Evolution Of A 'Theory'

Last month, President Bush said that it would be a good idea if something called "intelligent design" were taught along with the theory of evolution. That way, children would be exposed to "different schools of thought." I'm all for kids being exposed to "different schools of thought." In fact, I wonder why President Bush limited it to only two explanations of how the earth and humans got here. There are dozens of different beliefs and explanations for how the world as we know it was created. Of course, some of them — such as intelligent design — don't fall into the category of "science."

Some people believe in a strict interpretation of Genesis. Some even believe that dinosaurs and humans roamed the earth at the same time. Other cultures believed that a giant turtle created the land of Earth. One belief is that a woman who fell from the sky was behind the creation of the Earth. Others believe that a jumbled mass of elements at the beginning of time was in the shape of an egg. Similarly, the ancient Greeks believed a golden egg hatched and gave birth to the sky and the Earth. So, why not teach all of these approaches — along with intelligent design — in the same class? And call that class, "comparative religions" or "creation myths." Just don't call that class "science."

Those pushing the intelligent design alternative to evolution are taking advantage of the word "theory" having several definitions. The reasoning goes that a theory is not a fact but just conjecture, so alternative conjectures should be taught as well. Unfortunately for those who have embraced intelligent design, there is a very specific definition for a scientific theory such as the theory of evolution, and it's not conjecture.

When you look up "theory" in your dictionary, you'll see several definitions, and the one having to do with science is quite different from the others. If you take a step further, and look at a science book or a science Web site, you'll learn that in science, "A theory is an explanation of a set of related observations or events based upon proven hypotheses and verified multiple times by detached groups of researchers. In general, both a scientific theory and a scientific law are accepted to be true by the scientific community as a whole." In other words, it's not just a "good guess."

Einstein's theory of relativity, the quantum theory of physics, and the Copernican theory that the earth revolves around the sun are scientific theories. The theory that the line you get into in the supermarket always takes the most time, or that the best way to make it rain is to get your car washed, or that right when you sit down to dinner, the phone will ring may all fit into one of the definitions of "theory" that you'll find in your dictionary — such as conjecture or supposition. But like "intelligent design," they just don't happen to be scientific theories.

Intelligent design promotes the idea that an unseen force is behind the development of the Earth and humanity. Those who embrace intelligent design don't like to say that they believe the "unseen force" was God. I guess they feel it won't sound scientific. To me, trying to make a spiritual idea scientific undermines both the spiritual idea and science. It's sad that religious people should feel afraid to admit that they feel God was responsible for creation.

While I was growing up, religious people seemed to have no problem reconciling evolution with their beliefs. Some did this by interpreting the Bible in a way that would not contradict science. Some just separated science from their faith. It just wasn't an issue. I learned in school that the Scopes trial (the so-called "Monkey Trial" of 1925) put an end to seeing evolution as heresy just as it put an end to seeing the literal interpretation of the Bible as the only way to make sense of things. All of a sudden, now it seems like some people are trying to turn the clock back a hundred years or so when vast numbers of people scoffed at the idea of evolution — just as they had scoffed at the idea of the earth revolving around the sun 400 years ago.

The only hesitation I have about the theory of evolution is that if we are truly an evolving species, getting wiser and more developed with time, why is there a bunch of people today who actually want to call intelligent design "science?"

Lloyd Garver writes a weekly column for SportsLine.com. He has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver