August 08, 2005

Intelligent Design. . . Again

Last week, there was some lively discussion in the comments to this post about Evolution and Creationism and Intelligent Design.

As with most posts and comments I make during the day on my blog, I'm often distracted by actual work at the same time, so my mental meanderings don't always get my points across as well as I'd like.

Which is where James Lileks comes in.

Posted by Ryan at August 8, 2005 03:48 PM | TrackBack

Lileks comments are well said (and you realize how hard that is for me to type), but he still sort of glosses over the question of whether or not speculation about who created all this should occur in a science classroom or in, say, a comparative religions or philosophy class. I absolutely believe that students should be taught about different religions, with the stipulation that none are given preference over others and none are taught as fact.

This sort of relates to your posting about comment zealots too. Too much of the Intelligent Design debate I've seen drifts into the realm of debating about whose beliefs are right, which as we all know is an endless and unsolvable (and often pretty shrill) debate. The real debate is: do these sorts of speculations on the role of a Divine Creator, absent any evidence one way or the other, properly belong in a class that purports to teach the scientific method?

Posted by: flamingbanjo at August 9, 2005 02:12 PM

flaming, the thing is, at least in public schools, you have a lot of students who have fairly strong religious families. So, what happens if, one day, as the theory of evolution is being taught in science class, a student raises their hand and asks where God fits in? Does the teacher tell the student their question is irrelevant? Do they not broach the subject at all?

I absolutely believe that students should be taught about different religions, with the stipulation that none are given preference over others and none are taught as fact.

I agree. But in the scenario above, I think a delicate and approvable solution would be to put forth the idea of Intelligent Design. It doesn't necessarily advocate one religion over another, although I suppose some Buddhists may be miffed. But, it does provide a mechanism for answering inevitable religious questions while teaching certain scientific theories such as evolution.

Posted by: Ryan at August 9, 2005 02:50 PM

Okay, fair enough, but consider this scenario: Said student raises their hand and says "I was taught that God made the Earth in seven days and that Noah saved all the animals in a boat and all modern life is directly descended from them. Where does that fit in to what you're telling us?"

And then the teacher proceeds to explain, point by point, why none of those things could possibly be true. I think that a lot of religious families will be very upset if their kids come home telling them that their deeply held religious beliefs have no basis in fact.

I think the teacher in either scenario would be perfectly justified explaining that science is about explaining the nuts-and-bolts "how does it happen" type questions and that the broader "why does it happen" type questions are outside its purview.

Of course, an equally valid response to the question posed by your hypothetical student would be "there are many people who believe in a Divine Creator, but since there isn't any evidence to support that view we don't teach it in science class."

But somehow I doubt if that would please religious people either.

Posted by: flamingbanjo at August 9, 2005 03:29 PM

Gawd, I agree with Banjo. Keep ID in the philosophy dept. Keep science where it belongs. The approach from the science class to a question about why something occurs?; or what about the great flood? should be answered by stating that the science class takes us back 4-5 billion years, with varying detail. If you want to go back further than that, go across the hall.

It seems to me that the discussion surrounding ID has turned into an excuse for the clean and un-clean to throw feces at one another. Being a member of the later, I don't disagree that there's a helluva lot of stuff that I cannot explain, and some of it could have something to do with this place not being entirely accidental. At the same time, I don't think the political party one is aligned with is going to have any impact on my fate.

Still, if ID is too be included in a cirriculum label it as what it is, philosophy. If the education program in question does not have a philosophy department, tap-dance as needed.

Posted by: seed at August 9, 2005 04:49 PM
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