Education Icon Education
Faith & Science Icon Faith & Science
Intelligent Design Icon Intelligent Design

Alister McGrath Wrongly Claims the ID Movement Has “Vigorously Oppose[d] the Teaching of Evolution”

Writing here yesterday, I showed that theistic evolutionist Alister McGrath misunderstands the nature of the case that ID proponents make (see “Alister McGrath Mistakes Intelligent Design for a God-of-the-Gaps Argument“). Dr. McGrath also seriously misunderstands the educational policies advocated by the ID movement.

In his book Darwinism and the Divine (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), Dr. McGrath writes:

Writers linked with the creationist and ‘Intelligent Design’ movements in North America vigorously oppose the teaching of evolution in schools, arguing that ‘Darwinism’ is intrinsically atheistic. (pp. 33-34)

That statement is seriously inaccurate. It might be true of “creationists” in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the ID movement has been very clear in on-the-record statements, including many public policy recommendations, that it does NOT in the least oppose teaching evolution. Discovery Institute is by far the most active ID group that gets involved with evolution-education policy, and we not only oppose mandating ID in public schools, but we think evolution should be taught and that more evolution should be taught. From Discovery Institute’s Science Education Policy (emphasis added):

As a matter of public policy, Discovery Institute opposes any effort to require the teaching of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education. Attempts to mandate teaching about intelligent design only politicize the theory and will hinder fair and open discussion of the merits of the theory among scholars and within the scientific community. Furthermore, most teachers at the present time do not know enough about intelligent design to teach about it accurately and objectively.

Instead of mandating intelligent design, Discovery Institute seeks to increase the coverage of evolution in textbooks. It believes that evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, and they should learn more about evolutionary theory, including its unresolved issues. In other words, evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can’t be questioned.

This has been Discovery Institute’s policy for many years, including prior to the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover case. Discovery Institute has never opposed teaching evolution.

Discovery Institute aside, I cannot think of any major person affiliated with the ID movement who has opposed teaching evolution as a scientific theory. Certainly not the leaders of the movement. For example Phillip Johnson was critical of the 1999 Kansas State Board of Education’s decision to remove some aspects of macroevolution from the curriculum. He wrote:

Of course students should learn the orthodox Darwinian theory and the evidence that supports it, but they should also learn why so many are skeptical, and they should hear the skeptical arguments in their strongest form rather than in a caricature intended to make them look as silly as possible.

(Phillip Johnson, The Wedge of Truth, p. 82 (InterVarsity Press 1999).)

Similarly, Stephen Meyer, who directs the ID program, the Center for Science & Culture, at Discovery Institute, argues that students should learn the case for Darwinian evolution, and against:

I proposed that Ohio teachers teach the scientific controversy about Darwinian evolution. Teachers should teach students about the main scientific arguments for and against Darwinian theory. And Ohio should test students for their understanding of those arguments, not for their assent to a point of view. … This is not only good teaching; it is good science. As Darwin wrote in the Origin of Species, ‘A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.'”

(Stephen C. Meyer, “Teach the Controversy,” Cincinnati Enquirer, (March 30, 2002).)

Michael Behe, who is ID’s most famous biochemist, has a similar vision for evolution education, where schools should:

Teach Darwin’s elegant theory. But also discuss where it has real problems accounting for the data, where data are severely limited….

(Michael Behe, “Teach Evolution and Ask Hard Questions,” New York Times, A21, (August 13, 1999).)

Another prominent pro-ID biologist, Jonathan Wells, wrote this:

Students should be taught about Darwinian evolution because it is enormously influential in modern biology. But they should also be given the resources to evaluate the theory critically.

(Jonathan Wells, “Give students the resources to critique Darwin,” Kansas City Star, K-4, (August 1, 1999).)

Many other examples could be given. Note, too, that most of these statements are from the relatively early days of the ID movement, showing that this represents our longstanding position.

I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere, sometime, some rogue activist or other who has claimed (perhaps wrongly) to be affiliated with the ID movement may have opposed teaching evolution as a general matter. But he or she or they would not represent those who are actually part of the ID movement or speak for the movement.

A thoughtful reader should ask whether McGrath’s statement that the ID movement “vigorously oppose[s] the teaching of evolution in schools” fairly depicts the mainstream in the ID community. Clearly, it doesn’t. In fact, if anyone in this debate is against the teaching of something, it’s evolution lobbyists who vigorously oppose the teaching of any scientific evidence or viewpoint that disagrees with their own.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Alister McGraththeistic evolution