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The Jurisdiction of Science: What the Evolution/Creation Debate is Not About

Written by Iain Benson

January 1, 2007

Published in The Journal for Christian Scholarship/Tydskrif vir Christelike Wetenskap1


Each discipline has its area of expertise, its, if you will, jurisdiction, within which the kind of questions proper to that discipline may be investigated and taught. Dispute may exist at the margins as to whether a particular subject is properly one within the discipline or is something that should be taught in another area. Within the teaching of biology in schools, a debate has existed for some years with respect to what sorts of approaches to the teaching of the theory of evolution are appropriate for public school classrooms. This is important because, for some parents, the "theory of evolution" has assumed dogmatic aspects in which theology and science are inappropriately mixed. Or, again, theories of origins believed in by some sorts of belief, whether religious or non, can raise conflicts if taught as "scientific fact" when, it is argued, evidence exists sufficient to present alternative theories. What should happen when the differing viewpoints conflict? Part I of the article sets out some of the theoretical issues involved in this area and suggests that attention to the proper jurisdiction of science assists in placing the "evolution debate" in a context which should allow for greater discussion of alternative theories to those of random chance and ateleological development. In particular, the idea of "intelligent design" is discussed as a subject that might well be suitable for a science classroom if taught as a theory in competition with other theories—what one commentator has termed "teaching the conflicts."2 Part II of the article chooses an actual example from a dispute relating to the curriculum of upper level school biology courses in British Columbia Canada. This dispute is analyzed since the various positions taken by school administrators, teachers, community groups and the Ministry of Education itself show the widespread perspectives that have informed debates elsewhere. It concludes by arguing that how the matter was "resolved" in British Columbia, is an inappropriate response to the conflicts and that banning any teaching about "intelligent design theory" in the biology curriculum amounts to an ideological restriction on matters that are appropriate to high-school education.


The title "the Jurisdiction of Science: what the Evolution/Creation Debate is Not About" was chosen for this article because it seems to me that one of the most critical questions facing us in terms of what many call the "evolution versus creation" debate is often overlooked. In short, neither "chance" nor "design" can be proven by science. We may hypothesize about both theories but we cannot prove either design or chance by scientific means. This simple fact requires us, therefore, to insist that both chance and design be presented as aspects of the discussion. The current domination of what might be called "the assumption of an ateleological chance" is improper and amounts, often, to little more than an anti-religious dogma because it is assumed that if "design" is excluded from consideration, then so is teleology, purpose and, by inference, God.

None of these assumptions, for or against chance or for and against design are accurate and it is the burden of this article to make this argument. I have chosen to do so by way of discussing the jurisdiction of science in order to understand better what sorts of questions are properly scientific questions and what are not. A failure to examine this point can lead to errors.

Part I: Theoretical Aspects of the Relevance of Chance or Design in Biology Courses

Though it is often overlooked, a larger question than the false dualism "evolution" or "creation" lays behind the debate about evolution as it is often formulated. Should we include consideration of both "design" and "chance" in our biology teaching because, simply, we do not know which idea is actually behind "how it all works?" Because we operate on the basis of "what things we take on faith" (and there are both religious and non-religious faith commitments), both "chance" and "design"- based explanations are, strictly speaking, faith-based since neither can be empirically proven. The question is then one of assessing the evidence to see, over time, which approach best comports with the scientific and other evidence. But it is a mistake to assume that choosing to believe in chance is a denial of design or somehow more scientific.

In short, both the atheist, committed (unscientifically) to their being no God is in the same position as the theist committed (also unscientifically) to the claim that there is a God. Science cannot help either of them since the key questions are non-empirical.

In fact, it is logically possible that "chance" operates within a system of overall design. So the fact that many religiously committed people might see "chance" as the enemy of God (or design) or non-religiously committed people might see "design" as the enemy of free scientific inquiry (or what have you) does not lead to a pre-emptive exclusion of either "chance" or "design" as outside the broadest scientific discussion. But the adoption of one side to the exclusion of the other is simply bias and not in the spirit of free inquiry or within the proper jurisdiction of science.

Much of the contemporary discussion of the roles of science and technology as they relate to faith and society has to do with the scope or the competency of science and philosophy. Science cannot tell us either why something exists or what its ultimate purpose is. The question of ultimate causes or ends is the province of philosophy and religion. But it is a serious mistake to assume that only the religiously committed person has faith or beliefs. To live as a human being is to be a believer, the question is "in what do we believe?" not whether we believe. Similarly, to make assumptions is to have faith of some sort.

I use the word "faith" here, in relation to society, to include both the more organized and defined "religious" faiths as well as the natural faith everyone has whether or not they know it. People often make the mistake of assuming that only religious people have faith (that is they trust things that they do not or cannot empirically prove to themselves in the manner in which they live).

A scientist trusting in the accuracy of his or her instruments and observations relies upon faith just as much as, but in a different sense, the person trusting that the sidewalk he or she walks upon is actually there; that the world around them will perform in predictable ways; that the sun will rise tomorrow; or that they will continue to live beyond the moment so as to undertake projects of a variety of sorts (including experiments). Religious people just have a different basis to describe what (or whom) they believe and trust in than those who operate with a less developed theory based on "natural faith." So the question at all times, contrary to the current confusion of secularists language, is not whether we have faith or not but what kind of faith or faiths we have and operate out of? And "faith" for many people is something they do not think about; but it is faith nonetheless. It is, when not considered, implicit rather than explicit faith that they base their lives upon.3

The term "Jurisdiction" is usually used for legal matters but the second root of the word in addition to jus for law is dicere for "speak." So the question of the jurisdiction of science is an invitation to consider what is the area of the proper authority of science.

