Creationist Wolf in Cheap Clothing

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Image by Richard Wheeler (www.richardwheeler.net)

If Bush truly wants to "expose people to different schools of thought," will he advocate teaching Darwinism in Sunday School? Shall we insert a chapter from Origin of the Species between Genesis 1 and 2?

Statement by Dan Barker, co-president
Freedom From Religion Foundation

Are we surprised when a president known more for his faith than his intellect advises us that creationism should be taught in public schools? George W. Bush, responding this week to a question about evolution and "intelligent design," gave us his learned scientific opinion: "Both sides ought to be properly taught . . . so people can understand what the debate is about. . . . Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought."

Does anyone think Bush really cares about an objective academic debate? Our president, the darling of the Christian right, is simply using his office to legitimize his theistic views, which happen to be the origin myth of the believing bloc that voted him into office.

As Christian conservative Gary Bauer pointed out: "With the president endorsing it, at the very least it makes Americans who have that position more respectable."

But there are more than two origin explanations. Does Bush advise "properly" teaching the various Native American creation myths, such as the earth forming on the back of a turtle rising from the waters? Does he insist that the "school of thought" of the Raelians (that humans are cloned extraterrestials) or the Babylonian Enuma Elish (that we sprang from the blood drops of the god Kingu) also be "properly" taught in public science classrooms? Exactly how do you "properly teach" myth and magic in the science class?

The proponents of "intelligent design"--which is just the old creationist wolf in cheap clothing--want us to think that because there seem (to them) to be examples of "irreducible complexity" in living cells, or in other features of the universe, we must conclude that it was designed by an intelligence outside of nature. Since creationists have repeatedly been told by the courts that they can no longer outlaw evolution or teach Genesis in public schools, they are careful not to specify exactly who this designer is, pretending that their hypothesis is merely objective, disinterested science.

Really. Golly, George, who do you think the mysterious Designer is?

Bush and the ID people are fooling no one. Look who cheers when the president makes such remarks: not scientists--who overwhelmingly reject "intelligent design"--but bible toters, theocrats and preachers. Theologian Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna claims that evolution as an "unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection" is untrue. This is not science vs. science. This is poorly disguised religious dogma vs. the fact of evolution.

"Creation science" is three things:

1) An attack on evolution, offering no evidence for its hypothesis of a designer ("Natural selection is wrong, so we win by default");

2) The old "god of the gaps" strategy of seeking supposedly unanswerable questions, and plugging the gap with a deity ("Gosh, we can't explain this, so there must be a god");

3) A story, such as the creation myth in the book of Genesis ("God said it, I believe it").

"Intelligent design" is not science. Its proponents have never had an article published on the topic in any peer-reviewed scientific journal. They conduct no experiments that would prove or falsify their hypothesis. Their conjecture makes no useful predictions, nor can it be mathematically modeled. There are no research labs doing ID science.

And who are they to proclaim that we have reached the end of scientific progress? It is the gaps that drive science forward, not grind it to a halt.

The ancients thought thunder and soil fertility were evidence of deities, but now we know something about electricity, weather, and agriculture. Those gaps have closed, and those gods have died. Isaac Newton, a fervent Christian, played the same game. After brilliantly discovering the laws of gravity that hold the planets in orbit, he failed to come up with an explanation for why the planets move in the same plane and same direction. He impatiently declared that these unsolvable mysteries were evidence for an intelligent designer. But now we know something about the formation of solar systems, and that gap has closed.

Just because today's scientists can't fully answer a particular question, can creationists mandate that no further inquiry is allowed? (Many of their supposed examples of "irreducible complexity," by the way, have already been explained, but this does not seem to discourage them.)

Let's ask creationists: Someday, when these gaps have closed and all your purported examples of "irreducible complexity" have been satisfactorily explained by science, will you abandon your belief in a god?

"Intelligent design" is not true science, vulnerable to disconfirmation. It is merely a prop to legitimize prior beliefs.

Scientists, by the way, do acknowledge design in the universe: design by natural selection, and by the limited number of ways atoms and molecules can combine mathematically and geometrically, or by emergent properties arising from "chaos," and so on. But "intelligent" design is an unsatisfactory hypothesis because it simply answers one mystery with another mystery. The mind of an intelligent designer would itself show signs of functional complexity, raising the question: who designed the designer?

If George Bush really wants to "expose people to different schools of thought," will he advocate teaching Darwinism in Sunday School? Shall we insert a chapter from Origin of the Species between Genesis 1 and 2?

The debate between the supernatural and natural world views ought to be discussed, but not in science class. It's not as though today's schoolchildren have been deprived of hearing about an "intelligent designer." There are churches on every other corner and religious broadcasts across the radio and TV spectra. Let's talk about religion--the good and the bad of it--in a class on philosophy or current topics.

But not in science class. Science teachers should teach science. Those who pretend "intelligent design" is science are missionaries, not teachers.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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