Intelligent Design Conference to Address Nationwide School Disputes

Correction appended

Wartburg College, an Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) affiliate college ranked number one in Iowa by the U.S. News and World Report, will be holding an intelligent design conference later this month.

The Mar. 16-17 event, which is sponsored by Iowans for Religion and Science Dialogue, will address how K-12 school teachers should treat intelligent design, a theory that argues that complex living organisms must have been created by a higher being, and respond to conflicts of evolution in a religiously sensitive way. Since the start of the new year, states around the nation have been forced to address the intelligent design versus evolution debate and take a stance on what to teach.

“This is a college of the church,” said Brian Jones, assistant professor of religion and one of the conference organizers, in the Wartburg Trumpet. “We can actually talk about theology and faith here. And we can talk about science.”

In Idaho this past weekend, science teachers officially noted that they will not allow the instruction of intelligent design in their school systems.

The Idaho Science Teachers Association supported their position by saying that intelligent design, an opposing conjecture to evolution theory, is not approved by the scientific community, so it has no place being taught as a science.

"It basically would be unethical to teach creation science or intelligent design because it is not science, and it does not belong in a science classroom,'' said Rick Alm, president of the ISTA's board, in the Idaho Statesman.

He went on to say that although he is not against religion, by law the school cannot teach it as well.

Many Christians and intelligent design proponents disagree with this assertion, however, contending that the theory is based upon credible science and reason.

“Intelligent design is not derived from faith,” explained Steve Renner, co-founder of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center at the University of California in San Diego, in the American Chronicle, “rather it is a scientific theory which uses the scientific method to make and substantiate its claims.”

According to the scientific method, scientists first make observations which they then make into a hypothesis. That hypothesis should allow predictions that can be checked via experiments. If those predictions hold up, then conclusively the hypothesis is supported by scientific data.

Many have criticized intelligent design in this aspect, because they say that, unlike evolution, it is impossible to scientifically test or observe God.

Intelligent Design advocates have responded by noting that it is not God they are trying to prove, but that the world was made from some kind of “creator.” A scientist can test this hypothesis by looking for high levels of "complex-specified information" (CSI), a scenario which is unlikely to happen (making it complex), and conforms to a pattern (making it specified). Thus, the theory has scientific legitimacy.

The Idaho ruling has dismayed many Christians who just want a chance for children to learn intelligent design next to evolution while at school.

"Students need to understand the theory of evolution because it's the prevailing view in the scientific community,” explained Bryan Fischer, executive director of the Idaho Values Alliance, in the Idaho Statesman. "But students also should be aware of the significant gaps in evolutionary theory and the weaknesses in the evolutionary theory, and the evidence that argues for intelligent design in the world that they see around them.''

The Idaho ruling follows a debated turnover seen with the Kansas school board earlier in February.

Kansas, which had questioned the theory of evolution, approved evolution-friendly science standards. Before, they had encouraged schools to teach about evolution “controversy” rather than theory.

Other states have still held off on announcing their position on intelligent design and evolution, knowing that the teaching of both has varied controversies.

Idaho teacher Rob Lamb said in the Idaho Statesmen, "You need to be aware of what the current views might be, what your stakeholders might view as important or what they might view as an offensive topic, and be sure you treat those things with caution.''

The conference put on by Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, will have four major presenters including Wesley Elsberry, information project director for the National Council for Science Education; John Haught, theologian and research professor from Georgetown University; Jennifer Miller, teacher in Dover, Penn.; and John Ayers, adjunct professor from Waldorf College.

The conference will also offer seven workshops looking at the link between science and religion; participants can attend any three of the seven.

“The conference isn’t a bunch of scientists who have to leave their faith aside, or who have no faith,” Jones concluded about the gathering. “It’s scientists, many of whom are people of faith, but do not believe the teaching of creationism in the science classroom is the way to go.”

Correction: Thursday, March 8, 2007

An article on Friday, March 2, 2007, about a conference addressing how K-12 school teachers should treat intelligent design incorrectly reported that the organizers of the conference hope to gain some positive support in favor of the theory. According to the conference website, the organizers are opposed to intelligent design.

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