Every age has its strengths and weaknesses, those areas it more naturally focuses upon and those towards which it tends to have blind spots. An era that is aware of the world of spirit and religion might focus too much on these to the detriment of science and the material order or might bend science to conform its conclusions to over-reaching religious claims. Another era, focused, perhaps rather more on the material than the spiritual, the physical rather than the metaphysical might focus too much on what are perceived as "material facts" and not enough on how these physical facts relate to other questions of life. In such a condition, science might be bent to conform its conclusions or methods so as to over-reach to the detriment of what is properly the territory of metaphysics and religion. At all times the areas of overlap must be carefully and sensitively handled. This question of overlap poses a particular difficulty when disciplines are not in proper communication with each other as in the contemporary age.

Many philosophers today lament the fragmentation of learning as universities have become multi-versities and inter-disciplinary perspectives can all too easily be driven out of sight by a variety of competing pressures.4

In a profound study entitled, Science, Faith and Society, and that has aged little since it was first published in 1946, Michael Polanyi commented on the importance of science staying in close contact with what he termed "spiritual reality" and the need for commitment to "emergent meaning and truth."5 Polanyi, in words that have relevance for every area of our lives in western countries, wrote:

. . . if citizens are dedicated to certain transcendent obligations and particularly to such general ideals as truth, justice, charity and these are embodied in the tradition of the community to which allegiance is maintained, a great many issues between citizens, and all to some extent , can be left—and are necessarily left—for individual consciences to decide. The moment, however, a community ceases to be dedicated through its members to transcendent ideals, it can continue to exist undisrupted only by submission to a single centre of unlimited secular power.6

We ignore the importance of this question of the jurisdiction of science at our peril. For the consequences of defining science in such a way that the moral ramifications of the actions of scientists are viewed as outside some supposedly "pure" realm of research is unwise because who has the knowledge of the new thing but the scientist working on it? As Denis De Rougement once asked, "if science rules the world, who is to rule science?"7

The idea that any area of human endeavor operates outside moral evaluation is just wishful thinking by those who do not want to make the effort to do the moral work required or who wish others to do their thinking for them or who simply "don't care" what the implications of their theoretical work are on the practical level. We are surrounded now by area after area of culture deceived by those who claim that their area operates free from morality: business, law and science, for example all have proponents that suggest the discipline functions according to the "laws of the market place" or the "laws of science" or the some other law than a human moral law.

For no amount of knowledge about how things work will tell us either why they exist nor whether what they may do is good or not. Science cannot tell us the answer to the question "why is there something rather than nothing?" Science itself cannot tell us if a discovery will work for the good or ill of people. And no-one is so naive as to say that the question about how or whether to apply scientific discoveries, is an irrelevant one. The idea that we can simply focus upon the fact of discovery and avoid the questions of why or whither—is dangerous.

Interestingly this positivism, of the separation of an area of insight from moral analysis, has parallels in other areas of human learning. To take law for example, it is the debate between legal positivists and natural law theorists about whether laws are formal things separate from whether they are good or bad laws, that provides a significant portion of the fodder for philosophy of law classes. Do not ask about the goodness or badness of laws says the legal positivist, if this law satisfies the formal requirements for law then that is all we can properly say about it.8

Isn't this just the kind of debate that is involved between "pure" science and the questions of how the science is to be used? No amount of fathoming the material constituents of bodies will tell us about the soul. And the importance of the soul, of that immeasurable part of humankind, has been the preoccupation of philosophy and theology for thousands of years. So critical is this contemplation of the soul, in fact, that Aristotle in the Ethics says that "the true student of politics must study virtue above all things and must study the soul. . ." And, further, Aristotle noted that classification of which questions belong to disciplines is important:

For it is the mark of the educated mind to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is equally unreasonable to accept merely probable conclusions from a mathematician and to demand scientific proofs from an orator.9

Now neither virtue nor the soul can be measured, quantified or described by science and yet what we are as human persons and communities, what the moral laws are or may be that govern our lives together would seem to be an issue that is fundamental to our communities. To view the matter from another angle, the pure scientist might be very impure person. So to focus on only the purity of science at the possible expense of the kind of person we are training to be scientists would seem to be a highly relevant matter that we ought not to avoid in all our analysis about whatever technique we are discussing — whether it be the scientific method or some other discipline that is being discussed. Science, at the least should not foreclose matters it cannot comprehend.

Morals are said to be, in that hideous language of the modern era "personal values" and judges do not wish to get involved in "moral questions." Yet the fact that we are not trained in this area or are not comfortable with an area such as morality or the interface between religions and morals in a pluralistic society, does not mean that we can avoid moral questions: the moral character of a society is a fact. To not discuss or teach about morals is to be taught by that silence.

There is no neutral space to occupy since so-called neutrality is filled with morals of whatever sort. And one of the most potentially dangerous statements of the modern world is often seen as one of its greatest affirmations. I refer to the statement that "you have your values and I have mine." When applied to aesthetic determinations such as what kind of food or clothing or music one likes, there is a certain undeniable truth to this statement and "values" as an economic term have a certain private dimension to them. But when "values" are the language we use to discuss moral choices themselves —like respect for life or what used to be called "virtues" then we have taken an objective criterion and made it relative. And it is the relativism of modern life that is so dangerous for our pursuit of shared goods together.

The late English judge Lord Denning, one of the most influential and learned judges of the twentieth century, began a talk at Cambridge University in 1982 by quoting the scriptures and asking "what profiteth a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" Now this was a startling thing to hear from a judge in that setting. But Lord Denning knew that law as a technique is not the same thing as understanding the purpose of law or human communities and was urging those of us in the audience to consider a wider context for legal techniques. He was right to do so.

And as it goes for the law of society, so it is for the laws of science. They can tell us how things work but they cannot tell us "why" they work nor what their purposes are. They can tell us how such and such a thing might have come about but they cannot thereby inform us whether or not such and such a thing ought to occur. For the minute the word "ought" is introduced, or raised, we are then in the realm or jurisdiction of morals, not science.

