God or science?
Ninth-grade biology teachers in Dover, Pa., must include 'intelligent design' in their instruction. Observers say it is a sign of what's to come.
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But where most scientists see a series of fits and starts - evolutionary trials and failures - eventually leading to life as we know it, proponents of intelligent design see the guiding hand of some greater wisdom.Skip to next paragraph
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For example, natural selection is not enough to explain the "eerie perfection" of the genetic code, says John Calvert of the Intelligent Design Network, an advocacy group in Shawnee Mission, Kan. Something so flawlessly "designed" could not be the product of random actions, he says.
Proponents of intelligent design make no claim to knowing the source of this order. No scientist "can use science to get to what that intelligence is," says John West of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which backs intelligent-design research.
But for much of middle America, it's easy enough to fill in the blank.
"The book's going to be a good resource for children and parents who try to believe in God and be religious," says John Workman, whose daughter is a sophomore at Dover High. "God should always be in the country, and in the schools."
To critics, his words provoke a collective "I told you so." Intelligent design, they say, is merely creationism in a lab coat. Dr. Scott calls it the evolution of creationism: "They're trying to find a strategy that will stand up in court, and they only have a chance if it is something as far away from religion as possible."
Yet even Scott acknowledges that Mr. Workman has hit upon something deeper - a desire among many Americans that the cold facts of science not quench the spark of faith. It is the tendency of science to say, "God had nothing to do with it," she says, and for students therefore to think, "I can't listen to what the teacher is saying or I'm sinning."
Intelligent design, it seems, would at least have science and spirit shake hands. Barbara Tubbs, for one, supports the curriculum, but only because it is optional.
"[I believe] we came from God," says Ms. Tubbs, the mother of a freshman whose class is due to study evolution - and to be offered the panda book - in January. "But I wouldn't want to push it on anybody."
Yet a fair amount of pushing might be required. Even here, intelligent design has rankled school board members. At one tumultuous meeting, a supporter of the change reportedly asked an opposing member whether she was "born again." After the plan passed, two board members resigned. In Cobb County, meanwhile, several parents have sued to make the district remove the "evolution is a theory" stickers.
For their part, scientists don't feel that they can budge. Evolution is a theory only in the scientific sense of the word - like the theory of a sun-centered solar system, they say. The fact is, in contrast to the uncertainty about evolution among average Americans, scientists are nearly unanimous in their acceptance of it.
To them, teaching anything else in classrooms as "science" is an adulteration of the word.
Moved in large part by cases like those in Pennsylvania and Georgia, National Geographic recently ran a cover story headlined: "Was Darwin Wrong?" The first page of the article answered: "No."
"Science has to be based on facts," says William Allen, editor of the magazine. "When you are talking about creationism and intelligent design, there is no scientific basis." Like many others, he agrees that a discussion of different creation theories could be suitable for social studies or comparative religion - just not science class.
And to Dover parent Holly Martz, that sounds about right. Intelligent design, she says, is "intertwined with religion," and says if it is taught, the variety of religions should be taught. " If they present all the views, that's fine."