Nightline with Ted Koppel 8/10/2005 on
The Discovery Institute, Cal Thomas, George Will
Nightline 8/10/2005 on Intelligent Design (c) 2005 Nightline ABC News
Ted Koppel (Nightline): Today, August 10, 2005. I'm Ted Koppel and this is Nightline. Tonight, what the president thinks your children should be taught in school. There are those who say this can't be explained by simple evolution.
Stephen Meyer (Discovery Institute): I think the designer is God...
Ted Koppel: And there are those who say evolution is the only scientific explanation.
Ronald Numbers (Univ of Wisconsin-Madison): It's cheating to say, oh, okay, this is really a tough one, so let's just quit and say "God did it."
Barbara Forrest (Southeastern Louisiana Univ): It is a religious belief disguised as science.
Ted Koppel: Tonight, doubting Darwin, the marketing of Intelligent Design.
In the early 17th century, it was the settled wisdom of the day that the Sun and the planets revolved around the earth. That they do not, that it is in fact the earth and the other planets that revolve around the sun was the position taken by, among others, the Italian astronomer and physicist, Galileo Galilei. It was a dangerous position to take and ultimately it brought him before the Inquisition. But before he recanted and spent the rest of his life under house arrest, Galileo said: "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect, has intended us to forego their use."
Those words still resonate with particular clarity more than 350 years later. Science and religion have resolved their differences over the earth, and its relationship to the sun, but we're in the middle of a new chapter of an old debate over evolution. And President Bush has poured some gasoline on the fire. Talking to Texas newsmen at the White House the other day, the president referred to evolution and what's come to be known as "intelligent design." And he said: "Both sides ought to be properly taught...so people can understand what the debate is about. I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought."
Well, yes, but not all schools of thought deserve the same level of attention. Using the U.S. News and World Report masters program list my colleague Chris Bury wrote to the chairs of the Top 10 University biology departments in the country. What he asked and how they responded, in a moment. This however may turn out to be less a scientific and more of a political debate. Here's Chris Bury.
Chris Bury (Nightline): In downtown Seattle stands an office building that houses a think tank known as the Discovery Institute. One of its central missions is revolutionary: to convince Americans and opinion leaders, from the president to the Pope, that modern science is so wrong about evolution, that schools should also consider an alternative, that its advocates call "intelligent design."
Stephen Meyer: When we find information embedded in DNA, in living cells, we think that we are looking at strong evidence for a prior intelligent source. And so, the theory of intelligent design is the idea that that appearance of design, that nano-technology, or that information that's embedded in living organisms is not just an appearance, is not illusory as the Darwinists assert, but instead is evidence of real design, actual design.
Chris Bury: On the surface, this appears to be a new debate about evolution, now joined by the president. But critics call it a sophisticated attempt by the Discovery Institute to stir the embers of an argument settled in the 19th century.
Ronald Numbers: What they're really after is to bring the supernatural back into science itself, so that the authority of science in the classroom, stands behind this claim, that evidence of an intelligent designer has been discovered through scientific means.
Chris Bury: So how did this idea called "intelligent design" itself evolve to the point where the president came to say that "both sides should be taught." In large part it has to do with a skillful marketing campaign that has promoted the notion of a controversy that many scientists say simply does not exist. In our own survey of ten top biology departments at leading universities, the verdict was unanimous. All ten department chairs insisted that no scientific evidence supports the concept of intelligent design. But in newspaper opinion articles, and books, and high-gloss video productions like this, the Discovery Institute has suggested that scientists are engaged in a raging debate.
Video "Unlocking the Mystery of Life": 150 years ago Charles Darwin transformed science with his theory of natural selection. Today that theory faces a formidable challenge. Intelligent design has sparked both discovery and intense debate over the origin of life on earth.
Lawrence Krauss (Case Western Reserve Univ): They've really in many ways won the public relations battle with a brilliant slogan which is: "Teach the controversy." Because it implies that there is a controversy, when in fact, in science, in the scientific literature, there's no controversy. And -- but by saying that, they have managed to convince the public that somehow it's a debate between two ideas that are virtually equals, where in fact, they're not.
