Should alternatives to Darwinian Evolution be taught in public schools?
By Joan d’Arc
“Compelling student belief is inconsistent with the goal of education. Nothing in science … should be taught dogmatically.” — Kansas Science Education Standards
In a high-profile dispute over evolutionary theory that began in October 2004, the town of Dover, PA, became the first school district to mandate the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID). However, to be clear on this, the school board had adopted a policy that simply required ninth-graders to hear a prepared statement about Intelligent Design theory before being instructed in Unintelligent Evolution in biology class. In no way was equal time being given to the new theory. Nonetheless, two dissenting board members resigned on October 18, 2004.
In May 2005, the Kansas School Board voted to teach Intelligent Design in public schools alongside the Theory of Darwinian Evolution. The fight that ensued was billed as the anti-Darwinists against the scientific establishment, which considers the evidence of the origins of life to be “beyond dispute.” The media described the fray as “the Scopes trial turned on its head.”
The Kansas Citizens for Science, which boycotted the hearings, indicated that the discussions did not constitute “real science” and labeled the ID proponent’s arguments as mere “claptrap.” ID proponent, embryologist Jonathan Wells, suggested evolutionary theory “has left the realm of science,” arguing that the “scientific conclusion that all living things come from a common ancestor [is] essentially an act of faith.”
Gaps in Darwinian evolutionary science, ID proponents argue, leave open the possibility of a “designing mind.” But who is the designer? William Harris, a co-founder of Intelligent Design Network Inc., answers, “I don’t know.” Just to show how dirty this fight has become, at the hearings Harris projected a strategy letter from a Kansas Citizens for Science member onto a large screen. The letter stated that the way to defeat the “anti-evolution forces” was to portray them as “political opportunists, evangelical activists, unprincipled bullies and ignoramuses.”
Indeed, the Darwinian fundamentalists clearly see the ID movement as driven by a bunch of hicks in a junk wagon. The sooner they rid themselves of this notion, the sooner we can get on to the real debate, if indeed they are interested in a real debate. Such is doubtful. In fact, if these ideologues would bother to read the hefty 117-page Kansas Science Education Standards (www.ksde.org) they would find that this curriculum is nothing short of the sentinel of science. Approved 11/8/05, the document declares, “All scientific theories should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.” It asserts most cogently that, “Compelling student belief is inconsistent with the goal of education. Nothing in science … should be taught dogmatically.”
The document “defines good science, how science moves forward, what holds science back, and how to critically analyze the conclusions scientists make.” The curriculum standards call for students to “learn about the best evidence for modern evolutionary theory, but also to learn about areas where scientists are raising scientific criticisms of the theory.” The standards reflect the Board’s objectives, which include, to help students understand the “full range of scientific views” on evolutionary theory, to develop understanding of the scientific method by studying “opposing scientific evidence,” and to ensure that science education in Kansas is “secular, neutral and non-ideological.” Hooray for Kansas! Dorothy has come home from Oz.
In the continuing saga on Intelligent Design, on November 9, 2005, America woke up to the news that eight out of nine Dover Board of Education members had been voted out and replaced by members opposed to the teaching of Intelligent Design. In a preposterous move, Pat Robertson inserted foot in mouth by saying that God would smite Dover, PA for allowing this to happen. Somewhere in all this mess, the ACLU in Georgia took up the fight against an Atlanta school district decision to sticker biology books with the warning that evolution is a “theory, not a fact.” I’d be very interested in hearing how the ACLU would go about proving otherwise. Once they actually begin to look into it, I predict they’ll ‘back away slowly’ from the sticker.
In 2003, I founded a secular-based website, BIPED: Beings for Intelligent Purpose in Evolutionary Design (www.biped.info), to highlight valid scientific alternatives to Darwinian evolution other than “Creation,” although I’m not particularly opposed to that term (if it walks like a duck). Among those alternatives are: Gaia Theory, Vitalism, Morphic Resonance (a.k.a. Formative Causation), Intelligent Design, Panspermia and Directed Panspermia. This article will provide an overview of some of these theories for those who do not realize that there are many valid scientific hypotheses that are contrary to Darwinian theory. As such they have a right to exist and students have a right to learn about them.
