By Dr. Nayyer Ali

Intelligent Design and Other Religious Beliefs

December 30, 2005

Last week sanity in American education was hopefully restored as a Federal court banned the school board of Dover County, Pennsylvania from teaching “intelligent design” in its high school biology classes. US District Judge John Jones condemned the “breathtaking inanity” of the school board that tried to sneak this bit of Christianity into the public schools.
The “intelligent design” movement is just the latest manifestation of fundamentalist Christianity’s attempt to teach the Bible in science classes. Charles Darwin, the scientist who developed the theory of evolution by natural selection, himself realized that this was a major and severe blow to those who believed in the literal truth of the Biblical account of creation in seven days found in the Book of Genesis. Almost immediately there arose a backlash among literalist Christians who could not accept Darwin’s theory because it would mean the Bible was not literally true.
While these groups were present in Europe, they really came into their own in what became known as “fundamentalist” Christianity in the US. Christian fundamentalism remains quite strong in the US even in the present time.
Fundamentalists first tangled with Darwin in the 1920s during the famous Scope Case, where a Tennessee teacher was tried for violating the state ban on teaching evolution. That case held up fundamentalists to national ridicule.
After the shock of the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957, the US embarked on a national program of upgrading the quality of science education. A result was the widespread teaching of evolution, even in conservative states with fundamentalist populations. This led to a backlash, which culminated in court cases in the early 1980s in which local school boards were trying to teach “Creationism” alongside with evolution. This was pitched as providing equal time to multiple explanations of the origins of life on Earth. The courts saw through the charade, and banned “creationism” as just dressed-up religion.
By the late 1990’s, fundamentalist Christianity was ready for another try. This time they wanted to apply more direct scientific veneer to their schemes. The religious package would now be wrapped inside something called “intelligent design”. This concept, propounded by Michael Behe, who is a tenured university professor, proclaimed that certain elements of biology, particularly at the level of proteins within the cells, were so complex that they could not conceivably have evolved. Behe also argued that some processes were so complex and interdependent on a whole slew of proteins that there was no way they could all have evolved together simultaneously. Given that assumption, the logical conclusion is that an “intelligent designer” had to make them. Neither Behe nor the school board in Dover County would say out loud who this designer is, but it is clearly God, not little green men from Mars (and if it was men from Mars, then we still have the problem of how they came to be!).
The problem with intelligent design is that it is not science. A scientific theory, such as evolution by natural selection, must explain the observed facts using the laws of nature as they are known. In addition, a real scientific theory must be testable and falsifiable. If for example, the DNA of a lion was more similar to an elephant than a tiger, that would falsify the theory of evolution, as evolution clearly predicts that tigers and lions, based on their biological similarity, must have evolved from a common ancestor. Intelligent design makes no testable predictions nor does it explain the observed facts.
Evolution is the only theory that explains why all life shares a common biochemistry, and why the closer two species are in the fossil record and in their biological characteristics, the closer they are in their DNA. Evolution also explains why life exists in groups of species with shared characteristics. Just think of the whales or the bats or the beetles (there are literally thousands of beetle species in existence). And if we look in the fossil record for example, we find over 30 different species of elephants and mammoths that existed in the last few million years. Evolution also explains why some species can interbreed and produce young (horses and donkeys to make mules).
Science should be taught in science class and religion in religion class. Islam does not have a story that has the literal elements of Genesis. Which makes it doubly disturbing to see so much creationist literature in mosque bookstores around the country. It is in fact an odd example of Christian fundamentalist thinking entering Muslim thought.
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