Keep Intelligent Design Out of Science Classes

Good education doesn't expect students to choose from a smorgasbord of ideas. Teach the best science we have: evolution.

So-called intelligent design is getting a lot of media attention in America at the moment. Its supporters are pushing hard to have it introduced into the science classes of the nation's public schools, there to be taught alongside evolutionary theory. ID supporters argue that students should be "taught the issues"--meaning they should be exposed to the various beliefs that Americans have about biological origins--and then allowed to decide for themselves.

The ID movement is having considerable success in its aims. Several school boards in states as different as Kansas and Pennsylvania have decided (or are in the process of deciding) that ID should be taught in biology classes. Very recently the movement has gained significant support, for President George W. Bush has agreed publicly that ID should be taught. It is no exaggeration to say that if President Bush gets to mold the Supreme Court to his own ends--and he is obviously trying just that right now--then by the end of the decade we might well see the court allowing ID into schools. Already three justices (Rehnquist, Thomas, and Scalia) have expressed support for such a move.

Two questions should be asked. What is intelligent design? Should it be taught in schools? Answering the first, the claim is that in the history of life on this planet, at some point or points, an intelligence intervened to move things along. This was necessary, argue ID theorists, because life shows "irreducible complexity," and blind law--especially the Darwinian evolutionary theory that depends on natural selection--cannot explain such complexity. Only an intelligence is able to do this.

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Is ID a form of creationism, meaning a form of biblical literalism that takes the early chapters of Genesis as the basis for world history--six days of creation, six thousand years ago, universal flood, and so forth? Not in so many words at all. A creationist's views encompass ID, but an ID supporter might not accept biblical literalism.

In fact, although some ID supporters are literalists, most are not. The leaders of the movement--the retired lawyer Phillip Johnson, the biochemist Michael Behe, and the philosopher and mathematician William Dembski--all believe in a very old earth, and they all embrace some measure (for Behe, particularly, a large measure) of evolution. The point is that none of these people think that natural selection alone--or any natural-law-driven mechanism--can explain everything.

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Michael Ruse
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