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"Unintelligent Design": What "Dialogue" about ID Looks Like at One Southeastern University


An email correspondent brings to my attention a course to be offered at Lynn University in Florida for the fall 2015 semester titled "Unintelligent Design" (backup PDF) taught by biologist Gary Villa (backup link). It's part of Lynn's "Dialogues of Learning" course offerings, under the specific category "Dialogues of Belief and Reason." As the course's title suggests, this doesn't sound much like a dialogue, but a monologue where the professor bashes intelligent design. The impression is confirmed in the description of "Unintelligent Design" in Lynn's online catalogue:

Ever since its original publication, the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection has been attacked by certain segments of society, largely on religious grounds. The most recent version of these attacks has been the invention of what is claimed by its proponents as an "alternative theory" called Intelligent Design. In this course we will study the scientific theory of Evolution, including how it has been expanded in the 150 years since Darwin first proposed it, and then compare it with the pseudoscientific idea of Intelligent Design. We will evaluate Intelligent Design in terms of its fitness as a scientific theory, and also analyze its arguments against naturalistic evolution. The goal of the course is to have students learn about a significant scientific theory, the difference between science and pseudoscience, and learn how to critically evaluate both scientific and non-scientific claims.

(Click here for a backup PDF of Lynn's "Dialogues" course descriptions.)

Now, I have no problem with students learning about evolutionary science and how it's changed since Darwin's time. Nor do I have any problem with their studying "the difference between science and pseudoscience, and...how to critically evaluate both scientific and non-scientific claims." And if they want to critically evaluate ID, more power to them!

But it seems like the real purpose of this class isn't to critically evaluate ID, but to bash it as a "pseudoscientific idea" that is "unintelligent" and promoted only by "certain segments of society" on "religious grounds." In other words, rather than squarely examine ID's best arguments, the idea is to promote a false caricature.

I don't know exactly what reading materials will be required in the course, but I'd be pleasantly shocked if it included any lectures from a pro-ID speaker, any readings from pro-ID peer-reviewed scientific research papers, any rebuttals to anti-ID arguments from ID proponents, or if it otherwise exposed students to any experts on ID to deal with common objections.

I suspect the class will mostly (if not entirely) be Professor Villa up there promoting his own favorite criticisms of straw man versions of ID -- probably common objections which are easy to answer if you understand what ID really is. In fact, I would strongly recommend The College Student's Guide to Intelligent Design as an unofficial resource for the class, and also would recommend that students check out Discovery Institute's Summer Seminar on Intelligent Design if they want to hear another viewpoint on the issue.

Note, too, that these "Dialogues" courses aren't mere electives; they're part of the core curriculum at Lynn University:

The first two years are highly structured, with explicit goals and outcomes staked out in course guides for faculty. In the first two years, half of students' classes are foundational courses -- dubbed "Dialogues of Learning" -- in four thematic areas: Self and Society; Justice and Civic Life; Belief and Reason; and Dialogues of Innovation, which takes place in the January intersession. In total, students take 12 of these courses over four years.
According to a faculty guide, Dialogues courses under the "Belief and Reason" heading should include study of "The Search for Origins":
How was the universe created? What is the origin of human existence? What is our place in the universe? What is human nature? Is there a God? If there is, what role does God play? In short, what is the meaning of life? These are some of the most fundamental questions that every society throughout history and across the globe has tried to answer in its search for explanations. The Dialogues of Belief and Reason frames these key questions and presents a variety of profound religious and philosophical narratives that exemplify and embody this quest for answers.
That all sounds fine and good. But will the class explore these questions in an objective manner? Titling a course "Unintelligent Design" and promising to bash it as a "pseudoscientific idea" doesn't bode well, but it does hearken back to a similar course taught at Southern Methodist University whose website said, "You don't have to teach both sides of a debate if one side is a load of crap." All present appearances suggest this course at Lynn University will likewise promote not a true "dialogue" but a sham one about intelligent design.

Image: � kasto / Dollar Photo Club.