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This page last updated: May 4, 2009


In the past decade, the exclusive teaching of evolution in public school science classes has increasingly come under attack by advocates of “intelligent design” (ID) – the claim that the diversity and complexity of life can only be explained by recourse to an intelligent designing entity. Supporters of this view claim that they are being lead by scientific evidence to the existence of the Judeo-Christian God and that the scientific establishment has actively prevented this inference to the best explanation. They also believe that acceptance of intelligent design would not only lead to a reinvigoration of scientific inquiry but also to a renewal of traditional cultural values which are seen to be on the decline due to the acceptance of Darwinism in America. On the other hand, critics of ID believe that the movement is driven by explicitly religious motives and is merely attempting to re-invigorate “scientific creationism” – itself an earlier attempt to espouse creation in line with a literal reading of Genesis. These critics hold that ID does not function in a scientific manner and thus should be excluded from science classes.

This course aims to introduce you to this controversy. After differentiating between scientific and religious modes of thought and expression, we briefly examine the interaction between Christianity and natural science in the years surrounding the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species. This is followed by an examination of the history and claims of Young-Earth Creationism (a.k.a. “scientific creationism”). The second half of the course is devoted to critically examining the claims of ID and placing them within scientific, historical, philosophical, sociological and legal context.


Instructor: Dr. John M. Lynch, (john dot lynch at asu dot edu), T 10:00 - 11:30 (LSC 268), W 1:30 - 2:30 (LSC 268), Th 11:30 - 1:00 (Irish A 219).

Teaching Assistant: Tobie Milford, (tobie dot milford at gmail dot com), W 2:00 - 3:00 (LSC 262).

Please note that you are responsible for insuring that e-mail sent by either Tobie or I reaches your mail account. Check that your ASU address is forwarding to your preferred account and that your mailbox is empty. We will not resend messages that are bounced back or attempt to contact you in any other way.

Required Texts

All required readings will be made available online on this page. Readings should be completed before the class in question.


Honors Contract

Students seeking Honors credit for this course will have to meet with Tobie and I to discuss readings related to course content. The majority of these readings will be additional to those for the course (see below). To receive honors credit you will need to attend and contribute to discussion at all meetings. Contribution will include active participation, listening to other students, and engagement with their comments and ideas. Attendance alone will not get you honors credit.

Reading and meeting schedule.

Schedule of Classes


Introductory Material

After a brief introduction to the course and its content, we will be having a viewing.

Viewing: What About God? (PBS, 2001, 60 min) - The program looks at the relationship between religion and evolution by examining the struggles of students at conservative Wheaton College as they attempt come to terms with both.

Assignment #1: By noon on Friday (Jan 23rd) you have to registered with the discussion forum and introduced yourself in the "Introductions" thread. Failure to do so will result in a loss of participation credit. Please use your real name as your login ID (e.g. John.Lynch or John_Lynch) so that you can receive credit for postings. Further guidelines for participation are posted over in the forum.

Assignment #2: You are required to (electronically) submit a response to the viewing by 5pm on Friday. Your response should be between 750 and 1000 words, double-spaced, and saved as a Word document. You should critically engage with the viewing. Do not summarize the viewing - instead, offer your critical thoughts on the issues raised in the documentary.

Outstanding engagements will receive 10 (out of 10) marks. Excellent responses will receive 9 marks. Responses that are at the standard we expect from students will receive 8 marks. Inadequate responses will receive 7 marks. Responses that are above or below the length requirement receive a zero, as do responses that are not turned in on time. No late assignments will be accepted and submission can occur anytime after the end of class.

To submit your assignment, save it as Word document. Go to the course Blackboard site, click on "Assignments" and then "Response 1". Upload your document. Congratulate yourself.

Please note that your assignment will not be returned to you with comments. Instead, your grade will be posted on the Blackboard site once all assignments are graded. Should you require further feedback, please contact Tobie to arrange an appointment.


The Nature of Science & Religion

We're going to distinguish between religious and scientific modes of thinking. In particular, after the class you should be able to answer the following questions:

  1. What is religion?
  2. How do people justify religious claims?
  3. What is science?
  4. Is “scientific creationism” science?
  5. What are the possible relationships between science & religion?
  6. What are the various positions within the evolution/creation continuum?

