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Intelligent design seen as key as evolution debate continues

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–As several state school systems wrangle over what to teach about the origin of life, a group of creationists say defining the terms of the debate scientifically not biblically is paramount for debunking the theory of evolution.
Two months after the Kansas State Board of Education voted in August to eliminate references to the theory of evolution and the “Big Bang” theory on state assessment tests, state school officials in New Mexico and Kentucky joined the creation-evolution controversy by rewriting their curricula guidelines in an effort to ward off a similar fate for the belief that humans evolved from apes.
New Mexico’s Board of Education voted 14-1 on Oct. 8 against requiring teachers to present alternative theories to the teaching of Darwinian evolution.
Just days before the New Mexico vote, the Kentucky Education Department replaced the word “evolution” with the phrase “changing over time” in its curricula guidelines for middle school and high school science courses.
Meanwhile, the Kansas State Board of Education is faced with rewriting its state testing standards after three national science groups refused to let the board use their copyrighted materials following the board’s elimination of references to macroevolution — the process of change from one species to another — as well as the theory that the universe originated in a colossal explosion of matter and radiation about 15 billion years ago known as the Big Bang.
As school systems across the country re-evaluate their policies to avert controversy, Hal Ostrander, associate dean and professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s James P. Boyce College of the Bible, Louisville, Ky., says creationists should put aside their differences about the earth’s age and unite around the theory of intelligent design, a “scientific tool with which to take apart naturalism as a worldview and its concomitant evolutionary theories.”
Intelligent design, which takes no position on the earth’s age, is the theory that earth, life and humanity owe their existence to a purposeful, intelligent creator. Philip Johnson, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, credited as the father of this anti-evolution argument, has been working for several years to change the focus of the debate from science versus biblical creationism by challenging the reigning evolutionary paradigm on philosophical and scientific grounds.
Darwinism, or evolution, the theory first proposed by 19th-century scientist Charles Darwin, meanwhile holds that all diverse and complex organisms exist as a result of undirected mechanistic processes, primarily through random mutations and natural selection. Darwinian evolutionists argue for a 4.5-billion-year-old earth and a 15-billion-year-old universe.
Evolutionists in the scientific community and the media, Ostrander charged, have attempted to stereotype all biblical creationists as advocating a young earth which could not be more than 10,000 years old — a characterization which he said is quickly discredited by the scientific community as a debate over faith versus science.
“For intelligent design theory to defeat and eradicate evolutionary theories strictly at the scientific level is what we actually need to be pursuing,” Ostrander said, as opposed to attempting to defeat the opposition by advancing various creation theories. “Evolutionary theory can be debunked at the scientific level alone by way of operating within the sphere of God’s general revelation alone. Intelligent design theory is presently engaged in this kind of work and is seemingly beginning to win the day against its evolutionary opponents.”
John Wiester, chairman of the American Scientific Affiliation’s science education commission, said the word “evolution” is ambiguous and can “vary from simple change to the contention that human beings are the result of a random and undirected process that works without either plan or purpose.”
“The power to define the terms of the debate is the power to win,” said Wiester, whose organization of 2,500 evangelical Christian scientists from around the country as well as Canada and Great Britain advocates the teaching of evolution as science — not ideology — by distinguishing between “the multiple meanings of evolution” and acknowledging “unanswered questions and unresolved problems” about evolution theory.
The recent state school board decision in New Mexico endorsing the teaching of evolution exclusively, Wiester said, will allow “this ideology masquerading as science” to go unchallenged.
“In New Mexico, the Darwinists now have a monopoly to teach their story without students hearing evidence that is non-supportive or even contrary to the Darwinian fundamental premise that there is no direction, plan or purpose to the process,” Wiester said.
Marshall Berman, the board member who led a three-year campaign to change the New Mexico policy, told The New York Times, “This gives teachers the political cover they need to teach evolution.”
Education officials in Kentucky have since tried to downplay their move by stating that the change is being reviewed by the Kentucky Board of Education. “This is a semantics issue, not a subject or curriculum issue,” Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the state education department, said, according to a Reuters news service report. Gross said decisions on curricula components are left to the local school districts.
Kentucky teachers had campaigned for including the word “evolution” in updated state curriculum guidelines, but Deputy Commissioner Gene Wilhoit told the Associated Press that “the word is a lightning rod that creates a diversion from what we’re teaching, and we did not want to advocate a particular doctrine or a specific view.”
Citing the constitutional separation of church and state, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled more than a decade ago that states cannot force teachers to teach the biblical creation account that God created the universe in six days.
But three states, Alabama, Kansas and Kentucky, allow school districts the option of offering creation theory in science classes as an alternative or accompanying view to evolution. Colorado, meanwhile, recently omitted questions on evolution from standardized tests, and the Kanawha County School Board in West Virginia is considering a proposal to lift a ban on teaching the biblical account of creation.
In September, the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science denied the Kansas board rights to their materials because they said the new standards don’t reflect their goal of enhancing science education.
Although Kansas teachers are not banned from teaching evolution theory in their classrooms, many evolutionists fear that teachers will avoid subjects not covered on the standardized tests scheduled to begin in spring 2001.
Ostrander said intelligent design theory can stand up in the classroom because it is not dependent on the biblical creation account in Genesis. However, Ostrander noted, “If they can relegate us to the faith realm, they’ve won. If we can beat them within the boundaries and rules of their own scientific realm, we win. And we can beat them at their own game.”
Some young earth creationists, meanwhile, argue that powerful gravitational fields in the cosmos may account for the passing of time at a much higher rate lending a significantly younger earth.
D. Russell Humphreys, a nuclear weapons engineer at Sandia National Laboratory and an adjunct professor at the Institute for Creation Research near San Diego, told The New York Times that Albert Einstein’s equations of relativity, the basis of the Big Bang theory, may have accelerated the progress of time.
Humphreys, in an Oct. 10 article on the creation-evolution controversy, described the earth as positioned near the center of a structure related to a black hole where gravity is especially intense — allowing billions of years to pass in deep space while only a few thousand years passed on earth.
Other creationists scientists have suggested that light traveled much faster in the past, allowing light from distant galaxies to reach earth much earlier than expected.
Astronomers, however, have said there is no evidence that the earth is at the center of the universe or that tremendous gravitational fields exist outside of ordinary black holes.
While, for the moment, Darwinists may be able to gain an upper hand in scientific debates over the age of the earth, they have “a possible and some may sense a probable loser if they engage in legitimate debate on the real issue. Obfuscation and confusion are far better tactics for them.”
Wiester said the creation-evolution debate is a battle for the soul of the country. “The power to tell us where we come from is the power to tell us who we are and how we ought to live,” he said.

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  • Lee Weeks