Teacher: And the kind of thing we construct, is dependent on where we come from....
Chris Bury: The Intelligent Design strategy dates back to a 1987 Supreme Court decision that banned the teaching of creationism in public schools because it violated the separation of Church and State.
Man in suit: Well the only evidence that I know of that supports creationism is the Bible....
Chris Bury: In the wake of that ruling, the think tank published an ambitious manifesto called "The Wedge Document" [PDF of original scan]. Its stated governing goals, "to defeat scientific materialism" and replace it with the "...understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."
Stephen Meyer: I think the designer is God, but where -- look, it sounds like you're trying to make a scandal of where the evidence might lead. And, we think that the evidence leads first to intelligence, and then from there there is a second question, which is the identity of the designer.
Barbara Forrest: The terminology is -- It sounds updated but even the term "intelligent design" is not new. Um, its a "trojan horse" in the sense that, what students would really get in a classroom, if this were taught, is not at all science. It's something else. It is a religious belief disguised as science.
Man: Mr. Santorum....
Chris Bury: Four years ago, the intelligent design movement got its first big political boost. Senator Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican pushed for language in federal law, asking public schools to include criticism of evolution in science classes.
Rick Santorum (June 2001): Where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy....
Chris Bury: That language never made it into the law. But by then the Discovery Institute was actively encouraging local school districts to turn a critical eye on evolution.
Stephen Meyer: Organisms look designed, because in fact they were designed.
Chris Bury: In 2002, the Discovery Institute helped persuade Ohio to change its curriculum so teachers could present criticisms of evolution in science classes.
Jonathan Wells (Discovery Institute): The evidence we see points to design. Where we go beyond that is a theological question....
Chris Bury: In May, Discovery officials showed up in Kansas where they also convinced the state school board to do the same thing. Now some local officials are pushing beyond the Discovery Institute's strategy. In Dover, Pennsylvania the school board has been sued for violating the separation of Church and State after introducing this textbook (Of Pandas and People) teaching Intelligent Design.
Edward Rowand (Dover school board): I think it's biblical. You know, "God created the heavens and the earth." If you believe the Bible, then that's pretty obvious.
Chris Bury: The Discovery Institute argues that the complexities of human cells cannot be explained by evolution alone. Yet, without evidence of an Intelligent Designer, call it God, the Devil, or supernatural phenomena, a scientific community that demands rigorous research and review, sees the argument as an attack on science itself.
Ronald Numbers: For 200 years, there has been a consensus, among the practitioners of science, that doing science meant explaining the phenomena naturalistically. And a scientist would go as far as he or she could along those lines. And, if you couldn't do it, if something was too complex to explain, that constituted a scientific puzzle, a challenge for your successors down the road to solve. And it's cheating to say, oh, okay, this is really a tough one, so let's just quit and say "God did it."
Chris Bury: Convincing local school boards of course is often easier than persuading skeptical scientists.
Woman: I don't know a whole lot about this subject....
Chris Bury: How do they appeal to the American sense of fairness and fair play?
Barbara Forrest: By presenting a specious argument that "both sides" of this controversy should be heard. That it's only fair to teach children "both sides" of the controversy about evolution. The problem is that there aren't two sides in this debate. There is the science that supports evolutionary theory, period.
Chris Bury: The president's own science advisor has said all along that Intelligent Design is not science. But now that Mr. Bush has endorsed the idea that both sides should be taught, supporters of Intelligent Design believe they have won a great symbolic victory. After all, the president himself has now given their cause the kind of respect that most of the scientific community clearly has not. This is Chris Bury for Nightline in Washington.
Cal Thomas (pro-ID) vs. George Will (anti-ID)
Ted Koppel: Two conservative columnists, two very different points of view.
Cal Thomas: They're tired of being told that their God that they worship on Sunday and the rest of the week, and the taxes they pay to their government schools do not entitle them to at least a hearing in the public square.
George Will: What does Intelligent Design bring to explaining the mechanism? The answer is: nothing but faith.
