Sunday, January 23, 2005

That's the story of, that's the glory of...

The reactionary right is on the march again.

But first, let's go to the dictionary:

  1. A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.
  2. The branch of a science or art consisting of its explanatory statements, accepted principles, and methods of analysis, as opposed to practice
Now that we have that straight, let's look at "Intelligent Design":

In today's NYTimes, we find that:

Critics of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution become more wily with each passing year. Creationists who believe that God made the world and everything in it pretty much as described in the Bible were frustrated when their efforts to ban the teaching of evolution in the public schools or inject the teaching of creationism were judged unconstitutional by the courts. But over the past decade or more a new generation of critics has emerged with a softer, more roundabout approach that they hope can pass constitutional muster.

One line of attack - on display in Cobb County, Ga., in recent weeks - is to discredit evolution as little more than a theory that is open to question. Another strategy - now playing out in Dover, Pa. - is to make students aware of an alternative theory called "intelligent design," which infers the existence of an intelligent agent without any specific reference to God. These new approaches may seem harmless to a casual observer, but they still constitute an improper effort by religious advocates to impose their own slant on the teaching of evolution.

One can't help wonder what they are afraid of. Many professed Christians, including me, have no trouble reconciling an "Intelligent Designer" with the reality of evolution. After all, how dare we presume that God, in his/her omnipotent wisdom must follow a course of action that makes any sense to us mortal humans. If time is immaterial, it must make sense that God can do anything and take any amount of time to do it.

Although the board clearly thought this was a reasonable compromise, and many readers might think it unexceptional, it is actually an insidious effort to undermine the science curriculum. The first sentence sounds like a warning to parents that the film they are about to watch with their children contains pornography. Evolution is so awful that the reader must be warned that it is discussed inside the textbook. The second sentence makes it sound as though evolution is little more than a hunch, the popular understanding of the word "theory," whereas theories in science are carefully constructed frameworks for understanding a vast array of facts. The National Academy of Sciences, the nation's most prestigious scientific organization, has declared evolution "one of the strongest and most useful scientific theories we have" and says it is supported by an overwhelming scientific consensus.

It's just sad, really. God/G-d/Allah has to be understood in human terms to be believed, rather than in transcendental glory. "My God Is An Awesome God" somehow loses much of its impact if we decide that God has to act like us. Lord knows we aren't awesome.

The Dover Area School District in Pennsylvania became the first in the country to place intelligent design before its students, albeit mostly one step removed from the classroom. Last week school administrators read a brief statement to ninth-grade biology classes (the teachers refused to do it) asserting that evolution was a theory, not a fact, that it had gaps for which there was no evidence, that intelligent design was a differing explanation of the origin of life, and that a book on intelligent design was available for interested students, who were, of course, encouraged to keep an open mind. That policy, which is being challenged in the courts, suffers from some of the same defects found in the Georgia sticker. It denigrates evolution as a theory, not a fact, and adds weight to that message by having administrators deliver it aloud.

Well, I have a theory. It's that evolution is far more decided than, perhaps Anne Elk's theory. A least we have some evidence for evolution, excepting, of course, the lower life forms that want to limit scientific method and discourse.