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Teach "Intelligent" Design? Absolutely!

Nevyn O'Kane

The state standards require students to learn about Darwin's Theory of Evolution and to eventually take a standardized test of which evolution is a part. Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations. Intelligent [sic] Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view.

For anyone following the attacks on evolution occurring in U.S. public schools, these words should be nothing new. They exist in one form or another on stickers, in spoken disclaimers or in lesson planners with which teachers must comply. A recent article by Joseph Maldonado entitled "Dover science faculty uneasy," published in the The York Daily Record, speaks of this last consequence of the statement and the angst of the distressed educators. At first, it truly appeared that they were between a rock and a hard place: forced to teach "intelligent" design (ID) alongside evolution while finding no science whatsoever in ID's theories. Also, in the words of one teacher:

The Supreme Court has said it's unconstitutional to teach creation in the classroom, so we either risk violating a school board directive or risk breaking the law. What are we to do?

I spent some time trying to answer this very question. I felt for these people; forced to present, in their own classrooms, an empirically vacuous theory they viewed as laughable. Mandated to subject the blank slate of young minds to the religious graffiti of backdoor creationism, what were they to do?

I came up with an idea.

Teach it.

Am I mad you may ask? No, in this respect I am quite sane, and this is my plan. As there are no instructions on how to teach "intelligent" design, (the first clue as to the academic poverty of a premise) educators have free reign over the content of the curriculum. What better to teach, in a science class, than the science of "intelligent" design? What better way is there to expose the fraud of ID than to begin by enlightening our children to its factual emptiness? What educator would not relish this opportunity to inform?

First off could be the disclaimer itself. Left alone, it may undermine science, yet to prevent this, the teacher could say:

In your books you have a sticker. This sticker says that Darwin's Theory of evolution, as a scientific theory, is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations. This is true. We will be spending a lot of time studying the evidence of this, as there is very, very much evidence to cover. There are also gaps in the theory for which there is, as yet, no evidence. This evidence, in addition to the wealth of established evidence, is being found and tested regularly as it is discovered. This is what makes for a successful theory.

Your sticker also mentions "intelligent" design. It says, "This is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view." We don't know if this is true or not, because Darwin didn't talk about the origin of life; he talked about evolution. Darwin's theory of natural selection describes how species mutated from one form to another, eventually bringing about the human species. We will spend much of our class time discussing the abundance of scientific evidence that supports this.

A list of similar unscientific theories could be addressed with each lesson as well. When the globe is introduced, flat-Earth theory can be discussed as a defeated alternative. Gravitational theory can be tested against "magnetic bone theory" or some such tripe, and seismology can be set against the "Earth on the back of a turtle" theory. In fact, historical alternatives to any given scientific postulate can be mentioned as an exercise in critical thinking. When ID is finally discussed, students will have the thinking skills to award it the fine company of geocentricism, phrenology, and alchemy. In other words, it will be right where it belongs; far away from science. I believe this is factual and fair enough. Further, it seems it would clarify the disclaimers that so many people are up in arms about.

Yet what of teaching "intelligent" design?

Perhaps the following could best summarize the ID hypothesis:

"Intelligent" design is not a scientific theory as described in your disclaimer. "Intelligent" design assumes that biological life is so complex someone or something must have designed it. Two possibilities are that either a great and powerful being(s) or ultra-intelligent aliens are responsible for the irreducibly-complex nature of life on Earth. Since we know we're here in this classroom, it's fairly reasonable to imagine that there could be other life forms from other planets in other classrooms who "designed" life on Earth. This is not, however, a scientific theory as it cannot be "well-tested." This theory is no more likely than star-traveling super-kangaroos that created life on Earth as an experiment in marsupial design. We will now turn to the scientific evidence for "intelligent" design by a great and powerful being(s).

There is none.

We will now return to our investigation of Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection.

Before I had this idea, I read through the virtual reams of debate on the topic. ID was argued down time and again. Scientists and parents cringed at its potential infiltration of our schools. Yet teachers should have no fear of this unscientific speculation. The absurdity of it takes all of a few minutes to demonstrate. In the example above, no falsehood was told to any child in the science classroom and no school board can claim there was. In fact, a service has been rendered to the child that will help them confront "intelligent" design and other illogical claims in the future.

Yet is this a double-edged sword? One might say, "To even have the sticker is too much" and "What of the teacher who treats ID as fact?" To the first I wholeheartedly agree, however it can, and must, be used to the advantage of science. By using it against the purposes of its creators, it is conceivable that it will no longer be favored, thus ridding scholarship of this crude liability. The unscrupulous teachers are of concern as well, but should not all teachers of children be monitored for truth in education in all aspects? No educator who teaches 10 + 2 = 16 would be tolerated. No teacher could give lessons on the circumference of triangles, spell cat with a "k," or explain George Washington as our seventh president. Such an instructor would be removed and reeducated before being allowed further access to fresh minds. So should an educator who calls evidence for ID "scientific."

To ensure this, I posit there should be a standardized test for "intelligent" design in the places where it is taught. Such questions could include:

  1. Is there any scientific evidence for ID?
  2. Can ID be tested?
  3. Is ID a scientific theory?
  4. Does ID convey any more information than Snarkle Popplegoose?

Obviously the questions can vary. If the above is unacceptable, I trust there is a wealth of scientists who would be happy to submit their own lesson-planner suggestions to peer review. After all, this is the method by which current knowledge has gained access to our science classrooms. There is no reason ID should gain any special privilege, especially since special privilege is central to the ID proponent's argument for access. It is welcome to compete with all manner of hypotheses on the stern field of academia.

So to all the horrified educators I say embrace this opportunity! Treat this assault on reason and logic head-on. Tenaciously fight its insertion, of course, but do not admit defeat when it is thrust upon you. The battle between logic and superstition will have losses while prudence is debated in our courts, but what better way to turn a temporary loss into a permanent victory than to teach intellectual truth? The scientific method will not be defeated by pseudoscience. Do not leave your trusted posts to be filled by less-capable educators. All reputable science knows that "intelligent" design is nonsense, yet those of the public that do not know are crying out for your wisdom!

I put forward that it is because these theories are ignored that so many buy into their deception in later life. Reference recent polls that show how many adults believe ID is valid among other metaphysical beliefs about human life. Further, these patches of academic scarcity make themselves known by their own decree. ID proponents claim there is no religious purpose behind their hypothesis, so no claim towards religious bigotry can be made without undermining their position. Even if, against all logic, ID is indeed not judged as a violation of state and church separation, it is a violation of the rules of science. Educators can stand up to this threat with bravery, insight and boldness. "Intelligent" design is no threat to science; it is its own unintelligent worst enemy.

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