Monday, August 29, 2005

Revisit on Intelligent Design; New Comment breeds New Debate

An earlier post of mine has elicited some interesting comments and one, in particular, as of late. Rather than just add another comment, since the original post was buried in the archives, I'll start a new post.

In that original post, I had contended that I didn't think personal politics or religious doctrine (outside of a religion course) should be taught within a public school.

The part, naturally, that fired up the comments was it came around the same time U.S. President George Bush announced that he wanted the concept of "intelligent design" to be taught in public schools.

Jess from jess mahone, came in with the latest comment and specifically the one that I want to continue the debate with. I'm referring to the first paragraph of her comment:
"Intelligent design," as I understand it, is to be taught with evolution, and having been taught in a U.S. public school, I can say that evolution- which itself is not proven (well, specifically macro-evolution is not)- is absoutely taught as the only acceptable viewpoint, and students are frequently discouraged from having any religious viewpoint in any course, not simply science. So yes, Jim, Andy is dead on. To teach one theory as fact to the neglect of all other theories is wrong.
Where it gets controversial is that while evolution is a pan-scientific theory (generally accepted by all scientists, although they may disagree on the particulars), intelligent design is not a pan-religious theory accepted by all religions. On top of that, science class, as it should be taught, is not about teaching science. It's about teaching the scientific method; the purpose, the hypothesis, the observations, and the conclusion. Not all conclusions are reachable, that's why further experimentation is required. Besides evolution, there are other theories of a similar nature - relativity, black holes, quantum mechanics, etc.

First, let me talk about the scientific method.

I'll start with an example; it is insufficient for students to be taught that fire causes hydrogen to explode "just because". They must be taught why it explodes, why we think it explodes, what is the chemical reaction, what are the after effects, and ultimately, does it really explode or is just a theory? If we can't come to a conclusion, what further experimentation can we do to lend evidence to our hypothesis?

Intelligent design does not lend itself to the scientific method because it doesn't lend itself to observation - we have to believe that God (or whomever) pushed or prodded or threw that lightning bolt to get things moving. That's faith. That's the domain of religion and should reside solely there. So, while you may argue that the proof of evolution is as as elusive as it is for intelligent design, evolution has produced scientific observations - a wide body of observations, in fact.

Secondly, intelligent design is not a pan-religious belief. Not all religions nor religious belief structures (eg. polytheism, agnosticism or atheism) hold to a hand-of-God-directly-intervening type of scenario - will we introduce all "intelligent design" theories, or just certain, more "popular" ones? Public schools need to be inclusive of all belief structures within core courses - even if that makes them secular. That's why, I support religious theology teaching (of all religions), but not adding doctrine to core courses. Religious theology should be optional, like Grade 11 Latin was for me (where, incidentally, I learned the Lord's Prayer in Latin - Pater Noster, qui est in caelus - can you tell I was a hit at parties?). Within those theology courses, you can teach the creation stories and the moral philosophy.

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2 comments:

Jess said...

Although I still take exception with your argument, I'm mainly shocked that you used my comment at all to write about. I'm rather honored, I suppose.
A HUGE flaw in your argument is the assumption that students have access to theology and religion courses in U.S. public schools when this is absolutely not the case. I have a degree in religion and did not take a single religion course until college. The majority of public schools do not have them because of a group called the ACLU, who would wet their pants at the mention of such a thing. I know of no philosophy courses being offered in public schools either.
The concept of intelligent design may indeed involve faith. I submit to you that evolution does as well. It has not been PROVEN conclusively (Being an accepted theory is far different than being proven.), and therefore, there is some degree of faith involved. Therefore, the claim that intelligent design is less deserving of mention based on having a faith component is absurd. If your argument is that a component of faith renders a theory unsuitable for teaching, then evolution should bn't be taught as well. Additionally, a mention of it, which is not allowed as of now, as at least an alternative THEORY would not be detrimental to anyone.
Also, to the "pan-religious" concept, the major theistic (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and the Buddhist/ Hindu traditions) religions adhere to the intelligent design/ creationism concept. Most major religions that I am aware of have some concept of creation or the beginning of time. Intelligent design is not specific to Christianity, so that is a moot point in terms of being "inclusive." I am not as familiar with non-theistic traditions, so I won't speak on them, but I would assume they fall into either the evolution or intelligent design categories, and therefore, the course would remain be far more "inclusive" with intelligent design than it is without. Right now, it is simply not "inclusive."
As for the "just because" example of fire causing hydrogen to explode, there's this theory of the "big bang." What caused it? No one knows really why, just that it happened, so that is also a bad argument because that sort of thing IS taught.
However, the real point I wanted to get across was that evolution was not being thrown out in favor of intelligent design as some implied or outright stated.

Jim said...

I thought your comment was well thought out, and I didn't want it to get buried in my archives, if I responded to it.

And you're correct, theology is not taught normally in the public school system, as a general rule. In Canada, though, we often have elective courses available for students if there's demand - for example, Latin, Spanish, American History, etc. that aren't truly a part of the core curriculum. It's conceivable then, that a theology course could be taught as an elective.

Back to the debate. The basis of my argument is that theological responses to science (or any discipline for that matter), cannot be subjected to observation. We cannot "observe" intelligent design, anymore than we can "observe" that there is a Garden of Eden and all humanity sprung from two original parents.

It's for that reason, I suggest that it does not belong in a science class where observation is being taught.