Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Debate Issue:  “Resolved: Intelligent Design Theory Should be Introduced When Evolutionary Theory is Presented in Public Schools”

8 pm, March 19th, 100 E. Vet. Med. Bldg., MSU

Pro: Dr. Tom Woodward                               Con: Dr. Don Weinshank

These notes are keyed to the accompanying PowerPoint slides.

PPT 1 If God is the “Intelligent Designer,” I hope that He has a lot of insurance, because I am going to sue Him for putting out a defective product. Take me, for example:

  1. The last time I saw my orthopedic surgeon, he said, “Don, your knee cartilage is worn out. There is nothing I can do for you. Come back when you want a new knee.”
  2. My back hurts, and I take muscle relaxants. That sort of thing accounts for one-quarter of all visits to a doctor’s office.
  3. I wear trifocals because the lens of my eye has become quite inflexible with age.
  4. I have high blood pressure, but that is under control due to medication.
  5. And I have a bunch of other things I won’t bore you with. As the doctor of a friend of mine once told him, “After 50, it’s just patch, patch, patch.”

If there is an Intelligent Designer, He has to be somebody who could not pass Engineering 101.

If you really want to see what good design would look like, I’ve run 250 copies of “If Humans Were Built To Last” from the March 2001, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. Please “share and cooperate.” SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN charged me $3 per copy for the right to print these copies myself, and then only in black-and white.

In an amusing but very solid way, the article details what human design changes would be needed so that all of us could live to be 100 in good health. [1]

PPT 2 From an evolutionary point of view, our present bodies resulted from a continuous series of compromises between the genetics of our ancestors and the environments in which they lived. All of my physical problems ... and yours … make perfectly good sense. We have lousy backs because our ancestors were quadrupeds, not bipeds, and so on.

From a religious point of view, I believe in a God who created an orderly, lawful universe in which evolution occurred.  I cannot believe in a fumbling, bumbling god or “Intelligent Designer” who did such an obviously inept job.

Tonight’s topic is, “Intelligent Design Theory Should be Introduced When Evolutionary Theory is Presented in Public Schools.” Fine. I love conflict in teaching because it gets students absorbed in the real issues[2]. I used to jump off a ladder to “prove” that the Earth is at rest, not going around the Sun. [Yes, my students thought I was crazy.] But to have controversy about scientific theories, we all have to be doing science.[3] 

PPT 3 Representative Gosselin’s House Bill 4382, introduced February 28. 2001, contains the following wording:

In the science standards, all references to "evolution" And "how species change through time" shall be modified to indicate that this is an unproven theory by adding the phrase "all students will explain the competing theories of evolution and Natural selection based on random mutation and the theory that Life is the result of the purposeful, intelligent design of a Creator.".

Well, Representative Gosselin wants to mandate this wording in teaching science, so I have to ask the question, “Is Intelligent Design a scientific theory?” If it is, I would absolutely agree that it should be included. As I said, controversy is a great teaching tool. However, if Intelligent Design does not scientific, it has no place in the science curriculum.

You can’t change the rules of the game and still claim that it is the same game. You can’t tell me that I have three “outs” per inning while you have six but that we are still playing “baseball.” You can’t introduce non-scientific, other-worldly explanations, religious explanation and still call what you are doing “science.”

PPT 4 “Intelligent Design” is not a science and has no place in teaching evolutionary theory.

1.      Let me tell you about real science, up close and personal. We submitted a paper to a computer science conference last year and got blown out of the water by the anonymous reviewers. Actually, their criticisms were on target. We spent three months revising the paper and just submitted it to a prestigious engineering conference. We will hear by May 1 if they will accept it. In contrast, the folks who support “Intelligent Design” do not do science. They do not publish in referred journals showing hard evidence that can be explained only by “Intelligent Design” and nothing else.[4] They are not scientists and, for that reason, do not deserve a voice in how science should be taught[5].

2.      Intelligent Design constantly invokes negative evidence. Simply put, the Intelligent Design folks argue that what we do not know at the moment “proves” an Intelligent Designer. They use phrases like “irreducible complexity” to mean that something is so complex that it cannot be explained. I’ll let you in on a secret: In my career, I’ve lived through many instances of “irreducibly complex” problems being worked out. For example, when I was a grad student in Biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin, many of my friends worked on the DNA ? RNA ? Transfer-RNA ? Protein problem. Little by little, they and people in many labs teased apart this “irreducibly complex” problem, so that it is completely understood today.

The whole approach of Intelligent Design is called the “God of the gaps.” That means that when you run up against a really hard problem, you throw up your hands and say, “The only explanation is that God did it.”