In an interesting book dealing with the trial of accused former Nazi's in England, one can read the letters back and forth between top- ranked officials in the German government of the day and the executives of the I.G. Farben company.10 The discussion was very scientific. . many "units" could be processed through the particular machinery involving thermal energy and certain human actions in a particular time after another process that involved exposure to a certain chemical pellet. Yet, the thermal energy was the gas ovens and the human actions involved the disposal of large numbers of human beings after they had been exposed to Zyklon B. and gassed. And all this science and business happened only a few years ago. Those letters seemed shocking because the techniques of the corporate world and science seemed so adept at simply avoiding the moral questions. Technique had become entirely separated from moral questions. Have things changed appreciably since that time? How well are we doing culturally in integrating moral with technical questions?

At the invitation of a school principal some years ago, I gave a series of talks to a small group of Grade 9 students about the arguments for and against belief in God. What intrigued me at that time was how confident some of the students were that science could explain everything. The students had, without knowing the source, decided that they simply had no need of the God hypothesis or of informing themselves about wider philosophical or theological questions.

Somewhere in their training at school or at home (including exposure to television and computers) these students had got the idea that science is the new explanation for everything and has simply replaced religion as an explanatory framework. They did not state this as an observation, or tentative hypothesis, but as a necessary fact. They believed that science is simply a better explanation than religion. Science, being newer, being current, was seen by them as a replacement theory, as being correct, as offering a new explanation for which religion was, in a sense, the old explanation.

To the credit of the school principal, he, though not a religious adherent himself, recognized that this matter called for some discussion with his students and that was how I came to be invited to address the class. It was a fascinating and chastening experience and led to the realization that in the contemporary world, perhaps it would be useful to examine in a wider context what opportunities there should be, within teaching of science itself, to raise the questions of the relationship between science and other disciplines including those questions that make us uncomfortable because they raise the borderline questions that are most likely to keep technique and purpose before us. One area in which such issues could be raised is the one that is the subject of this article —what Gifford Lecturer Stanley Jaki has called "the Science of Origins." How well are we doing in keeping context with theory in science?

Part II: Case Study of the 1995 Abbotsford School District Dispute over the Curriculum of Biology Courses in High School

It may assist our analysis of context and theory to consider a practical example for our discussion of the jurisdiction of science. A good example exists if we take, as a case study, a situation that occurred in the province of British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada between the Spring and Fall of 1995 at a School District in the town of Abbotsford. This debate usefully frames some of the key questions and issues.

What occurred was described publicly as a debate about the teaching of creation science in public education alongside theories of evolution. When the facts are analyzed, however, it was actually not about this simple a conflict. And what eventually resulted in the public school Guidelines province-wide was not only the complete exclusion on any teaching of creationism but any teaching or discussion of "creative evolution" or "design theories" as well as a prohibition of adding anything to the curriculum whatever.

The Abbotsford situation is a worthy case-study for our topic because as it unfolded it became clear that the role of science in education is one that has widespread implications for political, philosophical and theological disciplines as well, as we saw in Part I of this article.

In any case, I would like to first describe a general overview of what occurred in the Abbotsford School District in 1995, what followed from it and then raise what seem to be a few questions that should be addressed.11 This article will not evaluate the situation of science education in other provinces, nor will it deal with the scientific debate at the root of the dispute in Abbotsford. For the purposes of our discussion I would like to see if we can parse out the principles that were operative in British Columbia and see whether they reflect an accurate assessment of the role of science in contemporary culture and, if so, whether that role is one that is proper to science and culture or one that will, over time, cause problems for our common life in community. I will argue that the issue is not, in fact, evolution or creation but something more fundamental than either and that can only be addressed if we look at what sort of questions are properly scientific and what are not.

Abbotsford is a largely rural area in the Fraser Valley near Vancouver in British Columbia's lower mainland on the west coast of Canada. The Abbotsford School District, in 1983, drafted a policy regarding the teaching of biology (and specifically the teaching of the theory of evolution) in the high schools in its District. The original policy was drafted in response to the beliefs of many parents and school trustees that alternative theories to evolution and chance origins ought to be available.12 The 1983 permitted the exposure of students to alternative explanations in addition to the theory of evolution in biology classes.

The original 1983 Abbotsford School District Policy on the Teaching of the Origin of Life, and which was consistent with the curriculum guide then in place, reads:

In view of the fact that neither Divine creation nor the evolutionary concepts of the origin of life are capable of verification by means of scientific experimentation, all teachers, when discussing and/or teaching the origin of life in the classrooms, are requested to expose students in as objective a manner as possible to both Divine creation and the evolutionary concepts of life's origins, with the evidence that is presented in support of each view, and to refrain from any assertions that would set forth either view as absolute.

All proceeded quietly until a complaint was made to the Ministry of Education in British Columbia in 1995.

Other groups in the Province were concerned about the need for students to be exposed to competing theories. In 1995, the British Columbia Association of Parents Advisory Councils voted on a Members' Resolution dealing with the teaching of science in schools. The Motion was carried and read as follows:

Be it resolved that the British Columbia Association of Parents Advisory Councils request the Ministry of Education to ensure the opportunity for students to be:

1. taught the most commonly held theories on the origins of our universe and life on our planet, or at least be given a list of resources to explore these on their own;

2. encouraged to discuss the pros and cons of these theories without being criticized for their opinions, in order to promote critical thinking skills;

3. taught evolution as a theory, not fact.

(Minutes of the 1995 BCCPAC AGM.)

No doubt the successful passage of this motion concerned those who had reason to wish origin/evolutionary theories and assumptions unchallenged and alternative (religious and other?) theories excluded from the province-wide public school biology courses.

