Americans are backing President Bush on teaching Intelligent Design or creationism in schools. If a recent survey is to be believed, two-thirds of Americans agree with their President’s call to teach Intelligent Design in schools alongside evolutionary theory.
But while President Bush cautiously asserts that the cosmos was made by a ‘supreme being’ without identifying who that supreme being is, the new survey implies that most Americans would be happy for full creationism to be taught in schools.
So what’s the difference?
The average British observer (or even Christian) might feel uncertain about the essential difference between the doctrines of creationism and Intelligent Design. The short explanation is that where creationism identifies the God of the Judeo-Christian Bible as the Creator, ID stops short by asserting that empirical scientific study alone can identify clear evidence for ‘design’ in the cosmos, thus implying the existence of a designer.
Michael Behe is the author of the best-selling Darwin’s black box: The biochemical challenge to evolution and Professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania. Behe is at the forefront of a burgeoning group of scientists seeking serious scientific debate over the case for ID.
In a recent interview he asserts, ‘The question is: exactly how did life get here? Was it by natural selection and random mutation or was it something else? You see this design when you see co-ordinated parts coming together to perform function — like in a hand.
‘And so it’s the appearance of design that everybody’s trying to explain. So that if Darwin’s theory doesn’t explain it we’re left with no other explanation than maybe it really was designed. That’s essentially the design argument’.
The faith element
Questioned about the faith ‘element’ Behe brings with him, he confirms his Catholic beliefs but points out that the ID case does not predicate God in any form whatsoever — from an ID viewpoint, the designer could be ‘some kind of evil alien’.
Behe affirms; ‘That’s exactly right. All that the evidence from biochemistry points to is some very intelligent agent. Although I find it congenial to think it’s God, others might prefer to think it’s an alien — or who knows? We focus simply on the observation of design. We don’t say the designer is God’.
Some Christians feel uncomfortable with this, recognising that the ID case doesn’t go far enough. But ID does at least provide the Christian with a serious scientific case to at least introduce the principle of design into the argument — helping to neutralise the atheistic presuppositions of most evolutionary teaching.
In any event, it appears that the widespread belief (at least in the USA) in a Creator who is the God of the Bible provides reason enough to allow ID to be taught in schools. The poll confirms that even those who specifically do not believe in an intelligent design source took this view.
This latest survey of American attitudes to religion among supporters of the main political parties is fascinating. It even forced its way onto the pages of the liberal New York Times which has taken a vigorous stand against the President’s intervention on the subject.
Most strikingly, the survey reveals that the Intelligent Design vs. evolution education debate does not break down along purely Republican vs. Democrat lines — as had been expected.
In fact, it appears that two-thirds of all Americans, left or right on the political spectrum, would be happy to see Creationism, not just Intelligent Design, added to the schools curriculum in the USA.
The poll, conducted among 2000 people in mid-July by the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, and published on 31 August 2005, found that 42% of respondents held strict creationist views, agreeing that ‘living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time’.
Some 48% believed that humans had evolved over time but these included 18% who said that evolution was ‘guided by a supreme being’. In all, 64% said they were open to the idea of teaching creationism in addition to evolution.
Interestingly, most of those who expressed a belief in creationism said they were ‘very certain’ of their views (63%), while only a minority of those who believe in evolution were certain (32%).
John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum, expressed his surprise that teaching both evolution and creationism was favoured not only by conservative Christians, but also by the majority of secular respondents, liberal democrats, and those who accept the theory of natural selection. He described it as a reflection of ‘American pragmatism’.
‘It’s like they’re saying, “Some people see it this way, some people see it that way, so just teach it all and let the kids figure it out”.’
President Bush, a practising Christian, opened the door to debate on 2 August when he commented to reporters that he believed both evolution and intelligent design should be taught in schools, ‘so people can understand what the debate is about’.
Commenting on Behe’s worldwide bestseller Darwin’s black box biochemist David Berlinski said, ‘No one can propose to defend Darwin without meeting the challenges set out in this superbly written and compelling book’.
Equally, Christians themselves must take the same robust view whenever they are met with the intransigence of pure evolutionists — whose actual knowledge and reasoned arguments are often paper-thin.