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Intelligent design advocates outline their beliefs in Capitol Hill briefing

WASHINGTON (BP)–Proponents of intelligent design in nature are not seeking the suppression of Darwinism in culture but an open discussion by which people can evaluate the conflicting views, a critic of evolution said in a Capitol Hill briefing May 10.

Phillip Johnson, law professor at the University of California-Berkeley, acknowledged some in the intelligent-design movement were uneasy about holding a briefing in Washington.

Advocates of intelligent design “want to make sure that we don’t give anybody the impression that what we’re looking for is some kind of power play … ,” Johnson said to the gathering in a House of Representatives office building. “That’s what the other guys do. They’re the ones who use your tax money to promote their philosophy and censor any opposing” perspective.

“We do want people in positions of authority to understand what the real issues are, because part of good government, with law, is to open up discussion,” said Johnson, whose series of books, including “Darwin on Trial,” has questioned the validity of Darwinian evolution.

“So all we need is open discussion” in universities, the culture and public schools, Johnson said.

“In short, we want the schools to educate, instead of indoctrinate.”

David DeWolf, law professor at Gonzaga University in Seattle, said, “We certainly don’t want to replace one dogmatic approach with our dogmatic approach.”

The Capitol Hill briefing, which was sponsored by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, featured presentations on the scientific evidence for intelligent design and its implications for public policy and education.

Intelligent design proponents believe scientific evidence points to a purposeful agent outside the universe. Darwinists accept his theory of evolution by natural selection and support scientific materialism, the view that nature is, as briefing speaker Stephen Meyer described it, “eternal, self-existent and self-creating,”

Led by Johnson and scientists such as Lehigh University’s Michael Behe, the intelligent design movement has made progress in recent years in providing an alternative to Darwinian evolution. The movement is an umbrella for a diversity of beliefs, said speakers at the briefing. Among those who accept intelligent design are Christians, Jews, agnostics, Muslims and Hare Krishnas. There also are young-earth advocates, as well as those who accept the prevalent scientific view the earth is ancient.

“The nice thing about intelligent design is it’s the proverbial big tent,” Behe said at the briefing, which was attended by about 60 people.

The common trait under that tent is the view absolute, objective truth exists, said author Nancy Pearcey.

One problem for those outside the Darwinian camp is there are “two definitions of science in our culture, and the confusion between the two is what creates the suppression of freedom of thought,” Johnson said.

One definition, which he and other intelligent design advocates accept, is science is “unbiased, empirical investigation and testing” and “you follow the evidence wherever it leads without prejudice,” Johnson said. The other definition of science is “applied materialist philosophy.”

The latter is the kind of science “willing to suppress that which does not meet its agenda,” he said. Those who accept this definition of science ignore whatever does not fit their paradigm, Johnson said.

As “an illustration of how strong these sentiments are and how they penetrate the academic world and how they prevent open-minded thinking,” Johnson cited recent events at Baylor University, what he described as a “Southern Baptist institution” where one might expect a different response.

In April, the Michael Polanyi Center for Complexity, Information and Design at Baylor, a Waco, Texas, school affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, sponsored a conference featuring leading spokesmen from both the Darwinian and intelligent design camps. The meeting focused on the question of whether the universe is self-contained or whether something beyond it is necessary to explain its existence and function.

Three days after the conference, the Baylor faculty senate voted 26-2 to close the center for what school President Robert Sloan later said he believes is a “philosophical/ideological objection of some to the work of the center itself.” Sloan resisted the call to close the center and said a peer-review panel would investigate the matter.

William Dembski, director of the center, was scheduled to speak at the Capitol Hill briefing but did not attend because of the controversy at Baylor, Johnson said.

“But that indicates to you what we’re up against, you see, the depth of the prejudice,” Johnson said.

While Darwinists control the universities, there are hopeful signs for intelligent design proponents, Johnson said. Public opinion is sympathetic to their view, he said. A recent poll for the liberal organization People for the American Way showed 79 percent of Americans think creationism should be taught in public schools in addition to evolution. The intelligent design movement also is aided by changes in communications resulting in the Internet and talk radio becoming significant sources of information, he said.

“The Darwinists didn’t win the culture in a day, and the job of reversing it won’t be done in a day” either, Johnson said.

Darwinism has had applications to such areas as education, religion, morality and law, said Pearcey, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and coauthor with Charles Colson of “How Now Shall We Live?”

“Darwinism is not only a scientific theory, but it is also the basis for a worldview,” she said.

In education, one of the results is constructivism, where even elementary students are taught to construct their own reality, such as creating their own math rules and spelling of word, Pearcey said. In religion, she said, the impact can be seen in such beliefs as process theology, which proposes God is not an infinite being but is evolving himself.

Behe, author of “Darwin’s Black Box,” and Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture and a philosophy professor at Whitworth College, explained some of the problems with Darwinism and some of the reasons they believe science supports intelligent design. Among those evidences, Meyer said in citing Dembski’s writing, is the existence of improbability and specificity in nature points to design.

While he has been criticized for allowing Christianity to influence his scientific views, Behe said, “I think the evidence is completely empirical.”

He was always taught to follow the evidence where it leads, Behe said. While this is the approach taken when the evidence points toward evolution, it “should also hold true when the evidence is pointing more and more toward design,” he said.

Members of Congress attending the briefing were Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., and Reps. Charles Canady, R.-Fla.; Thomas Petri, R.-Wis.; and Mark Souder, R.-Ind.

Lee Weeks contributed to this article.