Two months later, in April 1995, the province's Minister of Education wrote to the School District indicating that concerns had been expressed about "the teaching of 'creationism' in the science curriculum."

The Minister noted in his letter to the Chair of the School Trustees that the Grade 11 (next to final year of school) Biology Curriculum included a component on "Adaptation and Evolution" and that the Curriculum Guide accompanying the course materials "does not contain a component or learning outcomes on 'creationism' as this is not considered a scientific theory but, rather, a religious theory." It was also pointed out that:

Teachers may explain to students that science is only one way of learning about life, and that other explanations have been put forth besides that of biological science. However, as these viewpoints, including 'creationism', are not derived from the discipline of biological science, they are not part of the Biology 11 curriculum. . ..While teachers are encouraged to be aware of, and to respect, the personal beliefs of their students, they should do so without providing instruction any one belief system.

It was also pointed out by the Minister that the Provincial School Act provides that "no religious dogma or creed shall be taught in a public school." The Minister then sought assurances that the policies and practices of the School District were in conformance with the learning guidelines.

This letter was answered by the School Board which pointed out that they had, in fact, surveyed the teachers in the district and determined that "creationism" was not, in fact, being taught in the schools.13

The Minister responded to the Board by saying that ". . .it is inappropriate to add onto, delete from, or replace a unit or topic in the Biology 11/12 Curriculum Guide." The Minister then demanded that the Board's policy be rescinded and replaced with the following policy:

In view of the fact that concerns may be expressed by some students and parents respecting the teaching of the topic "Adaptation and Evolution" in the Biology 11/12 Curriculum Guide; and, that the evolutionary perspective of modern biology may conflict with personal beliefs, teachers, when teaching this topic in the classroom, should explain to students that science is only one way of learning about life, and that other explanations have been put forth besides that of biological science. As Divine creation and other viewpoints are not derived from the discipline of biological science and are not part of the curriculum, teachers will refrain from providing instruction in Divine creation, in any single belief system or viewpoint, or adding any other topics or units not already set out in the Biology 11/12 Curriculum Guide. In all cases, teachers are encouraged to be aware of, and to respect, the personal beliefs of their students without providing instruction in any one belief system (underlining additional).

Obviously it was assumed that by "any single belief or viewpoint" did not apply to the sole teaching of evolution and chance origins (and what particular form was never addressed). Significantly, "no other topics" could be added.

Meanwhile, at the same time, other groups in the community became involved and both the local Teacher's Association (union) President and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association wrote letters to the Minister to express their concerns about the School District's Policy. According to the union President the teaching of alternative explanations for origins offended the School Act requirement that schools shall be conducted on "strictly secular and non-sectarian principles" and that "no religious dogma or creed shall be taught in the school."

In addition, the union President said that the ramifications of the policy could be "devastating" for the community because "few teachers will want to get into the politics of the creation vs. evolution matter" and there is a possibility that some will not teach evolution at all. Moreover, since the Board Policy allows for the teaching of creation, a "most difficult "problem" arises because parents may "push teachers to include Divine creationism in their classes." In one instance, the President alleged that a parent discovered that a teacher was not including any materials on Divine creationism and so the parent wished to have some materials included and gave the teacher a 20 minute video he could show in his class —"this I find extremely dangerous" wrote the union President.

While this issue was heating up, the Press was uniformly hostile to the School District and portrayed them at every turn as "fundamentalist creationists." Despite the Board Chairman's assurances that the bible creation story is not preached but that "creation and evolution are presented as theories about how life began and [we] let the students decide for themselves" the critics focused on the provision of materials about creation as imposition against, presumably, the neutrality or fact of purposeless evolution. The assumption was that matters held as "natural faith" but identified as "facts" are to be accorded greater value than views that may be based on alternative explanations whether or not grounded in religious faith. This kind of distinction (that discussion of "design" or other teleological approaches, for example, need not be framed as necessarily "religious") was never raised and Board chairman Sutherland expressed frequently his frustration with the way the media covered the issue.14

It is interesting to note that media coverage failed to point out that science classes are provided in every school province- wide but there is no provision for so-called "religions classes" as the editorial suggests. The dominance of non-design or "chance based" scientific approaches is therefore effectively guaranteed by this approach and was not seen, itself, to be an imposition or "indoctrination" of a view.

Quoted in a column in the national article the Globe and Mail (Friday, May 26, 1995), then Minister of Education Art Charbonneau (himself an engineer) stated:

To try to construe creationism as science is false and not acceptable to me. . .evolutionary theory, the theory of gravity, the theory of quantum mechanics are all subjects on which one can do objective tests and present evidence. You cannot present tests of religious dogma. Either you believe it or you don't. The School Act specifies that religious teaching will not occur in the public system, and I have instructed the Abbotsford board to correct this problem. [underlining added]

Note how "alternative theories" are considered "religious dogma" and nothing may be added to the curriculum. But here, again, no one turned his attention to the possibility that consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of all positions (of whatever sort, evolution, creation, chance and design) would benefit the greater understanding of students and might not as likely lead to the prejudices that a so-called "pure science" approach more readily admits.

In addition to the media, other local groups weighed in. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association wrote to the Board on May 31, 1995 and urged that the Board comply with the Minister's request saying that ". . .the Genesis account of creation should be taught in [the non-existent] religious studies classes, together with the creation accounts of other world religions." The Association stated that the materials used to teach "creation science" "are part and parcel of a fundamentalist Christian perspective" and to that extent the policy of the School Board was, in the Association's opinion, in breach of the School Act provision requiring "non-sectarian" education.

The Civil Liberties Association alleged that some of the materials in the District came from the Institute for Creation Research in California and that these materials make it clear that the dissemination of the materials is part of a wider evangelical purpose. Finally, the Association stated that the present School Act "properly attempts to ensure neutrality with respect to religious views in our public schools. . .." The School Board policy would lead to students being ". . .disadvantaged without any understanding of evolutionary theories as they compete for post secondary positions and jobs."

