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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Intelligent Intuitions and Notions

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: The Crafty Attacks on Evolution: "There is little enough time to discuss mainstream evolution in most schools; the Dover students get two 90-minute classes devoted to the subject. Before installing intelligent design in the already jam-packed science curriculum, school boards and citizens need to be aware that it is not a recognized field of science. There is no body of research to support its claims nor even a real plan to conduct such research. In 2002, more than a decade after the movement began, a pioneer of intelligent design lamented that the movement had many sympathizers but few research workers, no biology texts and no sustained curriculum to offer educators. Another leading expositor told a Christian magazine last year that the field had no theory of biological design to guide research, just 'a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions.' If evolution is derided as 'only a theory,' intelligent design needs to be recognized as 'not even a theory' or 'not yet a theory.' It should not be taught or even described as a scientific alternative to one of the crowning theories of modern science. That said, in districts where evolution is a burning issue, there ought to be some place in school where the religious and cultural criticisms of evolution can be discussed, perhaps in a comparative religion class or a history or current events course. But school boards need to recognize that neither creationism nor intelligent design is an alternative to Darwinism as a scientific explanation of the evolution of life."
I can't agree with the statement that there ought to be "some place in school where the religious and cultural criticisms of evolution can be discussed." Not because such discussion is a bad thing, but for purely practical reasons. There is already no time in the curriculum to offer comparative religion. And this is a topic that if it is treated in a cursory fashion, is likely to lead to more confusion than clarity. But I do agree with the next statement. It is an opinion of the ignorant that evolutionary theory is a quick construct of a single man in a single book. It is, like most scientific endeavors, the work of countless scientists and thinkers and founded on more evidence than most of us have time to absorb. And I think this gets us to another issue that I have with public education. Leaving it exclusively in the hands of elected school boards seems to me a problematic proposition. When school boards are in a position to make judgements about the content of academic discussion, there is bound to be a problem. While there are many examples of educated school board members and many examples of ways the school board is circumscribed by higher governmental authority, would not the entire system function better if a hybrid system were adopted that allowed for more substantive checks on content issues? Some system whereby the influence of popular opinion is mitigated when questions of academic content are raised.

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