A Step Backward: Paul Ginart

This essay was one of several which won an honorable mention” in the 2006 high school essay competition. Paul received a $100 cash scholarship on the subject of why “intelligent design” does not belong in public school science classes.

By Paul Ginart

When our forebears came to this country, they had dreams of a free land–a land of unimagined opportunity. Many were escaping religious persecution and sought to establish a haven where all people could worship freely. Learning from the flaws of European governments, the American people knew that for liberty to prevail, complete separation of church and state was necessary. When framing the Constitution, the founding fathers stayed true to this intent. In Article 6, paragraph 3, the founders wrote: “. . . but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Already, America began carving a cleavage which no other country had.

The official cut between religion and state came with the Bill of Rights, specifically with the First Amendment. It famously states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . . .” With such clear constitutional underpinnings, separation between church and state has become a staple of the American dream. Fully applying it, however, has proved difficult and has generated much debate, especially in education.

America is a predominantly Christian nation. The material taught in public schools, however, should be no different than if America were predominantly Buddhist, or even atheist. Since public schools are governmental institutions, they are bound by the Establishment Clause to maintain neutrality in all things religious. Remembering this is crucial when deciding what should be taught in school, and how it should be taught.

As a citizen of Cobb County, I realize quite well that evolution is a theory. However, before layering all science textbooks with advisory stickers, it is important to understand the nature of science. Science is an investigative and dynamic field; it attempts to describe and explain the phenomena of the world through quantifiable testing. From an experiment, a scientist analyzes data and draws conclusions, and yes, there is never any full-proof guarantee that the conclusions are correct. Through heavy testing and retesting, however, repeated results and conclusions coalesce into theories. Granted, theories are disproved and reformulated over time; some of the most basic current explanations may be even overturned as the ability to test improves in the future. The virtue of science, however, lies in its very dynamism and testability. One scientist can repeat the experiment of another and obtain the same results. The fact that science itself evolves serves as a reassurance of its increasing validity rather than a reason to renounce it.

If a person wants to place stickers on a biology textbook due to evolution, the treatment must be ubiquitous for every other scientific theory. It is more reasonable then to teach people that science is an evolving field rather than to layer every single scientific text with stickers. When Cobb County placed the stickers on the textbooks, however, they were not targeting the fact that science itself was comprised of theories, but only that evolution is one. Clearly, that incident has creationist ulterior motives, which have no place in the public school system.

Material taught in public schools should be independent of the predominant religion of the country, for that is the true test of separation between church and state. Currently, the United States is failing that test. Creationism, and its disguised form, intelligent design, have been trying to prod, sometimes bulldoze, their way into the school system for years. From the Scopes Monkey trial to the Dover trial, Christians have been trying to force public schools to espouse Christian rhetoric. Perhaps if America had Hindu origins, a different dogma would try to weed its way into the public school system. In any case, the facade of intelligent design as a science falls flat on its face.

As Judge John Jones III remarked, its motivation is clearly political and religious in nature rather than scientific. Furthermore, the foundation of intelligent design is not testable through empirical data, only through supposed “signs of intelligence,” making it a pseudo-science from the start.

Intelligent design hides itself through logical fallacies in order to appear scientific when it has no basis. For example, the supposedly “irreducible complexity” principle is very well reducible if one does not assume that all “necessary” parts were always necessary. Also, evolution could have done scaffolding over time, much as construction workers do when building something to support necessary parts as the whole is formed. The intelligent design principle of “specified complexity” is but a tautology of probabilities that biases weights of possible explanation, increasing the likelihood of incorrect conclusions. Might as well pick up Flying Spaghetti Monsterism while learning intelligent design.

Since intelligent design is religious in purpose and nonempirical in evidence, it is unconstitutional in the classroom. Like its father, creationism, intelligent design undermines both scientific principles and the founding principles of the United States, especially if placed on an equal level to evolution, a theory that has tremendous evidence backing it up. Separation of church and state is crucial now more than ever for survival and success in this increasingly globalized era. Teaching intelligent design in classrooms would only be a step backward, back to theocracy, back to the persecution, the superstition, and the bias the fathers of the United States sought so direly to leave behind.

Paul Ginart graduated from George Walton Comprehensive High School (Marietta, Ga.). As a student, his main passion is science. He has spent a summer researching at Emory University. His interests include playing soccer, playing violin, volunteering, and political debates. He has a special interest in philosophy, and enjoys reading. He is attending Princeton University and will major in either chemical engineering or molecular biology. He hopes to become a research doctor.

Freedom From Religion Foundation