Intelligently Designed Public Education
The Role of Intelligent Design in the Science Curricula
by Mark Liberator (e-mail: [December 4th, 2005]

There is a recent issue that has excited the world of education: intelligent design. Many educators are moved one way or another by it. It is also not entirely contained within educational communities.

“Science must entertain the discussion of evolution versus intelligent design, not reject it. Rejecting intelligent design within the framework of biology is wrong in the same sense it was wrong for The Church to silence Galileo’s heliocentric solar system.”

It drives some educators to believe there is an attack taking place on schools from subverting religionists. These religionists would seemingly like to reject our heliocentric solar system and replace it with a flat Earth and an Earth-centered model. Other educators invite the argument.

To navigate the obviously choppy controversial waters caused by this issue, it first needs to be understood what is to be gained by intelligent design. The rest of this document will defend the position that intelligent design does the following:

Intelligent design can help make advances in science education, foster dialogue between educators and the public, and help to make higher quality public schools. It will be argued that intelligent design, whether or not it defends a perfectly ideal scientific position, does all of these things.

To say intelligent design can help science education may seem contradictory or possibly disingenuous to those who operate as scientists, rationalists, and science educators; however, to borrow a word from science, intelligent design is a catalyst.

By definition, a catalyst is an agent that excites some reaction. If the reaction within an educational setting invites dialogue, questions fundamental beliefs, and educates the public, then intelligent design is no ordinary claim. It is an educational godsend.

Like many cleaver catalysts to education, intelligent design has not been well received. Instead of describing the public’s view of it, or at least an inaccurate view of intelligent design, read a portion of a letter written by Don Riefler to a college newspaper, called the Exponent:

Intelligent Design has no evidence. It is not science. It cannot be science. It rests not on an empirical claim but on a fallacious argument from incredulity: "I can't understand the flagellum/eyeball/photosynthesis, therefore (insert greater power) must have done it." This is not a testable hypothesis, and it is not a theory. It is a conjecture. It asks that one take a nontestable, nonempirical claim at face value and believe it. That, sir, is called blind faith.

Mr. Riefler wrote that intelligent design is non-testable. Yet, evolution is non-testable, too. Try observing a given species as it evolves. He also said intelligent design is not empirical. However, intelligent design draws attention to gaps within the fossil record and supplies a legitimate rationale for such gaps.

Unfortunately, Mr. Riefler’s views are not uncommon among the general public and the educators who teach America’s youth. The general public is ignorant of the weaknesses of evolution that are spotlighted by intelligent design. Even America’s educators have wrongly taken a hostile position to this perceived affront to science and science education.

Instead of utilizing the springboard nature of this controversial topic to draw hearts and minds to the full magnitude of true science, science educators attempt to dispel Mr. Riefler and intelligent design using faulty reasoning. Educators have used these obviously fallacious arguments:

  • All real scientists reject intelligent design. (Appeal to Authority)
  • Intelligent design advocates wish to destroy science. (Argument from Adverse Consequences)
  • People who believe in intelligent design are throwbacks to flat-Earth believers and those who would rather believe in superstition. (Argument from Adverse Consequences)

These arguments and those who perpetuate them, not intelligent design nor intelligent design advocates, attack science and science education.

Scientists who would like to further science need not make such faulty arguments. Instead, they must argue using scientific principles, embrace evolution’s weaknesses, and entertain the argument of intelligent design. Fostering constructive dialogue within this framework will ultimately further the aims of science and science education.

An educator’s role, especially the role of a science educator, is to demonstrate the benefits of using science. The reasoning and critical thinking found within science are what make it practical and useful on a day-to-day basis. Arguing intelligently, not in defense against an imagined assailant, will demonstrate its inherent strengths.

Science educators, if they desire to justify science, must publicly divulge evolution’s weaknesses. They could offer theories to describe gaps in the fossil record. Intelligent design would be a perfect test theory.

