Saturday, August 25, 2007

Intevolution - The Debate Continues

(At left) Scopes Trial newspaper cartoon, 1925 Collection of Richard Milner

“While the rest of the species is descended from apes, redheads are descended from cats.” - Mark Twain

The June 2007 issue of Natural History Magazine offers "Darwin in Court" - an excellent article by Richard Milner on the debate over evolution and intelligent design.

For those of you who haven't watched television or read a newspaper in the last 100 years, I will summarize. Evolutionists believe that life evolved gradually, through a process known as natural selection. Intelligent Designers believe that life was placed on Earth by a supernatural force (like God or Google) pretty much in its final form. That's the story in a nutshell, (which evolved from a nut without a shell).

Milner's article outlines the argument, lists new books, and details an important court case - Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. Richard is an Associate of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Recent publications mentioned are:

"Intelligent Thought" by John Brockman - an excellent introduction to this controversy. IT is a collection of essays on Intelligent Design by some of the world's top scientists. Brockman, a respected editor of scientific literature, collaborated with the authors to make this information comprehensible to people (like moi) who will never be asked to join MENSA.

"40 Days and 40 Nights" by Matthew Chapman, who is a great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin. Milner describes Matthew's work as "a tour de force, hilarious without sacrificing seriousness or purpose." Chapman, attended the Dover School District trial, which lasted 40 days and 40 nights. This Biblical coincidence was not lost on the author, who incorporated it into his title.

"Not in Our Classrooms" by Eugenie Scott and Glenn Branch. Eugenie is the Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education. This organization is focused on keeping religion (disguised as science) out of America's classrooms.

These books have been added to my (rapidly growing) "must read" list. I may need to get a second job to support my journalistic jones.

In his analysis of the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case, Milner focuses on the core issues: 1) Does Intelligent Design meet the definition of "science"? and 2) Does teaching it in public school classrooms violate the U.S. Constitution? The rulings of Presiding Judge John E. Jones III were that Intelligent Design was not science - and therefore requiring it to be included in a science curriculum violated the Establishment Clause of The First Amendment. This Clause forbids the U.S. Government from establishing or supporting religious activities. Since Judge Jones is a lifelong Republican, who was appointed by (born again Christian) President George W. Bush, I am guessing that he will be getting a few less Christmas cards from the GOP. But I applaud him for his judicial integrity.

In his final comments on the case, Judge Jones offered scathing criticism of the Dover School Board, the group responsible for introducing Intelligent Design into their classrooms:

"It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise their real purpose. . ."


". . .The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources"

I enjoyed Richard's fluid prose, which facilitated my journey through the literary and legal landscape of this debate. Scientific writing is often harder to understand than Chinese algebra. My touchstone for this genre is "Can I read the article without moving my lips or getting a headache?" Milner passed this test with flying colors!

Richard also presented a fair and balanced profile of the IDers. He did not demonize them or describe them in condescending terms - something many of his fellow scientists have been guilty of. His article included a dialogue with a Christian associate. This person explained that not all Christians supported the IDers' view that Evolution and Intelligent Design were mutually exclusive. At a time when our world is so polarized, it was refreshing to find a writer who approached such a divisional issue with an open mind.

If you want to learn more about the Intevolution (my new word) argument - and what it means to John (or Jane) Q. Public, then I highly recommend "Darwin in Court". I also encourage you to visit the new Hall of Human Origins at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. It is a fun and fascinating way to learn more about where humans came from!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's obvious that your blog is now defunct and that this post is ancient, but I'm posting this in hopes that you might, by some remote chance, receive some notification via e-mail that this comment has been added.

You stated:
Intelligent Designers believe that life was placed on Earth by a supernatural force (like God or Google) pretty much in its final form. That's the story in a nutshell, (which evolved from a nut without a shell).

You have been deceived, and badly. Almost no ID proponent believes that. Heck, Mike Behe and some of a few other ID folk believe that all life forms descended from a universal common ancestor. The catch is that they make a case that this absolutely could not have been done without some intelligence because natural selection only provides adaptation by breaking existing functions - it never actually builds anything.

I think the difference between Behe et al and theistic evolutionists (or, as some would prefer to be called, "evolutionary creationists") is that Behe believes that we can scientifically detect intelligence that resulted in all life by appealing to the apparent code that is DNA and the limitations of natural selection and mutation, while theistic evolutionists do not.