Microbiologist Lynn Margulis and chemist James Lovelock formulated the Gaia Hypothesis in the 1970s (now upgraded to a theory). They proposed that life creates the conditions for its own existence, challenging the reigning theory that the forces of geology set the conditions for life, while plants and animals, accidentally along for the ride, evolved by chance under the right conditions.
The Darwinian concept of adaptation to the environment has been seriously questioned by Margulis, Lovelock and others working from a systems point of view. Evolution cannot be explained by the adaptation of organisms to local environments, they argue, because a network of living systems is also shaping the environment. The evolution of life, according to the Gaia Theory, depends on a cyclical, self-regulating feedback relationship. Taking a slam at Darwinian fundamentalism, Margulis has stated that one day neo-Darwinism will be judged as “a minor 20th century religious sect within the sprawling religious persuasion of Anglo-Saxon biology.” Dr. Margulis has also asserted that Darwinism is based on outdated reductionist concepts. She asserts, “It’s wrong like infectious medicine was wrong before Pasteur. It’s wrong like phrenology is wrong. Every major tenet of it is wrong.”
Lovelock popularized his Gaia theory in 1972 in a paper titled, “Gaia as seen through the atmosphere,” and in his 1979 book, Gaia: A New Look At Life on Earth. His initial hypothesis proposed that the whole Earth behaves like one self-regulating organism wherein all of the geologic, hydrologic, and biologic cycles of the planet mutually self-regulate the conditions on the surface of the Earth so as to perpetuate life. Later, when the mainstream scientific body got hold of the theory, it changed significantly, and we can all guess why. It didn’t conform to the Darwinian paradigm, which holds that evolution has no overarching purpose or goal.
In other words, Lovelock’s theory was teleological: some force outside of nature was possibly controlling the evolution of forms. According to Darwin himself, if any outside force was found to be at work, we were instructed to throw out his baby with the bath water.
Lynn Margulis still insists that consciousness evolved, but where did the consciousness come from? Answer: It had to come from inside the system (Earth-based) in the “naturalist” framework. According to evolutionists, consciousness has to evolve; it can’t have been there in the first place. This conjecture is based on the anthropic principle.
The neo-Darwinian-based anthropic principle is based on a biological argument: the minimum time required for the evolution of “intelligent observers.” In this scheme, a billion years is required for the evolution of intelligence. The anthropic timescale argument posits that the types of processes allowed in the Universe must be of such an age that “slow evolutionary processes will have had time to produce intelligent beings from non-living matter.” (Barrow & Tipler 159)
Pondering how consciousness “arose in the Universe,” this peculiar Western viewpoint refuses the primacy of consciousness, and instead assumes an endless chain of linear causes in the Universe. The anthropic principle assumes the evolution of intelligence from a mass of sludge, and extrapolates the time required for the evolution of “conscious observers” to ooze out of it and crawl onto the land and build tree houses. It is important to understand that this is the act of faith neo-Darwinism asks you to embrace.
Vitalism vs. Natural Selection
Vitalism is the doctrine which espouses that life processes arise from a nonmaterial essential principle that cannot be explained by physics and chemistry alone. One of its adherents was Swedish chemist Jöns Jackob Berzelius (1799-1848), who hypothesized that only living tissue, by possessing a “life-force,” can produce organic compounds. French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941) proposed the idea of an élan vital, or creative force, at the heart of evolution. Bergson advocated a return to neovitalism, which maintains that the phenomena of life are unpredictable, chaotic and beyond the range of science. Of course, the well-known scientist Wilhelm Reich was also a vitalist and Darwin’s peer Jean Baptiste de Lamark utilized vitalism in his theory of acquired characteristics.
