Science Wars
Should Schools Teach Intelligent Design?
About This Event

What should public schools teach about life’s origins? This debate erupted anew over the summer after President George W. Bush and Senator Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) endorsed the teaching of intelligent design (ID)—the theory that intelligent causes are responsible for the origin of the universe and of life in all its diversity. Proponents of teaching alternatives to evolution are now lobbying state legislatures and pressing school districts to incorporate ID into science curricula. Alarmed scientists and educators see ID as a disguised form of creationism and a direct attack on the scientific method and critical thinking. Is intelligent design religion or science? What should we teach in schools? Would the teaching of intelligent design violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause? Panelists at this day-long AEI conference will discuss these and other questions.

8:30 a.m.
Sally Satel, AEI
Panel I: Science, Religion, and Intelligent Design
Paul Nelson, Discovery Institute
Kenneth Miller, Brown University
Sally Satel, AEI
Morning Keynote:
Father George Coyne, Vatican Observatory
Michael Novak, AEI
Panel II: Should We "Teach the Controversy"
John Calvert, Intelligent Design Network
Barbara Forrest, Southeastern Louisiana University
Frederick M. Hess, AEI
12:30 p.m.
Luncheon Keynote:
Lawrence Krauss, Case Western Reserve University
Panel III: The Dover, Pa., Case and Beyond: Legal and Public Policy Implications of the ID Controversy
Steven Gey, Florida State University
Richard Thompson, Thomas More Law Center
Mark Ryland, Discovery Institute
Jon Entine, AEI
Event Summary

October 2005

Science Wars: Should Schools Teach Intelligent Design?


What should public schools teach about life’s origins? This debate erupted anew over the summer after President George W. Bush and Senator Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) endorsed the teaching of intelligent design (ID)--the theory that intelligent causes are responsible for the origin of the universe and of life in all its diversity. Proponents of teaching alternatives to evolution are now lobbying state legislatures and pressing school districts to incorporate ID into science curricula. Alarmed scientists and educators see ID as a disguised form of creationism and a direct attack on the scientific method and critical thinking. Is intelligent design religion or science? What should we teach in schools? Would the teaching of intelligent design violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause? Panelists at an October 21 AEI conference discussed these and other questions.

Panel I: Science, Religion, and Intelligent Design

Paul Nelson
Discovery Institute

The question of design in the universe is as old as humankind. Mr. Nelson argued that regardless of what happens in the Dover, Pennsylvania, case the intelligent design debate is here to stay. In fact, the test that Charles Darwin sets forth for his evolutionary theory requires that intelligent design be a legitimate empirical possibility. Darwin claims that material continuity exists between all organisms, which are linked together by undirected natural causes. However, the empirical nature of the theory requires that such claims could be false. Using the analogy of a baseball strike zone, Mr. Nelson demonstrated that the inherent boundaries of evolutionary theory mean that phenomena also lie outside the realm explainable by evolution. Thus, other viable theories must exist. Teachers, however, currently cannot explain alternative theories such as intelligent design, for they cannot discuss the considerable theological content of evolutionary theory. Darwin’s Origin of Species contains repeated references to God, and theology is essential to discussing origin. It is necessary for high school biology classes to discuss the pros and cons both of intelligent design to provide students with a fair and accurate view of science. The design controversy is already imbedded in evolution and should not be censored.

Kenneth Miller
Brown University

Proponents of intelligent design point to Mount Rushmore as an example of design. However, Mount Rushmore, unlike other biological examples, clearly has both a known designer and creator who acted at a specific time in an act of special creation. For the earth, on the other hand, there is no evidence of a designer/creator. Lacking evidence in favor of intelligent design, proponents invent a dualism. Intelligent design supporters use any evidence that does not support evolution as negative evidence supporting their theory. This is not accurate science and does not account for other conceivable theories. Supporters of intelligent design argue that evolution cannot account for new biological information and cannot explain the existence of irreducibly complex organisms. As a counterpoint, Mr. Miller presents an example of bacteria with a newly evolved enzyme that can break down nylon. The bacterium is clear evidence that evolution allows for new biological information, as nylon has only existed for sixty years. Further, the bacterial flagellum, most used by design supporters as an example of irreducible complexity, has at least five fully functional parts and thus need not have been designed. Intelligent design is clearly not science, and to stretch the boundaries of science in the classroom to fit intelligent design would be a disservice to our children.

