The Intelligent Design Debate

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Editor’s Note: Dr. Crouse presented this paper at the America’s Future Foundation Roundtable, “What’s the Future With Intelligent Design,” on September 14 in Washington, D.C.

It’s too bad the “perfect storm” analogy has worn so thin because it would describe so well the factors that have merged in American society to propel Intelligent Design forward as one of today’s hottest topics.

How hot is it?

Time magazine had a cover story just last month.
More than 400 scientists have signed a statement “Dissent from Darwin.”
A Zogby poll reveals that 71 percent of the public favors allowing teachers to acknowledge the scientific controversy over the origins of life.

At the same time, the scientific community really has its knickers in a twist.

Just how upset are they?

For years, they have argued among themselves. The scientific journals are full of problems and criticisms of evolutionary theory. But major scholars aren’t willing to break ranks to go public with their questions or doubts.

After all, the Darwinists are the 800-pound gorillas in academia (pun intended).

Evidence abounds that they have totally lost their sense of humor . . . and objectivity.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences notes that there is an “almost religious zeal for a strictly Darwinian view.”
Some distinguished scientists call Intelligent Design “rubbish.”
Some evolutionists claim that Intelligent Design is just “repackaged” creationism.

In fact, there is so much “heat” that the debate is no long merely “academic” and certainly not just “scientific.” Much of the scientific community is acting as though the mere questioning of the Darwinian view is a calamity like it was a matter of life or death. That Time magazine article I mentioned? It trumpets the question on the cover: “Does God have a place in science class?”

Certainly, the “chattering class” has escalated the debate to a frantic level. Let me give you just one example:

A respected editor of a respected biology journal associated with the Smithsonian Institution Richard Sternberg, who holds two PhDs in evolutionary biology came under fire for accepting an article for publication in a peer-reviewed journal that treated Intelligent Design with respect instead of disdain. The man accused of “stirring the scientific pot,” Richard Sternberg, was highly praised by the scientific community until he accepted that article for publication. By the way, the article merely addressed the “Cambrian explosion” a problem about the proliferation of life that has puzzled scientists for years.

In defending his action, Sternberg argues that “science only moves forward on controversy” and that Intelligent Design has “brought a lot of difficult questions [about Darwin’s theory] to the fore.”

I would argue that the current debate over Intelligent Design makes a ripe climate for new thinking and fresh ideas about some of the most challenging questions about human life. The swirl of ideas and intellectual ferment has fascinating policy, political and cultural implications.

Let’s look briefly at how that swirl is evidenced today.

POLICY: Obviously, questions about the origins of life strike fear in the hearts of policy czars.

The broadest ramifications are policy questions related to education. Science teachers and bigots are up-in-arms over the possibility that something other than Darwinism might be taught in the public schools. Biologists are concerned about textbooks and research contracts. Bureaucrats and think tanks are worried about research contracts. Scientists at all levels and in all situations are worried about research contracts. Note a constant theme here? Policy decisions have tremendous ramifications for research contracts. There is a lot of money at stake. Also, the currency of power and influence is definitely in flux and that makes a lot of people uneasy.

POLITICS: In a polarized political climate, questions about the origins of life deepen the divide that already exists. For many years, liberals have treated the political arena as their own playground. Dare I say they have been the bullies on the playground? Their networks have dominated the grants game. Their pals have been the political appointees. Their contacts have become the consultants.

Now there is a more level playing field conservatives are starting to make inroads. They have always been well prepared, educated and articulate. They have earned the respect of their peers. Now, they are more willing to speak out. They are increasingly less intimidated. With a conservative President and Congress and with well-trained scholars filling the conservative think tanks, the inside-the-beltway crowd now has to contend with the ideas and contributions of their conservative colleagues. They don’t have to be nice about it or even fair, but they can no longer simply condescend, patronize or ignore. That is a completely different political climate than any of the current liberal political leaders have experienced before.

CULTURE: With the two extremes of the political spectrum (conservatives and liberals) more equally balanced than previously, you would expect to see more accommodation and respect between those of different points of view. Ironically, the culture has turned more close-minded. Members of the Left, who shout the loudest about being inclusive and complain the most about harsh judgmental attitudes, end up being the most exclusive and harshest judges of all.

Preferential treatment is quite addictive and liberals have grown used to having unquestioned supremacy in all three arenas policy, politics and culture. Now their dominance is threatened in fact there are ample signs that it has long since reached its high-water mark and is in full retreat.

With the ascendancy of the Internet, cable television and web logs (blogs), the whole social climate has changed. Previously, liberals could stay on top of their policy and political dynasties because they had absolute control of the mediating institutions. The broader culture had little power or influence compared with the elites. Now, through the Internet, cable television and blogs, the grassroots culture has unprecedented information and influence. That is a crucial change in American cultural dynamics and that change is here to stay and will only gain strength. Increasingly, the grassroots culture will influence policy and politics in an upward fashion rather than it being dictated downward by the elites, a real democratization.

When the majority of the public wants open discussion about the merits of Darwin’s theory as opposed to the theory of Intelligent Design, you can bet that the country will debate those theories and discuss their ramifications for the policy and politics of the nation.

When I was a young woman, I had a couple of dates with a bright guy from an Ivy League university. He was full of angst, lamenting that he lived in the wrong era. He complained that all the unknowns had already been discovered or explained. There were, he feared, no new worlds for his generation to conquer.

How short-sighted he was. That was before the Internet, space travel or cable television. Many of the loudest voices against Intelligent Design are equally short-sighted. They don’t see, are afraid, or are threatened by the potential.

For today’s bright minds, Intelligent Design has opened up new possibilities in the scientific arena.

I say to them “Go for it! See how far your research and lab experiments will take you.”

One day maybe Darwin’s theory will be as outdated as the Flat Earth theory.

But we’ll never know unless we keep an open mind and are willing to go where the science takes us.

Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D., Senior Fellow at Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute, writes and speaks often on political, policy and religious issues as they affect American culture especially women and families.

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