Students and Intellectual Freedom

This year, the State Board of Education in Ohio is considering new science education standards. Recently, controversy erupted because the state board is listening to citizens who want students to be free to evaluate evolutionary theory critically -- and to consider alternatives to naturalism in science.   I want to recommend two new books that should help Ohioans in this debate -- not to mention the rest of us. The first is Darwin's God by Cornelius Hunter. Hunter exposes one of the most interesting, but least understood aspects of the evolution debate: Beginning with Darwin himself, evolutionary biologists have leaned heavily on theology in their thinking about the world.   Hunter shows how Darwin's major work, On the Origin of Species, is loaded from start to finish with "Why would God have done it that way?" questions -- what Hunter calls "negative theology." Darwin wondered why a wise designer would have used the same bone pattern in the forelimbs of mice and whales, or why people sometimes choked on food. In effect, Darwin asked whether these designs were the best that the Creator could do. And these sorts of questions live on today, whenever the subject of evolution is taught.   But students can't properly answer these questions without being given the freedom to challenge Darwin's theology -- that is, his view of God. As Hunter points out in Darwin's God, "negative theology was a consistent theme for Darwin, and it remains popular with today's evolutionists." If evolutionary biologists can say what God wouldn't have done, then why can't students challenge their conclusions by employing different theological assumptions? It's only fair. Darwin's view of the designer shouldn't be the only one available. If the Origin of Species, the founding document of evolutionary biology, already presupposes theology, students shouldn't be prevented from joining the conversation -- which brings me to a second book.   In No Free Lunch, William Dembski discusses the science of intelligent design. The firestorm in Ohio wouldn't have flared up so fiercely if citizens hadn't also asked for the freedom to introduce into the classroom ideas like intelligent design. Science, after all, moves on from discarded theories to better theories. If evolutionary theory can't explain the origin of biological complexity -- as many scientists now conclude -- then we should consider alternatives. Intelligent design is, from my point of view, a very worthy alternative.   Drawing on discoveries in molecular biology and mathematics, Dembski shows how the complex design of organisms requires an intelligent cause. Attempts to get such design from blind natural causes only move the problem; they don't solve it. The most reasonable response to complex designs in nature is not to debate what God would or wouldn't have done, but to see design as evidence of the Intelligent Designer.   Should students in Ohio hear about these ideas? Of course. Our schools today are faced with a choice: Keep the antiquated system we have of science education bound in by naturalistic philosophy, or science education that pursues intellectual freedom and truth. The decision ought to be simple. Let's hope there is the courage to make it.         For further reading:   Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, Developing a Christian Worldview of Science and Evolution (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999).   Cornelius G. Hunter, Darwin's God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil (Brazos Press, 2001).   William A. Dembski, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence (Rowman & Littlefield, December 2001).   William A. Dembski and James Kushiner, Signs of Intelligence: Understanding Intelligent Design (Brazos Press, 2001).   Learn more about the Ohio State Board of Education Science Standards here.   Leo Shane III, "Support for creationism resurfaces: some politicians push for intelligent design," The Cincinnati Enquirer, 4 February 2002.   Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle For Life can be read here.  


Chuck Colson


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