Keynote Address I

Father George Coyne
Vatican Observatory

In the New York Times on July 7, 2005, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn claimed that Darwinian evolution was incompatible with the Roman Catholic Church’s belief in an omnipotent creator God. Schönborn’s claim reversed the fundamental teaching of Pope John Paul II that evolution could no longer be dismissed as “mere hypothesis.” Father Coyne disagreed with the cardinal on five specific issues, including the importance of the pope’s statement, the compatibility of evolutionary theory with Catholic teaching, and that intelligent design is legitimate science. Evolution, like all scientific theories, is completely neutral with respect to religion. Many religious believers think that evolution is dominated by chance and therefore not under God’s dominion. Some fall to the mistaken thinking that if humans are descended from apes, they are only apes. However, evolution is not driven by chance and is completely compatible with a belief in God. Examining our galaxy allows us to reconstruct the evolutionary history of our expanding universe. The birth and death of three generations of stars creates sufficient chemical energy to create a human being. The evolution of the universe shows purpose and directionality, indicating that evolution is not an unguided process of random variation. Scientific understanding does not require a creator God. The intelligent design movement, arguing for design by a powerful creator, actually belittles God, making him or her too small and paltry. Scientific understanding of the universe, through evolutionary theory and untainted by religious considerations, provides believers with a marvelous opportunity to reflect upon their beliefs. Ultimately, science and religion are totally separate human pursuits that must be distinguished.

Panel II: Should We “Teach the Controversy”?

Barbara Forrest
Southeastern Louisiana University

To the slogan “teach the controversy,” Ms. Forrest responds with a simple “no.” Supporters of “teaching the controversy” urge high school science classrooms to present alternative theories to evolution, such as intelligent design. The slogan implies that evolution is in a state of crisis while teachers neglect to share information about legitimate alternative theories. Evolution is not in a state of crisis, however, and within the scientific community, no evolutionary controversy exists. Intelligent design proponents have not yet--and likely will not ever--produce scientific data to support their claims. Admitted even by the movement’s leaders, intelligent design has yet to develop a full-fledged theory. Intelligent design leaders note “cultural” progress but rely on “intuitions” and “notions.” Essentially, intelligent design is a religious idea, acknowledged by leaders to be rooted in the Gospel according to John; it is not science. While asserting the utmost respect for religious beliefs, Ms. Forrest maintains that such beliefs have no place in the science classroom. She concludes that the most moral thing that can be done in schools is to teach the truth in science, free from theories such as intelligent design.

John Calvert
Intelligent Design Network

In the “science wars,” John Calvert identifies himself as a speaker “from the trenches.” He claims that the current debate over teaching intelligent design beliefs is misguided: intelligent design is not about teaching beliefs; rather, it is about allowing teachers to present balanced information that will allow high school science students to reach reasoned decisions. Currently, teachers are forbidden from teaching anything that might weaken evolutionary theory. The philosophical presupposition of methodological naturalism at the heart of evolutionary theory does not allow for discussion or the existence of other theories. Many evolutionary biologists suppress open discussions of origin theories and paint those who question Darwin as ignorant. Evolution has become like a dogma that attempts to “convert” scientists using intimidation, coercion, and misinformation. Teachers who break the rule that Darwin cannot be criticized are threatened by their peers and forced from teaching. Furthermore, the response by intelligent design opponents that “there is no controversy” is merely a slogan. There is clearly much controversy in evolution, for the theory contains imagination, guesswork, and storytelling. There is real scientific controversy, and students should be exposed to it.