Here again, even if (and there was never any evidence of this) the materials being used in classes came from a "fundamentalist" or "Creation Research" perspective, there is nothing to say that the arguments within them could not be usefully critiqued in a program for students in the higher grades. Moreover, even if true, to suggest that these sorts of materials are the only alternative materials available to challenge certain forms of evolution, is simply wrong and testifies more to an overly defensive protectionism than a free discussion of academically respectful ideas. The Civil Liberties Association made no reference at all to intelligent design or teleological theories constituting "dogma" or "indoctrination". This dimension of the discussion was simply ignored.

No mention was made that, perhaps, entire confidence in "chance" as the operative cause of everything might not be its own sort of dogma nor that "chance" could well be seen within or as part of an overall system the parameters for which might be established by some teleological framework outside the bounds of measurable science itself. In short, chance could just as much be a part of design as could evolution. The question of ultimate purpose is not "defeated" by introduction of chance or evolution operating within science. As has already been stated, neither "chance" nor "design" can be proven scientifically so to categorize one or either as scientific fact is just bad science. Both ought to be presented theoretically with the "gaps" and implications of both spelled out for students to consider. Fundamentalism, as an attitude, is just as present in false scientific claims as it is in inappropriate religious claims. The issue is not, therefore, evolution versus creation or chance versus design. Why these false dichotomies are the meat and substance of these debates is an interesting aspect of our current disputes.

In June of 1995 the Abbotsford Board re-crafted its policy ". . .to promote critical thinking skills, students shall be encouraged to discuss the scientific pros and cons of evolutionary theories and alternative theories. . ."15

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association remained unsatisfied and said that no "faith-based accounts of the origin of human life. . ." could be tolerated in a public school.16

Note what is implicit in this letter. "Faith based accounts" are for religious studies. The writer, and presumably the Civil Liberties Association itself, considers that belief in evolution or "chance" origins are not "faith based" or equally as "hypothetical" as teleologically based explanations. Chance as the only operative principle is assumed to be, erroneously, entirely factually demonstrable.

The literature within science is rife with dispute and counter-dispute about all manner of theories. A "science of the gaps" is just a materialistic analogue to a "god of the gaps." The failure to identify and acknowledge gaps is a mark of ideological brittleness not genuine inquiry. Leading scientists of all stripes have pronounced the notions of chance origin or certain naturalistic assumptions indefensible on this or that front.

I was present, for example, at Cambridge University in 1982 when cosmologist and professor of astronomy Professor Fred Hoyle announced to a crowded Senate House containing most of the biology faculty, that the theories underlying the official biological orthodoxies of the day with respect to the origin of life and evolution were, in his view, largely untenable and contained levels of probability that would never be accepted for other theories. Far from being hooted down, many of the people present agreed that there were serious difficulties with the current theories.17 So, to say the least, overconfidence in the entire structure of evolution, without mentioning the serious challenges to its various theories would seem to be misleading and arrogant, if not dishonest.

Science and technology need to be informed by moral analysis found outside scientific method itself. At the very least, therefore, the kind of strident exclusion of alternative explanations and corresponding implicit denial of the content of those descriptions leads in the direction of an alienation of science rather than an integration with disciplines that could inform it. The British Columbia curriculum materials make no effort to link the study of science with any philosophy or moral/ethical analysis of any kind. The only formal linkage is to "gender studies" and "multiculturalism" neither of which contain any epistemological rigor in the moral area.

In short, it seems that the approach this debate in Abbotsford shows is a bias against alternative explanations for which there might well be valid scientific support and important implications for science to consider.

Following the re-drafting of its policy in an attempt to find a midway between the Scylla of Education Ministry criticisms and the Charybdis of maintaining openness to alternative theories, the Board again entered into the odyssey of seeking a legal opinion.

The opinion they received from learned counsel noted that the revised policy provided for a balanced approach to the teaching of evolution and other alternative theories but "that is not in accordance with the curriculum." The legal opinion suggested that the policy "must acknowledge that the concept of evolution as set out in the curriculum guide will be taught as a stand alone concept. Neither the policy nor its application provide that evolution is taught as one of two main theories." [underlining added]

While policy-making was recognized to reside with the Board it was noted that the Minister had the power, under the School Act, to appoint an official trustee and terminate the employment of Board Trustees were they to be found in "substantial non-compliance" with the School Act or Regulations or Orders under it. While the legal opinion did not consider the policy on the Origin of Life to constitute "substantial non-compliance" it was noted that the Minister "may choose to exercise that option."

One might call this the exercise of scientific "neutrality" with a vengeance. It was also pointed out that a school district might develop and offer local programs for use in schools and that such a program could be a program on Origins of Life. Such a program would only be optional and must not be considered religious indoctrination.

Further deliberation became a moot point on September 5, 1995 when the Minister of Education issued Ministerial Orders and a revised Biology 11/12 Curriculum Guide to ensure the complete exclusion of "religious beliefs or religious viewpoints" from the biology curriculum (these exclusions continue to the present day —2007)

Relying upon the "non-sectarian" provision of the School Act and the constitutional provision in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteeing "freedom of conscience and religion" the three ministerial orders replaced the province's curriculum guide and learning outcomes.

The original 1995 amendments provided:

Concern may be expressed by some students and parents because the evolutionary perspective of modern biology conflicts with personal religious beliefs. Teachers should respect these religious beliefs; however, because religious beliefs and views flowing from religious beliefs on these matters are not derived from the discipline of biological science, teachers should refrain from providing instruction in or requiring discussions on these beliefs. Under no circumstances may a teacher as part of a science course, provide instruction in a religious dogma or religious belief system.

