Keeping Religion Separate
- July 1, 2005 Week 84, Day 5 24 Sivan 5765
Keeping Religion Separate
The following editorial is from the June 20, 2005 issue of The Detroit Jewish News and is
reprinted with permission.
To its advocates, intelligent design is a reasonable way of explaining the origins of life and
answers some questions that the Theory of Evolution fails to address.
To its opponents, however, it is a way of sneaking creationism -- the doctrine that insists on the
literal truth of the opening verses of Genesis -- into the science classes of public schools
through the back door.
The debate is raging in legislatures and school boards across the country. There are currently two
bills in committee in the Michigan Legislature that would mandate teaching intelligent design, and
a school district near Kalamazoo may face a lawsuit for refusing to allow the concept to be taught
in its schools.
Three states already have passed laws that make the teaching of intelligent design permissible in
On the surface, intelligent design seems to be a way of using contemporary science to affirm
religious belief. Many of its advocates have impressive academic credentials and cite recent work
in such arcane areas as complexity theory to buttress their position.
Their case was stated most compellingly in the book At Home in the Universe: The Search for the
Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity by biophysicist Stuart Kauffman. He argued that there are
2,000 enzymes that support life and the possibility of assembling them by chance would be about 1
in 10 to the 40,000th power. He compared that probability to a tornado sweeping through a junkyard
and assembling a Boeing 747 from its materials. There had to be a design.
Others supporters insist that natural processes go from the complex to the simple -- not the other
way around, as Charles Darwin argued for Evolution.
But Robert T. Pennock, professor of science and philosophy at Michigan State University, and one
of the most outspoken opponents of design, says that the theory fails the most basic law of
science -- it cannot be verified by testing. "One may, of course, retain religious faith in a
designer who transcends natural processes," he says, "but there is no way to dust for his
And, he adds, "Once supernatural processes are wedged in, it loses any chance of testability."
A recent poll of American physicians, sponsored in part by the Jewish Theological Seminary of
America, found a clear divide on the subject. More than one-third of the survey saw some merit in
teaching intelligent design. But when broken down by religious groups, 88 percent of Jewish
doctors rejected the idea and labeled it pseudo-science, while a small majority of Protestant
physicians agreed with it.
For people of faith, the chance to reconcile Darwin and the Almighty is an attractive idea. It
certainly appears to be a more elegant explanation than the fundamentalists offer.
In terms of provable science, though, it falls short. And insofar as intelligent design strongly
implies a religion-based identity to the Designer, it also fails the test of keeping such
instruction out of public schools.
In the final analysis, it is simply the old creationist wine in new bottles. Those who believe in
the separation of church and state should be extremely wary of allowing it to get a foothold in
E-mail your opinion in a letter to the editor of no more than 150 words to:
Christopher W. Ashcraft
Northwest Creation Network