The notion of a life-force is flatly contrary to Darwinian theory, which emphasizes no purpose, goal or outside force at work in the development of new species.1 To be sure, the principle of “natural selection” is the only suspicious “force” allowed in through the back door of Darwinism.2 What force in nature does the “selecting” of the “fit” characteristics and how does it produce new and (at the same time) useful structures by random chance? Indeed, Darwin later regretted his use of the term because it suggested a mysterious guiding force was at work.
The fact is, researchers have discovered an electrical energy which suddenly begins switching on genes in embryos consisting of just four cells. Due to our conditioning in the mechanical medical model, we are not aware of the subtle energies in which our bodies are immersed and upon which our very lives depend. As the Vedas teach, Prana pervades the whole living body and leaves suddenly at death.
Darwinian “natural” mechanisms cannot adequately explain embryonic development nor the evolutionary origin of complex structures and organs. There is, in fact, no evidence that would confirm the hypothesis that the concept of “natural selection” is an evolutionary process capable of producing innovative designs (i.e. new species). Zoologist Pierre Grasse has stated that supposed proofs of evolution in action are simply “observations of demographic facts, local fluctuations of genotypes and geographical distributions”; not new and distinct forms.
A modern example of Vitalist theory is Rupert Sheldrake’s Theory of Morphic Resonance (a.k.a. Formative Causation), described in detail in his book, A New Science of Life. Sheldrake believes morphogenetic fields are non-physical carriers of information (intelligence), which guide the development of an organism in the form of its species. He believes DNA is not the source of structure, but is a “receiver” that translates information into physical form. In this sense, genes are grossly overrated, he states.
Morphic fields (from the Greek morphe, which means form), he explains, are the organizing fields of nature. Morphic fields organize in living organisms as well as in the forms of crystals and molecules. Each kind of molecule has its own type of morphic field. Our own mental lives depend on this field. In his book, The Presence of the Past, Sheldrake explains that morphogenetic fields contain an inherent memory. He believes the structure of the fields “depends on what has happened before.” Inheritance depends on cumulative memory built up through “a pool of species experience” in a process he calls morphic resonance.
In an interview with Robert Gilman, Sheldrake explains why Vitalism has come back to life as a scientific theory and is being embraced in many corners:
“Using morphogenetic fields as the carrier of memory implies no absolute separation between minds. It suggests our identity is dual, like an electron that is both particle and wave. We have aspects that are unique and totally individual, yet at the same time much of our thought and behavior is shaped by, participates in, and helps to create transpersonal morphogenetic fields. … Because our brains contain levels that connect us to other species, that group mind includes all life. We may even find, as we explore the possibilities of consciousness associated with what we now think of as non-living matter, that we are linked in consciousness to all creation.”
“An unpopular opinion is almost never given a fair hearing.” — George Orwell
Intelligent Design is the science that studies “signs of intelligence.” In his book, The Design Inference, its leading proponent, mathematician William Dembski, employs statistical testing of the natural world to see if it shows evidence of intelligent design. He explains, “Intelligent design studies the effects of intelligence in the world. Many special sciences already fall under intelligent design, including archeology, cryptography, forensics, and SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Intelligent design is thus already part of science. Moreover, it employs well-defined methods for detecting intelligence. These methods together with their application constitute the theory of intelligent design.”
In their commitment to keep intelligent cause outside of the boundaries of naturalist science, Darwinian fundamentalists charge that ID theory is “creationism in a cheap tuxedo.” Adrian Melott, in Physics Today, proclaimed ID theory to be on the “cutting edge of creationism.” Continually referring to Dembski as an “ID creationist,” he claims, “ID is different from its forebears. It does a better job of disguising its sectarian intent.” Dembski responds, “somehow science and our knowledge of the natural world is supposed to unravel once we allow that intelligence could be a fundamental principal operating in the universe.”
According to Dembski, “Naturalism [upon which all modern science is based] is the view that the physical world is a self-contained system that works by blind, unbroken natural laws. Naturalism … says that nothing beyond nature could have any conceivable relevance to what happens in nature. Naturalism’s answer to theism is not atheism but benign neglect. People are welcome to believe in God, though not a God who makes a difference in the natural order.” In his book, The Design Revolution, Dembski explains, “Naturalism allows no place for intelligent agency except at the end of a blind, purposeless material process. Within naturalism, any intelligence is an evolved intelligence.”
