Theology Thursday: Having Fun With Intelligent Design by David Morris
I have just three words for biology teachers who are wringing their hands as school boards from Kansas to Pennsylvania force them to teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution: Get over it.
Here's what I think. Science teachers can comply with the requirement and still offer their students a first-rate education. If done with imagination, the new curriculum could end up stimulating more learning and excitement than their traditional explication of Darwinian theory.
I wouldn't have made this argument 20 years ago. At that time, school boards' interventions were far more restrictive. Science teachers were obliged to inform their students that the story of Genesis was literally true. But in 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court put a stop to that by declaring the teaching of creationism in the classroom a violation of the Constitutional insistence on the separation of church and state.
The Court decision spawned a more nuanced and sophisticated approach by anti-evolutionists: intelligent design. Intelligent design is not creationism per se. It holds that higher forms of life are so complex they must have been created by an unspecified higher power. The key word here is "unspecified." Many school board members who support an intelligent design mandate believe that higher power is Jesus. But they aren't forcing anyone to teach that in schools.
What they do require is that teachers offer a critique of evolution and suggest alternative theories about the origins of life. How might a good science teacher comply with these new directives without compromising their principles or their dignity? Or to put it slightly more aggressively, how might a biology teacher educate his or her students while at the same time teach meddling school board members a lesson?
All teachers know that their first and hardest job is to gain the student's attention and interest. What subject best attracts a teenager's undivided attention? Sex. Happily, when it comes to evolution, sex is central.
I recommend that biology teachers begin by discussing Elisabeth A. Lloyd's decidedly scientific book, The Case of the Female Orgasm. No school board member should complain. The book's subtitle, "Bias in the Science of Evolution," clearly fits with the new requirement that teachers critique evolutionary theory.
Darwinians can explain the male orgasm. After all, the male ejaculation is necessary for the survival and perpetuation of the species, and if giving the male great pleasure while doing so promotes that, then natural selection would eventually endow the male orgasm with that characteristic.
When it comes to the human female orgasm, however, evolutionists are stumped. No other female of the animal kingdom experiences an orgasm. Professor Lloyd examines 21 evolution-based explanations for the female orgasm, and demolishes every one of them.
Here the biology teacher might offer the class the alternative explanation of intelligent design. Is the intelligent power simply leveling the playing field between the sexes? Or is Professor Lloyd right that the female orgasm is "just for fun," and the intelligent power is female?
Then there's the question of male homosexuality. From a Darwinian perspective, it's a puzzle. The theory of natural selection should guarantee the disappearance of males that don't reproduce. But they keep hanging around, in considerable numbers, in every culture and every era.
Evolutionists have their theories. Psychologist Louis A. Berman argues that it has to do with embryonic development. Medical doctor Lorne Warneke suggests that homosexuality actually offers a natural advantage. Homosexuals instill a more cooperative impulse that helps perpetuate the kinship group and tribe.
A good science teacher will follow the school board's guidance and propose intelligent design as an alternative explanation for male homosexuality. Could there be an intelligent power that has created and nurtured male homosexuality? Does that mean God is gay?
School boards require science teachers to offer alternative explanations about how life began. That presents still another opportunity for creative educators.
Evolutionists argue that life evolved over tens of millions of years via natural selection. Intelligent design advocates believe the creation of life was overseen and guided by an intelligent power.
The biology teacher should offer students creationism as a possible explanatory theory of the origins of life. And, of course, subject it to the same rigorous scientific analysis the teacher uses to evaluate the accurateness of evolution. The students will learn that the scientific evidence for the-heavens-and-the-earth-and-all-life-was-formed-in-six days theory of the origins of life is virtually nonexistent.
Moreover, substantial empirical evidence exists to demonstrate that the Bible has the order of the origination of life wrong. On day three, for example, the Bible tells us (Genesis 1:6-10) that God created "vegetation, plants yielding seed and fruit trees...." On the fifth day He made "birds fly above the earth" and "the waters teem with swarms of living creatures." On the sixth day He created the "beasts of the earth."
But geology teaches us that fish were in the seas hundreds of millions of years before a tree was on the ground. Birds did not appear until well after beasts of the field. And if a dinosaur is a beast of the field, then flowering and fruit-bearing plants did not appear until after beasts of the field.
If a Christian God as described in the Bible was not the agent of the origin of life, who, or what, was the intelligent designer? Here the diligent science teacher should offer a series of alternatives. One of the most compelling should command the attention of teenagers almost as much as sex: space aliens.
In his 1983 book The Intelligent Universe, respected physicist Fred Hoyle asks whether life could have evolved at random. "Impossible," he answers. That conclusion should hearten the intelligent design folks. But Hoyle does not dismiss the theory of evolution. His criticism of Darwinism is that it is an earthbound theory. Life derived from outer space. "Genes from outside the earth are needed to drive the evolutionary process," Hoyle concludes.
An even more intriguing and far better documented theory about the origins of life than Hoyle's is that of Swiss writer Erich von Daniken. Daniken's book, Chariots of the Gods, was translated into 28 languages, and has sold over 60 million copies worldwide. It was the basis of the much-watched 1970s television show "In Search of Ancient Astronauts."
Von Daniken amassed an enormous amount of evidence to substantiate his thesis, which he summed up this way: "Dim, as yet indefinable ages ago, an unknown spaceship discovered our planet. The crew of the spaceship soon found that the Earth had all the prerequisites for intelligent life to develop.... The spacemen artificially fertilized some female members of this species...." Over millennia they returned several times to repeat this procedure, each time breeding a more advanced human.
In some respects, Von Daniken bridges the theory of evolution and intelligent design. He agrees with the theory of evolution, but proposes that the evolutionary seed or seeds, were planted by space travelers. He notes that ancient civilization greatly respected such visitors and called them "gods." He records legend upon legend from one civilization to another whose records tell of the gods interbreeding with humans.
The creative biology teacher could build another bridge between Von Daniken and creationism. One Christian website for example, citing the sixth chapter of Genesis as its source, declares, "Von Daniken is correct... beings did, in fact arrive on at least two different occasions; and their visitation truly did significantly influence the course of human history, and they did interbreed with humans." But the writer continues, "These beings, however, were angels, not 'aliens from outer space.'" These are fallen angels, of course.
There's no question that if science teachers had their druthers, they wouldn't be teaching intelligent design or gratuitously criticizing evolution in their classrooms. But they do. They can whine or refuse or resign. How much better for them to take this opportunity to teach their students while exasperating their school boards with the power of thoughtful investigation. And have a whole lot of fun doing so.
David Morris is co-founder and vice president of the Institute for Local Self Reliance in Minneapolis, Minnnesota and director of its New Rules project. This op-ed appears on Alternet.
Thursday, November 10, 2005