Evolution and Intelligent Design
This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Bob Doughty. On our program this week, we tell about a growing movement in the United States. It is called intelligent design.
Mike Meyer is a teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia. Mr. Meyer has taught biology at Herndon High School for four years. He tells his students about evolution, or biological development.
Evolution is written into science education programs across the country. Yet, evolution is not always taught in all schools. Education officials and individual teachers often avoid the subject because it is so divisive.
British naturalist Charles Darwin is called the father of evolutionary theory. Darwin argued that complex life forms have developed through changes over millions of years. He believed that most animals reproduce in larger numbers than their environment can support. Only those animals best able to live in the environment survive. They must change as the environment changes, or they die out. This is the idea commonly known as "natural selection."
Darwin first presented his theory of evolution in eighteen fifty-eight. Since then, progress in science has helped to improve it. The theory is widely accepted within the scientific community. It also has replaced other explanations about how human beings were formed -- most notably creationism. This is the belief that a more intelligent life form, such as a god, created the universe.
For years, supporters of creationism have pushed to have the subject taught in American schools. They even banned the teaching of evolution in some areas. Perhaps the most famous example of this was a court case eighty years ago in the state of Tennessee. The court found that a high school teacher, John Scopes, was guilty of violating a state ban against the teaching of Darwin's theory.
In nineteen sixty-eight, the United States Supreme Court considered the legality of such a ban. The Supreme Court ruled against a ban on the teaching of evolution in schools in the state of Arkansas. The court said the ban violated the constitutionally protected separation of religion and the government. The first amendment of the United States Constitution bars establishment of an official religion. The fourteenth amendment prevents states from limiting the constitutional rights of American citizens.
The Supreme Court considered another evolution case in nineteen eighty-seven. At that time, the Court rejected a law in Louisiana that required the teaching of both evolution and creation science.
Today, the teaching of creationism in American public schools remains illegal. Yet, supporters of creationism have launched a new effort to include it in education programs. In two thousand-one, President Bush announced an education plan known as "No Child Left Behind." The President signed the plan into law after Congress approved it.
The federal law requires states to reconsider their rules for science education programs. That requirement has provided opponents of evolution a chance to reshape how the theory is taught in public schools.
Some opponents want an idea called intelligent design taught with the theory of evolution. Intelligent design, or I.D. argues that an intelligent force has shaped the world. It is the idea that such a force or forces are responsible for the universe and all its life forms.
Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe wrote a book called "Darwin's Black Box." In the book, Professor Behe describes I.D. at the cellular level. He uses the eye as an example. Professor Behe argues that all parts of the eye are necessary for the organ to fully operate. The eye's complexity, he says, is evidence that an intelligent designer exists. The same argument, he says, can be used to explain all complex organisms.
The Intelligent Design movement is gaining strength across the United States. Last year, school officials in Dover, Pennsylvania, became the first in the country to require the teaching of I.D. in high school biology. In South Carolina and Mississippi, lawmakers are now considering proposals for science teachers to talk about theories in addition to evolution. And, a committee that supervises schools in Kansas is considering changes to that state's science education program. The committee wants to weaken the teaching of evolution by including a more critical look at Darwin's theory.
A public policy research group called the Discovery Institute supports this idea. The Discovery Institute agrees with intelligent design. However, it is not calling for I.D. to be taught in schools. Instead, the group says it wants to discuss weaknesses in Darwin's theory to help make the teaching of evolution more honest.
The theory of evolution has not been fully proven since it was first proposed almost one hundred fifty years ago. Yet, Mike Meyer says this is the nature of scientific theory. The Virginia biology teacher argues that theories are not ideas with little or no evidence. Instead, a theory is a proven set of ideas or estimates tested over time. Mr. Meyers says Darwin's theory of evolution is supported by evidence from many areas of science. A theory becomes accepted as a scientific fact when so much evidence supports it.
Still, supporters of intelligent Design see weaknesses in evolution as a way to introduce I.D. into science education programs. Earlier this year, a court in Cobb County, Georgia, told local school board officials to remove messages included with new biology books. The messages warn students that evolution was a theory, not a fact, and that it should be questioned with an open mind. The court said the messages were an invasion of religion into science education. The school board appealed the ruling, but lost.
Mike Meyer questions if intelligent design belongs in any science program. Like other biology teachers, he does not believe I.D. is a true science. The National Center for Science Education agrees. This group argues that Intelligent Design is not a theory that makes testable claims. The center warns that school boards and individuals need to be informed that I.D. is not a recognized field of science. Instead, the center believes the I.D. movement is simply a new effort to teach creationism in schools.
Many Americans already believe in the idea of creationism. Four years ago, the National Science Foundation reported that forty-five percent of Americans believe God created people in their present form within the past ten thousand years. The group also reported that fifty-three percent of Americans agreed with the idea of evolution. Two-thirds of those questioned believe that both creationism and evolution should be taught in public schools.
Even the head of the Roman Catholic Church believes that evolution and creationism can exist together. In nineteen ninety-six, Pope John Paul changed the Vatican's position and recognized evolution as more than just a theory.
Mike Meyer believes that both subjects can be taught at his high school, but not within the same program. Mr. Meyer says intelligent design should be discussed as part of a study of comparative religions, history or literature. He says he likes this idea because I.D. is not based on scientific discovery or established research. Evolution, he says, is a theory that belongs in every science education program.
Mr. Meyer also says he recognizes common qualities between evolution and intelligent design. In both cases, for example, the result is human beings able to make moral choices and consider life and death. Even if both subjects speak for themselves, Mr. Meyer believes neither should replace the other. Time will tell if this remains the case, as American states continue to examine school education programs.
This program was written by Jill Moss. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. Dwayne Collins provided technical assistance. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.