Try as it will, Dembski argues, Darwinian evolution cannot explain human consciousness. He explains, “The match between our intelligence and the intelligibility of the world is no accident. Nor can it properly be attributed to natural selection, which places a premium on survival and reproduction and has no stake in truth or conscious thought. Indeed, meat-puppet robots are just fine as the output of a Darwinian evolutionary process.”
In addition, Dembski suggests, ID Theory is compatible with any form of teleological guidance one could come up with. ID Theory does not require “an interventionist conception of design” and does not require God to be an “intervening meddler.” He explains, “for God to be an intervening meddler requires a world that finds divine intervention meddlesome. Intelligent Design requires neither a meddling God nor a meddled world. For that matter, it doesn’t even require that there be a God.”
Dembski argues that three modes of explanation — chance, necessity and design — are needed to explain the appearance of the astonishingly wide variety of life forms we encounter on earth. Indeed, write the authors of Giants of Gaia, life is more than chance combinations of atoms and cells. To organize the parts that “collectively enable a bird to fly, or the human brain to form,” the writers insist, “there had to be an order which brought together the parts not by chance, nor by simple adaptation to external stimulus, but through intelligence.” This intelligence inherently constitutes the Universe.
When the Darwinian establishment charges that ID theory is not science, they are really saying it is not based on scientific naturalism. The heart of the reigning paradigm of scientific naturalism is that intelligence is an accidental byproduct of evolution. In contrast, Intelligent Design tells us that we live in an intelligent universe. In ID theory, intelligence trickles down from the cosmos, if you will, and in scientific naturalism it builds up incrementally from prebiotic chemical soup. As William Dembski has charged, “For the naturalist, the world is intelligible only if it starts off without intelligence and then evolves intelligence.”
Panspermia is the ultimate trickle down theory that life on earth was seeded by microbial life from space. This theory was advocated by many, among them the Greek philosopher, Anaxagoras (500-428 BCE), Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894), and William Thomson Kelvin (1824-1897). Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius later promulgated the theory of Radio Panspermia, wherein microbes from space are transported by light pressure.
The proponents of modern day Panspermia are British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) and Sri Lankan mathematician-astronomer Chandra Wickramasinghe, who theorize that DNA arrived on earth via meteorites (Ballistic Panspermia) or by comets (Modern Panspermia). In fact, Hoyle mathematically dismissed the chance of evolution having actually occurred the way Darwinists propose. He argued that “even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup … the chance of producing merely the basic enzymes of life by random processes without intelligent direction would be about 1 over a 1 with 40,000 zeros after it; a probability too small to imagine.”
Hoyle concluded that “Darwinian evolution is most unlikely to get even one polypeptide sequence right, let alone the thousands on which living cells depend for survival.” Given that there are trillions of different kinds of cells in delicate balance, he argues, each of these varied cellular structures would also have to develop by chance.
In a Times-Advocate interview in December 1982, Hoyle declared that this mathematical impossibility is well known to scientists, yet nobody seems willing to “blow the whistle” on the absurdity of Darwinian theory. Hoyle claims that “most scientists still cling to Darwinism because of its grip on the educational system.” They do not want to be branded as heretics.
As molecular biologist Michael Denton articulates in Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, “Nothing illustrates as clearly just how intractable a problem the origin of life has become than the fact that world authorities can seriously toy with the idea of panspermia.” Such describes the dilemma of British molecular biologist Francis Crick (1916-2004), who received the 1962 Nobel Prize for the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA.
After discovering the astonishingly huge and complex information storage capacity of the DNA molecule (humans have three billion coding letters in each nucleus), Crick could not imagine any conditions under which this information vehicle could have evolved from non-living chemicals. He argued that since the earth has too short a history for life to develop, it must have developed on another planet in a solar system several billion years older than ours.
