Community View: Intelligent Design

By Dasha Taikh

Last week, the University of Calgary hosted a torrid debate of evolution versus creationism between the proponents of evolution Dr. Denis Lamoureux and Dr. Michael Caldwell against creationist John McKay. The debate was the first part of a three day conference on creationism, organized by the Creation Truth Ministries. While not synonymous with Intelligent Design (the non-denominational creation theory being pushed by the Christian Right in the United States), the issue of Creationism and its historical battle with evolution is becoming even more relevant with some American and Australian school boards tacking Intelligent Design onto the curriculum. As an American culture mirror, Canadians should begin to question whether or not they would be comfortable with Intelligent Design being taught in their schools. We hit the community this week to get a Calgarian perspective on the issue. Following are the opinions of two religious leaders, the associate dean of the U of C’s Division of Teacher Preparation, and your own Students’ Union president.

Paul Verhoef, Reverend, Christian Reformed Church

My initial reaction is that I don’t buy into either of those positions.They are usually presented as an either/or. And with that ism attached, perhaps it is an either/or. But I tend to think that creation and evolution can go hand-in-hand.

As a Christian, I believe that God tells us about Himself and the world around us in two different books: his creation (the universe) and his word (the Bible). And though we have two different books, there is one consistent writer. As we come to understand what one book says, we should use that knowledge to help us understand the other. As I see it, creationism believes that in Genesis one, the Bible pronounces that God created the earth in seven distinct 24 hour days only a few thousand years ago.  But as the scientific community reads God’s other book (creation), it has said that the universe looks billions of years old. Either the scientists are reading the creation wrong or creationists are reading the Bible wrong.  I think that creationism assumes too much about the Bible–Genesis one isn’t meant to tell us how and when God made the world, but only who God is and why we exist. But evolutionism doesn’t do much better. Evolutionism suggests that this world is self-originating and self-sustaining, and I don’t buy into the foundational assumption that nothing else exists except the material world around us.Though I believe there is a Creator and that it looks like he might have used an evolutionary process, both creationism and evolutionism make assumptions that I don’t buy.

I don’t think public schools are the place to impose foundational assumptions. At the same time, I think all of us speak and teach from some sort of faith or assumption. So I hope that all teachers are honest with themselves and their students as to what assumptions they teach from. I think both the Christian and scientific communities should be able to honestly say what we know, what we’re guessing at, and to sometimes say that we just don’t have a clue.

Bryan West, President, Students’ Union

Certainly I can give a personal perspective [but] I can’t give a perspective from the Undergraduate Students from the University of Calgary. It’s an interesting debate, but essentially my perspective of it is that proponents of creationism have repackaged this idea with intelligent design theory, and now they are now trying to re-open the debate about teaching creationism within public school. I think that creationism has it’s place within public [or] academic discourse, [but] I don’t think that the teaching of creationism within the public school system is appropriate. Students here in Alberta have a choice of attending Catholic school, private school or public school, but I think a publicly funded system should not be teaching religion, or religious thought. I think it’s some interesting theory to debate, but I think it’s more in the realm of philosophy and academic discourse at university, not really core teachings of your junior high or high school.

I think I’m fine with taking a religious studies course within public schools, as long as you’re offering a variety of perspectives, but having a singular class that would be devoted to intelligent design theory [isn’t] entirely appropriate.

I don’t speak for Americans, but I don’t think it’s the way Canadians want their education system run. [Canada is] a multicultural country; it also [has] a separation of church and state. The public sphere is a place where people come together, and it needs to be ethnically, culturally and religiously neutral. It needs to be a place where everyone can feel comfortable. I don’t think everyone would feel comfortable in a situation where you’re making separations inside schools.

Dr. Hans Smits. Associate Dean, Division of Teacher Preparation

My personal opinion would be [that] you have to separate out that these are two very different forms of knowledge. I used to teach school myself, so when children would ask about this, I wouldn’t say “we can’t talk about creationism,” but what we have to understand is creationism is based on religious knowledge, on questions of faith and so on, and it’s important in people’s lives that they have those kinds of beliefs. So our job in education is not to tell people that they’re wrong in their beliefs, but simply to say that from the perspective of scientific knowledge it can’t be compared to theory of evolution. So in Alberta schools we do teach the theory of evolution and we teach it on the basis of having kids understand the nature of scientific knowledge and how that knowledge is achieved through careful research and careful examination of facts. The reason that would be [because the] theory of creationism isn’t really a theory, it’s a belief. Scientific theories are theories in a different sense. In our faculty we probably would not teach the theory of creationism because we’re in a public university and we’re also a secular institution. That doesn’t mean people can’t discuss the relative merits of different beliefs and theories [but] it wouldn’t be intentionally taught as part of our program. I would be opposed to [teaching intelligent design in schools] if I had children in the school. If you taught it as truth, I think that would be very problematic because we can’t prove or disprove the story of creationism. It’s a story, it’s based on faith. So there’s no way you could disprove it, it’s just a question of belief; whereas the theory of evolution is provable or disprovable depending on scientific evidence.

I think children and students in schools need to learn about religions because it’s a reality of people’s lives in society, there’s a great deal of diversity. But that’s different than teaching a religion. See; that’s the difference, some people want to teach creationism as the truth, and only that. That’s what’s happening in many parts of the United States. [Some] schools have actually banned the teaching of evolution. I think particularly in our society, which is a very diverse society with multiple views, [that a] public school can’t do that. Public schools have an obligation to the broader community and to the diversity of views.

Klaus Ohloff, Revered, Lutheran Campus Ministry

Schools are a place where they should teach science. They should teach facts and leave religious speculation and theological speculation out of the curriculum. It’s okay to have a religious studies course in high school or studying world religions for example, but I don’t think that intelligent design/creationism should be [taught]. It can be mentioned, a teacher can say “most scientists believe in evolution, but there are some people that don’t believe in evolution, they are creationists,” but to mention that it exists, [is different from teaching it] in the curriculum. A number of hours shouldn’t be given to it.

In fact, I think it’s wise to mention it, because when you have kids from those kinds of religious backgrounds in your science classrooms, you should talk about it in a way that the teacher does not demean or disparage the person’s faith. But to have it as part of the curriculum doesn’t make sense. Science and religion shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. A person should be able to subscribe to evolution and believe in god at the same time.

I am a person of faith, I used to be a teacher and a conservative Christian. I read those little books that argued against evolution, and I still couldn’t believe in instantaneous creation, there’s too much geological proof [against] that.

If people really want to keep their children “protected,” they can send their children to a private school or a conservative school of one religion or another and they’ll get a lot less science and a lot more religion.

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