The Deadman Night Rider

A forum for evening students of the SMU Dedman School of Law and other outlaws..

Monday, August 15, 2005

Deja vu all over again...

The New Republic devotes their current issue cover story to the emerging controversy over Intelligent Design. Here is a link to a long, rather involved article on the subject (pretty hefty at 27 pages) that is mostly a refutation of scientific creationism and the leading ideas of ID couched in a review of a textbook, Of Pandas and People, that has become the centerpiece of a Pennsylvania lawsuit billed as the second coming of Scopes. The lawsuit stems from a school board decision in Dover, Pennsylvania to require all biology courses to be prefaced with a prepared statement that evolution is merely a theory, that alternative theories such as ID exist, and that then exhorts students to keep an open mind while studying the material and points them specifically to Of Pandas and People if they wish to learn more about ID.

What has propelled this issue to the national level is a recent endorsement from President Bush for the teaching of intelligent design under the rationale that education is about being exposed to new and challenging ideas. This has sparked a spate of apprehension over attempts to sneak religion into public school curriculums under the guise of pseudo-science, not all of them completely unfounded. For many conservatives, it has fanned fears that the Republican Party is becoming no more than the political wing of the evangelical movement, again not all of them completely unfounded. The real crux of the problem is that while Intelligent Design may be an interesting idea and great on its own merits, the fact is that it isn’t science and passing it off as such is intellectually dishonest. Nothing against ID – from my (very dim) understanding, string theory suffers from the same flaw of being impossible to test, and generates the same argument among physicists. Politically it’s obvious why the President made the statement he did, but I’m one of those conservatives who wish he wouldn’t have.

All of this has brought to mind a proposal I’ve seen somewhere that might be a better alternative for the religious right than hitching their wagon to Intelligent Design theory. Why not simply introduce the secular study of Christianity and the Bible as a course of study? I grew up repeatedly hearing that the U.S. is a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles that inform our system of laws and government, but exactly what those principles were was always left a bit hazy. Similarly, I was exposed to much more material about the precepts and history of Islam, Hinduism, and even Confucianism through middle school and high school than Christianity or even Judaism – and I’m guessing my experience is not unique. Knowledge of the Bible as a central document of Western culture used to be considered the norm – in fact, classical studies included Greek and Hebrew precisely because it was assumed students would want to read the texts in their original languages. Fast forward to today, when almost any teenager could tell you who Martin Luther King was, but how many do you think could tell you anything about his namesake? That loss of context (from which I too unfortunately suffer) is surely a bigger detriment than studying evolution.

The best part about this is that it would open up a whole new realm for secular vs. religious fist-fights, but it would remove them to a more appropriate forum – theology/philosophy. As far as evolution goes, nothing says you have to believe everything you’re taught in school – only that you learn it. I learned alot of Marxist economic theory in college, found it interesting and somewhat valuable as a critique of capitalism, but never placed a dime of credence in it. If a kid doesn’t believe in evolution, fine – that doesn’t detract from the educational value of learning the theory, not to mention the rest of the science of biology that rests upon it. Subverting science for politics debases both, and I’m disappointed to see my party and my President taking part in it.


Blogger Agnes Mitchell said...

I have no issue with the idea of teaching theology/philosophy in public school, but I can't help imagining the insanity that would ensue over what is "appropriate", what is not and who gets to decide.

Children should be exposed to many theological perspectives. The right place for it might be better suited to History lessons as a basis for laws, governments and the foundation for past events.

One thing I'd like to add, and you would have a great deal more perspective here than I, is that OUR History lessons came from one perspective only. I have always had a bit of resentment that we were not exposed to the cultural perspectives of other countries.

5:11 PM  
Blogger rkellus said...

You know what is interesting: to some, science is their religion. Ponder the irony as we all contemplate the modern debate.

7:14 PM  

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