Tuesday, August 02, 2005

President to schools: Teach fantasy in science class

This was innevitable, and nowhere near as big a deal as it's going to be made out to be, but it still has me a little bit hacked off. This just isn't the sort of news story I like to come home to...


Headline: "Bush: Schools Should Teach 'Intelligent Design' Alongside Evolution"

Let's not panic just yet.

Here's what this is about: "Intelligent Design" is the new catchphrase for the religious anti-evolution movement. Finally unable to continue arguing that Darwinian evolution "never happened" in the face of every shred of actual scientific data on the subject, the movement has readjusted itself from attacking the theory as a whole to attacking it's key component: That natural development stems from random trial-and-error rather than the edicts of a divine superpower. "Intelligent Design," while refered to as a "theory," is in fact a philosophical "what if?" query, arguing that the intricacy of some natural systems are so complex as to make randomness less likely and perhaps serve as circumstantial evidence that a "higher power" is at work. In plain english: "Doesn't some of this look SO perfect that SOMEONE must have been in charge?"

Intelligent Designists, who actually include a smattering of mostly-reputable scientists among their number, want this question given equal time in science classes alongside actual evolution. Some educators agree, a majority do not. The issue is currently the subject of heated debate, largely in communities where religious "conservatives" and/or creationists have heavy political sway.

President Bush has now weighed in on "teach both theories" side, which should be surprising to approximately nobody. This is politics, plain and simple, red meat to the religious hardliners whom the Republican party must sadly rely on for grassroots support. Dubya, like most U.S. presidents, has never pretended to be a big devotee of matters scientific, this is a "you're still my guys" reassurance likely calculated to assuage those in the evangelical community still irked that his Supreme Court pick wasn't an open foe of Roe v. Wade.

Here's where I have an issue with this:

Firstly, "Intelligent Design" is not a "theory," it is a "hypothesis." Theory, among the most misused words in the english language, is correctly defined as referring to a hypothesis that has withstood a large variety of tests and challenges. So at it's base, calling this a theory and thus worthy of placement alongside Darwin's survival of the fittest is just incorrect on the raw level of language.

Now, does this mean that I don't want it brought up in schools? Absolutely not. This is an idea, one worthy of discussion, and should be debated and hashed out and openly espoused and challenged in any classroom it can be.

But not in a science class.

Science is the study of facts and theories pertaining to such. By it's very nature, it must narrowly define it's scope to the provable realities of the natural world. "Intelligent Design," by it's own design, implies that there is a "designer," which implies a supernatural, paranatural or extraterrestrial element. None of these things are provable or disprovable by any existing methods, thus they do not belong in the serious discussion of a science class any more than the anatomy of Bigfoot belongs in a primate-biology class or flying saucers belong in an astronomy class.

Intelligent Design should not be "banned" from schools any more than any other idea should be. But to insist that it be introduced in the realm of scientific education is wrong, and the President is wrong to support those who would do so. The "conservative" ideology that President Bush claims to espouse has always held the adherence to fact and logic as one of it's core ideals, and pushing for a hypothesis to be taught as actual science in order to please a special interest group flies in the face of that. Matters of faith, spirituality and the supernatural are philosophy, and Intelligent Design belongs in a philosophy class.