Welcoming the Whole Family of God



Messenger Article on ID Discussion at CPC 

Science, Theology, and Intelligent Design
By Jeff Bolognese

When the citizens of Dover, PA voted the incumbent school board out of office, the Rev. Pat Robertson commented, "I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city." Why did a municipal election elicit such a visceral response from the founder of the Christian Coalition and host of TV's "The 700 Club"? It was because the board voted out had been responsible for including Intelligent Design as part of the 9th grade science curriculum. That addition to the curriculum resulted in a federal lawsuit and thrust Dover into the national spotlight. That decision by the citizens of Dover to replace the board members was seen by some Christian fundamentalists as a slap in the face to God.

While Mr. Robertson's response is extreme, it does illustrate a deep division over the teaching of Darwin's theory of Evolution in American public schools. It's a controversy that is sometimes seen as one pitting Christian fundamentalists against an increasingly secular society determined to drive God out of public life. And it's not a new controversy. It goes back at least 80 years.

In the summer of 1925 it was Dayton, Tennessee in the spotlight. That year, John Scopes, a substitute biology teacher, agreed to test the Tennessee law which banned teaching Evolution. The subsequent Scopes "Monkey" trial became the center of a world-wide media frenzy. And while the trial itself didn't resolve the issue (Scopes was found guilty of teaching Evolution and fined $100), it set into motion a number of other legal challenges which would eventually strike down similar laws across the US.

Periodically, the challenges would come back. In the 1980's it came in the form of Creationism, or Creation Science; a strictly biblical interpretation of the development of life on earth. As with previous laws banning the teaching of Evolution, laws mandating the teaching of Creationism alongside Evolution were similarly struck down by the Supreme Court. Today, the debate is taken up by Intelligent Design. Right now, school districts in Georgia, Kansas, and even here in Maryland, have proposed the teaching of Intelligent Design as an alternate view of Evolution.

Just what is Intelligent Design (or ID)? According to The Discovery Institute, a leading ID proponent, "The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection". That is to say, that there are some things so "irreducibly complex" that they could not have come about through random chance, but must have been guided by a "Designer" (though who or what that designer is, is not specified). To critics, ID is just a recycling of Creationism carefully crafted to avoid the same legal pitfalls that stymied previous movements. The case in Dover, PA is the first legal challenge to ID in this latest round in the battle over Evolution. The ruling in that case is expected in early January, 2006.

Although the legal landscape with respect to teaching evolution has changed over the past 80 years, Americans themselves have remained consistently divided on the subject. A recent CBS News poll which found that 51% of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form, and not through Evolution. And of that 51%, half said that it's not possible to believe in both God and the Theory of Evolution.

But what does the ID debate have to do with us directly? We may shake our heads at the actions of a school board in Kansas or Pennsylvania. After all, the chances that ID will become part of the Baltimore or Howard County curriculum are pretty slim. And some of us may not have any particular problem with both ID and Evolution being taught in public schools. For others this debate may seem remote or abstract; interesting in general, but without any personal connection.

It's necessary to consider the broader perspective. The debate over ID goes beyond just whether or not it's good science (though that is an important question). It's representative of the larger dialog between science and faith. Many members of our congregation, and congregations all across the country, are scientists, engineers, and other technical professionals who frequently find themselves at the center these debates. They deal, on a regular basis, with the perception by some that there must be conflict between science and faith and that a scientific understanding of the universe must, by definition, have no room for God.

Whether or not we are scientists, the debate raises many questions that are important for all of us to consider both as American citizens and people of faith. To help as explore those questions, and as part of our ongoing exploration of science as a Christian Vocation, CPC will devote 4 weeks of Sunday morning adult education sessions to a discussion of the science and theology behind Intelligent Design and how members of our own congregation address these issues in their personal and professional lives.

On January 15th we welcome back Rev. Dr. James Miller from the Presbyterian Association on Science, Technology and the Christian Faith (PASTCF) to kick off the discussion with a presentation entitled "Nature and Creation: Why 'Intelligent Design' is bad science." This session will explore the two primary hypothetical claims of the Intelligent Design Movement and discuss why they fall short of being scientific.

On January 29th Rev. Miller returns to present "Creation and Nature: Why 'Intelligent Design' is bad theology." This session will consider the theological pedigree of the Intelligent Design Movement and consider why it has such a strong religious appeal.

On January 22nd and February 5th we will hold panel discussions led by the adult education committee and featuring members of our congregation who are part of the scientific and technical communities. We will reflect on the previous presentations and discuss the roles that both science and faith play in our lives.

All the sessions will be held Sunday morning in the Library and start at 9am. More information on this series as well as references for further investigation will be posted on the CPC website. So, please, mark your calendars and plan to attend what are sure to be lively and informative


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