Can An Atheist or Agnostic Support the Teaching of Some “Intelligent Design” Arguments in the Science Classroom?

Thomas Crowley, a professor of geosciences at the University of Edinburgh, in a recent piece in the Guardian, thinks maybe so.

I’ve been an agnostic for many years, and I really can’t disagree with anything that Crowley says in the article.

Crowley is not advocating the teaching of YOUNG EARTH CREATIONISM in the classroom. He says flatly that “young earth creationism” is ridiculous, and that the age of the earth and the evolution of species is well established, and should be taught as such.

But here is where he parts company with, say, Richard Dawkins, in what a teacher might say to students regarding the universe’s origins:

Although science can state a great deal about what followed after the big bang, it cannot in fact explain how “something” (the energy of the universe compressed into a volume the size of a golf ball) arose from nothing beforehand.

This yawning logical gap leaves open the possibility that something else may be going on.

There’s nothing wrong in stating the obvious to students: There are mysteries about the universe’s existence that science has (thus far) been unable to shed clear light on, and may prove unable to do so. Some posit that a Mind—or God—accounts for these mysteries.

A teacher who says this could then discuss the problems of infinite regress with students etc.

Obviously, questions of ultimate concern (whether god exists, where did the universe come from, how life began etc. etc.) are mysterious, and should not be dealt with in dismissive ways. There may be a lot of things that those of us who are agnostics and atheists have gotten fundamentally wrong. A little humility would suit us better, and is in keeping with the Enlightenment.

Keep questions open, and keep thinking.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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11 Responses to Can An Atheist or Agnostic Support the Teaching of Some “Intelligent Design” Arguments in the Science Classroom?

  1. kip says:

    Quite right. That’s why I prefer to think of myself as an agnostic as opposed to an atheist.Though I really hate labels…

  2. aunty dawkins says:

    Well said Santi. Keeping an open mind is the key to enlightenment.

  3. I subscribe precisely to Crowley’s cosmological worldview, with “God” filling in the “logical gap.” Thought you might be interested in my new post, Faith and Theistic Evolution: A Top 10 List.

    Grace and Peace,

  4. Matt says:

    There are mysteries about the universe’s existence that science has (thus far) been unable to shed clear light on. And some do posit that a Mind—or God—accounts for these mysteries.

    However science is an evidence-based discipline, so if this idea were to be brought up in the science classroom it would have to be followed up with the following caveat:

    “While it might be true that the Universe was created by a Mind, or God, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that this is the case. Saying “God did it” does not qualify as an explanation for anything, because it is merely a statement of faith. The absence of a scientific explanation for a phenomenon can never be taken as sufficient evidence that that particular phenomenon was caused by God.”

  5. aunty dawkins says:

    The trouble is Matt that the Darwinian paradigm is accepted as being proven but there is in fact insufficient evidence as yet to call it more than a THEORY. In the same way there is not enough evidence to prove intelligent design either and that similarly remains a theory.

    • Eupraxsophy says:

      Dear aunty dawkins,

      You could not be more wrong. There is evidence in evolution it’s called DNA. Humans and chimpanzees’ both share 99.4% of the same chromosomes.
      This isn’t just circumstantial evidence, but rather substantiated evidence. Also evolution isn’t just a theory, but rather a scientific theory, like gravity.

      As far as Intelligent Design goes it is a psuedo-science. A dressed up name for creationism.
      Learn about the case of evolution vs Intelligent Design in Dover Pennsylvania.

      A good book to read would be; The Top Ten Myths About Evolution. Do your research first before you start to talk about what you’re ignorant to.

      If thy have a boastful tongue let it be that which rest upon thy head the Crown of Truth.

  6. Matt says:

    Hi Aunty,

    When something is described as a scientific theory, it means something quite different from the usual everyday meaning of the word “theory”.

    A “scientific theory” is actually the highest level of scientific understanding. For example, it’s a theory that the Earth revolves around the sun. It’s a theory that substances are made up of atoms.

    It goes like this: a scientist starts with an idea. In the case of Darwin, it was: “I think animals evolve over time”. At the beginning, it’s just an idea.

    The next step is to form a testable hypothesis: in this case, using gaps in the known fossil record we can predict what must lie in between. If Darwin is right, then we’ll find animal fossils that match the predictions. And so we did. (Please note this is a greatly over-simplified description of both the hypothesis and the evidence. There’s a lot more to it than just that.)

    The hypothesis must also be falsifiable: it must be possible to find (for example) fossils that will prove the hypothesis wrong. This is possible, but it hasn’t been done.

    After 150 years the hypothesis has been well and truly confirmed by the weight of evidence. Then, and only then, is the hypothesis elevated to the high status of “scientific theory”.

    So yes, Evolution is a scientific theory. And it carries all the evidence required to be called that.

    The problem with Intelligent design? It’s not even a theory.

    It doesn’t have a testable hypothesis. In fact, it’s nothing more than an idea.

  7. aunty dawkins says:

    Ok Matt thanks for the unpicking of that terminology. I’m not an advocate for ‘intelligent design’ as a credible alternative to evolution as an explanation for earthly life although there are flaws in the Darwinian paradigm as he himself realised.
    ‘Intelligent design’ is as you say an idea but an idea that can be taught alongside evolution not as as an explanation of how? but maybe an explanation of why? I.e. why are we here as opposed to how we got here.

  8. Matt says:

    Hi Aunty,
    Questions of ‘why’ are theological and philosophical questions, not scientific questions.
    And while they may be interesting, they have no place in the science classroom.

  9. aunty dawkins says:

    Im not sure about that Matt, the why question is maybe THE most important question and that is the reason for man’s deep hunger for religion. Maybe the science lab is not the place for detailed exposition of philosophic and theological ideas in our carefully deliniated modern curriculum. However lets not forget that Aristotle the philosopher was also the natural scientist and that even Gallileo did not throw out theology when he denied the heliocentric cosmology. Man does not live by science alone.

  10. aunty dawkins says:

    Correction– Galileo did not deny the heliocentric cosmology of course he stated it as a theory. He obviously denied the opposite that the sun went around the earth. I wasn’t concentrating totally while posting previous sorry.

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