Tuesday, February 08, 2005


It's not fair!

After sliding home through the snow in an afternoon commute that took more than twice as long as ususal, I've decided not to beat it over to Topeka tonight for the Science Standards hearing there. I know, I know, I'm a wimp. Nevertheless, here are the remarks I planned to make if I'd been there...

I have two daughters who attend Blue Valley public schools here in Kansas. As a father, there are three little words I hear nearly every day. No, those words aren't "I love you," they are, "That's not fair."
People the world over are imbued with a strong sense of what is fair, and what is not. This deeply held, deeply human belief in fair play can be found in societies stretching back to the beginnings of recorded history.
That is why the notion, put forward by intelligent design proponents, that we act evenhandedly, that we just "teach the controversy and let the kids decide," sometimes strikes a deep chord in the minds of people who have not thought critically about this issue.
I’d like to offer five reasons why it would be profoundly unfair to the students, teachers, and citizens of Kansas to teach the biblical story of Genesis, intelligent design, or to incorporate the proposals of the minority of the Science Standards Committee into the curriculum of Kansas's public schools.
Museums the world over – including a number here in Kansas – are filled with fossil remains documenting the rich evolutionary history of our planet. And yet, biblical literalists, the proponents of intelligent design, often complain that there are gaps in the fossil record. To be truly fair, shouldn’t we ask: "Where is the intelligent design museum? Where are the artifacts that provide the evidentiary basis to back up those claims?"
Many, if not all, of those who speak in favor of intelligent design, believe in the literal truth of the biblical story of creation told in Genesis. I do not doubt the sincerity of their belief, but that is just one story among many. Every people in every culture, the world over have their own story: the Greeks of ancient Athens, the Hindu with 762 million believers worldwide, Buddhists, animists, the Norse, and the Navaho all have creation stories to tell. Who are we to question the sincerity of their beliefs? If we genuinely want to be fair, don’t we have to teach them all?
Who among us would think it fair, to teach French in a math class, or chemistry in an English class? Fair to the students? Fair to the teachers? Why then, do some of us assume it is fair to teach religion and philosophy in a biology classroom? Our universities train and certify biology teachers in math and science, not philosophy, history, and comparative religion. If we decide to teach these fields of study in the public schools, shouldn't an instructor with university level training in the subject matter teach them? And, shouldn't this be done in a philosophy classroom?
Here in Kansas, we are routing for the Jayhawks to return to the Final Four (Okay, maybe some of you Wildcat fans are holding back.) If they make it, it will be because they have had a great season, made a strong showing in the Big Twelve tournament, and worked their way up through NCAA brackets without losing a game. None of us would think it fair to allow someone who has never played a game of basketball to compete against people of proven ability who have dedicated their lives to the sport. And yet, this is precisely what we do when we demand that intelligent design be inserted into the science curriculum.
Scientific research has been an enormously productive human enterprise. Using the methods of science, researchers have probed the wide expanses of the universe and penetrated into the micro-world of the atom. They have explored the workings of plate tectonics and mapped the human genome. Every time we drive a car, fly in a plane, take a pill, use a computer, eat a meal, or pull on our clothes, we make use of the fruits of the scientific method.
Intelligent design can't make that statement. There is no body of research to support its claims or even a real plan to conduct such research. More than a decade after the movement began, a pioneer of intelligent design, says the New York Times, lamented that the movement had many sympathizers but few research workers, no biology texts and no sustained curriculum to offer educators. The Times article goes on to say, "Another leading expositor told a Christian magazine last year that the field had no theory of biological design to guide research, just 'a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions.' If evolution is derided as 'only a theory,' intelligent design needs to be recognized as 'not even a theory' or 'not yet a theory.'"Finally, let's be fair to Kansas taxpayers. We already know that our schools are woefully under funded. Do we really want to take money away from our kid's education and spend it instead to defend intelligent design against the inevitable, and inevitably successful, court challenge that will come only moments after the Kansas State Board of Education votes to devalue science and open the door to intelligent design and its country cousin, biblical literalism.


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