Intelligent Design, Science, and Religious Freedom, Part Two

Paul Dean

        Intelligent Design as an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution has been much in the news lately. A school district in Dover, Pa. became the first in the nation to mention to their biology students that such a “theory” exists in contrast to the theory of evolution. The ACLU has designs on blocking the new policy. A number of issues are raised in this debate including the difference between science and religion, religion being taught in school, and the separation of church and state. Yesterday we dealt with the issue of whether or not the theory of evolution is a legitimate, experimental science or a faith commitment to a particular worldview. In part two of this article today, we begin with religion in school.

        Second, what about religion being taught in the public school system? We must be quick to point out a couple of things. Intelligent Design is endorsed by a growing number of credentialed scientists as the best way to explain complex, information-rich structures observed by biologists. They affirm the existence of a Designer. But, unlike Creationism, they do not identify the Designer. Because such is the case, Intelligent Design is considered to be scientific and not religious. A few points may be made here. First, if one insists in calling Evolution science, then we have no problem calling Intelligent Design science as these two theories are attempts to explain the origin of the universe and they do so in the same way. Second, even though Intelligent Design stops short of identifying the Designer, it opens the door for Christians in the market place of ideas. Further, as we teach our children who the Designer is, perhaps we will not have to overcome the ridicule and disdain of the secular world as they accuse us of teaching something that is scientifically untenable. Though, we as Christians will always be out of step with the world according to the Scriptures. Third, even though the Designer is not identified in this new move, it is at least a step in the right direction. Fourth, we don’t necessarily want school teachers getting into theology anyway. Most of them couldn’t find Genesis in the Bible let alone explain biblical truth. Let them affirm a Designer and we will teach our own children the truth from the Scriptures.

        Third, what about the separation of church and state? The First Amendment states that “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Two distinct concepts are in view here. First, the government cannot establish an official state religion. Second, the government cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion. No clause in our Constitution has been abused more in recent years. Nowhere does this statement say that religion, faith, God, or anything related thereto must be banished from the public square or our public speech. Yet, that is exactly what so many are trying to accomplish. To affirm Intelligent Design as an additional possibility to Evolution is certainly no violation of this clause in the Constitution.

        Yet, in an Atlanta suburb, the debate rages over the Cobb County Board of Education’s move to place a sticker on science textbooks stating that “evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things.” The school district is being sued by Jeffrey Selman, four additional plaintiffs, and the ACLU. They maintain that the sticker violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Georgia Constitution. U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Cooper agrees and ordered the sticker removed. While the school board was attempting to be more inclusive of differing beliefs regarding human origins, in his ruling, Cooper declared that an “informed, reasonable observer would understand the school board to be endorsing the viewpoint of Christian fundamentalists and creationists that evolution is a problematic theory lacking an adequate foundation.” He asserted that the sticker contains “an impermissible message of endorsement” and tells “some citizens that they are political outsiders while telling others that they are political insiders.” Of course, have not Christians been political outsiders for years now? Are we not considered worthy of inclusion as are atheists and homosexuals? And can anyone take seriously the notion that a sticker simply stating that evolution is a theory is an endorsement of Christian fundamentalism? Do not all recognize that the Theory of Evolution is a theory? What kind of non-sense double-talk is Judge Cooper employing?

        Again, it’s not about what the majority wants anymore. The Thomas More Law Center points out that National polls show most parents want schools to teach alternative theories to evolution. Most people believe in some form of Intelligent Design. Yet the political power brokers of our day would do away with all God-talk in the public square. While we affirm the letter and spirit of the First Amendment, we must point out that our public documents are replete with references to God. A person cannot leave who he is at the door when he enters into the public square. His ideas shape the person that he is. We would affirm freedom of religion for all but not freedom from religion in the public square. Even the Georgia Constitution calls for the “protection and guidance of Almighty God.” Will Judge Cooper declare the Constitution unconstitutional? While not trying to sound alarmist, we must recognize that these moves are only precursors of worse things to come.

        A final word is in order. Those who believe in God affirm that rights are not granted by the state but by God Himself. Christians affirm that there is only One True and Living God, the God of the Bible revealed to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. America has long stood on the principle that God has given us certain unalienable rights. Those rights are unalienable because they are granted by God. No one can take them away from us. We would thus affirm that atheists have a right to be such. We would not persecute them for their belief (though we should evangelize them). When Christians or other persons of faith are marginalized, when God-talk is banned from the public square, when one theory is imposed upon the entire citizenship with no alternative theory even affirmed, then God-given rights are destroyed. History has shown us how one group is marginalized by another group and how that marginalization leads to persecution and ban. When those with power do not affirm the rights of all citizens, then all citizens will eventually suffer. The issue of Intelligent Design is bigger than you think.

[Scroll down for Part One]