Thursday, April 15, 2004

19. Evolution still not only theory

The Ohio School Board, in early February, voted to include ideas about "Intelligent Design" in science lesson plans. The issue is a both a passionate and sensitive one, and in its discussion I will attempt to tread cautiously, and with a great deal of sensitivity. And before I go any further, it is important to note that a belief in God and whether or not "Intelligent Design" should be taught in science classes can be, in fact, mutually exclusive. Thus, a campaign against teaching "Intelligent Design" in the classroom is not a campaign against God. Before continuing, I hope that point is clear.

The most important idea surrounding the issue is the fact that "Intelligent Design" is not a scientific theory or principle. Let me write that again, slowly, so that the Ohio School Board might be better able to understand. "Intelligent (that's not insensitivity, that's sarcasm). "Intelligent Design" is the idea that life was too complex to have evolved on its own, that is, without a "guiding hand" (i.e. God). Fair enough, evolution is a very complicated process and one needs to understand an array of scientific disciplines to fully appreciate it. Biochemistry, genetics, paleontology, mammalian anatomy, embryology and microbiology, to name a few, either play a part in its processes or are a part of its understanding. Physics, chemistry, geology and biology, without exception, tell the same story of life on this planet- the story of evolution. Evolution is the most tested of all scientific theories. And that is the major problem with "Intelligent Design." It makes no predictions and, therefore, it is not testable. Science is built upon the scientific method, and thus if it cannot be tested- it cannot be science. It doesn't mean the idea is a bad one, it just means that it is not science. The Ohio Board recommends that students use outside resources to study "Intelligent Design." Here's the catch, there are no scientific journals offering research on the subject. The only mention one will find in scientific literature is the debunking of the idea as scientific.

Another problem of "Intelligent Design" is the fact that we are not all that "well designed." The bipedal gait is extremely inefficient, and is the source of many other problems such as bad backs, hernias and a cumbersome birth canal. For most, eyesight is aided soon after, if not before, reproductive age. Comparative mammalian anatomy suggests that humans endure large amounts of inefficiency in exchange for big brains and an upright posture. Furthermore, embryology notes gill slits and tails very early in our development. And as a defining proof, our genes match those of the chimpanzee more closely than a horse does a donkey. Evidence overwhelmingly suggests that we were evolutionarily designed.

If "Intelligent Design" is not science, and not really even properly named, how then has it made it into the classroom? There are a couple of reasons. The fight for some is about being fair, presenting two ways in which humans came to inhabit the earth. Those with religious views that might be in conflict with evolution, of course, are the ones bringing this issue forth. I could fairly ask, however, if alternative views of religion or science are presented on Sundays in church. Does the preacher present the Christian view on a subject, and then offer the corresponding Muslim view? Why not? Is this not fairer than the proposed equity in science classes, for both at least are religious teachings?

The second reason is the push by conservatives in the never-ending assault on the separation of church and state. Make no mistake about it; "Intelligent Design" is a religious theory- religious in the sense that someone has to have faith in what they are being taught. By opening the door to "Intelligent Design," conservatives have successfully snuck creationism into the classroom. I must admit; I admire their tenacity. The truth is that the money and power is on the side of the conservatives, and that only the Constitution stands in the way of their plight. But the question is: Why does this never-ending battle with conservatives exist? The church has the attention of children, from age 5 to 18 and sometimes two to three times a week, to present its ideas. The theory of evolution must be a powerful one if the church feels that a child can be persuaded to change his or her life perspective in only a couple of weeks of high school biology.

The inclusion of "Intelligent Design" in high school classrooms demonstrates a lack of knowledge of the idea presented, in the scientific method and the reason for the separation of church and state. The idea has been successfully muddled in the waters of equality and religion, two streams of thought that has rarely, if ever before, flowed together in the sea of religious tradition. That a state school board of professional educators might be fooled into an alternate idea, or cave under political pressure, is not anything less than embarrassing. For it now appears that Ohio has joined Kansas as the joke of the scientific community.

No comments:

Post a Comment