Key People: Paley; Hume; Steno; Ussher; Hutton; Lyell;

Key Ideas: Religion; belief; faith; supernatural; a posteriori and a priori justifications; the "two books" metaphor; the "documentary hypothesis"; evidentialism; fideism; theism; deism; natural theology; the argument to and from design; the problem of evil; Hume's critiques of religion; science; methodological & philosophical naturalism; theory; Barbour's four ways of relating science & religion; young earth creationism; progressive creationism; theistic evolution;

Required reading:

  • Extracts from Paley "Natural Theology" [pdf]


The first half of the class will look at the life of Charles Darwin. We will then turn to discussing what evolution is (and is not), what natural selection entails, and some of the implications of these ideas for modern biology.

Required reading:

Suggested reading:

  • Kevin Padian (2008) "Darwin's enduring legacy" Nature [pdf]
  • Peter Bowler (2009) "Darwin's originality" Science [pdf]

Key people: Darwin

Key ideas: General history of Darwin's life; Darwin's religious views; Evolution (as fact, pathway and mechanism); the Logic of Natural Selection; Lamarckism;


Viewing: A Walk Through Earth History (ICR, 1998, 80 min)

By presenting a tour of the Institute for Creation Research's museum, the video offers an entryway into the Young Earth Creationist worldview. Note that the video makes a number of erroneous scientific and historical claims, some of which we will discuss over the next few weeks. Responses to the other claims can be found here.

Required reading:

Assignment: Response due electronically by five pm on Friday. Instructions are as above. Note that there currently are problems with using Safari on a Mac to submit assignments. Please either use a PC (or a Mac running Firefox). If you cannot submit the assignment by 5pm, please email a copy to Tobie along with a copy of the screen you obtained when you tried to submit.


The Rise, and Fall, of Young Earth Creationism

This week we will be following the development of Young Earth Creationism - its first appearance in the early 1900's and eventual re-appearance in the 1960's and demise with a series of court cases in the early 1980's.

Required reading:

  • Morris "The Tenets of Scientific Creationism" [pdf]

Key people: William Jennings Bryan; George McCready Price; Henry Morris; Ken Ham;

Key ideas: Fundamentalism; Evangelism; Populism; Scopes Trial; Creation Research Society; Creation Social Science and Humanities Society; Foundation for Thought & Ethics; Institute for Creation Research; Tenets of "Scientific Creationism"; Epperson v Arkansas; McLean v Arkansas; Edwards v Aguillard;


YEC Claim: The Earth is Young

A central claim of Young Earth Creationism is that the Earth (and Universe) is younger than the age accepted by mainstream science. YECs argue that (1) currently used dating methods give false results, (2) there is evidence for a young earth, and (3) it is the evolutionary (atheistic) biases of mainstream science that results in acceptance of a (false) old Earth.

In this class we will examine the methods used to date the Earth, noting that these methods are based on theories which have nothing to do with an assumption (or even acceptance) ofevolution. We will then look at the creationist critique of these methods and the various alternative methods proposed by YECs.

Required Reading:

  • P. Nelson & J.M. Reynolds (1999) "Young Earth Creationism (with responses)," Chapter I of Three Views on Creation and Evolution [pdf]. Two YECs offer their reasons for believing in a young Earth in the face of overwhelming evidence against that stance.

Suggested Reading:

  • R.C. Weins (2002) "Radiometric dating: A Christian perspective" [pdf]. Weins offers an easy to understand summary of mainstream techniques for dating rocks.

Key people: Andrew Snelling; Kurt Wise; Paul Nelson; Phillip E Johnson

Key ideas: Radiometric dating; isotope; radioactive decay; isochron dating; Age of the Earth; Magnetic field decay; Variation in the speed of light; Ocean sedimentation methods;


YEC Claim: Each after his kind

A further important claim made by YECs is that there are discontinuities within the fossil record, gaps that are real rather than due to the nature of the process of fossilization. These gaps, they argue, delineate the "kinds" mentioned in Genesis 1. They argue that they can detect these originally created kinds (or baramin) using a series of techniques known as baraminology. This class will examine these techniques and outline what we know about the evolution of whales, a group that creationists claim are definitely a baramin. If we have time we will take a very brief look at human evolution (another "kind").

Required Reading:

Key People: Frank L. Marsh; Duane T. Gish; Todd Wood; Baraminology Study Group;

Key Ideas: Baramin; Dynamic Creation Model; "Orchard of Life"; Discontinuity Systematics; Hybridization; Process of fossilization; Types of ancestry; Whale evolution; Human evolution; Pseudogenes;


Spring Break


The Evolution of Intelligent Design

As a preparation for our examination of the major claims of Intelligent Design (ID), we will examine the development of the movement since the mid-1980's concentrating on the connections between ID and Young Earth Creationism.

