Prior to the mid-1990s, conservative Christians tried in vain to force the teaching of creationism, the Christian concept of how the world and the life on it began, in the public schools. They were rebuffed at every turn by the courts on constitutional grounds.
So, around 1995, the fundamentalists came up with the idea of intelligent design. It's premise was that there is so much irreducible complexity in living things that there must have been an intelligence behind their creation. It couldn't have happened by chance events, they claimed. And today, the intelligent design proponents are gaining ground in many states and local school districts across the country.
Their arguments sound plausible on the surface, but in fact, the whole concept of ID is based on showing the perceived weaknesses in the theory of evolution. So, by default, they claim intelligent design is the better explanation and should at least be given equal footing with evolution in the public schools.
Intelligent design has no basis in science whatsoever. And its proponents do not really claim it has scientific merit. Their point is that evolution is taken on faith, too. And since it is taught in science class, so should ID.
But even if one is taken in by the sound bites of the ID movement, that doesn't mean the whole theory of evolution is automatically falsified. As ID advocates so quickly point out, there are indeed debates going on in the scientific community about one aspect or another of evolution. But those debates center around details, not over whether or not evolution is a good theory. In fact, it is the foundation for all of biology.
Intelligent design advocates claim that evolution is no more than a religion since its adherents believe it to be true without proof. This is nonsense. Evolution theory meets every requirement of being a science. Intelligent design does not. So when I was invited to debate the issue in 2002, I jumped at the chance. Little did I realize that my opponent in the debate would have a slick, pre-authored audio-visual presentation that was chock full of the standard sound bites and half truths espoused by creationists. Intelligent design is simply creationism re-worked to make it sound more plausible to the general public.
In a debate, it takes time to dismantle the false claims of the ID advocates. But time is strictly limited, so the cards are stacked against the pro-evolution side from the beginning. I learned my lesson in 2002. Those who plan to take part in one of these debates need to understand what they are getting into.
Ninety percent of the audience is stacked in favor of the creationists. In some debates, they are even bussed in. The other 10 percent are simply curious. The evolutionist side has very few public supporters. After all, there is no debate among real scientists; they all agree that evolution happened and they have no time for silly debates on the issue. So if you plan to debate a creationist, you're pretty much on your own.
Nevertheless, I put together this Web presentation for my side, which was that evolution is not a religion but a true science. It stands on good foundation, but it provides little room for a thorough rebuttal, and that's where the creationists will win by stacking the deck with false claims and half truths that your side will have precious little time to refute.
Proposition: Evolution is essentially a belief system and, therefore, should not be taught in school unless creationist views are also taught.
Opposition: Evolution is a science as measured by any standard definition and, therefore, should be taught as the central theme in biology in all schools.
Personal Note: Because someone believes in God should not predispose them against accepting plausible and verifiable scientific theories. That God created and endowed us with a soul should not prevent us from accepting the facts about the natural world. Evolution does not threaten a belief in God.
Challenge: It is my firm belief that those who speak against evolution do not really understand evolution. They know just enough about it to use the jargon, and to be dangerous. I, therefore, challenge anyone who does not accept the scientifically valid theory of evolution to find out as much about what it is, its mechanisms, and the evidence supporting it as they can. The more one knows about evolution, the more simple and clear-cut it is to accept.