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Evolution vs. Intelligent Design: The Dover Controversy

Evolution: Darwin’s famous theory that all creatures evolved from each other, starting from the beginning of time.

Creation: The story in the book of Genesis that describes God’s creation of the world and it’s creatures in seven days.

Intelligent Design (ID): A newer theory, comprised of a unique combination of both evolution and creation. In ID, it is believed that evolution is mostly true, but is riddled with gaps of information. Gaps that are filled by the design of an “intelligent agent” or designer.

In 2004, in the town of Dover, Pennsylvania, these three theories clashed in an all out war of words. This now historic conflict is viewed as an important part of our present history, and interest in the matter was sparked throughout the U.S. It all began when Bill Buckingham, head of the school board’s curriculum committee, refused to allow the use of a widely known and used biology textbook, saying it was “laced with Darwinism.” He then found a book, “Of Pandas and People”, that described a new “scientific theory”, called Intelligent Design, which was part evolution, part creation. He and others on the school board tried to get this book to be used in classrooms, but were outvoted in favor of
using only the biology book. Determined to get the theory of ID to the children of the school, 60 copies of “Of Pandas and People” were “mysteriously” donated to the school to be put in their library. (Evidence was later discovered that pointed to Alan Bonsell, then the president of the school board, as being responsible for the sudden appearance of the books.) The science teachers were then given a statement that they were asked to read before the class, stating that evolution was not the only scientific theory, that it had holes, or gaps, of information, and that the scientific theory of ID explained these gaps. The statement also recommended students to find the “Of Pandas and People” book in the library to learn about this new theory. The teachers refused. The school board then sent others into the science classes to read the statement themselves. So, the teachers filed a lawsuit against the board to put a stop to them trying to include the ID “theory” in the science curriculum. The trial turned out to be an important mark in the history of science.

The supporters of teaching ID in schools laid out a very legitimate claim. They described how there are many gaps in Darwin’s theory of evolution. These gaps, they claimed, were filled by the work of an “intelligent agent”, who they insisted was not God. They believed that some creatures, natural structures, etc. are too complicated to have simply evolved from something else. They wanted this new theory to be taught to children so that they knew evolution was not the only scientific theory there was. They also emphasized that the theory of evolution is not a proven fact, and therefore should be the only theory of existence taught in schools.

The opponents of teaching ID in schools had a strong case, clarifying the theory of evolution and debunking the purposed evidence of the ID supporters. They described
how there are no “gaps” in the theory of evolution, that they are filled by creatures that relate one species to another. They also pointed out that while evolution is indeed a scientific theory, it has been tested and verified more often then some facts. They also made points to prove that ID is not a scientific theory. As for the seemingly too complicated parts of nature, they presented evidence to explain these with science relating to the theory of evolution.

The opponents of ID presented one piece of evidence that had a great effect on the case. One “gap” cited by the theory of ID is the transition of fish to land animal. In ID, this would be where the “intelligent agent” came in, creating a land animal from nothing. With the use of fossils, the prosecution proved the evolution of fish to land creature. They first had a fossil of an ancient fish, with scales, fins, and a head with eyes on either side of its head. Then they showed a fossil of a land animal, with legs, no scales, and a flat head with eyes on top. A recently found fossil, the next was the most striking. It clearly showed a fish, with scales and fins, which had a flat head with eyes on top like the land animal. Upon closer inspection, scientists found that the bones of the fish’s fins corresponded with that of a human’s shoulder, elbow, and even wrist. This transition animal clearly filled the gap between fish and land creatures.

The main piece of evidence that the supporters of ID used for their case, was existence of flagella, whip-like filaments that are present on some bacteria the help them move through a substance. These flagella are rotated by a unique combination of proteins that looks and acts like a motor. Any picture of a flagellum clearly shows the complexity of its structure, leaving anyone wondering how it was made. The ID supporters gave this
structure as an example of the “unexplainable” complexities of the natural world. They said that flagella were too complex to have evolved from anything else. They also said that they could not find any structure that resembled a flagellum at all.

A knowledge versus belief argument is a key part of the Intelligent Design controversy. On the side of knowledge, evolution is indeed a theory, but one that has been tested and verified hundreds of times. It is based solely on facts that can be proven, and evidence from many forms of science. Because it is completely based on observable, provable facts, it is considered a theory of true science. In the argument of the ID supporters, an authority on ID, Michael Behe, explained Intelligent Design as, “a scientific theory that purposes that some aspects of life are best explained as the result of design, and that the strong appearance of design in life is real, and not just apparent… (ID) is based entirely on observable, empirical, physical evidence from nature, plus logical inferences.” By Behe’s definition of science, he said that he also believed astrology to be a scientific theory. Witold Walczak said that by loosening the very definition of science, and permitting supernatural aspects to become a part of scientific theory, we lose part of what makes science so important.

Both sides appeared to use “stacking the evidence” fallacies in their cases. This is not surprising for a court trial, because if the lawyers didn’t stack the evidence even a little, they wouldn’t be doing their job. The trial was basically a battle of facts and science, so there were no other fallacies.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, scientific method is “principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the
recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.” This implies that a theory must be tested extensively to be considered part of science. Darwin’s theory of evolution has been tested and verified hundreds of times, and therefore is a scientific theory. Intelligent Design, however, has not been tested or verified. Some scientists merely believe that ID is true, due to many observations, even though they have not tested it. Therefore, using the definition above, Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory.

The term theory refers to explanations for natural phenomenon that have withstood a lot of testing and have a lot of evidence to support them. A theory is constantly being changed and revised to make it as close to fact as possible. Most citizens think of a theory as more of an idea that may have no root in truth. Obviously, these two definitions differ greatly. The fact that the members of the Dover school board clearly used the latter definition surely added to the controversy.

Everyone should have a say in what schools teach our children. It is only fair for all people to have a say in education. But, before making any kind of decision, the choices should be thoroughly explained. Someone who may have not completely understood the meaning of the theory of evolution may change their opinion once they learn, and the same for Intelligent Design. Scientists should be able to make their case and help people understand what they’re talking about.

The first amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof....” This basically means Congress will make no law based on religion, and will not take away anyone's right to
practice whatever religion they wish. Schools teaching Intelligent Design would be respecting an establishment of religion. Therefore, allowing schools to teach creationism or ID would violate this amendment, making it unconstitutional. Forbidding schools to teach ID is not violating this amendment, though, because no one is being told that they are not allowed to practice their religion.

The supporters of Darwin’s theory won the case for many reasons. First, they had a huge amount of evidence supporting the theory of evolution, from the fish/land animal transitional fossil, to the hundreds of tests that have been done with the theory. They also had a good argument against the supporters of ID, analyzing every piece of evidence they presented. The scientists they had were extremely knowledgeable about their field, and easily explained the theory of evolution.

The court definitely treated the controversy fairly, and gave each side a fair chance. It did not appear to be biased at all. The documentary also did the controversy justice. Being made by a scientific company, the opponents of ID were naturally supported throughout the video, but the information was factual. The documentary was very well done.

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