Crick’s unyielding aversion to religion led him and Leslie Orgel, in 1973, to put forth the theory of Directed Panspermia. To get around the idea of God, Crick proposed that the primordial seeds of life were shipped to earth in spaceships by intelligent beings billions of years ago. After proposing this idea, Crick was left in the predicament of explaining the origin of the ET beings, and finally had to acknowledge the paucity of the idea, saying, “Every time I write a paper on the origin of life, I swear I will never write another one, because there is too much speculation running after too few facts.” (Life Itself, 1981)
Although an atheist, Crick was quoted as saying, “An honest man, armed with the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense the origin of life appears to be almost a miracle.”
Writing in his essay, “Astrogenesis,” William Hamilton explains, “The real paradigm shift is to consider that the Universe is a life-producing nursery and that the genesis and evolution of life is not earth-centered but rather is distributed among the stars of the galaxies.” Let’s not forget, however, that the theory of Panspermia still leaves us with the question of the origin of those stars and those galaxies.
A Scientific Revolution
It is important that people understand exactly what Darwin was saying before they reject any proposed revisions to the theory. After all, who is the guardian of science? We are, if only because there is power in numbers. If the entire population were better educated in the theory, we would be in the position to reject it. This is decidedly not what the scientific hegemony wants. The problem is, Darwinian evolution is an all-or-nothing theory. It will not allow discussion or inclusion of any vitalist process. In fact, the squabble between the scientific establishment and ID theorists is not simply a clash between science and religion but, more specifically, between naturalism and vitalism. We are looking at the infancy of a scientific revolution.
In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn defines a scientific revolution as a “non-cumulative developmental episode” whereby an older paradigm is replaced in whole or in part by an “incompatible new one.” Such scientific revolutions begin with a growing sense that “an existing paradigm has ceased to function adequately in the exploration of an aspect of nature.” The emergence of new theories is usually preceded by a period of “pronounced professional insecurity,” since it involves large-scale paradigm destruction.
The essential problem is, scientists cannot do research in the absence of a controlling paradigm. They cannot pull the floor out from under themselves, and when it goes this structure will fall hard. Kuhn explains, a scientific theory “is declared invalid only if an alternative candidate is available to take its place.” The normal response to crisis, he explains, will be to loosen the rules of normal problem solving in ways that will permit the new paradigm to emerge. This essentially describes the action taken by the Kansas School Board in its Science Education Standards. The new paradigm will emerge when the youth of tomorrow are not so emotionally and financially committed to the old one.
Intelligent Design is not a religious theory. Paranoid tirades about Christians taking over the world have nothing to do with the facts of the matter. Those who react this way are reacting emotionally to the messenger rather than opening the message with the minimum decorum expected of adult human beings. By dogmatically rejecting Intelligent Design without fully comprehending it, we allow the reigning scientific paradigm to become a fascist element in society. We do a great disservice to democratic scientific debate and to the way our children learn.
The question we should ask is, Do we want our children and grandchildren to be taught or do we want them to be indoctrinated? Indeed, America’s educational system is in dire trouble when a Chinese paleontologist notices that, “In China it’s OK to criticize Darwin but not the government, in the US it’s OK to criticize the government but not Darwin.”
So we come to the question, should Intelligent Design be taught in public schools? When they begin to discuss alternatives inclusive of all vitalist theories, Kansas will be the new frontier and my wagon will be the first one in the train on the dusty road to Wichita.
©2006 Joan d’Arc. This article appeared in PARANOIA: The Conspiracy Reader, April 2006, www.paranoiamagazine.com. Joan d’Arc is the author of Space Travelers and the Genesis of the Human Form, and Phenomenal World, published by The Book Tree (www.thebooktree.com). She is the co-publisher of PARANOIA, and founder of the website, BIPED: Beings for Intelligent Purpose in Evolutionary Design. See full references, articles and weblinks at www.biped.info.
