Using the Phoniness of “Intelligent Design” to Improve Science Teaching

Charles Krauthammer, in his piece in the Washington Post, Phoney Theory, False Conflict points out how intelligent design foolishly pits evolution against faith. As I have discussed here, intelligent design—by its own nature—is not science. Science involves asking questions. Science involves seeking answers to questions unknown. Science involves inquiry. Intelligent design—by its own nature—is a dead end because it claims that some things simply are too complicated to be investigated further. Some “intelligence” must have created the complicated structure. End of story—end of inquiry.

Krauthhammer, in his article, points out that “in order to justify the farce that intelligent design is science, Kansas had to corrupt the very definition of science, dropping the phrase ” natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us,” thus unmistakably implying — by fiat of definition, no less — that the supernatural is an integral part of science. This is an insult both to religion and science. The school board thinks it is indicting evolution by branding it an “unguided process” with no “discernible direction or goal.” This is as ridiculous as indicting Newtonian mechanics for positing an “unguided process” by which Earth is pulled around the sun every year without discernible purpose.”

One of the implications of these events (in Dover, PA, in Georgia, in Kansas) is for science teachers to help students understand the nature of science. What is science? How is science carried out? Who does science? Who funds science? Involving students in experiences in which students ask questions, and use inquiry to find answers to these questions is a fundamental goal of science teaching, and should be underscored and integral to science teaching. This is the intelligence that is needed in science teaching.

Closing Arguments (in the Dover Case)

On November 4, the closing arguments were presented to the Judge in the Dover, PA case which was brought to court by a group of parents in Dover against the Dover School District and Board. You can read the transcripts of this 21 day trial and learn a great deal about science education, evolutionary theory, Intelligent Design, and how a small community was pulled apart by a four-paragraph statement that was imposed on science teachers in the district. The case has a lot of similarities to the the case brought against the Cobb County (Georgia) School District by a group of parents who objected to a sticker that was ordered placed in every life science and biology text book declaring that evolution was “just” a theory, and that it should be studied critically. In this case, the Judge ruled in favor of the parents claim, and the school district had to remove each sticker from every life science/biology textbook in the district.

What will happend in the Dover case? My hope is that the same ruling will result as did in the Georgia case. Clearly, in the Dover case, the district was endorsing a religious view, and directly changing the nature of science, and the integrity of science teaching. Intelligent design is not science; it is not the result of scientific investigation (although the proponents will try and convince you so); it is religous dogma.

In his closing argument, the plaintiffs’ attorney reminded the court that it was ironic that the case was being decided in the only colony, and the only place under British rule in the 18th century where religious freedom was the law, and yet the school board defied this principle, this law to impose their own religious views on students in the school district by disguising a religous idea (intelligent design, formerly known as creationism) as a scientific idea—the government school’s attorney actually suggested that it was a “new paridigm” in science. Interestingly, the school board members that supported this idea were tossed out of office four days after the closing argument!

The People Have Spoken

Whew! What a day. First, the court case in Dover, PA came to a close on last Friday, and then yesterday all of the school board members that supported the inclusion of Intelligent Design into the science curriculum were swept out of office. That’s right they all lost their bid for re-election. Is the Judge listening? And in Kansas, the State Board of Education approved the new edition of the State’s Science Standards which redefined evolution, pointing out that it is a flawed theory. Furthermore, the board redefined science so that non-natural explanations could be used to explain natural phenomena. Kansas, we have a problem.

Galileo’s Mistake

Galileo’s Mistake. That title of a book caught my attention. I have always been interested in Galileo’s life and the contributions that he made to science, thus, the title was intriguing. Written by Wade Rowland, Ethics in Communication professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, the book is extremely timely in light the culture war going on between science and religion. Royland’s thesis is that it was a mistake for Galileo to insist that science—and only science—provides the truth about reality. According to the author, Galileo asserted the primacy of science in the territory of truth, thereby straying from purely scientific inquiry into the theological realm—resulting in a war with the Catholic Church. Furthermore, Rowland identifies what he calls the “myth of Galileo,” the understanding that Galileo’s trial with the Church was played out with Galileo “as the paladin of truth and freedom opposing a venal and closed-minded Church. According to Rowland’s research, this was untrue—a myth that has made its way into the history of science (see, for example, Jacob Bronowski’s video series or text, The Ascent of Man–where the myth part of Chapter 6). The concept in this book is important to science education because we have been involved in a battle since the Scopes Trial on the origins and development of life. What is the truth regarding the origin and development of species. Does it remain only in the realm of science, or religion, or is there a way the a holistic view might shed more light on the question of origins? What do you think?