Sunday, November 21, 2004

Calling Clarence Darrow

South of Harrisburg, Pennsylvanians in the Dover Area School District have adopted a familiar tack: bringing religion into the classroom.
“The rural, 3,600-student school district, 20 miles south of Harrisburg, is the first in the nation to require the teaching of "intelligent design," a theory that holds that the complexity of the natural world offers overwhelming evidence of a supernatural force at work.”
Not Christianity, per se, but the concept that a deity, not random chance or evolution as understood by scientists, is responsible for the progression of life as it exists. But there is no question that the people who pushed this agenda are Christian fundamentalists who believe in creationism and see this as a way to begin the introduction of that more blatant concept into the school.

"‘The only thing we want to do is provide a balanced playing field for the students, as opposed to just hearing about the theory of evolution,’ said school board member William Buckingham, a self-described creationist.”
Of course, since the Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that teaching creationism was unconstitutional, the fundies have been not only fighting that decision, but coming up with something a little slicker to slip in, in its stead. In the meantime, that leaves the teachers, who of course would be the last people anyone would consult, confused and worried about what the outcome may be:

“The high school's three biology teachers, meanwhile, are wondering just what they are supposed to teach. They say they had no input into the new curriculum and worry that they could be sued.”
For those not familiar with it, “Intelligent Design” ostensibly stands alone as simply an idea that a god or supernatural being has set the forces of the universe into motion. But there is no question that it puts theology into the classroom, not as an idea to be studied critically, but as an alternate view of how the world was formed. Writings of Fellows from The Discovery Institute, which underwrites ID research, reveal a politically conservative agenda focused on supporting right-wing Republicans and their policies, and a careful monitoring of creationism legal fights across the nation. Millionaire Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson, deeply involved with the
Christian Reconstructionists, poured millions of dollars into supporting the Institute in his attempts to discredit evolution theory. Concerned Women for America gleefully cites the Institute as an ally in its fight to eliminate evolutionary teaching on a webpage dripping with fundamentalist bile.
I don’t have the expertise nor the desire to get into an argument defending evolution here. I’ll leave that to the incomparable Stephen Jay Gould, God rest his soul, who tried endlessly to make people understand that just because evolution was a”theory” did not mean it was untrue or based on error. As he said in Hens’ Teeth and Horses’ Toes, Further Reflections in Natural History:

“Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.”
Funny, though, I’ve never heard anyone adequately explain how accepting the ideas of evolution renders belief in a purposeful creator untenable. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. In the meantime, for a good read on the anti-ID arguments, The Skeptic’s Dictionary has a worthwhile page.


bellatrys said...

It's very strange - in my church there are two official documents stating that so long as by 'evolution' you mean physical processes and you're not including a denial of the possiblity of God, it's fine to believe in them - and nobody hardly at all knows about their existence. And don't want to believe me when I cite them. I think that there is a severe lack of imagination partly to blame - that people simply can't think of a Creator who would be able to make a universe in any way outside our comprehension, but rather is forced to work like a human being building a diorama: first we paint the sky, then we stick down the grass, here's a cow, oops, we need water for the cow, get some tinfoil-- They often don't like poetry and fluid metaphor, anything that isn't clear-cut "safe" allegory or any other kind of uncertainty, like linguistic jokes, in my experience, either.

And part of the problem as well is that some science-defenders - not serious scientists usually, but popular science writers - will *assert* that the existence of evolution disproves the existence of Creation, as if they were not different ways of describing the same events. What I don't understand is why more Christians don't say "That doesn't logically follow" rather than saying "Not-Evolution" and going to such extremes to try to "make it so." It would be a hell of a lot easier to go with option A...

I mean, Darwin himself (who once contemplated a religious vocation) believed in God and evolution without any difficulties!

Riggsveda said...

Nicely said. I have a whole family of devout Christians who have no trouble meshing evolution with their religious beliefs. That some folks are unable to do this seems to say more about the size of the God they belive in than anything else.