New Scientist 10/29/05 Editorial

I subscribe to the New Scientist and post the following for discussion on the subject of Intelligent Design. All rights belong to New Scientist and are used here under the “fair use” doctrine applied towards copyrighted material.

Editorial: Darwin and dogma

  • 29 October 2005
  • From New Scientist Print Edition. Subscribe and get 4 free issues.

THE battle between Darwinian evolution and intelligent design, its creationist would-be nemesis, is easy to caricature. The same can be said for the court case over whether the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania, should be allowed to insist that ID be taught in science lessons.

Like the infamous Scopes “monkey” trial 80 years ago, which challenged the teaching of evolution in Tennessee, the Dover case seems to slot neatly into the polarised political landscape of the day: traditionalists versus progressives, dogma versus evidence, religion versus science, rural versus urban, ignorance versus enlightenment. But the reality is more complicated and more interesting. The caricature not only obstructs proper discussion of ID, it also plays into the creationists’ hands.

To try to grasp the complexities of the case, New Scientist sent a reporter to watch the court proceedings and hear what local people had to say (see “God goes to court in all but name”). What we found should encourage anyone tempted to despair in the face of concerted attacks by those who claim that life is designed by a supernatural creator. If the people of Dover are a guide, plenty of ordinary God-fearing Americans do not see Darwin’s theory as the harbinger of societal breakdown.

Sure, Dover has its share of ideologues, some of them on the school board. More striking, however, is the sophistication and diversity of opinion among the townspeople. This is a place where Christian faith matters, yet there are plenty of believers who are appalled at the school board’s decision to foist religion on their children in science lessons, even if it is their religion. The debate here is very much up for grabs. If proponents of ID are voted off the school board when elections are held next month, its controversial decision will be reversed no matter what the court decides.

There is also a broader lesson for those who oppose ID, wherever in the world it tries to gain a foothold. Almost everyone involved in the case against the school board is devoutly Christian, and they see no conflict between natural selection and their religion. Portraying evolution as an alternative to religion does no favours to the Darwinian cause. On the contrary, it hands supporters of ID the opportunity to portray the debate in terms of one religion (Christianity) against another (belief in evolution). It devalues science’s claim to be a uniquely objective approach to gathering knowledge, and allows proponents of creationism to scare people of faith by telling them that science poses a threat to their society and their values.

Atheists and believers should be able to agree that science stands above dogma. It follows where the evidence leads, something ID can never do.

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