Supernatural theory has no place in classroom

December 9, 2005

What do British academics think of teaching intelligent design to pupils - a view of the world that is being pushed in some US schools?

It's the subject of impassioned debate in the US, but intelligent design does not impress UK scientists.

Some fundamentalist Christian groups propose that the hand of a supernatural designer can be seen in nature, not the mark of evolution, and they are attempting to push their views into American classrooms.

Nevertheless, none of the academics participating in a Times Higher straw poll of 100 randomly selected zoologists and chemists believed that the idea should be taught in school science lessons.

Nineteen felt intelligent design might have a place in religious education or in discussions about what constituted a genuine scientific theory. The one dissenting voice was a chemist who said he was not concerned about the issue: "Schools around the world teach things dictated by religion and nothing is ever made of it. The fact that a small part of an English-speaking country is teaching science based on religious beliefs rather than science fact is up to them."

Most, however, were appalled. A professor of behavioural ecology said:

"Teaching intelligent design as an alternative to Darwinian selection theory would be like teaching alchemy as an alternative to chemistry and astrology as an alternative to astrophysics."

A reader in zoology said: "We might just as well advocate the burning of witches as a sensible strategy with which to manage 'evil'," while a professor of biological diversity concluded: "No respectable biologist supports intelligent design. You perhaps shouldn't even waste time on such a survey, this is so obvious."

Many said that intelligent design failed as a scientific theory because it did not make any testable predictions.

A lecturer in inorganic chemistry said: "The higher intelligence responsible for the design is not itself open to study in any falsifiably experimental way. As Karl Popper tells us, if you can't prove it wrong, then it ain't science."


  • "It is an attempt by conservative Christians to control thinking in schools and curb radical inquiry without which science would be hampered and critical thought suppressed."

Anonymous lecturer in organic chemistry

  • "In an ideal world, it would be useful to use the evolution/ intelligent design debate to illustrate the principles involved in the scientific method: collecting evidence, testing hypotheses and reformulating hypotheses based on the evidence. If students were taught to critically appraise scientific theories, they would see for themselves that evolution is a sound theory with strong empirical support, and that intelligent design isn't."

Anonymous lecturer in animal behaviour

  • "Intelligent design is creationism under poorly fitting camouflage."

Stephen Compton, reader in entomology at Leeds University

  • "There should be a place in schools for a consideration of the ethical/theological/philosophical questions and dilemmas raised by Darwinian evolution and that place is religious education, philosophy and ethics lessons. I am a Christian and do not find evolution to be in conflict with my belief. I find a literal reading of the first chapters of Genesis to be the cause of the problem - it is bad theology and reflects a poor understanding of the nature and synthesis of the text. I believe in a creating and sustaining God, and I read the Genesis stories as myths that reflect their writers' understanding of that God and the world around them. When read as such, they are not incompatible with scientific theories, such as evolution."

Anonymous lecturer in organic chemistry

  • "One of the main arguments used by proponents of intelligent design is that the complexities of natural systems are so great that they could not be due to chance. In my field of supramolecular chemistry, I regularly come across examples of complex non-biological systems, virus-like self-assembly processes, self-replication or the formation of interlocking Borromean rings that at first glance require careful design.
  • In fact, there is often very little engineering necessary at the molecular scale: the basic components of these complex species are already known and need only to be combined under the correct conditions. Given time, they would form even without the aid of the highly intelligent chemists who designed them! Just because a biological or chemical process seems complex, it does not necessarily follow that a designer is needed - time and chance are very effective evolutionary agents."

Peter Cragg, reader in supramolecular and bioinorganic chemistry at Brighton University

  • "Intelligent design is just an attempt by Christian fundamentalists to get a toehold on the science education system with a view to peddling their ridiculous notions that God made the world and all that is in it. I think their attempts to draw young minds away from the real wonders of science and the excitement and productive interest that can inspire young people is shameful and is no more acceptable than teaching them that the world is flat when it patently is not."

Anonymous lecturer in ecology

  • "Intelligent design's proponents show very poor standards of logic and scholarship, and they do not apply the scientific method to support hypotheses based on the evidence available from a multitude of approaches. Evolution has stood the test of time, and it will continue to do so as long as there is scholarship and academic freedom. Intelligent design will never be the consensus view of free-thinking scientists as it is not science and has failed the academic test. It can be successful only through compulsion and legislation. Intelligent design has nothing to offer our understanding of the past, present or future. Evolution is endlessly fascinating, infinitely complex and subtle. It has nothing to do with politics or religion or belonging to any type of club. It simply describes the way the world actually appears to be, based on the facts."

Charles Bishop, curator of Bangor University zoology museum


to read this article.

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments