- In typical fashion George Bush has put the cat among
the pigeons with his August 1 endorsement of intelligent design. He is
reported to have said that intelligent design should be taught "so
people can understand what the debate is about" More potentially
catastrophic, however, he basically endorsed giving intelligent design
equal standing in the curriculum with scientific study of nature, including
the origins of life, key areas of which focus on evolution. Such a move
is strongly opposed by leading scientific groups such as the National Academy
of Sciences, but, of course, the Bush endorsement is being viewed by his
Christian supporters as a virtually unfunded mandate to corrupt the science
programs of the American educational system.
- The "debate" Bush referred to is a fraud. The
intelligent design case, glitzed up with scientific sounding terms such
as "irreducible complexity" is that life is too important and
too complicated to be explained by mundane processes such as evolution.
This argument is simply absurd, when you consider that scientists now
have examined the materials of life down to the sub-cellular level, have
mapped the human and other animal genomes and have worked with them sufficiently
to attribute the behavior, origins and remedies for various human conditions
to genetic functions. Moreover, enough is now known about numerous living
things of importance to human survival--cows, chickens, corn and others--so
that specific characteristics can be developed and predictably created.
To be sure, the complexity is real, but in many instances it has been disassembled
and mapped enough to enable change in the characteristics of living things.
Perhaps the complexity of living things is not alterable, but it is not
by that token beyond understanding.
- The "debate" is also a diversion. As now couched,
we seem to have an either/or choice--as postulated by the intelligent design
advocates--between scientific discoveries such as evolution on one hand
and intelligent design on the other. The presumption of this argument
has to be that a designer of the system would not have used a process such
as evolution to create and mature living things. That qualifies as a preemptive
conclusion, but one can reasonably ask: Why not? The universe itself is
visibly in a constant state of change, and numerous "evolutionary"
processes are visible. The view from planet earth now provides us with
a vista of evolution and change that is recorded in fossil light billions
of years old when it reaches our eyes. That evidence accumulates daily.
Our own planet has records in its rocks and landforms that simply tell
us things not only have changed, but they are still changing. Adaptive,
including evolutionary processes of change are evident in the histories
of every creature we know about. A designer would not have thrown those
possibilities in just for variety, but to permit, perhaps even assure survival
of certain species across a changing environment. A designer smart enough
to create a system that is naturally subject to change simply would know
that. Evolution would be only one of the tools.
- Intelligent design advocates thus are trapped in the
constraints of their own logic. Their fidelity to creationism is inescapable.
The idea that life evolved rather than being instantly created is simply
not tolerable. The design says that everything is as it was created, and
nothing has changed since the beginning. That the designer might have taken
its time with the development and improvement of its product seems somehow
anathema. There are no tests to make, no experiments to run. One cannot
repeat the creation to prove it was done in some particular way. One simply
does not question the story. Such parameters make intelligent design a
doctrine, not an explanation. It simply lacks the intellectual substance
that is essential to discovery, detached examination, experimentation,
and learning--that is to say to serious teaching in the context of science.
- Once Bush has created this odd couple link between science
and intelligent design, there are other odd academic couples we might introduce:
We could redesign school curriculums to teach alchemy and chemistry, astrology
and astronomy, mythology and history, science fiction and space technology,
telepathy and telecommunications. All come instantly to mind. There are
proper areas in human learning for contemplating all of these subjects,
but it is not sensible thereby to teach them in the same class.
- But the real tragedy of the situation is that Bush has
made an academic recommendation for a political purpose. This is hardly
the first time such a thing has occurred, but it is a big one for this
presidency. At a time when the need for ever more rigorous science is needed
to explore and explain the way things work to us, the injection of intelligent
design into science teaching is a backward step that, as some critics suggest,
is likely to put the United States behind other developed nations in scientific
exploration, to say nothing of the harm it can do to the knowledge base
of ordinary citizens.
- The subject has, however, a proper place in the realms
of personal and community beliefs and philosophy. Religion itself is a
complex subject. Adherents to Christianity, Judaism and Islam comprise
together a bit more than a third of humanity. The other two thirds have
belief systems that have worked for them for millennia, and in some instances
they are older than the Old Testament. An attempt to link the teaching
of science only with the beliefs of Christendom simply ignores the much
larger human experience. It would promote, at best, an inadequate understanding,
while, holding to apriori truths, it would stifle learning.
- The opponents of including intelligent design in science
teaching programs are not saying the subject should not be discussed or
taught in appropriate academic classes. They are saying simply that intelligent
design is not a proper subject for the science classroom.
- The real debate here is about the spark. Science can
explain the processes of living things, the conception, growth and development
of them, whether human or subhuman. But science, so far, has not explained
the spark, that transformation of inert chemicals into living tissue that
becomes capable of sensing, knowing, thinking, communicating, and, yes,
believing. That is the mystery that Darwinism and the rest of science do
not explain. But that mystery is the central focus of religion. Injecting
this mystery into science explains nothing, and, experience has shown that
if it is imposed as a doctrinal limitation on exploration and discovery,
it will interfere with and diminish everything it touches. It would impose
on science a limiting framework of prior beliefs, while science, as a matter
of principle, deals with a prior thought as a point of departure. Let
us not get mixed up on this.
- The author is a writer and speaker on global issues and
- columnist on rense.com. He was trained as a teacher but
spent most of his professional career as an officer of the US Foreign Service.
He has an AB from Stanford, a Master's and a General Secondary Teaching
Credential from San Jose State University. He is a graduate of the National
War College, and he served as Chairman of the National War College Department
of International Studies. He will welcome comments at firstname.lastname@example.org