Monday, September 26, 2005

ID belongs in the Science Classroom

Intelligent Design should be allowed in the public school science classroom. ID, both the biological and the cosmological flavors, should be allowed. It shouldn’t be part of the curriculum, and it shouldn’t be taught, but it ought not to be prohibited from being discussed in a physics, biology or chemistry class.

A science teacher that introduces ID for purposes of an interesting classroom discussion should be permitted to do so, and he should not live in fear for his job.

The fundamentalist zealots such as those at the National Center for Science Evolution Education (and their acolytes) will graciously concede that perhaps ID can be discussed in a philosophy or a religious studies class. However they will insist that, given that ID is not science, it has no place in a science classroom. This is bunk. Even if the premise is true: that ID is not science, the conclusion that it should never be discussed in a science classroom is dung. It may sound pious to shout “science only in the science classroom”, but it makes for awful pedagogy.

In the public high school I attended (not in the bible belt, but in urban, ultra-liberal Pittsburgh) I took one chemistry class, two physics classes, and two biology classes. In none of them, not one, did the teacher enforce or follow a “pure science only” dictum. The thought wouldn’t have crossed their minds: they were good teachers, one and all.

Those classes were not worse for the rabbit trails we were allowed to pursue, often at the teacher’s initiation, they were better. The sterilized classes that the National Center for Science Evolution Education would impose upon public education are not an improvement but a serious step backwards (or, more accurately, a step into dangerous, unchartered waters.) A science class that discusses only what is “strictly” science will not make science more interesting, but less. Far less.

For both undergraduate and graduate school I went to a private (secular) university. The statement I made about my high school days applies here as well: I cannot recall any instance of a science class that failed to stray, at times, into the philosophical realm. Relativity and Quantum instructors actually spent a decent fraction of time discussing topics that were not strictly science, some of them ID precursor ideas, and I, and the other students, loved it. My first introduction to “fine tuning” came in a nuclear physics class, when the instructor, from a launching point that I cannot recall or even fathom, talked to us off-the-cuff about the amazing necessary-for-life fine tuning that we find in good old H2O. He could have told us about water’s polarity without any philosophical digression, such as the NCSEE would have it, but that would have been far less interesting and stimulating. And I wasn’t even a Christian at that time.

The NCSEE yahoos, none of whom have scientific credentials approaching that of my nuclear physics instructor, would have us believe that he was wrong for straying. But the truth is, they haven’t a clue about what is stimulating in a science class, not a blasted clue.

Fundamentalist Christians deserve the lion’s share of the blame for motivating a call to action by the equally fundamentalist evolutionists. Demanding equal time for ID, or that those asinine stickers be placed in public school science text books, was a colossal blunder that has backfired. Worse yet, it was utterly unnecessary—the stickers would never have accomplished what their proponents intended. There is no example of biblical evangelism—which consists of giving the gospel and nothing else—that remotely resembles the use of political activism to get a meaningless, ineffectual sticker placed in a science textbook. Was the purpose to evangelize? You are supposed to give the gospel to evangelize, not get laws passed. Was the purpose to prevent Christian teens from being lost? Have you ever actually read the bible? (see John 10:28-29 to begin you remedial basic theology instruction.)

By engaging in unbiblical practices, Christian fundamentalists have made things worse for Christians in public schools, especially teachers. They certainly have made things worse for me: it is now virtually impossible for me to get into a public high school to discuss cosmological ID.

If the Christian fundamentalists had taken a strong yet unpopular stand on something that was consistent with biblical teaching (as in something that you might imagine would gain the Apostle Paul's consent,) then I would have supported them 100% regardless of the consequences. Instead they took political action over a meaningless and imaginary line in the sand, with no regards to biblical truth, and their efforts have been commensurately honored.

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