Testimony To United States Commission On Civil Rights Concerning The Teaching Of Biological Origins

Stephen C. Meyer, Ph.D.

August 21, 1998, Seattle, Washington

I would like to thank the commissioners for the opportunity to share my perspective on this important issue. My name is Stephen Meyer. I received my Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in England in the History and Philosophy of Science, where I did research specifically on the methodological ground rules of the biological origins controversy. I currently direct Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture here in Seattle. We have some thirty-five scientists and philosophers of science as fellows, many of whom are doing active scientific research relevant to the origin of life debate.

Let me start with a scientific question as old as humankind. How did the astonishing diversity and complexity of life on earth come to be? In particular, did a directing intelligence, or mind, have anything to do with the origin of biological organisms?

Darwinian evolutionary biologists say "No." They contend that life arose and later diversified by entirely naturalistic processes such as random variation and natural selection. They say the scientific evidence weights against the theory that a designing intelligence or creator played a role in the history of life.

But if there can be evidence against a theory, it must be possible at least for there to be evidence for that same theory. If so, then as Charles Darwin himself argued, intellectual honesty requires consideration of both possibilities. He wrote, in the Origin of Species (1859, p. 2), that a fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.

But is there any scientific evidence supporting the idea that an intelligence played a role in the origin and development of life? In fact there is. During the last forty years evidence (much of which was unknown to Darwin) has come to light that supports the design hypothesis. The breathtaking intricacy and complexity of even the simplest bacterial cell, with its highly specified molecular machines, the fossils of the "Cambrian explosion" which show all the basic forms of animal life appearing suddenly without clear precursors, and the encoded information in DNA which Bill Gates has recently likened to a software code -- all these lines of evidence, and many others, suggest the prior action of a designing intelligence.

Is any of this evidence discussed in publicly-funded science classrooms? Almost never. As I have documented elsewhere, both high school and college biology textbooks make very selective presentations of the scientific evidence relevant to this issue. For example, only one of the standard high school biology texts even mentions the Cambrian explosion, arguably the most dramatic event in the history of life. Not a single text discusses the challenge that Cambrian fossils post to Darwinian evolutionary theory, despite extensive discussions of this very point in technical paleontology journals, and popular publications such as Scientific American, Time magazine and ironically, People’s Daily in Communist China.

Why does this selective presentation persist in a nation known for its liberal intellectual traditions?

Very simply the opponents of full disclosure in science education insist, often backed by threat of law suit and other forms of social intimidation, that any deviation from a strictly neo-Darwinian presentation of biological origins constitutes an establishment of religion. They insist that the concept of intelligent design is inherently religious; whereas Darwinism (with its denial of design) is a strictly scientific matter.

But how can this be? Darwinism and design theory do not address two different subjects. They represent two competing answers to the very same question: how did life arise and diversify on earth? Biology texts routinely recapitulate Darwinian arguments against intelligent design. Yet if these arguments are philosophically neutral and strictly scientific, why are evidential arguments for intelligent design inherently unscientific and religiously charged?

The acceptance of this false asymmetry has justified an egregious form of viewpoint discrimination in American public science instruction at both the high school and college level. I enclose a diagram showing the relationship between evidence, scientific interpretation and the larger world view considerations that invariably come into play when discussing biological origins. This diagram, and to a much greater extent my published work in the philosophy of science, suggests an equivalence in status between Darwinism and design theory -- both these theories are interpretations of biological data; both (we must all admit) have larger philosophical or world view implications. If design theory is religious, then so is Darwinism. If Darwinism is science, then so is design theory.

Despite this equivalence, the public school science curriculum generally allows students access to only one theoretical viewpoint and only to those evidences that support it. Students receive little exposure to scientific problems with neo-Darwinism and still less to evidence that might support a contrary interpretation.

Yet because origins theories have incorrigibily philosophical implications, this imbalance in effect favors and promotes a naturalistic world view over a theistic one. Indeed, many texts openly explain the naturalistic and anti-theistic implications of Darwinian theory. For example, in Douglas Futuyma’s text (Evolutionary Biology, 3rd edition) he writes: "By coupling the undirected, purposeless variations to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made the theological or spiritual explanations of the life processes superfluous." Purvis, Orians and Heller, (in Life: The Science of Biology, 4th edition) tell students that, "the living world is constantly evolving without any goals . . . evolutionary change is not directed."

Students skeptical about such overtly materialistic perspectives who wish to develop a view of the scientific evidence more consonant with a theistic world view are often silenced. Indeed, the influential California science framework advises teachers to tell such students, to "discuss the question further with [their] family or clergy."

For students and teachers wanting to consider or express a theistic viewpoint on this scientific subject, as opposed to advocating a religion per se -- and this is a critical legal distinction -- the present imbalance in public science instruction represents a clear form of viewpoint discrimination. In many cases, such discrimination has also entailed the abridgement of academic freedom for teachers and professors and the free speech rights of individual students. I ask the Commission to consider such practical measures as they have at their disposal to help rectify this situation.


2001 The Federalist Society