1. Darwin never quite defined the term species. He wrote in Origin of Species, “it will be seen that I look at the term species as one arbitrarily given for the sake of convenience to a set of individuals closely resembling each other, and that it does not essentially differ from the term variety, which is given to less distinct and more fluctuating forms.” He wrote that “varieties” are simply “incipient species.” Forever teetering on the edge of potentiality, species are always in a hapless phase of becoming.
2. Some evolutionists argue that Darwin never claimed natural selection to be the exclusive mechanism of evolution. Selection merely preserves or destroys something that already exists. Mutation must provide the innovative changes in design which natural selection then tests out in the field. Problematically, mutations that are large enough to cause visible and immediate changes are deadly.
References and Further Reading
Barrow, John, and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle.
Behe, Michael, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge To Evolution.
Cremo, Michael, Forbidden Archeology. (see interview at www.biped.info)
Dembski, William, The Design Revolution.
Denton, Michael, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis.
Hamilton, William. Astrogenesis website.
Johnson, Phillip, Darwin on Trial.
Kuhn, Thomas S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
Lovelock, James, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth.
Margulis, Lynn, Symbiotic Planet.
Midgley, Mary, Evolution as a Religion.
Overman, Dean, A Case Against Accident and Self-Organization.
Polanyi, Michael, Google: “Life’s Irreducible Structure,” 1968.
Sheldrake, Rupert, The Presence of the Past. and A New Science of Life.
Sheldrake, Morphogenetic Fields and Beyond, www.context.org/ICLIB/IC12/Sheldrak.htm.
Sheldrake Interview: http://www.intuition.org/txt/sheldrak.htm
Wells, Jonathan, Icons of Evolution: Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution Is Wrong.
Wickramasinghe, Chandra, Cosmic Dragons: Life and Death on Our Planet.
The Scientific Origin of Intelligent Design
The intelligent design debate actually began in the 1960s when biochemists discovered that DNA had a machine-like structure. Chemist Michael Polanyi argued in 1967 that the information sequencing of DNA sets a “boundary condition” that dictates morphology (form). He described the principles of life as “a hierarchy of boundary conditions,” with each level operating under the control of the next higher level. He suggested that DNA “evokes the ontogenesis (unfolding) of higher levels” (google: “Life’s Irreducible Structure” 1968).
Polanyi’s work influenced the 1984 book, The Mystery of Life’s Origins, in which editor Charles Thaxton reiterated Polanyi’s assertion that the function of DNA transcends physics and chemistry. While shopping for a name tag for the new theoretical view of the origin of life, Thaxton borrowed the scientific term “intelligent design,” which was a term used by NASA to describe the process of design detection in natural structures.
Polanyi argued that DNA is more than a physical or chemical blueprint. A physical law could only produce a regular, predictable pattern. A non-physical law or “higher principle” is driving the DNA vehicle. From these initial conjectures, microbiologist Michael Behe later developed his theory of irreducible complexity, and mathematician William Dembski developed his theory of complex specified information (CSI).
There is too much information to have arisen by chance, argues information theorist Hubert Yockey. The DNA for the smallest single-celled bacterium contains over 4 million instructions, explains Dean Overman in A Case Against Accident and Self-Organization. DNA’s four bases would not be capable of transmitting the millions of instructions necessary to come up with the vast array of life forms on earth. Indeed, the fact that the DNA of apes and man is so similar hints of Polanyi’s “higher principles.” Consciousness fundamentally transcends mechanistic principles, he argued.
The origin of the universe requires intelligence, says cosmologist Fred Hoyle, adding, “there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.” The thought processes of Darwinists, he adds, “seem to be conditioned by the tacit assumption that the environment is intelligent,” except that it’s strictly against the rules to discuss it. Hoyle concluded in The Intelligent Universe in 1983 that a proper understanding of evolution requires an intelligently controlled environment.
If you think life could have arisen by accident, you haven’t done the math, Overman asserts. Fred Hoyle, who did do the math, compared the chance of obtaining even a single functioning protein by chance combination of amino acids to a solar system full of blind men solving the Rubiks Cube simultaneously.