Studying
Religion in
Culture


Religion in Culture Lunch Series

Those acquainted with the national news will recall various local school boards across the country that have attempted to have alternative approaches to explaining the origin and development of life taught alongside the theory of evolution in public school sciences classes. On Thursday, November 2, 2006, this was the topic of discussion, as the Department, along with the Religious Studies Student Association (RSSA), hosted the second Religion in Culture lunch discussion of the Fall semester. Our guest, Prof. Barbara Forrest, teaches philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University. In preparation for the discussion, participants read a chapter co-written by Prof. Forrest: "The Wedge of Intelligent Design: Retrograde Science, Schooling and Society" (PDF; enter your Bama ID/Password to obtain a copy of this article).


Science Values and Civic Virtues, the edited book from which our chapter was taken. (Click the book to visit the publisher's site.)


Chris Hurt, President of the Religious Studies Student Association and newly declared REL major, , introduces Prof. Forrest.


Based on the research in this book, CO-written with Paul R. Gross, Prof. Forrest served as an expert witness on a recent Federal Court case on the Constitutionality of teaching Intelligent Design in public school science classes. (Click the book cover to visit the publisher's site.) Interested in two very difference readings of this case and its outcome? Try here and here.


Prof. Forrest, co-author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, was visiting the University of Alabama as a speaker in its annual public lectures series, Alabama's Lectures on Life's Evolution (ALLELE). The third speaker this Fall in this series, Prof. Forrest's visit was sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies, among other sponsoring agencies (including the College of Arts & Sciences).

As part of her visit to Tuscaloosa, Prof. Forrest stopped by Manly Hall for lunch with some of our majors, minors, and faculty, to discuss her work on the history, theology, and current politics of the Creationism movement (also known as Creation Science) as well as what is now known as Intelligent Design (ID). ID is the view that aspects of the universe are too complex to have evolved incrementally, over extremely long periods of time, as first theorized by such nineteenth-century writers as Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin. Proponents of ID therefore maintain that a suitable account of the origins and development of the universe requires one to posit the existence of a designer from outside the created world.

This account of the origins of the universe has a precursor in the work of William Paley (1743-805)--the British Christian theologian known for his interest in natural theology. Assuming that humans could infer the existence of God from merely observing regularities in the natural world (hence, a natural theology, in distinction from those whose awareness of God results from revelation), Paley is known for his design argument for the existence of God (a variation on an older theme known as the teleological argument for the existence of God): upon finding a watch, he noted that it is sensible to infer from its complex design and integrated parts that the object did not occur naturally but was, instead, designed for a purpose (an end point or, in Greek, a telos). The existence of the watch, he concluded, therefore implies the existence of a designer; in the case of the universe, with its apparently many patterns and interconnected parts, that designer is none other than God.

Though a number of contemporary Intelligent Design supporters work to distance their claims from more traditional Christian claims about the role played by God in created the world--after all, even if ID arguments prevailed, they hardly necessitate the specifically Christian notion of a designer-God--Prof. Forrest documented in detail the ties between those who argue for Intelligent Design approaches and the Christian Reconstructionist tradition.


Thanks to Betty Dickey and to Donna Martin for all of their work to plan Department events. Thanks also to Prof. Ramey for arranging the details of Prof. Forrest's visit to Tuscaloosa.

.

 
 

 

 

Prior to things getting underway in our seminar room, everyone digs into their box lunches. Pictured far left is Dan Mullins, Justin Nelson, and Prof. Ramey. To the right of Prof. Forrest is Chris Hurt, Barclay Owens, and Prof. Jacobs.


Keke Pounds, far left (enjoying a Milo's ice tea), along with Justin Nelson, listen to Prof. Forrest opening the lunchtime discussion with a description of her work on the politics and theology of Intelligent Design.


Prof. Jacobs, far left, joins REL majors Kristi Nix and Zach Price, along with REL minor Brooks Harvard (far right).


Prof. Forrest answered questions about her predistributed essay but also discussed her experiences as an expert witness in the Kitzmiller v. Dover, PA, Area School District Federal court case (click the case's name to obtain a PDF of the actual decision). The Judge's decision, handed down in December 2005, outlawed teaching Intelligent Design as part of a public school's science curriculum. The decision, which offered a stinging assessment of the methods and motives of the school board members who tried to have this approach taught as an alternate to evolutionary theory, was not appealed by the school board.


Placing emphasis on the requirements for a conjecture to count as a scientific theory (e.g., it must have predictive capability, be empirically testable and potentially falsifiable), Prof. Forrest outlined the strategy that some have employed to have religious views on the origin of the universe (or what scholars of religion call cosmogonies) taught as scientific theories. In an attempt at a serious parody of the decision of a Kansas school board to require Intelligent Design to be taught as an alternative to evolutionary theory, a proposal was made, by Bobby Henderson, in an open letter to the school board, maintaining that the universe was created by a flying spaghetti monster and that this too ought to be taught in science classes.


Heated debates over the place of evolutioanry theory in American classrooms go back quite a ways, such as the famed 1925 court case in which John Scopes, a school teacher, was prosecuted and convicted in Dayton, TN, for teaching evolutionary theory in his class. Pictured above is a booth during the trial selling anti-evolution literature in Dayton. For more information on what came to be known as "the monkey trial" click here or here.


Learn more about Prof. Forrest's work here, or visit her website for the book, Creationism's Trojan Horse. Also, learn more about Intelligent Design, as well as more about those writers Prof. Forrest critiques in her work: writers and scholars affiliated with the Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture


Additional Resources

Read a graduation address delivered by Judge John Jones, the Federal Court Judge who decided the Kitzmiller v. Dover case in Dec. 2005

Read the Edwards v. Aguillard decision, the 1986/7 US Supreme Court case that outlawed teaching Creationism in public school science classrooms

Listen to an National Public Radio broadcast on the Kitzmiller v. Dover case