Key People & Organizations: Phillip E. Johnson; Stephen Meyer; Michael Behe; Jonathan Wells; William Dembski; Michael Denton; Charles Thaxton; Ad Hoc Origins Committee; Discovery Institute; Center for (the Renewal of) Science & Culture;

Key Ideas: Intelligent Design; Edwards v. Aguillard; Of Pandas and People; Foundation for Thought and Ethics; Political action of the ID movement; The Wedge (Document); Kitzmiller v. Dover; Identity of the Designer; The theory of design; Relationship between ID and YEC;

Required Reading:

  • Norman Geisler (1984) “Paley’s Updated Argument” Creation/Evolution [pdf]
  • Richard Lumsden (1994) "Not so blind a watchmaker" Creation Research Society Quarterly [pdf]
  • David Berlinski (1996) "The Deniable Darwin" Commentary [pdf]
  • Center for Renewal of Science & Culture (1998) "The Wedge Document" [pdf]

"A bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions": The Positive Case for ID

Even if Intelligent Design is an "evolved" form of Young Earth Creationism, one that has come into being because of the selective environment, it is possible that it can present a positive case for design. In this class we will examine the two major ideas of modern intelligent design - irreducible complexity and complex specified information - and see whether the claims of their proponents (Behe and Dembski, respectively) are backed up by evidence.

Key People: William Dembski; Michael Behe; Tom Schneider

Key Ideas: irreducible complexity; complex specified information; MacGuyver Principle; "Front loading"; Evolution of the bacterial flagellum; Evolution of biochemical systems; Gene duplication; The Design Inference; Universal Probability Bound;


The Cambrian Explosion

One argument shared by creationists of all stripes is that the "Cambrian explosion" - a geologically rapid diversification in animal form that occurred approximately 530 thousand years ago - provides strong evidence against common descent and the efficacy of natural selection. ID proponent Jonathan Wells (whom we will devote more time to next week) claims that the event "presents a serious challenge to Darwinian evolution" and that "from nothing, we have almost everything, almost overnight." In this class we will examine how scientists use the fossil record, genetic evidence, and geochemistry to come to an understanding of what happened. Needless to say, it turns out that the creationists offer a caricatured version of the evidence within the fossil record while ignoring the genetic data.

Key People: Jonathan Wells; Stephen Meyer; Michael Denton; Louis Agassiz;

Key Ideas: Phylum; Polyphyletic view; Cambrian explosion; Stromatolites; Trace fossils; "Small shelly fauna"; Vendian (Ediacarian) fauna; Chengjiang; Burgess Shales; Lagerstatten; Post-Cambrian diversification;


The Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial.

Viewing: Judgment Day (PBS, 2007, 120 min).

Response due electronically by 5pm on Friday. Instructions are as above.

Suggested Reading:

  • Trial Summary [pdf]
  • Trial Decision [pdf]

The Icons of Evolution

The last set of creationist arguments we will be examining will be those contained in Jonathan Wells' book Icons of Evolution (Regnery, 2000). Wells makes the claim that the best "evidences" for evolution that are presented in textbooks are either erroneous or fraudulent and that students need to be made aware of this. Given the failure of ID to present a positive case for design, the movement is left making negative arguments against evolution. Wells' book was an initial attempt to formulate this strategy. His ideas, though debunked, occur again in both his subsequent writings and the supplementary textbook Explore Evolution (2007).

This is the last class upon which you will be tested at the final on April 29th.

Key People: Jonathan Wells;

Key ideas: The "icons" in context; Homeotic genes; Darwin's finches; Peppered moths; Haeckel's embryos; Avian evolution; Homology; Synapomorphies;


ID and Science Education in the US.

This class will tie together some of the threads from the semester and examine the issue of science education in this country. No slides will be made available before the class. Instructor evaluations will also be run at the beginning of class, so try and arrive on time! We will also announce the final written assignment.


Final Examination

The final examination will begin at 3:15 sharp. You will not be given a copy of the examination after that time, so arrive on time. You will need to bring a pencil and eraser. The examination will end at 4:45pm.

Final grades will be posted via the Registrars site after Reading Day.

The final written assignment is due (in hard copy) before the start of the final examination.