On our way to darkness
Published December 28, 2004

This country was founded on rational thought, not dogma, but ever since then, the forces of anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-thought sectarianism have been on a crusade to destroy everything that our Founding Fathers struggled and fought to achieve. Today, with more than two hundred years of modern science behind us, with the benefits of science and research too numerous to name, we are still fighting the battle against these forces. And it seems like we’re starting to lose.

In schools across the country, creationists are making inroads on the teaching of evolution, deriding it as “just a theory” and “not a fact,” and pushing for the completely baseless and un-scientific “theory of intelligent design.” It’s almost pointless to continue to refute these assertions, to give them merit by arguing against them, but I’ll try again.

Intelligent design, like creationism, is not science. It cannot be investigated through scientific study; its precepts cannot be disproved. It relies on “common sense” and an appeal not to scientists—whom it dismisses as dogmatic fools who know only what they are told to know—but rather to people who have not studied science.

The favorite “proof” of intelligent design is the idea of irreducible complexity. If a biological system consists of parts that serve no purpose on their own, how could it arise from evolutionary processes? The logical failure of this argument is that the end result is not the simple sum of its parts. In classic intelligent design fashion, let us look at a mouse trap. Its individual parts do not serve a particular purpose, yet some intelligence has fashioned them together to create a clever device.

Proponents of intelligent design want you to believe that someone out there created the mouse trap out of thin air—that a person was thinking, “How can I design this trap?” and, without reference to anything that came before, dreamed up the device. The truth is that the designer of the trap knew about springs. He (or she) knew about levers and fulcrums, knew about the application of force and about the proper counterbalances to make the trap effective. He learned about these things from others who had made them, then combined them into a new device.

Complex structures arise from evolutionary processes in a similar fashion. Mutations can combine simple, pre-existing structures in new ways to produce systems that appear to be irreducibly complex. The fact is that the evidence for evolution is massive, and only continues to mount. Is everything we currently believe to be true about evolution actually the case? Probably not; everyone makes mistakes, including the best of scientists.

Another favorite approach of intelligent design and creationist arguments is to single out a handful of evolutionary biologists who have made mistakes, conveniently ignoring the thousands of others who have added to the significant evidence supporting evolution. The vast preponderance of evidence, however, points not to intelligent design, but to evolutionary theory. That is the simple truth.

Why, then, do so many people want to teach intelligent design in schools? Perhaps because the Supreme Court barred the teaching of straight-out Biblical creationism in public schools in the late eighties. Intelligent design proponents claim they have no hidden agenda, and support no one creator over any others. Really? The San Francisco Chronicle quoted a student in Dover, PA, where the school board recently decided to teach intelligent design over evolution: “There’s only one creator, and it has to be God.”

Evolution should never have become a political issue. We should teach science in our schools according to the prevailing theories of the day, not according to the beliefs—whatever they may be—of the local school boards. These boards could just as easily decide to teach a new type of math where pi equals 3.10 instead of 3.14…; Of course, they’d be wrong, and entire schools full of students would graduate with a big leg down for their futures; imagine the wheels they might design!

Like it or not, we are working on destroying America’s future here. We will be poorly equipped to compete with the rest of the world if our children are ignorant of the most basic tenants of scientific inquiry. The process has already begun as the continuing politicization of science in America is driving away the top minds, both foreign and domestic, who are no longer able to pursue research in an environment of intellectual freedom. Similarly, the once-bright beacon of scientific research in America, though still strong, is beginning to dim.

When the current crop of high school students turn their backs on science, things will only become worse. The San Francisco Chronicle had another quote from the same Dover High student: “Evolution—is that the Darwin theory? I don’t know just what he was thinking.” If that doesn’t scare you, it should.