Intelligent design?

Author:Alford, Mark
Position:Correspondence - Letter to the Editor

Richard John Neuhaus' discussion of the teaching of evolution in schools (April) argues that evolution is really just a theory, and there are other theories (intelligent design) with an equal claim to being taught in schools.

On the first point, it is a commonplace among philosophers of science that the fact-theory relation is far too complex to allow a clean cutting apart and labeling of the two. Of course, sometimes one needs to draw a sharp line in a gray area, but it is noticeable that the current pressure on the teaching of evolution is not motivated by such an honest concern for even an approximate distinction between theory and fact. Huge swathes of human knowledge, including most of science and much of history, are "theory" in the sense in which the relevant pressure groups (and Neuhaus, it seems) take the word. Yet no one is urging school boards to attempt a consistent demarcation across the whole curriculum. To single out evolution for such demarcation will mislead the students about its status.

On the second point, the overwhelming majority of scientists oppose the teaching of intelligent design because it is not even a theory, just an infinitely malleable template for stories. To make it science, its proponents must come up with an empirical way to distinguish intelligent design from Darwinian natural selection. I accept Neuhaus's point that it is wrong to criticize intelligent design proponents for their religious beliefs, but it is clear that something other than scientific zeal is driving their efforts.


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