While respecting the personal beliefs of students, teachers are only to provide instruction in classroom activities in accordance with the scientific purpose and scope of the learning outcomes set out in this curriculum guide. These learning outcomes do not include any religious instruction based totally or partially on an interpretation of religious scriptures or writings nor on beliefs or viewpoints commonly characterized as creationism, theory of divine creation, intelligent design theory, or other theories based on religious beliefs.

Similarly, in the choice and use of learning resources to support the learning outcomes of the science curriculum, school boards, administrative officers and teachers should ensure that no religious dogma or religious belief system is advocated or presented as part of the discipline of science. [underlining added]18

Much turns, of course, on how "faith" or "religion" is defined in this schema. It is clear from the approach the ministry has taken that only expressly "religious" positions are religious. But this is contentious and avoids entirely any thought of other "faith" positions whether animated by religion or not. After all, all human beings are believers of some sort, the question is not whether they believe, but what they believe in. Of course, contemporary society begins in its definition of "secular" by assuming that it is "neutral" and in any relevant respects "non-religious" or "non-faith."

Secularism then urges upon culture a strongly dualistic conception in which only religious beliefs are outside the supposedly neutral "secular." In fact, all citizens being believers, the only beliefs left inside the "secular" by this kind of characterization, are those beliefs that emanate from atheistic or agnostic presuppositions. When the matter is argued this way it is clear that an unfair exclusion of religious beliefs has occurred. In a case that went to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2002, the nine judges of the Supreme Court unanimously upheld a united three justice division of the British Columbia Court of Appeal in finding that "secular" should be interpreted to be religiously inclusive rather than religiously exclusive. The implications of this paradigm shift is in its infancy but it has vast implications.19

The shift has not been applied to the biology curriculum issue in British Columbia. What occurs frequently is that the expressly religious aspects ("creationism") are lumped in with other conceptions ("intelligent design as a possibility or theory") that are not necessarily religious.

The Ministry of Education Press Release (September 7, 1995) that accompanied the Guideline Revisions stated that the revisions ". . .have been revised to make it clear to school boards that teaching creationism as part of a science course is not permissible in B.C. schools." But much more than "creationism" was excluded.

The Press Release quoted the Minister in the following terms:

The science classroom is not the place to provide instruction or require discussions of religious dogma or religious belief systems" said [the then Education Minister]. "It is my expectation that all school boards will comply with the law and ensure that biology courses are offered in accordance with the curriculum guide and ministerial orders. The only place where instruction on religious belief systems may occur is in a locally developed comparative religions course.

In a letter to the chair of the Abbotsford school board, the minister required the board to provide a new policy that complies with the revised curriculum guide and ministerial orders by Sept. 15 [1995]. . ..

The curriculum guide—which outlines curriculum and learning outcomes for biology 11/12 courses—was changed to clearly specify that, despite the personal beliefs of some students and parents, the unit on adaptation and evolution must be taught. . ..

. . . The changes provide that creationism, or any religious belief or dogma, are clearly outside the material that can be taught to meet biology 11/12 learning outcomes or the learning outcomes of any provincially mandated course. (emphasis added)

One wonders where "design" or purpose/teleology and the possibility of them or even the nature of the debate itself, such as the implications of assuming a universe based upon chance or design, will fit in to any part of the science curriculum or if it will remain preemptively excluded as "dogma" or "religious belief?" There are various leading scientists for whom an acceptance of "design" is separate from both dogma and religious belief. For example, some have suggested that the extreme improbability of life originating "out of nothing" must lead to the suggestion that "life" was introduced from somewhere else.20 Yet the possibility of admitting, even for discussion purposes, the notion that design, or some other operative principle other than (or, in fact, utilizing) chance (such as a version of the anthropic principle 21) is the guiding force behind the universe seems to be foreign to the powers that be in British Columbia and many other places.

Faced with the directives and orders, the Board decided that its refusal to comply would likely result in termination of the Board and appointment of a government trustee. The Board decided it would not serve the interests of the community for this to occur and stayed on and complied with the new directives.

In light of the entire dispute it is an irony that one of the officially listed "resource materials" that accompanied the "revised curriculum" was a short video showing "the life and theory of Charles Darwin. . .depicted in light-hearted animation." Its title: "Hallelujah Darwin."

Conclusion: The Importance of the "Abbotsford Over-Reach" for Contemporary Society

Historian of Science, physicist, theologian and Gifford Lecturer, Stanley Jaki has pointed out that:

Although nothing is more needed for making a discourse than the air we breathe, nothing is proportionately less reflected upon than the air itself, be it the climate of opinion or the temper of the age, religious or secular.22

It is, indeed, difficult to transcend the climate of opinion of the times and we were, after all, formed within that very climate of opinion so sometimes seeing its assumptions proves difficult but may be essential to evaluating our own assumptions.

Arnold Toynbee, in his monumental study of history and human societies made some important observations about the relationship between science and religion. He noted that:

The truth is that the command over non-human nature, which Science has in its gift, is of almost infinitely less importance to Man than his relations with himself, with his fellow men, and with God... Man's intellectual and technological achievements have been important to him, not in themselves, but only in so far as they have forced him to face, and grapple with, moral [100] issues which otherwise he might have managed to go on shirking. Modern Science has thus raised moral issues of profound importance, but is has not and could not have, made any contribution towards solving them. The most important questions Man must answer are questions on which Science has nothing to say.23

Recognition and description of the proper jurisdiction of science from within science as well as from outside it, will enable a better recognition of the jurisdictions of other subject areas as well. Given the importance of these issues to the necessarily moral enterprise of citizenship and culture, much hinges on how these questions will be answered.

