A moment of silence, please, for our poor suffering brothers and sisters in Kansas.
The Kansas Board of Education has recently decreed that "Intelligent Design" is science
- an event that will go down in history alongside some of their other insightful decisions of the past
. I have no doubt that the "ID" promoters will see this as a tremendous boost to their point of view, given the history of this august Board (vide supra
), which merely serves to underscore their appalling lack of understanding of how science works. The supporters of "Intelligent Design" have merely postponed the "day of reckoning". Let me explain.
All of the political and even legal victories of "Intelligent Design" - which is simply good ol' Biblical Creationism in a plain white wrapper - will not give that idea what it needs to survive in the scientific world. Centuries ago, the Catholic Church imprisoned and executed people in an attempt to suppress the "theory" that the earth orbited the sun - and it didn't work then. The Church authorities had the power of life and death, but they couldn't
keep the earth-centered Universe alive because they had no data
Likewise, even if the "Intelligent Design" promoters pack the school board - or even the Supreme Courts - they will still
not have a shred of data to support their "hypothesis". As a result, "Intelligent Design" has no hope to survive as a "theory" - it doesn't even have enough substance to exist as a testable hypothesis. It is, in fact, stillborn.
As an aside, I find it infinitely amusing that "Intelligent Design" evolved
from Biblical Creationism in a way startlingly similar to the way biological organisms evolve from their
ancestors. The political enviroment changed, making Creationism less able to compete for survival. The resulting selection pressures favored development of a new "species" from Creationism - one better camouflaged from the predatory humanist/secularist movements that were prowling the modern seas of society. And while there was certainly an intelligence (of a sort) involved in the process, it did not provide either the impetus or the direction of change. Those were provided by the environment, just as in evolution.
But I digress. Let us return to examining the potential consequences of the Kansas Board of Education decision, as there will certainly be many.Legal:
The first, and most obvious, consequence will be legal challenges. This is one factor that makes the Board's decision so Quixotic. Given that this is a "controversial" (except among scientists) subject- and school boards generally shy away from controversy (see here
) - taking this decision indicates a strong motivation on the part of at least six of the Board members. This is especially true given the absolute certainty of legal challenges which will expend a great deal of the Board's funds - which they claim are in short supply. So, the taxpayers of Kansas will be asked to foot the bill for the religious convictions of six of the Board members.
This wouldn't be half as bad if "Intelligent Design" had a prayer
(pun most certainly intended) of success in the courts. It might
win in a Kansas state court (depending on the jurisdiction), but it will almost certainly fail at some higher court. And an adverse decision at a high court level will be devastating to "Intelligent Design". Since "ID" utterly lacks scientific data, its cannot survive an adverse legal ruling. The drive by the "ID" supporters to put their pet pseudo-theory in harm's way speaks volumes about their lack of understanding of what it is that they are supporting.Ethical:
In a multicultural society with an explicit (if
often ignored) guarantee of religious freedom, is it ethical
to teach children a religious dogma in their science class? The "Intelligent Design" supporters can argue 'til they're blue that "ID" doesn't promote religion, but who
) do they think this "Intelligent Designer" is supposed to be if not God? They can play semantic games all they want, but that
is one point that anyone who is honest will agree on - "ID" is all about God. And what about the people whose religion doesn't include a God?
[Note: I define "atheism" as a religion in which "god" is represented by the null set - "religion" being defined as any belief system that expresses certainty about non-physical, non-observable phenomona, including the belief that there are no such phenomena
. The opposite of "religion" would then be "agnosticism", which holds that such phenomona are unknowable to humans and therefore no belief - for or against - is justified by the data.]
Another part of the ethical problem is the ethics of teachers lying to children. Even if the actual classroom teachers "believe" in "Intelligent Design", there are teachers or administrators somewhere in the system who know that it is a lie to tell children that "Intelligent Design" is in any way a scientific "theory", let alone one comparable in support or predictive power to evolution.
