Bush Makes Intelligent
Design A Political 'Science'

By Terrell E. Arnold
In typical fashion George Bush has put the cat among the pigeons with his August 1 endorsement of intelligent design. He is reported to have said that intelligent design should be taught "so people can understand what the debate is about" More potentially catastrophic, however, he basically endorsed giving intelligent design equal standing in the curriculum with scientific study of nature, including the origins of life, key areas of which focus on evolution. Such a move is strongly opposed by leading scientific groups such as the National Academy of Sciences, but, of course, the Bush endorsement is being viewed by his Christian supporters as a virtually unfunded mandate to corrupt the science programs of the American educational system.
The "debate" Bush referred to is a fraud. The intelligent design case, glitzed up with scientific sounding terms such as "irreducible complexity" is that life is too important and too complicated to be explained by mundane processes such as evolution. This argument is simply absurd, when you consider that scientists now have examined the materials of life down to the sub-cellular level, have mapped the human and other animal genomes and have worked with them sufficiently to attribute the behavior, origins and remedies for various human conditions to genetic functions. Moreover, enough is now known about numerous living things of importance to human survival--cows, chickens, corn and others--so that specific characteristics can be developed and predictably created. To be sure, the complexity is real, but in many instances it has been disassembled and mapped enough to enable change in the characteristics of living things. Perhaps the complexity of living things is not alterable, but it is not by that token beyond understanding.
The "debate" is also a diversion. As now couched, we seem to have an either/or choice--as postulated by the intelligent design advocates--between scientific discoveries such as evolution on one hand and intelligent design on the other. The presumption of this argument has to be that a designer of the system would not have used a process such as evolution to create and mature living things. That qualifies as a preemptive conclusion, but one can reasonably ask: Why not? The universe itself is visibly in a constant state of change, and numerous "evolutionary" processes are visible. The view from planet earth now provides us with a vista of evolution and change that is recorded in fossil light billions of years old when it reaches our eyes. That evidence accumulates daily. Our own planet has records in its rocks and landforms that simply tell us things not only have changed, but they are still changing. Adaptive, including evolutionary processes of change are evident in the histories of every creature we know about. A designer would not have thrown those possibilities in just for variety, but to permit, perhaps even assure survival of certain species across a changing environment. A designer smart enough to create a system that is naturally subject to change simply would know that. Evolution would be only one of the tools.
Intelligent design advocates thus are trapped in the constraints of their own logic. Their fidelity to creationism is inescapable. The idea that life evolved rather than being instantly created is simply not tolerable. The design says that everything is as it was created, and nothing has changed since the beginning. That the designer might have taken its time with the development and improvement of its product seems somehow anathema. There are no tests to make, no experiments to run. One cannot repeat the creation to prove it was done in some particular way. One simply does not question the story. Such parameters make intelligent design a doctrine, not an explanation. It simply lacks the intellectual substance that is essential to discovery, detached examination, experimentation, and learning--that is to say to serious teaching in the context of science.
Once Bush has created this odd couple link between science and intelligent design, there are other odd academic couples we might introduce: We could redesign school curriculums to teach alchemy and chemistry, astrology and astronomy, mythology and history, science fiction and space technology, telepathy and telecommunications. All come instantly to mind. There are proper areas in human learning for contemplating all of these subjects, but it is not sensible thereby to teach them in the same class.
But the real tragedy of the situation is that Bush has made an academic recommendation for a political purpose. This is hardly the first time such a thing has occurred, but it is a big one for this presidency. At a time when the need for ever more rigorous science is needed to explore and explain the way things work to us, the injection of intelligent design into science teaching is a backward step that, as some critics suggest, is likely to put the United States behind other developed nations in scientific exploration, to say nothing of the harm it can do to the knowledge base of ordinary citizens.
The subject has, however, a proper place in the realms of personal and community beliefs and philosophy. Religion itself is a complex subject. Adherents to Christianity, Judaism and Islam comprise together a bit more than a third of humanity. The other two thirds have belief systems that have worked for them for millennia, and in some instances they are older than the Old Testament. An attempt to link the teaching of science only with the beliefs of Christendom simply ignores the much larger human experience. It would promote, at best, an inadequate understanding, while, holding to apriori truths, it would stifle learning.
The opponents of including intelligent design in science teaching programs are not saying the subject should not be discussed or taught in appropriate academic classes. They are saying simply that intelligent design is not a proper subject for the science classroom.
The real debate here is about the spark. Science can explain the processes of living things, the conception, growth and development of them, whether human or subhuman. But science, so far, has not explained the spark, that transformation of inert chemicals into living tissue that becomes capable of sensing, knowing, thinking, communicating, and, yes, believing. That is the mystery that Darwinism and the rest of science do not explain. But that mystery is the central focus of religion. Injecting this mystery into science explains nothing, and, experience has shown that if it is imposed as a doctrinal limitation on exploration and discovery, it will interfere with and diminish everything it touches. It would impose on science a limiting framework of prior beliefs, while science, as a matter of principle, deals with a prior thought as a point of departure. Let us not get mixed up on this.
The author is a writer and speaker on global issues and a regular
columnist on He was trained as a teacher but spent most of his professional career as an officer of the US Foreign Service. He has an AB from Stanford, a Master's and a General Secondary Teaching Credential from San Jose State University. He is a graduate of the National War College, and he served as Chairman of the National War College Department of International Studies. He will welcome comments at



This Site Served by TheHostPros