In the surrounding culture, questions of purpose and meaning are important to us as persons. They are said to be key for mental well-being.24 In this setting, confident and strictly unscientific assertions (implicit or explicit) that "the universe is based on chance" or that "we know that there is no purpose behind the universe" such as are present (implicitly) in the curriculum Guideline under review in this article, need urgent reexamination. As they stand they contribute to a growing problem and add unnecessarily to a stance of purposeless materialism.

In a article entitled "Science and Dogma" given at a world Congress on Science and Freedom in 1953, then rector of Hamburg University, Bruno Snell, pointed out that science must be dogmatic in one area:

. . .tolerance cannot extend to the enemies of freedom. It is true that the liberal mind is at a disadvantage in the conflict with illiberal opponents, since the fight cannot be pursued by means consistent with the convictions of the liberal outlook. It is all the more important that all those who value the preservation of science—and here I would include not only the scientists themselves, but also the communities in which they live, and which benefit from the achievements of science — should lend their unstinted support to the struggle for the preservation of freedom of the intellect. If we allow science to be lowered to the status of mere technical service, whose functioning is restricted to the discovery of means for the achievement of prescribed ends, we shall sink back beyond the beginnings of European civilization.25

This article began with a quotation from Michael Polanyi in which the specter of "unlimited secular power" is held up as the result if commitment to key metaphysical truths is abandoned by citizens. It would be fitting here to close my article with a quotation by his son, Nobel Prize laureate chemist from the University of Toronto, John Polanyi who, in an article written in 1994, notes that mankind can be dazzled by the technological successes of science and fall victim to "perverted science." Such perverted science, he writes is:

. . .the invoking of the authority of science to justify inhuman behaviour. For it is this that truly characterizes the century that is coming to a close. . .the central perversion in all this [misuse of science] is the proposition that science operates in isolation from the remainder of human experience. When, for example, the scientist narrows his field of view to one molecule, he is regarded as doing science. In fact, this describes only an aspect of science.

The scientist is in the situation of a swimmer who, holding his breath, plunges deeply to examine the sea- bed. Such activities, though necessary, must be temporary. Before long the scientist must resurface in order to integrate his experience with all that he knows of the world through every avenue open to him—including his experience of life, literature, religion and art. It is only then that his findings can illuminate thinking. . .Far from being mechanical and unassailable, science is redefined in the furnace of criticism. Tolerance of dissenting views, and open debate, are the very stuff of science.26

What occurred in British Columbia in the Spring and Summer of 1995 and what persists to this day, in the Ministry of Education's express exclusion of certain matters from mention in the biology curriculum in the public schools, is an example of ideology under the guise of science; an example of what Lois Sweet has called "overzealous secular fundamentalism."27 The wish to dominate alternative explanations is a common trait and there is nothing that exempts scientists from this human failing.

If our culture, like all cultures dominated by technology, is to remain free and flourishing, then our science must be appropriately tempered by questions that come from beyond science. Humans are free to err but do so to their cost. Just as religion or philosophy can over-reach and infringe upon the proper place of science, so can science over-reach and infringe upon the proper places of philosophy and religion. It is essential, therefore, if we are to maintain a proper concern for humanity and the humane (as John Polanyi urges, above) that contemporary scientists in fact identify and reject antireligious or anti-transcendent biases where they appear and seek to inform science both internally and externally with lines of thought and other disciplines that will humanize science.

When scientism28 seeks to include or exclude what it can neither prove nor disprove under the guise of science it must be corrected by other disciplines and within itself by a deeper conception of the richness and limitations of science and scientific method. Civilized society requires that techniques, whether they be scientific or otherwise, are circumscribed by moral boundaries. These moral frameworks have both an internal and an external aspect.

The "pure" scientist, in selecting areas for research or in carrying out certain research, must, on occasion, ask moral questions to ensure that the techniques are, themselves, morally appropriate. These questions require both internally and externally a notion of what are the proper ends for human endeavors —and that, in the broadest sense, raises the questions about what purposes (or "designs") exist for human beings.

Design, like the existence of God, love, human dignity or justice might well be beyond the proofs of science. But like justice and love, human dignity and God, or even the idea of chance itself, design cannot be disproven by science. We should introduce discussion about the possibility of "design" alongside "chance." Failure to note that there are competing theories for key notions such as origins, evolution, design, chance or intelligence show that a certain kind of arrogance, prejudice or fear are dominant and that scientism has trumped proper science.

In this regard, it is important to note a certain kind of scientific fundamentalism that is the counterpoint to a certain kind of religious fundamentalism. An earmark of this scientific fundamentalism is that it fears informing science internally or externally by philosophical or theological questions as much as the religious fundamentalist fears informing theology or philosophy by scientific insight. Both fundamentalisms are culturally destructive and to deal with them both we must deal almost as much with the psychological barriers of the personalities involved as with the theoretical arguments.29

Science and law must not be the unwitting tools of a so-called "secular" (better termed "secularistic") ideology. We must reconsider the proper jurisdictions of science, philosophy and religion and learn that humility and proper tolerance are excellent companions for those committed to honest scientific investigation and the intelligent design and execution of science courses.30 Only this sort of approach enables science to maintain its right and proper place in a society and offer what benefits it can.

It seems obvious in light of the arguments, above, that we cannot ultimately answer the question of the role of science from only a scientific perspective. Nor would it seem wise for us to view disciplines as hermetically sealed-off from other areas. In fact, it seems that many of our current problems in the academy and in life are caused by a fragmentation of unitary knowledge or approaches and an all but complete failure to ask questions about how all the disciplines together form a unified whole that must be kept together for the good of society itself.

