While some view the origin of human beings as inexorably linked to monkeys and the workings of natural selection, religious groups across the country advocating intelligent design are now pushing to have this theory brought into the classroom.
But New Haven public schools and the Yale campus have largely escaped the debate over the teaching of intelligent design, which is a theory maintaining that a conscious designer created the world rather than the Darwinian forces of natural selection. Although Catherine Sullivan-Decarlo, director of communication for New Haven Public Schools, and University Chaplain Frederick Streets said they are not aware of any controversy over the teaching of intelligent design in local public schools or on Yale’s campus, the topic has become a point of contention for some Yale students.
Raymond Park ’08, a member of Yale Students for Christ who believes in intelligent design, said intelligent design should hold as much weight in the classroom as evolution. Since both are theories, Park said, both should be offered as potentially valid explanations for the existence of man.
“I believe evolution should be taught as a theory, but along the same lines, creationism should be taught also [as a theory],” Park said. “It’s all knowledge and it all should be put out there … schools should teach both but should not encroach on [students’] beliefs.”
But Altaf Saadi ’08, a member of the Muslim Student’s Association, said although she thinks students should be allowed to believe what they want, intelligent design should not be taught in classrooms because that would violate fundamental tenets of the U.S. Constitution.
“As an American, I have a problem with it because it violates constitutional separation of church and State,” she said. “I have no problem with scientific critiques of the theory of evolution being taught in schools, or leaving students to believe whatever they want to, but teaching a religiously based theory in a science classroom is unconstitutional and passing it off as science just doesn’t make sense.”
This debate has most recently surfaced in a school setting in Pennsylvania, where a group of parents filed a lawsuit against the Dover Area School District saying that teaching intelligent design in schools violates the constitutional separation of church and State. The parents object to the required reading of a statement that intelligent design may explain flaws in the theory of evolution.
But Park said students should not dismiss intelligent design simply because of its religious basis, as he said both religion and science are ways of understanding existence.
“Many students think that evolution is infallible simply because it is taught under the auspices of science, while creationism or intelligent design is groundless because it qualifies as religious thought, an area that is too subjective and opinionated to be held as true,” he said.
Although Park said he does not particularly care whether intelligent design is presented in a religious or scientific context, many advocates of intelligent design insist on teaching the idea as a scientifically valid theory — something that some Yale faculty and students oppose.
Evolutionary biology professor Gunter Wagner said intelligent design has no validity as a scientific theory and should only be taught in a religious context.
“[Intelligent Design] certainly has no place in a science curriculum because it lacks the basic attributes of a scientific theory,” Wagner said. “It is a possible position to take, but the idea alone is not a science immediately … [and] it doesn’t have the potential to turn into one.”
Other professors said they agree that intelligent design does not belong in science classes. Religious studies professor Paula Hyman said religion and science are two fundamentally different ways of understanding the world that should not be mixed in the classroom.
“I am absolutely opposed to teaching intelligent design in schools unless it’s taught in the context of teaching about Judaism and Christianity,” she said. “Both my children went to Jewish day school … We know and we teach in our day schools that the Torah is one way of understanding the world and science is another way of understanding the world.”
Regardless of whether students ascribe to intelligent design, Streets said students should keep an open mind.
“We shouldn’t exclude something because it threatens some kind of belief,” he said. “Our history is filled with examples of people rejecting ideas and discovering hundreds of years later that they were true … Why do we as human beings feel threatened when we have to consider something new … when it’s part of change and evolving as a human species.”
Streets also said religion and science are not mutually exclusive, and that the two fields should be allowed to present their ideas uncensored.
“[Some creationists] feel that a more scientific view is in fact hostile to religion or borders on atheism,” Streets said. “But it is not necessarily the case that science need be in conflict with religion … they can really learn from each other [but] each has to be free to express itself in the domain of the larger society, and when one tries to mute the other, the potential of human growth and knowledge is threatened.”