Christian? by Answers in Genesis (AiG).
But thankfully, there are some creationist and Evangelical organizations who have warmed to ID and understand that ID is not a theological body of ideas, but rather a theology-free science. This upcoming TV show symbolizes growing acceptance of ID’s theology-free origins science in its proper context within Evangelical and creationist circles. This is no small development, because IDers would do well to tap into a large base of potential interest (110 million Americans who accept special creation of humans) rather than trying to persuade individuals who have paid their mortgages and gained respect in society by promoting naturalistic evolution. (And if anyone criticizes me for making an ID sales pitch to religious organizations, I’ll counter by pointing to the NCSE’s Faith Project Director.)
What may be ironic is that the theology-free character of ID is what actually makes it very appealing to people of faith who may be sitting on the fence on various issues. Personally, 6 years ago, I was turned off by heavy-handed tactics by AiG and similar organizations who demanded blind acceptance of their origins theology and labeled anyone who disagreed with or doubted them as either compromisers or agents of the devil. When they lumped James Dobson along with the “compromisers” I decided I had my fill of the prevailing YEC culture, and rather found my home in ID’s big tent. YEC edicts demanding unquestioned belief conveyed desperation, rather than confidence in brute empirical facts. Thus I found the writings of Denton, Jastrow, Berlinski, Tipler, Barrow more compelling than Ken Ham or Henry Morris.
Interestingly in the secular colleges, I’ll ask of even the most conservative Evangelical creationists , Ã¢â‚¬Å“Assuming all things equal, with respect to science, whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s word would carry more weight with you, someone like Michael Denton or a Bible-believer like Ken Ham?Ã¢â‚¬Â Almost invariably, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll answer Michael Denton! This again, reinforces the fact, theology-free science is more persuasive at defeating Darwinism than theology-filled edicts (see: Howard Van TillÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s journey from Calvinism into freethought to see the effect of theology-filled edicts.)
For me personally, the challenge has been persuading people of the Evangelical faith that the science-alone approach of ID does not disrespect their practice of faith. This is challenging in light of Phil Johnson’s admonition to all IDers:
the first thing that has to be done is to get the Bible out of the discussion
Contrast this to creationist Ken Ham’s (AiG) approach:
DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let Bible be let out of the conversation
Argue from the authority of the Bible
DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let young age of the Earth be conceded as thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s how youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll lose the argument
The problem is world views
But to people of faith, I argue Ken Ham’s approach to the exclusion of all other approaches is wrong, and often dishonoring to the very faith he professes. He is contradicted by Romans 1:20, Acts 17:16-32, John 10:38. Thus in matters of origins science, to honor my faith, to honor the promise that Nature will testify of design independent of theology, I side with Phil Johnson, and affirm that in many cases (not all), the right thing to do in God’s eyes is to:
get the Bible out of the discussion
Some Evangelicals reading this may have issues with what I said. I point out I’m not alone in my position:
The pressure to justify art, science, and entertainment in terms of their spiritual value or evangelistic usefulness ends up damaging both the gift of creation and the gift of the Gospel.
Michael S. Horton, Westminster Theological Seminary
Where in the World Is the Church?
Furthermore, ID does not claim to be infallible nor does it make any theological statement beyond the reasonableness of the scientific method. There is no reason therefore any Evangelical should consider ID contrary to their theology since ID makes no theological claims, and does not assert infallibility. It is no more theologically premised than chemistry, math, physics, and information science. However, I should point out that science with no theological premise does not mean a science with no theological implications. How can that be?
Consider the Laws of Thermodynamics. These laws are as theology-free as one can ask for. These laws strongly suggests stars cannot possibly burn forever, but if so, then that means the stars and all the universe must not have been around forever. This fact, combined with various astrophysical observations (like red shifts), forced scientists to reluctantly conclude the universe had a beginning. But a universe with a beginning has very strong theological implications even though the science leading to those implications was theology-free (see: God and the Astronomers by Robert Jastrow). And then more recently, Belinfante, Barrow, Tipler and others point out that Quantum Mechanics may necessitate a Universal Intelligence at the root of reality (see: Peer Reviewed Stealth ID Classic). In like manner, ID and its surrounding theories are theology-free, but they have theological implications.
With that in mind, I hope the readers will excuse me for trying to reach out to my fellow Evangelicals and creationists reading this weblog by quoting from the scriptures which they reverence. By doing so up front, I can reassure them that there will be times it will be more honoring to their Christian faith to take the Bible out of the discussion than to leave it in. And thus it is my hope by appealing to the beliefs they hold dear, that they will argue the case for origins in the secular world using purely scientific arguments.
50% of the US believes in special creation and another 25% might be sympathetic to some form of ID. It is within this 75% of the nation’s populace that the theoretical underpinnings of ID have the best chance of being heard, received, and researched. This 75% figure carries over to the young, who will be the scientists of tomorrow. It is this demographic group which I think we should seek to reach and encourage more than the 25% who have a financial, social, and personal interests in maintaining the status quo.
It is to that audience, that I have principally made my appeal with this essay. And I encourage this audience to support the diversity of views under ID’s big tent, and to find ways to respectfully cooperate with others who hold different personal beliefs. When an atmosphere is fostered where creationists can be welcoming and supportive of people like Michael Denton, Frank Tipler, John Barrow, David Berlinski, John Angus Campbell, John Davison, Jeffrey Schwartz, Charles Townes, and more people than I can possibly list — then a more effective path will be open for exploration of our origins.
The battles between the die-hard YECers and IDers are there. For example, here is a tiff within my own denomination regarding YECers, IDers and holders of other views. I’m part of the Potomac Presbytery which in the following letter is seen rebuking the Westminster Presbytery: An Open Letter to Our Brother Elders of Westminster Presbytery. Also, from the Mere Creation website, here is a very good look theological issues regarding ID: Report of the Creation Study Committee (Presbyterian Church in America). Their recommendations are welcome news for ID:
Thus, the church must be prepared to address the claimed “scientific truths” of the science communities and be prepared to “manage by fact” as the data from the science pours forth. The present day intelligent design movement would appear to be a good example of how the church in the broader evangelical context can be effective in this manner.