The citizens of Dover, Pennsylvania, being unable to decide what to teach children about evolution, are before you as plaintiffs and defendants in the lawsuit titled Kitzmiller, et. al. v. Dover Area School District Board of Directors. I have a Ph.D. in physics and attended a Jesuit college in the days when students were required to take 40 credits of Catholic philosophy and theology.
The legal papers submitted by the plaintiffs and defendants refer to what is called intelligent design. Intelligent design is very similar to an 18th century argument advanced by William Paley, an English philosopher and bishop in the Church of England, to prove that God exists. Bishop Paley’s argument states that just as a watch needs a watchmaker, a human being, much more complex than a watch, needs a creator.
Paley’s reasoning is at odds with the metaphysical proof of the existence of God that is endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church and comes from the writings of Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle. The proof is not based on the complexity of man, but on the unity of man in the context of the problem of the “one being and the many beings,” first framed by Plato. Also, man’s need for a cause is rooted in man’s finitude, not the complexity of man’s body, according to metaphysics. Man’s finitude is a reference not only to man’s limited knowledge and the limits to man’s free will, but to the experience we all have that we exist and are different from all other human beings.
Turning the watchmaker argument around, intelligent design states that the complexity of life is so great that it can reasonably be explained by the creative action of an intelligent being. By contrast, the metaphysical proof of God does not attempt to explain the existence of finite beings by saying an infinite being created them. Rather, the metaphysical proof deduces the existence of an infinite being from the existence of finite beings. The metaphysical proof only explains why we know God exists.
The question of what motivated the infinite being to create finite beings is considered a mystery in metaphysics. The belief of Christians, Muslims, and Jews that God created the universe, knows the actions we take in life, and judges us when we die comes from faith which is a positive response to revelation.
Intelligent design is irrational and implies that man cannot understand the universe. It does not teach children to have a scientific attitude. We want children to know, and to act in a manner consistent with this knowledge, that the universe can be understood by performing controlled experiments and by making inferences from knowledge gained by observations. Intelligent design has no place in a science syllabus, but could be used for instructional purposes as an example of a bad science attitude, like astrology. If the Dover Area School District introduced intelligent design to promote revealed religion, they were misguided because religious belief is consistent with having a scientific attitude.
The plaintiffs in this case are also being unscientific because of their unquestioned support of what children are being taught about evolution in the United States. In putting intelligent design into the curriculum, the Dover Area School District is attempting, however inappropriately, to teach evolution in a truthful and accurate manner.
The irrationality of what is currently being taught in the U. S. can be seen from a reading of Biology by Niel A. Campbell, which has been used, according to its publisher, as an introductory college textbook by 67 percent of all U.S. biological scientists, physicians, biology teachers, and biotechnologists of college age when the first edition came out.
In the introduction to a chapter on evolution Professor Campbell says:
Darwin made two points in The Origin of Species. First, he argued from evidence that species were not specially created in their present forms but had evolved from ancestral species. Second, he proposed a mechanism for evolution, which he termed natural selection. (emphasis added, p. 399 of fourth edition)
In my opinion, natural selection could not be the mechanism for evolution. Furthermore, it does not even qualify as a valid scientific theory because it is not based upon observations and inferences, but is offered up to promote and promulgate the philosophical idea that scientists should not resort to supernatural explanations. It is as if there is a conspiracy to promote a scientific theory, however far-fetched the theory is, when there is a supernatural explanation competing with it.
Biology shows that natural selection explains how species adapt to their environment. An example of adaptation is the whiteness of polar bears and the brownness of grizzly bears. However, natural selection does not explain the evolution of entire functions like mammalian respiration and vision. Michael Behe advances a similar argument against natural selection based on the “irreducible complexity” of biological mechanisms in one-celled organisms. Another argument is based on the size and complexity of protein molecules, which are the building blocks of life.
We ordinarily don’t mythologize about scientific questions we can’t answer. An illustration of this is the mass spectrum of elementary particles. Protons, for example, have exactly the same electric charge as electrons but have a mass that is 1836 times greater. Why 1836 and not 2000, 1000, or 1835? Physicists have no answer even though it is their job to know and do know something about the masses of other elementary particles. However, no one attempts to explain the mass difference between protons and electrons by saying that this was or is God’s decision. Likewise, jumping from our lack of knowledge about the mechanism for evolution to the theory of intelligent design is irrational and unscientific.
It is not clear whether Professor Campbell thinks that natural selection is a valid scientific theory or not because Biology makes contradictory statements. Speaking of the molecular structure of lysozyme, a relatively small protein since it requires only 129 of the 20 possible amino acids, Campbell says,
If left to chance, there would be 20129 different ways of arranging amino acids into polypeptide chain of this length. (p. 77)
The use of the word chance is a reference to natural selection because natural selection is generally understood to mean that species are subject to random mutations, i.e., mutations that occur by chance, and that the survival of mutants causes the mutations to accumulate to produce a new species.
Campbell’s comments amount to a critique of natural selection that is more pointed than Behe’s because he quantifies the complexity of organisms. A little math shows that the probability of getting a protein molecule that can be used as a building block for life from a random rearrangements of amino acids is one in a number with 167 zeros after it. The age of the universe, measure in seconds, has only about 16 zeros. The idea that the protein molecules, miniature motors in bacteria, and organ systems evolved because of random chance is nonsense, so far as I can see.
On the other hand, Professor Campbell makes statements indicating that he believes natural selection is a good theory:
Even then, good scientists do not allow theories to become dogma. For example, many evolutionary biologists now question whether natural selection alone accounts for the evolutionary history observed in the fossil record. (p. 413)
Professor Campbell goes from implying that natural selection is an irrational theory to saying it is such a good theory that we must guard against being closed-minded about it. Is Professor Campbell is telling the truth when he explains why natural selection is irrational or is he telling the truth when he says natural selection is a reasonable explanation for evolution? His motivation for this seeming ingenuousness has nothing to do with promoting an understanding of biology, as I think the following quote shows:
The Origin of Species was truly radical; not only did it challenge prevailing scientific views, it also shook the deepest roots of Western culture. Darwin’s view of life contrasted sharply with the conventional paradigm of an Earth that only a few thousand years old, populated by unchanging forms of life that had be individually made during the single week in which the Creator formed the entire universe. Darwin’s book subverted a world view that had been taught for centuries. (p. 399)
I think it is uncontroversial to say that Darwin made naturalism, the view that there is no supernatural being, intellectually respectable. Atheists and agnostics think that naturalism is intellectually respectable because it is rational. Unfortunately, intellectual respectability and rationality are two different things. However, nonbelievers have unconscious doubts and feel beleaguered because of all the people who believe in God. I suggest that they are promoting natural selection in order to honor Darwin and protect naturalism and do so with the tenacity, irrationality, and dishonesty of the intellectually insecure.
I am a retired high school physics teacher and I was never asked to teach a biology course. A teacher has a duty to help students develop character by exhibiting good character traits, such as honesty and integrity. I don’t know what I would say to students about evolution. Saying that the author of a major textbook like Biology is dishonest and irrational throws doubt upon your own rationality and honesty. However, I am not worried about scandalizing this court by speaking intemperately. My advice is to stay out of this ugly brawl about science.