Darwin Victorious

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"Breathtaking inanity" is how U.S. District Judge John Jones characterized the Dover, PA school board's attempt to cast doubt on the theory of evolution — but in fairness, the recently ousted members of that board were relative unsophisticates, snookered by the intellectual scam that calls itself "intelligent design," or ID.

Where to begin? Well, first of all, proponents of ID point to what they insist are serious flaws in Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. The truth is that the theory is not only an overwhelmingly powerful explanation for how life on Earth manages to come in such a bewildering array of different types, but the only such theory in science. Like any scientific theory, it can't explain how every aspect of every organism came to be, but each time scientists find new evidence — fossils of dinosaurs bearing feathers; fossils of the mammals whose descendants are whales; the molecular structure DNA that carries traits from one generation to the next; the mutations that can alter DNA to introduce new traits — the case for Darwin's theory has gotten stronger.

Do any gaps remain? Sure. Shall we throw up our hands and say "Since we don't know all the details at this moment, God" — oops, I mean, "an Intelligent Designer must be invoked?" The Discovery Institute, a pro-ID think tank favors teaching the controversy over evolution, but that's the scam. There is no controversy, or at least, not the scientific controversy Discovery says there is..

That's not to say there isn't a tiny handful of actual scientists who back ID. Yes, evolution explains a lot, they say, but some things — the eye, for example, or the whiplike tails on some bacteria — are just too complex to have evolved. To which the vast majority of biologists say nonsense. We don't have remotely enough information to make such a statement. Moreover, if ID is a valid theory on its own, it has to make testable predictions. "It's too complex to explain" is not a prediction.

So ID isn't science, and by that measure alone the Dover school board's attempts to make it so were indeed inane. But beyond that the board insisted that by leaving out the G-word you remove the religious connotation from ID, thus evading a 1987 Supreme Court ban on religion in science classrooms. Again, the board bought the story of people like Lehigh University biologist Michael Behe, an ID proponent, who says that ID doesn't assume the existence of God (although Behe admitted he thinks the Intelligent Designer is God). Judge Jones didn't buy that loophole (and for that matter the Discovery Institute stayed out of this case entirely, evidently realizing that it was a legal stinker).

Alas, ID isn't going away. The Kansas school board recently endorsed new educational standards that downplay evolution, and new assaults on Darwin's brilliant and unsettling idea are sure to continue. Meanwhile, there are still gaps in Einstein's theory of relativity and the germ theory of disease and the theory of plate tectonics. However, none of these contradict the sacred text of any religion — and so no school board is likely to be looking for some way to counter them.