Keynote Address II

Lawrence Krauss
Case Western Reserve University

When faced with the question of whether to teach intelligent design in schools, it is important to remember that in order to maintain our country’s competitiveness, we must improve the quality of our scientific education rather than diminish it. The scientific community should no longer be sidetracked by the issue of intelligent design; it must focus on improving programs of legitimate science. Mr. Krauss asserts that one of the wonderful things about science is that, unlike in journalism where showing both sides of a story is important, in science, one side is simply wrong. Intelligent design is simply wrong.

Early in the intelligent design debate, a leading ID proponent, Phillip Johnson, presented a compromise that rather than teach intelligent design exclusively, he simply wanted schools to “teach the controversy.” Mr. Krauss notes that while this was a brilliant public relations move, there is no controversy, and his solution is no compromise. While intelligent design poses many interesting philosophical questions about the completeness of science without God and evidence for design, there is no justification for bringing such questions into science classes. There is no controversy in the scientific literature regarding evolution: scientific journals are full of articles supporting and examining evolutionary theory, but have few, if any, scholarly pieces about intelligent design. Intelligent design supporters claim that it is only fair to teach both sides of the debate in schools. However, Mr. Krauss argues the opposite: it is inherently unfair to teach intelligent design, which has not been subjected to the process of research, peer review, publication, and community consensus that other scientific theories undergo. It is true that 50 percent of U.S. adults do not believe in evolution. However, an equal number do not know that the sun, rather than the earth, is the center of the universe. Ideas in science are not all treated equally. Just because the public believes something does not justify teaching it in classrooms. The purpose of education is not to validate ignorance, but to overcome it.

Panel III: The Dover, Pennsylvania, Case and Beyond:
Legal and Public Policy Implications of the ID Controversy

Steven Gey
Florida State University

In Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board, several parents in Pennsylvania have sued the school board for requiring biology teachers to present intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. On two occasions the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the inclusion of creationism in public school science curriculum would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The first such case, Epperson v. Arkansas, analyzed creationism statutes banning the teaching of evolution. An Arkansas statute was struck down as unconstitutional for at its heart, the argument was about religion. In 1987, Edwards v. Aguillard addressed a new generation of statutes that attempted to present creationism in a more scientific light. The Court once again ruled the statute unconstitutional, for it violated academic freedom and its supposed secular purpose was a “sham.” In Kitzmiller, the current case in Pennsylvania, supporters of intelligent design argue that these precedents do not apply. The statutes no longer refer to God, Genesis, or young earth in hopes of severing the connection with religion. Supporters argue that not allowing intelligent design violates teachers’ right to free speech and states’ right to design curricula. However, Mr. Gey rejects each of these claims, noting that Kitzmiller is essentially the same as past cases and that constitutional objections still apply. The question is not whether intelligent design supporters will lose, but how decisively. Ultimately, the case may give birth to a fourth generation of creationism statutes.

Richard Thompson
Thomas More Law Center

Mr. Thompson argued that it is not unconstitutional for school boards to make students aware of both the weaknesses of Darwin’s evolutionary theory and of alternatives like intelligent design. Evolution is not a pristine science. Many evolutionary biologists include secularism and atheism in the scientific theories they teach, incorporating their own, different form of religion. The four-paragraph statement that is read to students in the Dover school district and is the motivator of the Kitzmiller case causes the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation for Church and State anxiety because it mentions intelligent design and may motivate students to ask further questions about the designer. However, despite their objections, it is clear that the locally elected school board is the authority for setting public school curriculum. The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized the discretion of school boards to decide on curriculum and will not intervene unless there is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause. The question then is whether twice mentioning intelligent design in a one-minute statement constitutes a clear violation. In Kitzmiller, Mr. Thompson has argued that the fact that a scientific theory may have religious implications does not make presentation of the theory to public school students unconstitutional.

