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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Keep ‘intelligent design’ out of science class

Published: February 10, 2012
Section: Opinions

When a man and a woman really love each other, a stork flies by and drops a baby down their chimney. We’re all familiar with this story. Our parents used to tell it to us when we were little. Yet any adult who still believed this story literally would be met with a well-deserved mix of laughter and incredulity. And teachers who actually tried to teach this in health class would likely be ridiculed and fired for not doing their job.

What does this have to do with anything? Right now, in the United States, we’re in a very similar position in science classrooms. There’s a movement underway that is pushing an agenda to inject something called “intelligent design” into the standard biology curriculum. Intelligent design, or ID, is the pseudoscientific idea that life was created by a supernatural intelligence, instead of evolving from previous life forms by means of natural selection. This probably sounds familiar. Indeed, this concept of “creationism” is a common element of many religions. Yet proponents will try to argue that ID is science and not just a re-branded, more politicized form of religion.

If you paid attention in history class, you know that the First Amendment guarantees everyone the right to believe whatever they wish to believe, and the freedom to practice those beliefs as long as they don’t infringe on the rights of others. So what’s the problem? The First Amendment also implies a separation of church and state, so the government cannot interfere with religion and vice-versa. Teaching any form of creationism in government-funded schools would therefore be unconstitutional. Thus, ID should not be a mandatory part of public science education.

Why should you care about any of this? Because those who are educated in the present control the future. We cannot allow the integrity of science to be compromised.

The subject of science and religion has always been a tense one because it makes people uncomfortable. Political correctness aside, can science and religion get along? Or are they fundamentally at odds with each other? Yes and no. To be more specific, they can indeed coexist but—here’s the important part—only as long as they both know their limitations, and stay within those boundaries. They can live in peace but they shouldn’t mix. Keep science in science class and religion in church.

The reason science has been so successful—the reason it works—is precisely because science has only dealt with that which can be measured and observed directly or indirectly. On all other matters, science must remain silent. Otherwise, it would no longer be science. It can’t and shouldn’t tell you what to “believe” or how you should live your life. But in those cases where religion oversteps its bounds, when it’s no longer dealing only with matters of faith and morality but starts to make factual claims, claims that can be tested, then it has trespassed into the territory of science.

ID is not just bad science; it’s bad religion. It tries to find spirituality by contradicting or misrepresenting science, or looking at the gaps that science cannot yet explain—gaps that are getting smaller with every passing day. Science starts with the facts and follows them to a conclusion. ID starts with the conclusion and tries to bend the facts to justify it. I’m not going to go into all the “arguments” for ID as all are based on a misunderstanding of evolution. We should respect other people’s beliefs, but we shouldn’t tolerate ignorance.

Intelligent design is “not even wrong,” because there’s no experiment that could disprove it, even in principle. That’s a bad thing. To clarify, what ID claims about evolution is wrong, but what it proposes instead of it—an intelligent agent that designed all life—is not falsifiable, and hence not scientific. Some ID advocates have argued that ID doesn’t actually postulate a designer or concern itself with the designer’s identity, but only tries to look for evidence of design—by disproving part or all of evolution. Either way, ID isn’t actually offering a new scientific theory, only trying to discredit an existing one. It’s not an “alternative explanation” because it explains nothing. Research-wise, it’s a dead end. Even in the unlikely event that evolution turned out to be wrong, that still wouldn’t mean that ID is right.

The problem with teaching both ID and evolution is that it’s a lot like teaching the “stork theory of reproduction” as an alternative to sex ed, and letting the students “decide” which one is true. There’s no “controversy” between ID and evolution. There is only a war for your mind.