Intelligent Design on Trial

Q&A on the Nature of Science
and Intelligent Design
An excerpt from the Judgment Day
Educator's Briefing Packet

Q: What is science?

A: Science is a systematic form of inquiry, based on observation, prediction, reasoning, and testing, that explains how the natural universe works and seeks to continually advance our knowledge. Science operates by means of the scientific method—the formulation of hypotheses that are consistent with observed phenomena and the subsequent testing of these hypotheses to determine their validity. Scientific knowledge is constantly refined or altered by new evidence; if a hypothesis can be disproved by experimentation, scientists reject it and formulate a new hypothesis that better fits the observed data.

Q: Isn't evolution just a theory, not a fact?

A: In science, a theory is a well-supported systematic explanation of some aspect of the natural world that incorporates facts, scientific laws (such as the laws of gravity and thermodynamics), and tested hypotheses. A fact is an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed. Evolution, defined as descent with modification, is a theory supported by overwhelming evidence, facts, inferences, and tested hypotheses.

Q: What is intelligent design?

A: Intelligent design, or ID, is the idea that certain features of the universe and life are too complex to have arisen by natural causes and instead are best explained as being the product of an intelligent designer.

Q: Why not teach intelligent design, or creationism, alongside evolution?

A: The federal courts have ruled that creationism, creation science, and intelligent design are not science but instead endorse a specific religious belief. Therefore, these topics are not appropriate content for a science classroom. Neither ID nor any other form of creationism has met any of the standards of a science and cannot be tested using the scientific method. On the other hand, evolutionary theory, like all other science, is founded on a growing body of observable and reproducible evidence in the natural world. The state of knowledge in evolutionary biology is the product of 150 years of rigorous challenges using the methods of science, whereas intelligent design is not supported by scientific evidence. Teaching evolution alongside these other approaches would imply that creation science and intelligent design meet these same high standards of testability, and they do not.

Q: Can you accept evolution and still believe in religion?

A: Yes. The common view that evolution is inherently anti-religious is simply false. All that evolution tells us is that life on this planet could have arisen by natural processes. For many people of various faiths, showing that something is due to a natural process doesn't take it outside the realm of the divine. Religious thinkers across the ages have written that merely showing that something is natural puts it within the influence of God, the creator of all nature. By definition science cannot address supernatural causes because its methodology is confined to the natural world. Therefore science has nothing to say about the nature of God or about people's spiritual beliefs. This does not mean science is anti-religious; rather, it means science simply cannot engage in this level of explanation.

Intelligent Design on Trial Home | Send Feedback | Image Credits | Support NOVA

© | Created October 2007