This isn’t science and should not be taught to students as if it were. When you run up against a problem you can’t solve at that moment, you call it an “open question” and turn instead to a problem that you think you can solve. The “open question” just stays open until somebody else comes along and solves it …. or not.

3.      PPT 5  Intelligent Design wants you to rip out Evolution from all of the other parts of science which support it and which it, in turn, supports. When I taught Evolution, I spent a couple of 50-minute lectures showing the relationships between Evolution and disciplines including just some of those I listed.

Astronomy and cosmology
Biochemistry and molecular biology
Continental Drift
Dating methods
Genetics and Evolution
Hominid fossils
Replication (DNA, RNA)
Time scale (geological)
Transforming principle (DNA)
Variation (phenotypic)
Variation (niche)

The Intelligent Design folks have to be willing to give new explanations for all of modern science, not just single out Evolution.

4.      PPT 6 An “Intelligent Designer” has to “get things right” the first time or He is not “Intelligent.” So let me introduce you to some of my friends, the hominoids and hominids that have lived on this planet in the last four million years. [Skull photos 7 through 17 @ 3 sec. each.[6] I am running through them rapidly because you have them on the printout in your hands. By the way, we did this set at least 25 years ago, so there are many new skulls not shown and many names have changed. The last one PPT 17 is the cover of Scientific American for January 2000: “We Were Not Alone: Our species had at least 15 cousins. Only we remain. Why?”

Irma Bombeck used to say, “Children are like cookies. You should be able to throw away the first batch!” If YOU don’t think that’s funny, just tell it to your parents!

So what are all of these Hominids? the “first batch” that the Intelligent Designer threw away?

5.      PPT 18 Intelligent Design is NOT a science precisely because it appeals to your common sense.[7] You don’t have to go to school to learn Common Sense.  Any time somebody appeals to your common sense to think through a complex question, you are being “had.” Early in the 20th Century a physicist -- I think it was Sir James Jeans -- said, “Science today is about the very large, the very small, the very fast and the very slow,” none of which can be explained by Common Sense or, for that matter, Intelligent Design[8],[9]

  1. PPT 19  Creationists and Intelligent Design folks always want people to “vote” about scientific questions, and they always want to use the political power of the State to force their religious views on the rest of us. But science operates according to rules and laws that science attempts to discover but cannot change. Every time that the coercive power of the state is used to mandate a religious or political view of science, the results are calamitous.

7.      PPT 20  Intelligent Design implies a once-and-forever perfection. After all, an “Intelligent Designer” who cannot make up His mind just won’t do. David Hume’s comments from 1776 ring as true today as they did then. Read them when you have a moment.

Let’s skip Slide 21 for a second.

8.      PPT 22  But science is not about once-and-forever perfection: it is in constant flux. There is a book that lab scientists all over the world refer to as “the bible,” with a small “b.”


This is the 81st annual edition Handbook of Chemistry and Physics. It is chock full of atomic weights and important measurements. Each edition adds new data and corrects previous data shown to be erroneous. This is science at its best.

Now contrast that with the Bible with a capital “B.” Are you waiting for a second edition? Will it have reviews by prominent theologians? Will it have a picture of the Author on the back cover?  Contrast the “Bible,” capital “B”  with the “bible,” lower case “b” and you have all you need to know about the difference between science, on the one hand, and “Intelligent Design” on the other.


And speaking of the two “bibles,” the heart of tonight’s debate is religion.

  1. In order to talk about this topic, I need to tell you two things about myself so that you will know where I am coming from.

FIRST, I have been studying the Hebrew Scriptures, the Talmud, later commentaries and modern texts in the original Hebrew and in English for more than a half-century. My wife and I were among the founders of Kehillat Israel at Forest and Aurelius in Lansing. We also belong to Shaarey Zedek on Coolidge in East Lansing. We have lead services and given what you would call “sermons” innumerable times at both synagogues. We currently participate in three study groups, and we are always in synagogue on the Sabbath, Festivals and Holydays. I am also the Webmaster at Shaarey Zedek, www.shaareyzedek.com

I not telling you this to play “holier than thou.” I am telling you this so that you will understand one simple statement: Michigan State University is where I have worked hard for the last 35 years, teaching general science and computer science to tens of thousands of Freshmen, but my Judaism is where I live.

PPT 22  SECOND, lurking in the background of all of the Creationist and Intelligent Design  writing  is the implicit statement that you have to CHOOSE between Science and GOD. This is just a new spin on Creationism, with which I have been dealing since 1972.[10]

PPT 23  Just look at the flyer for tonight’s talk! It is the same Creationism that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down repeatedly because it is an introduction of one religious view into the secular curriculum. On the left side, we have a redraw of the old TIME-LIFE image of human evolution.[11] On the right side, we have Michelangelo’s finger of God on the Sistine Chapel.

