Monday, September 26, 2005

The Crusade for Intelligent Design: why Christians can't win... least not in the public schools.

Today's NY Times carries the story of a fight over a Pennsylvania school board: they seek exposure to Intelligent Design (ID) in the public schools.

President Bush has endorsed it. Senator McCain seems to favor it. Blogger support comes from LaShawn Barber, Hugh Hewitt, and even Amitai Etzioni (!).

This blogger might also be expected to support it: I teach philosophy and theology at a traditional Catholic college. And back in my evangelical days I had the opportunity to attend conferences where I met personally scientific creationists Duane Gish and Steve Austin; and ID theorists Stephen Meyer (DPhil, Cambridge) and Paul Nelson (PhD, University of Chicago)[not that I would expect them to remember me!].

Nonetheless, this is a battle that Christian conservatives can't win and shouldn't fight. "Onward Christian Soldiers" is a stirring old tune--but you don't ask Christians to go over the top of the trenches and head directly into enemy machine-gun fire. But for the last century, Christian conservatives have been doing exactly that: the Scopes trial, William Jennings Bryan, scientific creationism in the 1980s--and not a single inch of ground gained. Millions of dollars invested, much passion and prayer and tears, endless toil and turmoil--and absolutely nothing to show for it.

The intelligent design movement can win in one way and in one way only: by men and women who earn doctorates in the appropriate scientific and philosophical disciplines, who work to convince their peers that the theory is true. There is no chance that it will ever win by asking local parents to storm the local school boards. That is like sending primitive tribal warriors into battle against soldiers armed with machine-gunes: there is no chance whatever of success. Even where local school boards can be taken, they will always be shut down by the courts or by authorities elsewhere in the system.

If Christian conservatives want to increase exposure to intelligent design, that can only be done by increasing enrollment in private and parochial schools which teach ID. Which is to say: voucher programs. If the energy which Christian conservatives are investing in promoting ID in the public schools were instead invested in promoting voucher programs, there would be an excellent chance of success. There is no chance of imposing ID on the public schools of America. By contrast, there is an excellent chance that the political system can be persuaded to guarantee low and middle-income parents their freedom to choose.

Some of my liberal friends are horrified by Christian parents attempting to impose their values on the public schools. But this is exactly what secularized public schools are already doing to Christians parents. The secularized public school system discriminates systematically against the values and rights of religious minorities. Parents of a variety of faiths are forced to pay high sums of property taxes and other taxes to support schools systems that are diametrically opposed to the values that these parents wish to teach their children. The controversies over ID are directly caused by the fact that the public schools systematically disadvantage the rights and privileges of religious minorities.

The solution to the ID debate is not to "teach the conflict" in the public schools. The solution is for liberals to realize that the public school system marginalizes minority religious groups, and that these parents have the right to a nationwide voucher program so that they can pursue their values without prejudice to the rest of society. The solution is for conservatives to realize that ID in the public schools is a sure-fire loser, and to make voucher programs central to reform of the nation's schools.

If liberals wish to help build a tolerant society, they need to recognize the rights of every group in society and to guarantee to parents the freedom to choose. And conservatives need to recognize that ID has no future in the public schools, and to rally support for voucher programs instead.


At Tuesday, 27 September, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps it's true that Christians, as Christians, can't win. Pastors and deacons and little old lady prayer warriors are either ignored or laughed at by the real world.

But as normal, educated, intelligent and articulate people who happen to be Christians, is it really necessary that we be trained specialists in scientific fields? Science is at heart the business of observing repeated results in order to make assertions, e.g. "when penicillin is applied, the bacteria colony is largely killed off, therefore penicillin is harmful to bacteria".

But the genesis of life is not a repeatable experiment. Science cannot vouch for it. Their answer? "It takes bazillions of years to happen once". But how do they know? Not by observing experiments, that's for sure. Science is no more able than religion to prove how life began. It's all speculation. Even Steven Hawking, in endorsing the Big Bang, was stumped as to how it happened, what caused it. In "a brief history of time" he admitted that one can't help but start talking about God when trying to find an explanation for the motive force in the Big Bang. And Hawking is no embracer of religion.

A real scientist, free of agendas, admits readily that science cannot prove anything about the origin of life. And evolution is acceptable within limits, but it cannot account for the enormous increase of data/dna information that is needed to take a single celled organism and turn it into an ape or a man or a giraffe or a pterodactyl.

The real problem, of course, is that in the 19th century certain "men of enlightenment" decided that the injustice of the world was sufficient proof that God did not exist or was indifferent to man's troubles. They went down the scientific path with eagerness, because it promised to explain the universe without the necessity of "a Creator". And these people really really wanted to do that.

But it doesn't hold up in terms of explaining the ultimate beginning, of life or of everything.

Dave Perkins
Hurricane dodger in Houston


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