Proponents of intelligent design try a new approach

Posted on June 13, 2008

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In the beginning, God created heaven and earth and all the creatures and Man in his creation, and He saw His creation was going to be trouble in the 1800s. Then Man developed the scientific method, and eventually was born a man named Charles Darwin, and God said “uh oh….” for, in His omniscience, He knew what was coming. And Charles Darwin developed his hypothesis of natural selection, which was then tested and retested and corrected and verified uncountable times and elevated to the level of scientific theory, with proof nearly as strong as for the Laws of Motion and gravitation and quantum mechanics and Murphy’s Law.

And God’s followers said “uh oh,” for while they lacked God’s omniscience, they could see the writing on the wall. And so many of God’s followers attacked the theory of evolution as godless untruths and against the literal truth of the Creation, although which version of Creation was something God’s followers couldn’t agree on and killed each other over. And scientists fought back with logic, the scientific method, and peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals, and eventually beat back the “creationism” assault.

So God’s more virulent followers tried a flanking maneuver called “intelligent design” that very nearly worked until scientists and pointed out that ID was religion, not science, and didn’t belong in the science classroom. But using their God-given creativity, His same followers who had been beaten a second time changed their approach yet again….

There are a few new laws working their way through the state legislatures around the country that are designed to insert intelligent design into the science classroom yet again. These new laws don’t mention intelligent design in any way, focusing instead on the “academic freedom” to teach alternate and competing ideas. The laws represent yet another change in tactics of the creationist/intelligent design in an attempt to get their non-scientific ideas back into science classrooms. Two of the states where these laws have made inroads are Michigan and Louisiana.

Michigan’s state House and Senate have introduced identical bills (House Bill #6072 and Senate Bill #1361, aka the “Academic Freedom Law”) that are designed to encourage academic discourse.

[Educational authorities] shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages pupils to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues. These educational authorities also shall endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum in instances where that curriculum addresses scientific controversies. Toward this end, these educational authorities shall allow teachers to help pupils understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught. (emphasis added)

The state of Louisiana has a similar law known as the “Louisiana Science Education Act” (Senate bill #733) that has nearly identical language:

The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, upon request of a city, parish, or other local public school board, shall allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning. Such assistance shall include support and guidance for teachers regarding effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review scientific theories being studied, including those enumerated in Paragraph (1) of this Subsection. A teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the city, parish, or other local public school board. (emphasis added)

On the face of it, the language quoted above for these two laws isn’t really a problem. Of course, as it stands, most science teachers in the country already work hard to have an “open and objective discussion” of any scientific theories they teach, and to help their students “understand, analyze, critique, and review” those theories. So, on the face of it, both of these laws are entirely unnecessary.

But a little research reveals the state legislators who introduced the Michigan bill once introduced intelligent design-teaching legislation in Michigan. And that the religious Louisiana Family Forum was responsible for convincing the Louisiana bill’s sponsor to introduce it in the first place. Of course, the fact that the two bills have nearly identical language means that there’s a good chance they come from the same source, possibly the Discovery Institute, which has the text of the Louisiana bill on its website.

But what’s particularly damning in both bills is not the utterly pointless “academic freedom” provisions mentioned above, but rather the religious discrimination policies that follow that text. From Michigan’s bill:

This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and this section shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion. (emphasis added)

Similarly, from Louisiana’s bill:

This Section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.

Science, as a matter of course, concerns itself with that which can be quantified, measured, modeled, and predicted. It adheres to the scientific method of observation, hypothesis, testing, understanding, new hypothesis, more testing, ad infinitum. Religion, by its very nature, relies on faith in that which cannot be tested, observed, and, in some cases, understood. Therefore, the very nature of teaching science definitionally precludes the teaching of anything resembling religion. If it can’t be tested, it’s not science and it’s not taught in science classes. Or, rather, it shouldn’t be.

So why do the legislatures of Louisiana and Michigan include this text? Because they believe that it will force science teachers, in the name of not discriminating against religion, to teach intelligent design. There’s only one problem, and if you’ve tracked all the times I’ve emphasized “scientific” or “scientific theories” in the quoted passages above, you already know what that problem is.

Intelligent design is not a scientific theory. It’s pseudo-science put forth by creationists in an attempt to teach some form of untestable religion in the science classroom.

Intelligent design says that there are things that are too complex to have arisen in nature without some intelligent cosmic engineer. This statement is fundamentally non-scientific for two reasons – it’s not testable according to the scientific method and it relies on the cessation of scientific inquiry. Saying that some cosmic engineer designed our natural cellular machinery or guided evolution cannot be tested. Evolution of species via natural selection has been verified using genetics and observation of natural selection in thousands of species, and natural selection itself isn’t even a scientific hypothesis anymore – it’s acknowledged fact. Just ask anyone fighting off an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection.

And intelligent design begins when scientific inquiry ends. Intelligent design essentially says “we’re not smart enough or we lack the ability or desire to understand how something came about, so it had to be (insert your preferred cosmic engineer here) that did it.”

These laws will almost certainly be challenged in court, and rightly so. The language is crafted carefully enough, however, that unlike overt intelligent design legislation, these bill may pass state or federal Constitutional muster. But even if they do stay on the books, both laws, and any others like them around the country, can be effectively ignored for one vitally important reason – they only apply to the teaching of scientific theories.

And anyone teaching intelligent design in their classroom is not teaching science – he or she is teaching religion, and that’s not allowed.

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