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A Comparison of Evolution and Intelligent DesignEssay

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¶ … Evolution is a "Scientific Theory" and "Intelligent Design" Is Not While the debate over evolution versus intelligent design continues, the fact remains that intelligent design is still being taught in some public schools in the United States in spite of the Supreme Court's decision in 1987 that the practice was unconstitutional (Vitaska 25). Formerly termed "creationism" or even "creation science," the concept of intelligent design touches on the very fabric of humanity's belief in an Almighty and the hereafter, and, given that nearly one-third of all Americans believe in the literal word of the Bible and almost one-half believe that modern humans and the universe were created just 5,000 years ago (Vitaska 25), many are therefore reluctant to criticize intelligent design for lacking scientific validity. To determine the facts in this matter, this paper reviews the relevant literature to explain why evolution is a scientific theory but intelligent design is not in order to justify the Supreme Court's prohibitions concerning teaching intelligent design in the nation's public schools. To this end, definitions of scientific theory, evolution and intelligent design are followed by a discussion concerning the application of scientific theory to illustrate why evolution qualifies as a scientific theory and why intelligent does fails this test. Finally, a summary of the research and important findings concerning evolution and intelligent design are presented in the conclusion.

What is a Scientific Theory?

All scientific theories begin with an unproven hypothesis which is then investigated further to determine if sufficient evidence exists to justify its additional analysis and this applies to studies of life itself. For instance, Wahid emphasizes that, "Our knowledge of life and its origin hinges on hypotheses" (8). In those cases where sufficient evidence exists to support a hypothesis, it becomes known as a scientific theory which can then subjected to the rigorous scientific method (Bradford 4). In this regard, Bradford advises that, "At this point, the scientific theory is considered to be a valid explanation of a given phenomenon" (5). The next steps in the scientific method that are used to confirm or refute a scientific theory are experimentation and then the formulation of relevant conclusions based on these observations as depicted in Figure 1 below.

Fig. 1 -- The Scientific Method

Source: http://www.ideacenter.org/stuff/contentmgr/files/9a9c96906cf5b4850917515 ebfaed043/misc/scientificmethod.gif

It is important to note, though, that the scientific method is iterative in nature and continues until sufficient evidence is accumulated to confirm or refute the guiding hypothesis. In addition, another important point made by Farquhar is that in order to be regarded as valid, a scientific theory must be capable of withstanding increasingly close scrutiny as well as producing evidence concerning its validity. As Farquhar emphasizes, "For a scientific theory, no matter how legitimate, to move forward legally and politically, the theory must be subjected to continuous scrutiny and must be able to stand before the courts of law and politics" (63). One concept that has repeatedly failed this test is intelligent design as discussed below.

What is Intelligent Design?

According to the definition provided by the National Council for the Social Studies, "intelligent design" is the "belief that physical and biological systems observed in the universe result from purposeful design by an intelligent being rather than from chance or undirected forces" (Intelligent design 278). Likewise, Bowman defines "intelligent design" as being founded on the belief that, "The idea that the complexity of living things, and the low probability of evolution producing such complexity, can be explained only by the existence and involvement of an intelligent designer" (302). Even many scientists and religious leaders, including most recently Pope Francis, who concede that the concept of intelligent design is not entirely incongruent with the theory of evolution, only that it does not qualify as a scientific theory. For example, in 2014, Pope Francis made the point that:

[God] created beings and allowed them to develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one, so that they were able to develop and to arrive and their fullness of being. He gave autonomy to the beings of the universe at the same time at which he assured them of his continuous presence, giving being to every reality. And so creation continued for centuries and centuries, millennia and millennia, until it became which we know today, precisely because God is not a demiurge or a magician, but the creator who gives being to all things ... The evolution of nature does not contrast with the notion of creation, as evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve. (cited in Blitz 10).

Originally known as "creationism," "creation science," and then "intelligent design," the U.S. Supreme Court held that teaching this concept in the nation's public schools was unconstitutional due to this limitation (Intelligent design 279) in 1987 (Vitaska 25). Notwithstanding the Supreme Court decision concerning the unconstitutionality of teaching intelligence design in the public schools, the practice continues. In this regard, Bowman emphasizes that, "Recent reports from students and teachers alike suggest that even though teaching creationism as a credible scientific theory in public schools is clearly unconstitutional, some teachers still do just that" (302).

Moreover, and while additional research is needed, the studies to date indicate that some schools only teach the theory of evolution in a cursory fashion or in some cases, not at all. As Bowman points out, "Despite the fact that many states' educational standards explicitly require that evolution be taught, anecdotal evidence also suggests that evolution sometimes is not discussed at all or, more frequently, may be the subject of mere cursory instruction" (303). Taken together, it is apparent that proponents of intelligent design are won't to allow their religious beliefs to be replaced by a competing theory such as evolution, and these issues are discussed below.

What is Evolution?

When he set sail on the HMS Beagle in 1831, it is unlikely that Charles Darwin could have envisioned the enormous impact that his observations of the natural world would have on religion and science in the years that followed. During the 5-year voyage that would last until 1836, Darwin served as the ship's naturalist and visited South America, the Galapagos Islands, and points beyond (Flutter 53). In this regard, Flutter reports that, "The first clues that led Darwin to his theory of evolution came into focus during his voyage on the Beagle as the ship's naturalist" (53). by continuing to experiment with pigeons, plants, and other forms of life, he refined his theory of evolution and, in 1859, completed the book that took the public by storm, The Origin of Species (Flutter 54). According to the dictionary definition, evolution is "a theory that the differences between modern plants and animals are because of changes that happened by a natural process over a very long time" (Evolution 1).

It is noteworthy that many proponents of intelligent design have several misconceptions about Darwin's findings and it is likely that few have actually read Origin of Species, relying instead on the numerous myths that have arisen about the work over the years. Indeed, Darwin never posited that humans evolved from monkeys or disavowed the existence of God (Blitz 5). For example, according to Blitz, "While he attempted to draw connecting lines between humans, monkeys, apes, he never explicitly said that humans descended from monkeys" (4). Likewise, Blitz points out that, "He passionately denied being an atheist in correspondence, letters, and even his own autobiography" (5). To his everlasting credit, even Darwin recognized the limitations of an unproven theory, especially when an entire cosmos was involved. As Blitz concludes, "As a scientist, [Darwin] was smart enough to know not to draw conclusions when the data was lacking" (6). Unfortunately, far too many modern humans have already drawn their unwavering conclusions when it comes to how the universe and humans were created and these issues are discussed below as they apply to evolution and intelligent design in terms of a scientific theory.

Discussion

As noted above, in order to qualify as a scientific theory, a phenomenon must first be explained in terms of a hypothesis. As also noted above, this prerequisite is applicable to the theory of evolution because the human study of life relies on various hypotheses. Although the concept of intelligent design can be explained in terms of a hypothetical scenario, the other requirements of a scientific theory are lacking. While it is possible to test the theory of evolution through experimentation and observation, it is not possible -- at least yet -- to produce evidence of the existence of a supernatural being that is in control of the entire universe.

For intelligent design proponents, the universe itself and human life are sufficient "evidence" that their concept is valid, but this belief is based on faith alone rather than any demonstrable scientific proof. This does not make their religious beliefs less valid, of course, but it does underscore the fact that intelligent design does not rise to the level of a scientific theory due to the limitations that are inherent… [END OF PREVIEW]

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