Thursday, November 17, 2005

54. Teaching science intelligent choice

To the surprise of almost no one in the scientific community, President Bush came out in support of teaching Intelligent Design alongside evolution in high school science classes. The President believes that schools should teach Intelligent Design, "so people can understand what the debate is about." Unfortunately, it appears that the President himself does not understand, not only what the debate is about, but also, and more importantly, what is at stake.

As an issue, Intelligent Design is one of a number of subjects highlighting the "culture war" that has engaged our country, most significantly in the separation of church and state. I have previously written specifically on the issue of Intelligent Design and its impact on education in Ohio, so I will only summarize the idea again here.

Intelligent Design is the proposition that life is too complicated to have evolved on its own, that is, without divine intervention. Despite the fact that evolution is one of the most fundamental ideas in science, the same science that allows us to compare the DNA of species across millenniums, build skyscrapers high into our horizons and fly defiantly into outer space, it has been enthralled by religion as both contrary to the Biblical stories of origin and void of the idea that humans have been employed on the earth as something greater than animals. In that Intelligent Design is impossible to prove, it is not a scientific theory as much as it is a "default" idea. The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), petitions the notion, "Such unscientific attitudes belong in the Dark Ages, not America's classrooms."

However, greater than the issue of Intelligent Design, the concern is the poor performance of American high school students in comparison to students in other developed countries- especially Asia. Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Science asked, "How can it be that the nation that leads the world in science and technology still graduates a high school class, which in international comparisons, ranks very near the bottom in science and mathematics accomplishments?"

Moving forward, scientific knowledge is pertinent to the issues surrounding not only this country, but also around the globe. As science progresses, many social, economic and ethical questions are going to have to be considered. Inquiry into the social questions involving nuclear weapons, economic questions that weigh scientific exploration against social welfare, and ethical questions encompassing cloning and stem cell research are going to continue through the next decades. To properly consider these questions, and the many more forthcoming, Americans are going to have to receive a much better education in science than they have been afforded in the recent past. CSICOP harshly, but straightforwardly, concurs, "A public ignorant about the principles of biology is incompetent to make reasonable well-informed decisions on crucial personal, social and economic issues." Consequently, to continue to waste valuable resources in discussing the teaching of Intelligent Design alongside evolution not only demonstrates a lack of knowledge in science, but it also hinders scientific study and continues to divide American culture.

The issue should not be about separating church and state, for even if the metaphoric wall between the two did not exist, Intelligent Design would still have no claim to the science curriculum. Moreover, the issue should not be made to be a religious or political matter- further dividing Americans across the political spectrum. Finally, it is not an issue of equality or debate, as the President suggests. It is an education issue, specifically a science education issue- a discipline in which American education has greatly suffered.

President Bush also said, "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought." I agree with this statement to a point, but does that suggest that science should also teach that the Earth is flat, the Sun orbits around the Earth, and that rain dances may succeed in times of drought? With enough "schools of thought," and outdated ideas, we might not ever actually get around to teaching science.

No comments:

Post a Comment