Ted Koppel: Joining us from our Washington bureau, syndicated columnists Cal Thomas and George Will, who is also an ABC news contributor. And let me begin with Chris Bury's findings, or at least the correspondence that he undertook with the chair of those 10 leading biology departments in the country. Does it cause you any distress, Cal, that none of those chairs found any merit whatsoever in the science of Intelligent Design? And I promised you, we wouldn't be debating the science, and we won't.
Cal Thomas: No, not really Ted. I think there is a form of secular fundamentalism today at the universities and in the culture, that is at least egregious as the religious fundamentalism was in the past, some of which you and Chris have touched on. I think science is about open-ness to ideas and inquiry. And humanity who has not -- which has not managed to solve problems like war, and greed, and avarice, and racism, ought to be a little more humble, when it is approaching ultimate issues like the God of the universe. The Scriptures say, the heavens are telling the glory of God, and many of the early scientists, really up through the 19th century, you mentioned Galileo, there was Kepler, there was George Washington Carver, there was Dayton, there were many others, believed in an intelligent designer. I see nothing wrong with considering these ideas, and debating them in the classroom.
Ted Koppel: Is it appropriate, George Will, to debate them in the science classroom? I can see debating them in a philosophy class, in a religious class, in a class about the humanities, but what about science?
George Will: I think not. Cal says that the essence of science is open-ness. I think it's more than that. It's open-ness to discussion of testable hypotheses, falsifiable hypotheses, hypotheses for which you can conceive of contradicting evidence. And I do not believe that the adherents to the doctrine of Intelligent Design are open to that kind of evidence. I think what they say is that random, unguided evolution, without the purposefulness of God, is inconceivable. Now that is -- may be true, but it's not falsifiable, and therefore has no place in a science curriculum.
Ted Koppel: Now before we move into just the discussion of what is going on here politically, indeed let's use this as an opportunity to start that discussion, Cal. The president's own science advisor said publicly -- I assume he has been privately scolded -- that there is no evidence to suggest that Intelligent Design has any scientific foundation. Therefore why do you think the president would run the risk, if it is a risk, of saying, you know, in effect, Darwinism, Intelligent Design, let's give both of them a crack in the classroom.
Cal Thomas: Well as you've noticed, Ted, there is an election coming, another one next year, and this resonates strongly with those "red state" voters, many of whom are increasingly abandoning the government schools in favor of private schools that teach their morals and values and yes, even religious beliefs. I think, as the Discovery Institute noted, that Chris Bury referred to, it is that people are tired of this forced secularism. They're tired of being told that their God that they worship on Sunday and the rest of the week, and the taxes they pay to their government schools, do not entitle them to at least a hearing in the public square. Science has been wrong about a lot of things in the past. It has had to update its theories. So have some religious people been wrong in the past. You mentioned the Inquisition, that's a fair mention. However I do think that a little more humility is needed and this forced secularism that a lot of "red state" voters see quite clearly accrues to the benefit right now, as the Discovery poll showed -- to the benefit of the conservatives and Republican party.
Ted Koppel: All right, let me -- let me bring George into the same question. Why do you believe that the president has taken a stance on this?
George Will: Well let me apply Occam's Razor to that question and give the simplest answer that comes forward. I think he believes it. I would be amazed if the president did not believe in Intelligent Design, because this president believes in a providential view of history. That is, he believes that events, wars, and other developments are infused with God's purposefulness. This is not an eccentric belief. If you read the sixteenth president Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural, it's full of the idea of providential history. Once you subscribe to that, infusing purposefulness and benevolence, if you will, into the evolution of species, is a piece of cake. The critics of the teaching of evolution, the adherents to Intelligent Design do not, as I understand it, question that the species do evolve. It is the postulated mechanism that they object to. They say that it is purposeful and benevolent, as God is, and not cruel and random. It's not "nature, red in tooth and claw."
Ted Koppel: We're going to come back with more, in just a moment. [pause] And I'm back once again with George Will and Cal Thomas. George, the Discovery Institute seems to have done an absolutely brilliant job of taking on a difficult position, and in effect infusing the mass culture with it, about as effectively as anything I've seen in recent years. Tell me about that a little bit.
