Sunday, November 13, 2005

Dover, PA's intelligent design flap shows intolerance, inflexibility

Readers of this blog will know by now that I am no friend of the hardline "intelligent design" crowd. Those folks that want religious creationism taught in the same class and literally side by side with the theory of evolution are simply wrong in my book and for a simple reason. The concept of intelligent design is not science. It's not really even a theory. It's an article of faith taught by priests and other believers from written and spoken accounts handed down from evangelists and, eventually, God. There's rub, you see. How do you test such a "theory?" You don't. The concept is accepted as a matter of faith or it's not. There's no scientific method you can apply to the claims and determine whether or not they are valid. You can't observe the effect in any kind of record available and make the determination that it's more or less likely to have occured. You accept that it's the right explanation based upon your granting of the authority to make the claim to someone you trust to make the claim. You trust your clergy or your own relationship to the Divine enough that when you hear or read the details of creation as your religion tells them, you accept it.

Can you imagine approaching medicine in the same way? Sure, you may trust your doctor, but there's a whole host of metrics available to tell you whether that person is worthy of the trust. Medical degrees, certification boards, medical audits and the like all combine to give you the sense of trust required to stand still and allow someone to actually inject a foreign substance into your veins. Withdraw all the evidence available to you that your doctor is actually capable in the field of medicine - all the diplomas, all the certifications, all the assurances of people you trust who have had good experiences, medically, with this person - and tell me how likely you are to act the same way. Me? Not so much.

Evolution, however, is a theory. There's evidence suggesting its presence as a process in life and information available in the fossil record that can be examined for patterns. It suggests rules that would apply to life and the formation of the varied forms we see on this planet. Most importantly, it begins to suggest predictable patterns in how a species changes over time and in response to environment in order to survive and thrive. This is the crux of Darwin's theory and it is most certainly scientific in nature.

Evolution, however, is a theory. The fact remains that while considerable research has been done and lots of information collected, we still don't have observable evidence of evolution. When you consider the timeframe we're discussing, this isn't surprising. Evolution is theoretically an extemely long process with literally tens of thousands of years and generations passing before even the smallest of changes will surface. When you take into account the fact that we've only been studying this process for a couple of hundred years - and less, with any great effort - it's not unreasonable to be where we are. Reasonable or not, however, it's still a theory. It deserves to be taught, yes, and science is where it needs to be taught. It is not unreasonable to teach that it is a theory.

Which brings us to the intelligent design vs. evolution conflict, specifically the one in Dover, PA. The media accounts are giving everyone the impression that the former board was going to basically replace the evolution discussion with a chapter on creationism. This was not the case. Direct from the Board's web site is this copy of what was going to be spoken aloud in class before the evolution material was discussed.

::::::::"The state standards require students to learn about Darwin's Theory of Evolution and to eventually take a standardized test of which evolution is a part. Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered.

A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.

As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind.

The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life up to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses on the standards and preparing students to be successful on standards-based assessments."

Let's address the 1 problem I have here before I go on: "the" reference book. All the material available regarding evolution and, as an alternative being held up as an equally viable theory, we have a suggestion that students wanting to know more should go to the library and see "the" reference book. One. This viable alternative has just one book that explains it? Doesn't sound like a widely-held theory to me, and I've not even read the book. It would have been far better to suggest that numerous religions hold intelligent design as the truth of the origins of life and encourage the student to ask their families for more information. Period. I'm skipping lightly past the commentary I've seen on the book, Of Pandas and People. If even a quarter of what I'm reading on the subject is true, it's not looking good for the intelligent design crew.

Be that as it may, I need to ask just what the harm is in telling students this before embarking on a study of a scientific theory? Sure, it's not science. So what? It's pertinent to the discussion and the entire spiel would take about 20 seconds to perform. It might - Darwin forbid - actually get students interested in inquiring about the theory and the related controversy as a whole. For the evolutionists to be basically screaming that it shouldn't even be mentioned in front of the children, let alone discussed sounds more like the typical secularist's view of the church. Blasphemy shall not be allowed within the walls of the temple (of education) and transgressions shall be punished with swiftness, in Darwin's name!! (Let us not pray...)

As I've said, repeatedly, I'm not for discussing intelligent design, creationism, or whatever label we're using this week in science classes. The concept is not scientific and does not belong in a science class eating up time and effort that most curricula don't have available anyway. But the reaction from the secular crowd shows a complete intolerance for people getting the whole story even when it's not taking up any of the time they use to push their theory. It makes us look bad; like we're every bit the pulpit-pounding, wild-eyed fundamentalists we claim to abhor.

I've lost the link to the story now, but I read that the new board is planning a pre-topic caveat of their own and will direct students to want to know more to take an elective class on comparative religions that is to be offered at the school. More on that will follow if I can re-locate the bloody link. Stay tuned.