And lying to children isn't just an abstract issue of ethics. Once they find out that they've been lied to (and they will
find out - ask any parent), children are not as forgiving as adults. Adults expect
to be lied to; children still manage to be shocked and offended by it - that's one of the things that marks them as children. Once they find out that they've been lied to about "Intelligent Design", they will doubt everything else their teachers (and parents) have taught them. This is a process that currently occurs somewhere in the latter years of college (we hope) - do we really want to see this happening in secondary school?Practical/Vocational
What are the vocational implications of teaching kids baloney for science? Well, if they're headed off to become insurance salespeople or lawyers or auto mechanics, probably not a whole lot. However, if some of these students are to become scientists, then they will have to unlearn
what they have learned about "Intelligent Design". And take it from a person who has to teach undergraduates in university, it takes a lot
more effort to unlearn wrong information than it takes to learn it right the first time.
Now, people going into physics or chemistry may be able to limp along with a persistent belief in "Intelligent Design", but anyone going into biology (my field) will find themselves confronted at every turn with data that supports evolution and refutes "Intelligent Design". I see this every term - a young student who was indoctrinated with "Intelligent Design" either at home or in a private school starts in biology and finds that their religious dogma is in conflict with the data.
Once the student reaches this point, they have a decision to make. Some of them drop biology and go into a field that allows them to maintain their illusions about life and evolution. This is a sad waste of talent, in many cases.
Some of them try to deal with the conflict by actively challenging the teacher. This sort of "kill the messenger" strategy ultimately fails, since it is not the instructor's personal belief that they are challenging, but over a century of accumulated data. Philosophical differences can be legitimately argued, but data can only be refuted by more
(or better) data. "Intelligent Design", as noted above, has
no data, so the argumentative student is doomed to eventual failure. Many of them then take the first route and "opt out" of biology. Others take the next route.
When confronted with the data - and the evidence that they have been lied to - some "ID"-supporting students have a "de-conversion" experience. Sort of like being "born again", but in reverse. Rather than "awakening to a new faith", many of them lose faith entirely, becoming cynical and distrustful. Some of the most vehement anti-"ID" students on my campus are students who entered the university with a strong belief in "ID", proving again that there is no opponent so dangerous as an apostate.Pandora's Box
Once the "Intelligent Design" promoters get their "camel's nose" into the tent of the public schools, they may find that they have opened a door that they would rather have kept shut. After all, if "ID" believers are allowed to preach their
religious tenents in public schools, why not everybody else? Of course, the other religions would also have to "dress up" their beliefs as the "Intelligent Design" promoters have, but that shouldn't be too difficult, given the template that "ID" has provided.
Personally, I think that the obvious next candidate for inclusion would be the Atheists, who should be allowed to present their "theory" that there is no "Intelligent Designer". Their data is just as compelling as that of the "ID" people, so I see no reason why they shouldn't be allowed to have their day in school. Of course, the Atheists wouldn't say that there is no God, just that there is no "Intelligent Designer". That's different
- isn't it?
Next up should be the Pantheists who could argue that there is not just one "Intelligent Designer" but many, often in mortal conflict with each other. And so on, ad infinitum
until we have to send our kids to a private school just so that they can have enough time away
from religious instruction to be able to learn to read, write and do sums.Conclusion
Not only is teaching "Intelligent Design" in the public schools bad science, a breach of trust and probably against the law, it is a bad idea for the supporters of the "Intelligent Design" movement, most (if not all) of whom are trying to increase society's belief in their God. Any short term gains they make will be at the eventual cost of being exposed trying to manipulate children into their religious beliefs. The backlash against this manipulation will come not only from enraged parents, but also from the children that they have manipulated. It is, in short, a lose-lose proposition for "Intelligent Design".
In the short term, the "victory" of the "Intelligent Design" supporters in Kansas may make them feel more empowered and righteous. It will, however, lead to their eventual downfall. Their "theory" cannot stand prolonged scrutiny outside of the protected environment of a rigged school board - it has no data to support it and far too much data refuting it.
And even if - against all odds - the "Intelligent Design" supporters carry the day, they may not like the implications that victory will have. Are they really ready to go head-to-head with every other religious interpretation of reality? Are they ready to have their
children indoctrinated in religious dogmas other than their own? I doubt it.