Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Does "Creation Science" Deserve Equal Time?

Beginning in 1925, in a planned challenge to existing statutes, there have been numerous challenges to the teaching of evolution in public schools. That famous court case, known as the Scopes Monkey Trial, held in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925 challenged the state’s statute banning the teaching of evolution. John Scopes, a substitute teacher, at the request of the ACLU, taught biology from an evolutionary standpoint. The ACLU had been looking for a test case dealing with the matter and worked it out with Scopes and the school district. Scopes lost the case and was made to pay a fine, and the anti-evolution Butler Act was upheld.

Nevertheless, it is a well-accepted maxim that one may “win the battle and lose the war.” This seemed to be the final outcome of this famous case. The case was extensively covered by the media. Prosecuting on behalf of the state was well-known fundamentalist and thrice former presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan. In defense of Scopes was well-known liberal defense attorney, Clarence Darrow. Though Darrow lost his case, in the view of most Americans the fundamentalists emerged looking rather foolish and fanatical. Time went on. Eventually science prevailed and evolution reigned in public school biology classes.
That didn’t stop the challengers. If once evolution was the challenger, now it became “creation science.” Seeing virtually all doors closed in their faces, creationists have tried a different tact. Now, they are demanding that creation “science” be taught along with evolution. There are many problems with this idea, the greatest being how science is defined.

In Michael Shermer’s insightful book, Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, the latest creationist scheme that has arisen is discussed. Intelligent design (ID) is a point of view that organisms display an “irreducible complexity” and that systems and organisms demonstrate the guiding hand of a designer. The identity of the designer is left unspecified, although, as Shermer points out, the leaders of the movement are by far representatives of the evangelical Christian community.

A liberal counterpart to the ACLU, the TMLC (Thomas More Law Center) had been searching (Remember the ACLU and the “Scopes Monkey Trial?) for a chance to try the idea of giving “equal time” to intelligent design in a court of law. Shermer reports that they found just such a case in Dover, Pennsylvania where the local school board had enacted a type of “equal time” policy. Concerned parents filed suit and a trial was held in 2005. Presiding was conservative Christian judge, John Jones, a 2002 Bush appointee. Things were looking up for the creationists, or so it seemed. Surprisingly, after much expert testimony from both sides, the judge ruled that science is a product of empirical investigation but religion cannot be investigated in the same manner. Facts uncovered in the case demonstrated that the school district in particular and the intelligent design movement in general were driven by religious motivations, not scientific evidence. As the judge pointed out, religion and science operated in different spheres and that evolution could not contradict a belief in God, since the epistemological basis of both differed so greatly. In short, the judge threw out the directive to give creation, or intelligent design equal time.

There are many, many problems with the “equal time” idea besides the well established fact that intelligent design is based on a idea that cannot be tested or observed and therefore is not truly science. As Zimmer in the Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins demonstrates, the entire notion of evolution somehow being disproved or flawed by the existence of “a missing link” coming from the na├»ve notion that evolution teaches that humans descended from “monkeys” is a flawed understanding. Other problems involve how such an “equal time” statute might be put in place.

Could science teachers teach creation—when most have been taught to view the origins of life from an evolutionary basis? Would they really give it a fair shot or equal time? Would the school bring in ministers to teach it? I am a minister, and I do not believe in ID. I do however accept evolution science. Many ministers I know accept the notion of natural selection. Would we find conservative Christian ministers to teach the concepts of ID? If so, wouldn’t that be mixing religion and government in the most brazen of ways? Would we have special schools to train teachers to teach ID and then have them travel and teach the “theory” of ID at public schools? Judge Jones, conservative Christian though he might be, has already stated that intelligent design is religiously motivated, agenda driven, and is not science.

It seems to me, both as an education professor and a minister that science class is about doing science. I do not want the public schools to take over the religious education of my children (well, now grandchildren, I guess). I want schools to teach science and parents and churches to teach religion. No, There should be no equal time for “creation science” in public school biology class.

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