PPT 24   So here’s MY solution. Just change the OR to an AND and we can all go home. Evolution is the mechanism, and religion is the meaning. Evolution is what we teach in science; religion what we teach in our homes, churches, mosques and synagogues.

PPT 25 After all, when it comes to talking about the God of one hundred thousand million stars in this galaxy and one hundred thousand million galaxies, we are like the “blind men and the elephant” of the old Hindu fable. Each of us has only the tiniest grasp of what it means to talk about a transcendent God. Therefore, any attempt to drag in God to support curricular issues in schools is abhorrent to me. [12]

PPT 26  As the great Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich wrote, The truth of faith cannot be confirmed by the latest … discoveries --- as it cannot be denied by them.Hold fast to that idea.

PPT 27 Over these past three decades, I have seen students in agony because they had been told that the top diagram is correct. Paul Tillich and I and all normative religious positions support the bottom drawing. When you get home, I want you to post Slide 29[13]: “Science teaches you how; religion teaches you why

PPT 28  In my view, the Founding Fathers had a wide variety of opinions and thoughts about religion, but they were united in their opposition  to “Sectarianism.” When I say “sectarianism,” it is not a pejorative term: it is not a put-down. I mean something very specific: the religious views and actions of a particular religious group or denomination. For example, when my Orthodox and Conservative fellow Jews decline to eat shrimp because Leviticus 11:9-12 says that one must eat only things with fins and scale, that is a sectarian statement -- which I happen to share. However, YOU are free to go to Red Lobster whenever you want! I promise NOT to introduce a bill in the Michigan House to prevent you!!


[1] http://www.sciam.com/2001/0301issue/0301quicksummary.html

Unfortunately, their site does not post the original article. Try to find it: the color drawings are excellent. Furthermore, since the article was reproduced with copyright permission from the magazine for one-time use only, I cannot further distribute copies.

[2] David and Roger Johnson wrote a great book in 1992 called Creative Controversy: Intellectual Challenge in the Classroom

[3] We all are morally and professionally obligated to teach our students the very best, very latest facts and theories about science.

[4] [By the way, they may well publish in their own special fields, but this does not make them authorities in the unrelated  “Intelligent Design” area. For example, I know a fair amount about Computer Science and still remember some things about Biochemistry, but I could not talk for five minutes about how a bill gets through the Michigan House. For that, you would have to ask an expert, Representative Gosselin.]

[5] What the I.D. folks do do is a sort of religious philosophy of science. They write books about how they think science is or should be done. So let me tell you a story. When I finished my M.S. work at the University of Wisconsin, I desperately wanted to study history and philosophy of science with Professor Aaron Ihde, once of the best known people in this area. Ultimately, I did some market research and concluded -- incorrectly -- that I would be unemployable with a Ph.D. in this area, so I went into Biochemistry. However, I remember Professor Ihde saying to me, “Don, you need to understand something. We are like the guys who clean up after the elephants in the circus. We aren’t the elephants: those are the scientists. We are the folks to try to figure out where the elephants have been and where they are going.”

[6] Photos taken about 25 years ago of skull casts in the Field Museum, Chicago and used by tens of thousands of students in the old Natural Science Department.

[7] Common sense is the sort of picture we form of the world without any sophisticated investigation. It is a world of bicycles and bowling balls, trees and cows -- the regular and ordinary stuff we encounter every day.

[8] The very large…. etc

[9] "For every complex problem, there is a simple, easy to understand, incorrect answer."  - Szent-Gyorgyi

[10] That year, Michael Ruse of Guelph University and I debated Drs. Morris and Gish of the Creation research society on a bitterly cold night under the old Northwestern University Dyke Stadium. Michael went home and wrote DARWINISM DEFENDED. I thought the whole thing would blow over and went on to other issues.

[11] This is a parody of modern evolution. Just refer back to the: “We Were Not Alone: Our species had at least 15 cousins” article.

[12] Just do a GOOGLE search on the words Intelligent Design God to see what I mean.

[13] Yeshayahu Leibowitz (1903-1994) Scientist, Philosopher, and Man of Letters  .He authored many books and articles, lectured publicly, and was an editor of several volumes of the Encyclopedia Hebraica. … The decision in 1992 to award him the Israel Prize sparked much controversy, and Leibowitz declined to receive it. He died in Jerusalem in 1994. 

The first 30 slides were distributed at the lecture. Some of the remaining ones were used during the ensuing question-and-answer period.

For further information:

E-mail        weinshan@cse.msu.edu

Web       http://www.cse.msu.edu/~weinshan