This has long been recognized as a problem and great historians such as Toynbee and scholars of science and history such as Michael Polanyi and Stanley Jaki have noted the importance of keeping science related to metaphysics (philosophy and religion). If this is not consciously understood to be necessary, the technical domain of science will not be informed by the moral questions of the day since morality is not internal to the science quest itself. At certain points in history scientists have had to ask themselves whether either the means they are to employ or the ends they seek are morally acceptable. When this step is circumvented or overlooked grave consequences can result. In a more recent and extremely useful overview of evolutionary theory and some of the attempts made to explain human life in relation to it, the former Director of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, Professor Anthony O'Hear has written:

What we have to realize is that the Darwinian world is not just a nasty world, as Dawkins, among others, is ready to concede. It is a world which bears very little relation to any human world or society, in which we do not find nothing other than genes and their bearers striving and struggling for reproduction....

Human social life, then, is not Darwinian life. It involves behaviour and habits which go beyond that. The question, then, arises as to the origin and status of the traditions in which our non-Darwinian inheritance is embodied.31

To teach a "Darwinian" world without being critical of it is, therefore, a serious error. Yet where are such criticisms to come from if not from the sorts of arguments and approaches argued for in this article?

O'Hear shows convincingly that evolutionary theory cannot give a satisfactory account of such distinctive facets of human life as the quest for knowledge, moral sense, and the appreciation of beauty, all of which transcend our biological origins. In fact, "... from a Darwinian perspective, truth, goodness and beauty and our care for them are very hard to explain."32

He concludes his important study with these words: moral to be drawn from this study is that Darwinism, if applied to our forms of intellectual, moral and aesthetic life, is indeed a dangerous idea, as Dennett at least recognizes. For even though we and our capacities may have evolved in Darwinian ways, once evolved we and our capacities take off in quite un-Darwinian ways. It is not just that Darwinian analyses strike at the basis of our sense of self and at our self-respect, though they do that. It is rather that the account that they give of ourselves and our capacities involves a radical and unsustainable re-description of what we are and what we do.33

The experience in British Columbia certainly offers guidance for other jurisdictions wrestling with these problems. The current "resolution" in place in British Columbia high schools is not one that could be considered a proper conclusion for science, philosophy, religion or society.34 It remains for more enlightened educators, and better scientific thinkers and politicians, to make the necessary changes and for those in other jurisdictions to learn from the mistakes continued over the last decade in Canada's westernmost province.

Dr. Peter Hodgson's Response to Iain Benson's Paper
Toronto, July 9, 1999

I have taught physics and mathematics at the University of Oxford for over forty years, and no one has ever told me what to teach. It is taken for granted that I will teach the truth to the best of my ability.

If I were a biologist I would teach the evolution of plants and animals as part of that whole stupendous process going back to the Big Bang, and possibly before that. The development of our understanding follows its own internal criteria, independent of external influences.

If a student were to ask me where God comes into all this, I would say that as a Christian and a Catholic I believe that God created the universe out of nothing and continually holds it in being. The task of science is to study that universe in all its details. These theological beliefs leave me totally free to study the universe by the methods of science.

If someone tells me that I must also teach that evolution is a chance process, that the universe came into existence by chance, and that there is no God, I would reject this as a series of atheistic beliefs that are in no way entailed by the scientific data.

If someone says that he is a Creationist and congratulates me on my belief in Creation but says that I have made a mistake about the timescale, that in fact the universe was created 6000 years ago because the Bible says so, I would be obliged to say that this is contrary to the scientific evidence. It is not acceptable either scientifically or theologically to say that God created rocks with fossils already inside them. This is rank anti-science. I would add that I believe that the Bible is divinely inspired, but that if it seems to say something that is definitely disproved by science, then this means that we have misinterpreted the Bible and must think again. This position is fully consistent with the teaching of the Church.

If anyone then tells me that as a result of some law I must teach biology in this way or that, I would regard this as an assault on my professional integrity. The only possible response that I could make is to tell him, as politely as possible, to get lost.

Dr. Peter Hodgson is the former Head, Nuclear Physics Theoretical Group of the Nuclear and Particle Physics Laboratory of the University of Oxford. He received his M.A. from Oxford, a D.Sc. and Ph.D. from London. His professional memberships include: A.R.C.S., D.I.C., C.Phys. F.Inst.P. His research is in theoretical nuclear physics. He has also written on theology and science, and on nuclear power. Dr. Hodgson's book Nuclear Power, Energy and the Environment has recently been published by Imperial College, London.


1 The views expressed in this article reflect those of the author and not necessarily those of the Centre for Cultural Renewal for which he is executive director. The author gratefully acknowledges those who invited him to address the Toronto Workshop on the Design of Academic Courses in Science and Religion. In particular he would like to acknowledge Professors Trenn and O'Malley and Gordon Baker as it was in conversation with them some time ago that the idea for the article first arose and their invitation to address the workshop materialized ex nihilo. He also acknowledges helpful conversations with Logan Craft, Peter Hodgson, Denis Lamoureux, Brad Miller, John Patrick, Margaret Somerville, John Sutherland and Brian Bix (the latter on questions related to jurisprudence).

2 The phrase comes from Dr. Denis Lamoureux in personal conversation with the author.

3 The author has profited greatly from Professor Thomas Langan's insights on "natural faith" in his book Being and Truth (Missouri: Missouri University Press, 1996) and from discussions with him over several years. Earlier recognition of the reliance of science upon "natural faith" and the risk of science inappropriately assuming a religious function in culture thereby excluding the questions that are properly religious is found in the "The Tamworth Reading Room" essays of John Henry Cardinal Newman. Discussions and Arguments on Various Subjects (London: Longmans, 1899) p.p. 254—305 and, in particular, "Secular Knowledge without Personal Religion Tends to Unbelief" at p.p. 298—305. The importance of "natural faith" in relation to the understanding of law and what we mean by the term "secular", also in relation to "natural faith" has been examined elsewhere; see: Iain T. Benson, "Notes Towards a (Re) Definition of the 'Secular'" (2000) 33 University of British Columbia Law Review, 519 — 549.

4 The literature in this area is vast. One essay that ought not