Government Affairs Program SPECIAL UPDATE


Evolution Opponents Hold Congressional Briefing

(5-11-00)


This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies

IN A NUTSHELL: Supporters of intelligent design theory brought their message to Capitol Hill in a series of events for Members of Congress and their staff. A three-hour briefing focused on the scientific evidence for the origin and development of life and the universe as the work of an intelligent designer. The speakers presented their version of the scientific debate between Darwinian evolutionary theory and intelligent design theory. Speakers also addressed the social, moral, and political consequences of Darwinism. Sponsored by the Discovery Institute, the briefing was hosted by the chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, and co-sponsors included Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI), expected to be the next chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The briefing took place as Congress debates legislation to overhaul federal K-12 education programs.

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On May 10th, a House Judiciary Committee hearing room was the site of a three-hour briefing on paleontology, biology, and cosmology. Although presentations were at times quite technical, the speakers were not there to discuss the latest research in these fields. They were on Capitol Hill to promote intelligent design (ID) theory, to debunk Darwinian evolutionary theory, and to expose the negative social impact of Darwinism. Entitled "Scientific Evidence of Intelligent Design and its Implications for Public Policy and Education," the briefing was sponsored by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank (http://www.discovery.org), and its Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. The afternoon briefing was preceded by a private luncheon in the U.S. Capitol for Members of Congress and was followed by an evening reception.

This AGI special update provides a short summary of the presentations given at the briefing. Until now, the creation-evolution debate has primarily been active at the state and local level, but this event may represent the start of a new effort to involve Congress in efforts to oppose the teaching of evolution. Whether by chance or by design, the briefing took place as the Senate entered its second week of debate on overhauling federal K-12 education programs. Both houses are expected to work throughout the summer on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. More on that subject at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/ike106.html.

Creationist and Congressional Heavy Hitters

The briefing featured a number of the leading lights in the ID movement, including Lehigh University biology professor Michael Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box; Whitworth College philosophy professor Stephen Meyer, who directs the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture and is a former ARCO geophysicist; Discovery Institute Fellow Nancy Pearcey, co-author with Chuck Colson of How Now Shall We Live?; and Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial. Behe and Meyer spoke first, focusing on a scientific explanation of ID theory and discussion of the weaknesses of Darwinian theory. The second two speakers, Pearcey and Johnson, focused on social and political implications of the competing worldviews represented by these two theories.

Approximately 50 people attended the briefing, including a handful of congressional staff and several Members of Congress. The chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Rep. Charles Canady (R-FL), provided the room. Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) made remarks comparing the current Kansas social controversy over evolution to the one spawned by abolitionist John Brown. More significant was the appearance of Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI), who warmly introduced several of the speakers. Petri is slated to become chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee in January, replacing retiring chairman Bill Goodling (R-PA). Other congressional co-hosts listed on the press release included House Science Committee members Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), and Education Committee member Mark Souder (R-IN).

Empirical Evidence for Design

Despite the presence of congressional heavy hitters, Johnson disavowed any intention of playing the Washington power game (something he accused scientists of doing) and emphasized that he and his colleagues were there only to open minds which had been kept closed by an elite scientific priesthood. All of the speakers emphasized that this was a debate among scientists, not between science and religion. They stressed that the idea of design is entirely empirical, that we recognize it all the time in everyday life and can make the conclusion of design based wholly on the physical evidence. However, they also recognized that intelligent design theory has theistic implications.

Behe and Meyer emphasized two keystones of ID theory: (1) that an intelligent designer is the only way to explain irreducibly complex natural systems, which defy explanation by Darwinian processes; and (2) that information is a third fundamental entity separate from matter and energy, and information can only come from a mind. Meyer used this second concept to link ID theory to the new knowledge-based economy where value comes from information not material resources. Nearly all the speakers cited a quote by Bill Gates equating DNA with extremely complex computer code.

The speakers portrayed ID theory as the logical outcome of the advancement of science. Both Behe and Meyer repeatedly noted that scientists have been enormously surprised by the complexity they find in nature -- whereas Darwinism may have worked within the limited scope of 19th-century scientific understanding, it cannot handle the much greater complexity that scientists now recognize.

Confronting the Darwinian Worldview

Nancy Pearcey spoke on the worldview implications of Darwinism, noting that many people apply Darwinism to every walk of life. She cited the book A Natural History of Rape, which portrayed rape as an evolutionary adaptation strategy rather than a pathology. She found this example helpful in spelling out the logical consequences of Darwinism. The key battleground is education, which in the hands of Darwinists is no longer a search for truth. Instead, ideas are now merely problem-solving tools.

Pearcey asked what this means for religion, answering that for the Darwinists, god becomes merely an idea that appears in the human mind. For Darwinists, religion must give way to a new science-based cosmic myth with the power to bind humans together in a new world order. She then asked what this means for morality and argued that people were right to be concerned that all the above would undercut morality. She cited a recent popular song urging that "you and me, baby, ain't nothing but mammals so let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel."

Pearcey went on to explain that the US legal system is based on moral principles and that the only way to have ultimate moral grounding for law is to have an unjudged judge, an uncreated creator. Nothing else can take his place. All else can be challenged in a grand "says who?" She pointed to arguments made by Michael Sandel of Harvard in his book Democracy's Discontent in which modern society is portrayed as a struggle between those who think morality is up for grabs and those who view it as given.

Creation Myths and Priesthoods

Phillip Johnson explained that Darwinism is not so much a scientific theory as a creation story. Every culture has a creation story jealously guarded by a priesthood. The triumph of Darwinism is the replacement of one priesthood -- the clergy -- with another of scientists and intellectuals, a process now complete in Europe but still being contested in the US. According to Johnson, the Darwinian creation story finds its essential support in certain philosophical rules, the main one being that natural selection has enormous creative power from bacteria to redwood trees to people. He called it a marvelous story but asked what it has been seen to do? Change the size of some finch beaks in the Galapagos Islands? He argued that it has never been seen to create anything.

Johnson argued that the scientific priesthood has banished god from allowable discussion, leaving Darwinism as the only game in town. Intelligent design cannot be considered because it includes an unevolved intelligence. For the scientists, it is an offensive thought crime to suggest something other than Darwinism. Johnson quotes from an ABA Journal article that "to consider ID in biology would be as blasphemous as Satan worship in church." A curious repeated theme among the speakers was their surprise at the receptivity in official Chinese media to ID theory. The point was then made that in China one can question Darwinism but not the government, whereas in the US one can question the government but not Darwinism.

Johnson argued that in order to have an open discussion about the logic of Darwinism, the question needed to be redefined in order to get beyond the stereotype of biblical literalists; a genuine intellectual issue needed to be articulated. As Johnson sees it, the problem is that there are two definitions of science in our culture: (1) science is unbiased empirical testing and observations that follow the evidence wherever it leads without prejudice; and (2) science is applied materialist philosophy which, like Marxism or Freudianism, is willing to impose its authority.

In Johnson's view, scientists get public support because they wrap themselves in the first definition. Supporters of ID theory need to flush out the scientists true colors by identifying situations where their philosophy of materialism says one thing but the evidence tells a different story. Once that is on the table, then the scientists' game is over.

What About Religion?

All four speakers were exceedingly cautious in responding to questions about how ID theory relates to religion. Meyer emphasized that the issue is about two different scientific theories with large implications for theistic and naturalistic worldviews. When asked if he was being too tentative about ID theory not being a proof of god, Meyer replied that using the principle of uniformitarianism -- that the present is the key to past -- naturalism is insufficient, and a designer is thus needed. Johnson added that we cannot conclude from scientific inquiry whether the intelligent designer is indeed the God of the Bible. The speakers repeatedly emphasized that ID theory is a big tent that includes Jews and agnostics but all united by the belief that there is objective truth.

Asked if there was a critical mass yet of ID supporters among scientists at universities, Johnson stated that you do not convince the priesthood but generationally replace them. He argued that demographics are on ID's side -- polls show skepticism about Darwinism so the public at large is sympathetic but has been disabled by the stereotypes and mind games of the scientific elite. The people need to be empowered and that is what is happening with the Internet and talk radio, which takes away control from the scientific gatekeepers. Johnson's stated objective was to get thousands of young people in the classroom asking questions of dogmatic professors, and he said that it is already happening.

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Position statements issued by the American Geological Institute and several of its member societies on the teaching of evolution can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/position_statements.html. An update on recent developments in the creation-evolution controversy can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/evolution.html.


Special update prepared by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted May 11, 2000


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