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By Ernest H. Richardson
Pratt, Kansas

Is intelligent design a religion? If so, must its presentation in public schools be prohibited as a violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause? To answer these questions, we must define our terms -- "intelligent design" and "religion."

" Intelligent design" is a theory of the origins of life that suggests that intelligent causes best explain the origin of living systems and their features. The theory is based on the empirically-testable assumption that systems which exhibit high-information content are more likely the result of an intelligent design rather than undirected natural causes. Simply put in lay terms, living things are too complex to have happened by chance and there was likely some intelligent cause involved in their origins.

" Religion" on the other hand has been variously defined. The U.S. Supreme Court said in the late 1800's that "the term 'religion' has reference to one's views of his relations to his Creator, and to the obligations they impose of reverence for his being and character, and of obedience to his will." Davis v. Beason, 133 U.S. 333, 342 (1890).
A typical dictionary definition usually defines "religion," as does the American Heritage College Dictionary (3rd ed.), as "[belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe; a system grounded in such belief and worship."

And in 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court defined "religion" as "beliefs which are based upon a power or being, or upon a faith, to which all else is subordinate or upon which all else is ultimately dependent." United State v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, 176 (1965).

It should be apparent that "intelligent design" does not meet any of these definitions of "religion." Intelligent design says nothing about whether a person has or should have a relationship with a creator (if there is one), and says nothing about whether there are or should be any obligations or duties owed to a creator (if there is one). Nor does intelligent design require belief in, reverence for, or worship of a supernatural power. Intelligent design does not suggest that the intelligent is a supernatural intelligent cause. Intelligent design simply says nothing of whether the intelligent cause is a supernatural or non-supernatural intelligent cause. Furthermore, intelligent design does not suggest that all else in life is subordinate to it as a theory of origins or is ultimately dependent on it.

For an even starker contrast between intelligent design and religion, consider for a moment characteristics typically seen in religions -- characteristics which are clearly not seen in intelligent design.

Intelligent design has no liturgy or form of public worship, no clergy or people ordained for religious service, no observance of religious holidays, no sacred text, and no churches or other religious institutions. Intelligent design, unlike religion, takes no position on the existence of God or gods, does not require belief in God or gods, takes no position on any theory of morality or code of ethics, presents no opinion as to an afterlife, and holds no opinion on the ultimate meaning of life or the universe.

Additionally, intelligent design does not teach that the universe was created by God, that the universe was created suddenly out of nothing, that the earth's geology can be explained primarily by the occurrence of a world-wide flood, or that the earth is old or young. For these reasons, it cannot be said that intelligent design is a religion.

Some however may say that even if intelligent design is not a religion, it is consistent with religion and cannot be presented in the public school classroom. That contention is inconsistent with prior decisions of the Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that the Establishment Clause is not violated simply because government takes some action or position that is consistent with religion. For if the Establishment Clause were violated by government actions that were consistent with religion, laws against murder, theft, and adultery, to name a few, would be found unconstitutional because they are consistent with the commandments 'thou shalt not kill, steal, or commit adultery.'

Is intelligent design a religion? Clearly, the answer is "no."
Would the First Amendment's Establishment Clause be violated by the presentation of intelligent design in the public school classroom? Again, the answer is "no."
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I do not claim for credit for all the ideas expressed in this paper. Some of the material was borrowed from the Legal Guidebook prepared by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics.

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