George Will: Well, first of all, they appeal to a kind of sense, and a misplaced sense of fair play -- that there are "two sides" to the evolution argument and that all they're asking for is a hearing. Second, anyone who looks at the cosmos, or anyone who looks in a microscope, and sees cellular life, and the life of a pond water, is going to be amazed by the complexity of it. So this tendency of science, not to subvert religion, but to give you a sense of awe that is essentially religious, in your approach to the complexity of creation, this is a very old argument. But the point is, where do we discuss it? And again, granted there are gaps in our knowledge of the mechanism by which we got from "slime" to us, you cannot as a scientific matter fill those gaps with a religious hope, or a religious faith, or a religious postulate.
Ted Koppel: Let me -- let me read you Cal, and I'm going to have to pull my specs out here as I do, what the chair of the biology department at the California Institute of Technology wrote back to Chris. He said, "saying 'we don't know how a biochemical pathway evolved, therefore it did not evolve' -- is no different from saying 'we don't know that the moon is not made of green cheese, therefore it is made of green cheese.' Illogical."
Cal Thomas: Well I'm not going to debate the learned gentlemen who obviously has more degrees than I do. But I will tell you that from a political and policy standpoint, Ted, this issue along with many others from the display of the Ten Commandments, the open expression of a faith and worshipful nature of God in the public square, many many of those "red state" voters feel that their faith, and values, and virtues, no longer matter, and are no longer welcome in the public square or the public media. They are voting by taking their kids in increasing numbers, and I believe if we get school choice you're going to see a mass exodus from the government schools, which are increasingly finding it difficult to teach kids how to read and write, much less science, and even Driver Ed I suspect, you're going to find them going into more and more private schools. They feel their views and their faith are no longer welcome.
Ted Koppel: If Cal is right, George, then this is going to be perhaps even more revolutionary than it looks right now. I mean it really could lead ultimately to the undermining of the public school system.
George Will: I don't think it will come close to that, Ted. There is a persuasion, a tendency, within American Christendom, that's called the "young earth" believers. They really do deny that the earth has a long geological history. Once you concede however, which science compels us to concede, that the earth does have a long, complicated, evolving geologic history, then the arguments about the mechanism. And the question then is: What does Intelligent Design bring to explaining the mechanism? The answer is: nothing but faith. Nothing but the postulate that -- as the current Pope said when he was a Cardinal -- unguided evolution is impossible. Well, impossible, fine. Then again it's a theological position, but not a testable one.
Ted Koppel: Why can this not, even from a political point of view, Cal, simply be set aside, in the context of saying whether or not we want to say that evolution is God's doing, or random design, however you want to describe it, nevertheless we have an obligation to try and figure out how it happened.
Cal Thomas: Well Ted, I think it could be if it was seen as a stand-alone issue. But taken together with school prayer, same-sex marriage, abortion on demand, the Terri Schiavo case, it is a general feeling that everything that a lot of God-fearing, tax-paying, flag-waving patriotic Americans care about is taken away -- is being taken away by the courts and by the wider culture. So standing alone this might not have had the resonance that it does, but taken together with all of these other things, I think that's where the problem lies.
Ted Koppel: So part of this, George, is about science, but most of it, really in the final analysis, is about politics.
George Will: It's about cultural anxiety. It's about a sense of being marginalized, and disrespected by certain groups. It's a worry about the coarsening of the culture. All of these may be to varying degrees legitimate worries. They have absolutely nothing to do with the scientific puzzle of explaining the mechanism that produced us.
Ted Koppel: And on that note, thank you both very much. George Will, Cal Thomas, I appreciate you both coming in. I'll be back with a word about tomorrow's Nightline in a moment.
Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and
Evolution by Kenneth R. Miller (1999)
Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design by Barbara Forrest and
Paul Gross (Oxford Univ Press, 2003)
The Original "Wedge Document" by the Discovery Institute (PDF)
Links and Sites:
The TalkOrigins Evolution FAQs (pro-evolution)
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