Brian Alters, who defends teaching the theory of evolution, began his presentation on evolution and intelligent design last Wednesday with a warning: some of his discussion would be controversial and he did not mean to offend anyone.
Alters was one of the six expert witnesses for the plaintiffs in the landmark Intelligent Design (ID) trial held last year, as well as the author of many books, including “Defending Evolution in the Classroom,” and the director of the Evolution Education Research Centre.
He spoke to a crowd of more than 70 students and faculty members in a lecture entitled “The Landmark Trial: Intelligent Design, God, and Evolution” in Forcina Hall.
The “Dover trial,” which was about teaching intelligent design in schools in Dover, Pa., received worldwide news coverage and set a precedent by declaring the teaching of ID unconstitutional.
Using a PowerPoint presentation, Alters talked about this trial as well as other famous trials, including the Scopes trial of 1925.
The landmark ID trial began when administrators in Dover read about ID in classrooms and made the book “Of Pandas and People” available to students, citing the theories presented in the book as an alternative to evolution. Parents sued, saying this was unconstitutional.
The judge in the Dover trial declared that teaching ID is unconstitutional because it is based on supernatural causation.
“Evolution is supported by the weight of scientific evidence,” Alters said. “The National Academy of Science made a statement that intelligent design is not a science.”
Alters also said that he was appealed because the defendants “essentially agreed with the judge’s decision.”
He then focused on evolution being singled out as a “special” science and the requirement to read a disclaimer before teaching it.
“Evolution shouldn’t be singled out as being one of the weak sciences,” he said. “It is one of the strongest.”
He then read part of the disclaimer, saying, “Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.”
“The occurrence of evolution is considered a fact in the science world,” Alters said. “The disclaimer sounds like they’re saying, ‘Look, we don’t want to teach this, but we have to.'”
Alters also discussed creation science, saying that after it was declared unconstitutional, the ID theory was introduced.
“I think creation science evolved into intelligent design,” Alters said with a pun on “evolved.”
He then talked about why evolution is so highly debated.
“Most people fear evolution or don’t understand it,” Alters said in his presentation. “(They) want it de-emphasized and not taught in schools.”
Alters said one of the many reasons that evolution is feared is because many people do not fully understand the theory and feel that it conflicts with their religious beliefs.
He blamed the media for portraying evolution and God as two separate, mutually exclusive things.
“The CNN headline I showed you earlier read: God vs. Science,” Alters said in a question-and-answer session following the presentation. “That’s not what this trial was about. It is a matter not only of scientific illiteracy but also religious illiteracy.”
He said that many people who value their religion have accepted evolution and rejected ID, including Pope John Paul II and a scientist from the Vatican, who both said that ID is not a science.
Alters stressed his opinion that evolution should be taught in the schools mainly for the benefit of the students.
“If you don’t understand evolution, you can’t understand antibiotic resistance, or why AIDS and the bird flu are such problems,” Alters said.
His PowerPoint ended on a picture of Darwin, who began studying evolution in the 1800s.
“In many ways, evolution is still not understood and it is feared,” Alters said. “We have a long way to go.”
Although it coincided with the Patrick Buchanan lecture, Alters’ presentation still received a large crowd.
“It was an excellent lecture,” Donald Lovett, associate professor of biology and an organizer of the event, said. “He was not emotional, but rational. The presentation focused on the real issues, which is that intelligent design is not a science and all issues associated with it are not science, but sociological.”
“Although he presented his argument in favor of evolution very convincingly, he was open and understanding to the other side of the argument,” Anjali Mone, sophomore biology major, said.
Some enjoyed Alters’ PowerPoint presentation because it included short clips of news broadcasts, songs and even a cartoon skit from “Saturday Night Live” to help convey his point.
“I thought he did a good job of maintaining everyone’s interest by using cartoons and media instead of just explaining evolution,” Justin Cook, senior secondary education and English major, said. “I was impressed.”
“As a Catholic biology major, I strongly believe in the concept of evolution, as well as the undeniable supporting evidence,” Dan Taddeo, freshman biology major, said. “Educators must remember that evolution is a science and intelligent design is philosophy and theology.”
“While his cynical lecture offered no respect to those who oppose his opinions, it served as a great outline of the controversial debate between intelligent design and evolution,” Taddeo said. “There is no doubt he is an expert on evolution.”