On evolution, case closed

A Times Editorial
Published December 22, 2007

Most Pinellas County School Board members say public school students should be taught about intelligent design, a supernatural explanation for the origins of life, alongside the scientifically grounded theory of evolution. Meanwhile, Eric Smith, the state's new education commissioner, curiously refuses to publicly say whether evolution should be taught in science classes or whether intelligent design should be included.

Against that backdrop, let's review the recent Pennsylvania court battle in which evolution and intelligent design were on trial. Guess which side prevailed.

In finding intelligent design is essentially repackaged creationism without scientific validity, U.S. District Judge John Jones rejected the arguments put forth by the intelligent design movement:

- Intelligent design is not religion, proponents say, but an alternative scientific explanation for the origins of life. Jones found it violates the "centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation."

- Intelligent design supporters claim "irreducibly complex" systems cannot be produced by natural processes. Jones points out this logic is based on a false dichotomy: presuming that any arguments against evolution are automatically arguments for design. But natural explanations for the evolution of biological systems are constantly being identified.

As to "irreducible complexity," the judge found its validity was not supported by the evidence. Irreducible complexity says there are systems in nature composed of interacting parts which make it operate. Take any part away and it won't function. The judge found irreducible complexity "depends on ignoring ways in which evolution is known to occur." He said exaptation is a well-established explanation for how complex biological systems with multiple parts evolved over time. Exaptation predicts these parts had different, selectable functions before combining to create a new function. To be sure, science is often able to trace complex structure and biochemical process to an earlier form or function.

- Intelligent design, proponents say, can be inferred from the "purposeful arrangement of parts." They assert that since humans can identify an object that has been designed, that reasoning can be applied to biological design.

As the judge noted, human-designed objects do not live and reproduce over time. They are not subject to natural selection. "The only attribute of design that biological systems appear to share with human artifacts is their complex appearance, i.e. if it looks complex or designed, it must have been designed."

As the judge found, "every scientific association that has spoken on the matter" has rejected the challenge to evolution mounted by proponents of intelligent design. Darwin's theory of natural selection has withstood the test of time because scientific testing has repeatedly affirmed its validity. Any science curriculum that doesn't fully explore it, or puts it on a par with other claims of life's origins, would be seriously flawed.

Pinellas School Board members and the state education commissioner might reflect on the judge's comprehensive review and conclusions before they speak again about an accepted scientific theory they apparently know little about.