Science must entertain the discussion of evolution versus intelligent design, not reject it. Rejecting intelligent design within the framework of biology is wrong in the same sense it was wrong for The Church to silence Galileo’s heliocentric solar system. When Galileo gave evidence of a heliocentric solar system (see retrograde motion), it was forbidden. Are educational institutions and science educators willing to fight the Galileo’s of today by banning conversations like intelligent design or the next controversial topic to meet science?

With elements that include Church history, hardcore science advocates, and determined religionists, it can be understood why the topic of intelligent design fosters debate, even outside the walls of educational institutions. The Don Riefler’s of the world must be tempered with calm dialogue as to the inherent weaknesses that underlie evolution and the nature of science itself. Likewise, religionists who cling to church doctrine must abandon their extremist beliefs, too.

Science, through the practitioners who use it and study it, is forced to abandon its parts. One might say science is an evolutionary process, itself. It routinely abandons old concepts when new models do a better job explaining events and data that has been gathered. This is not to suggest intelligent design guarantees the rejection of evolution for a better model. It merely demands intelligent design must be invited to the checking process in a desire to maintain the logical purity of science.

The checking process offered by science is called a dialectic. A dialectic is a process that checks existing model components against possible replacement components, or in some cases an entire model, for its usefulness. An internal evaluation takes place to determine whether or not the new model components should become incorporated into the existing framework. It demands throwing away old components and models for better ones.

Insisting the conversation takes place would propel others to adopt the same dialectic. It is a method and thought construct that scientists and science educators must administer to demonstrate its benefits. Rejecting intelligent design and silencing the debate is foreign to science and certainly to the aims of science education.

The need to entertain dialogue also drives another facet of the intelligent design argument, which centers on the very nature of public education. The question, “What is the role of public education?” could be a fruitful one to ponder. The answer to it will drive yet another reason to entertain intelligent design.

To begin an examination of public education, it must be understood how the inclusion of intelligent design within a biology course would force together two opposite camps in society. The issue runs the religious with the rationalists on a collision course, but no horrible accident need arise. Actually, by prohibiting the discussion, it perpetuates the isolation of the two camps and a disservice is done to every community in American society.

By definition, public schools carry a duty of uniting different populations and peoples who hold varying beliefs in society. Students and community members are to be purposely introduced to different cultures and beliefs in order to promote understanding and acceptance. The goal is to foster a society where differing views and peoples are accepted.

This belief is not one that is shared by this author alone. The belief is a democratic principle created by our Founding Fathers. It is one that demands the existence of unhindered tolerance and meaningful dialogue as norms. How we address the schism that exists between religionists and rationalists is important as it reflects our willingness to obtain tolerance. Public high schools reflecting this need in our democratic society will, consequently, offer healthy contributions to democracy with respect to societal schisms.

The forum that is public education was designed to manage problems that exist within communities. Bridging gaps between the realms of science and religion benefits both worlds by collapsing the dichotomy. Those who lean heavily toward science learn a perspective for it. Those who lean toward religion will surprisingly find room for their beliefs within science.

Public education allows these camps an outlet to share misconceptions and theories. It can bind people into a larger, cohesive unity. It demands dialogue, which inspires a commonality necessary for a democracy. Of course, this commonality can only exist within communities and public schools that permit these conversations.

One only need imagine a school prohibiting communication and a community perpetuating factions to see the folly of such practices. A school and community that encouraged separation of its peoples would be encouraging its members to solve problems in isolation. In actuality, this isolation would be destructive to community building and a healthy democracy.

Certain educators have perpetuated an isolation of the science curriculum due to a fear of losing control of it. They believe intelligent design falls outside the scope of science. Entertaining intelligent design within science will weaken science education, so some educators think. Yet, these educators refuse to acknowledge the larger picture: the role of public education.

Out of the desire to preserve science education, these educators are losing teachable moments. They prohibit students from migrating past a falsetto world of discrete disciplines presented by traditional high school programs. These are scenarios where mathematics, science, art, history, and other disciplines are taught in isolation.