Mark Ryland
Discovery Institute

Intelligent design is an age-old question. Aristotle and Plato pondered an underlying intelligence that created the order and patterns of the world. Darwin mechanized a law of biology that explained life through chance and natural selection. Mr. Ryland observes that Darwinism is the only modern scientific theory with chance as its fundamental causative claim. However, living things, people, animals, and even plants seem to be full of purpose. Biology’s mechanical explanation alone cannot sufficiently explain life’s purpose. Additionally, it is nearly impossible when studying such a mechanism not to hypothesize on metaphysical issues--such speculation is a human instinct. In seeking to explain the complexity and order of the universe there are three hypotheses: sheer luck, the Darwinian multiverse hypothesis, or intelligent design. However, in public high school science classes, teachers can only share two of the hypotheses, for teaching intelligent design would be unconstitutional. There are two conceivable answers to the question whether intelligent design is actually present in the universe: yes and no. Does it logically follow that one answer is acceptable but the other is a violation of the Establishment Clause?

AEI research assistant Lauren S. Campbell prepared this summary.

View complete summary.
Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine

What's new on AEI

image Dad and the diploma: The difference fathers make for college graduation
image A better way to finance that college degree
image Fracking for bigger budgets
image Earth Day: Hail fossil fuels, energy of the future
AEI Participants


  • Jon Entine, a former Emmy-winning producer for NBC News and ABC News, researches and writes about corporate responsibility and science and society. His books include No Crime But Prejudice: Fischer Homes, the Immigration Fiasco, and Extra-Judicial Prosecution (TFG Books, May 2009), about prosecutorial excesses; Abraham's Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People (Grand Central Publishing, 2007), which focuses on the genetics of race; Let Them Eat Precaution: How Politics Is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture (AEI Press, 2006), about the genetic modification of food and farming; Pension Fund Politics: The Dangers of Socially Responsible Investing (AEI Press, 2005), which reveals the effects of social investing on pension funds; and the best-selling Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk about It (Public Affairs, 2000), based on an award-winning NBC News documentary. Currently, Mr. Entine is an adviser to Global Governance Watch (GGW), a project that examines transparency and accountability issues at the United Nations (UN), in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and in related international organizations. GGW also analyzes the impact of UN agencies and NGOs on government and corporations. He is also working on a book exploring the revolutionary impact of genomic research on medical treatments and traditional perceptions of human limits and capabilities.

    Follow Jon Entine on Twitter.
  • Phone: 513-319-8388


Frederick M.
  • An educator, political scientist and author, Frederick M. Hess studies K-12 and higher education issues. His books include "Cage-Busting Leadership," "Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age," "The Same Thing Over and Over," "Education Unbound," "Common Sense School Reform," "Revolution at the Margins," and "Spinning Wheels." He is also the author of the popular Education Week blog, "Rick Hess Straight Up." Hess's work has appeared in scholarly and popular outlets such as Teachers College Record, Harvard Education Review, Social Science Quarterly, Urban Affairs Review, American Politics Quarterly, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Phi Delta Kappan, Educational Leadership, U.S. News & World Report, National Affairs, the Washington Post, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic and National Review. He has edited widely cited volumes on the Common Core, the role of for-profits in education, education philanthropy, school costs and productivity, the impact of education research, and No Child Left Behind.  Hess serves as executive editor of Education Next, as lead faculty member for the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program, and on the review boards for the Broad Prize in Urban Education and the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. He also serves on the boards of directors of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and 4.0 SCHOOLS. A former high school social studies teacher, he teaches or has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Rice University and Harvard University. He holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Government, as well as an M.Ed. in Teaching and Curriculum, from Harvard University.

    Follow AEI Education Policy on Twitter

    Follow Frederick M. Hess on Twitter.

  • Email:
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Sarah DuPre
    Phone: 202-862-7160


  • Michael Novak, a philosopher, theologian, and author, is the 1994 recipient of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. He has been an emissary to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. He has written twenty-seven books on the philosophy and theology of culture, especially the essential elements of a free society. His latest book is No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers (Doubleday, 2008).
  • Phone: 2028625838


AEI on Facebook