Saturday, January 29, 2005

Intelligent Design vs. Evolutionary Theory

As part of my Constitutional Law 2 class, topics are posted to a messageboard by the professor to which students can give their opinions. The professor posed the question of whether Intelligent Design (ID) can or should be taught alongside Evolutionary theory in public schools, or whether this would be an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

Below is the response I posted, with a few changes made for this version, to clean it up. I can't vouch for whether some of my points are valid in accordance with constitutional law, simply because I don't know all the relevant precedents yet. But, as food for thought, here is what I posted:
First, dispense with the notion that being a “theory” somehow tarnishes evolution. Gravity is also a “theory,” but we shouldn’t teach children that if they have enough faith they can defy it. And we shouldn’t have some cryptic warning read before the—cue ominous music—“theory” of gravity is taught.

Likewise dismiss the notion that ID is religious. It might be, and probably is, religiously motivated, but ID itself is secular—it merely explains the creation of the world as the work of a central intelligent designer. This intelligent designer is not “God” in any religious sense, as there are no traditions associated with it and it does not entail a heaven or hell, or any sort of afterlife.

But, as ID is not religious, it is also not science. Science, at least as we understand it today, concerns the natural, and the concept of a creator of nature is inherently supernatural. Therefore, I don’t think that ID should be taught in a biology class. Adam and I were talking about this, and we came to the agreement that ID could be taught in a philosophy class, or other such class about the speculation or limits of knowledge and science, and which didn’t rely on scientific testing. In fact, it might be appropriate to teach in a science class that science cannot explain the origins of man and the world, if the origin is supernatural, and so beyond the means of scientific testing.

Constitutionally, I think this should be left for each individual state, or indeed school, to decide. As ID is not inherently religious, some schools might decide that it should be taught as a logical, reasonable argument concerning whether the creation of the universe might be supernatural (and by “supernatural” I simply mean “not residing within the parameters of the natural world, or occurring before the creation of the natural world,” and so not capable of being measured by science, which must take all measurements from within, and pertaining to, the natural world). On the other hand, some schools might decide that ID is a bunch of pseudoscientific bunk.

The beauty of the school by school decision is that if a person does not like that ID is or is not being taught at their school, they can simply vote with their feet. If the graduates from one school go on to become millionaires, and the graduates from the other go on to wash the many cars of those millionaires, then the problem as to what should be taught will have been decided by the impartial operation of the market, rather than the partisan politicking of a polarized populace (palliteration!).

A last non sequitor: I would challenge the notion that merely teaching something in a public school implies government endorsement or establishment of the idea being taught. I was taught the Macarena in phys. ed. (seriously…THAT should be unconstitutional). Does this mean that the Macarena is now our national dance? Or is this a mistaken analogy? Schools, even secondary education I would assume, are places where sometimes heretical, even anti-establishment ideas are taught—ideas which by their very nature cannot carry the implication of government endorsement or establishment.
Related, after writing my post, I found this WSJ online article about the virtual blacklisting of a scientist that got an ID article to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. Read the whole thing, but the conclusion of the article makes some good points about the debate as a whole:
Intelligent Design, in any event, is hardly a made-to-order prop for any particular religion. When the British atheist philosopher Antony Flew made news this winter by declaring that he had become a deist--a believer in an unbiblical "god of the philosophers" who takes no notice of our lives--he pointed to the plausibility of ID theory.

Darwinism, by contrast, is an essential ingredient in secularism, that aggressive, quasi-religious faith without a deity. The Sternberg case seems, in many ways, an instance of one religion persecuting a rival, demanding loyalty from anyone who enters one of its churches--like the National Museum of Natural History.

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