The teachers who create lessons cannot investigate past predetermined paths set by an archaic educational paradigm. History cannot contain art. Mathematics cannot contain history, and so on. These boundaries still exist today and are – regrettably – commonplace. These educators must be brought to a mountain of research that supports the modern pedagogy, i.e. a detour from discrete disciplines.

When given an opportunity to help students bridge one of these gaps to form a meaningful understanding between science and an alternative view residing within religion, certain educators allow the moment to pass and the gap to remain. They prefer the preservation of science in its current state over seizing teachable moments and helping students transcend the unnatural structure of isolated areas within academia.

Whatever happened to those ancient philosophers who studied science for spiritual reasons? The geometers of old held a belief that math was so pure it was the language of god. The belief did little to interfere with their zest to learn, willingness to imagine, and ability to question. The belief in something greater may have been a source for inspiration.

Rekindling a source for inspiration could not possibly inhibit the advancement of science. Introducing wonder in the curriculum can have an effect intended within a science course. It can have students question why it is the world believes as it does, much in the same way Socrates questioned everything.

It can invite students to ask why and how about everything, not stifle it. Students can be encouraged to direct those questions at science, too, as they should. When questions are limited, science becomes covered in a veil that impedes its propagation.

Once educators are allowed to erect barriers within education, they will become the limiting agents they so desperately despise. This happens to be the greatest irony of the issue. Educators who wish to preserve the scientific process of questioning and developing critical thinking are denying the process. They somehow believe restricting the questioning of scientific principles is a good lesson.

Besides the sheer error of restricting the art of questioning, what is it that certain educators fear from inviting intelligent design? Might there be something to gain from intelligent design that may rock the foundation of science and science education?

Even if intelligent design is as weak as some educators and scientists claim it is, then introducing it within the science curriculum would demonstrate the logical consistency of existing scientific theories. It would crush intelligent design. The demonstration would lend educational merit to the science curriculum and the existing science framework.

The acting catalyst of intelligent design could fuel many lessons. It could initiate discussions of: 1) the differences between conjectures and theories, 2) the need for more fossils to substantiate evolution and learn about evolutionary processes, and 3) the dead-end nature offered by intelligent design that impedes continued questioning and furthering the body of science and human understanding.

As has been demonstrated above, the intelligent design argument is far greater an educational device than its opponents admit. It can easily add to the need for complexity within a biology course. It can build interest by driving students to learn how organisms function to determine which view yields more results that are useful for solving the problems faced by our world. Also, it can urge students to decide which view excites more wonder for living and interaction with nature.

No one is advocating that science be diluted. Without approaching the broader areas of standards in education, this author assumes there is a need to strengthen the curriculum. The way to strengthen it will come from challenging science by arguing against its theories and offering substitutes. Like every theory must constantly undergo, challenging theories will provide insight into the mechanics of science. It is the art of winnowing out weak components in either the defending or the challenging theory that is the process to be imparted.

The act of adopting intelligent design is being hotly debated in many school districts. Some school districts have adopted the inclusion of intelligent design and some have flatly rejected it. Yet, it is not necessarily the impact of intelligent design that is as important as the interplay between teachers, students, parents and community members as differences of opinion are managed.

Defenders of traditional science education may choose to thwart the inclusion of intelligent design. Yet, given the rationale offered throughout this document, they may be hard pressed in defending the resistance. One is forced to imagine what it is there is to lose besides a high quality, dynamic, and engaging curricula.


  • The Liberator: Nontheistic Evolution, The Religion of Evolution, John Stossel's The Power of Belief, Philosophy, Science, and the Quantification of Mind, Science vs. Superstition , Is Religion Dangerous to Your Health?
  • The Exponent: Intellignet Design is Blind Faith, Not Science
  • Don Lindsay Archive: A List Of Fallacious Arguments
  • Evolution News & Views: Frontpage
  • Know College: Intelligent Design: Course Will Evolve on Student Interest
  • Intelligent Design Network: Frontpage
  • National Center for Science Education: Frontpage
  • Professor James Dye: Socratic Method and Scientific Method

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