Instant Theory

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Intelligent Design Must Win

The fight over evolution is boiling over once again: a federal court is hearing debate over whether the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board can place mentions of intelligent design in its science curriculum. Some parents, the ACLU, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State are arguing that intelligent design is at least quasi-religious, and is therefore constitutionally barred from public classrooms. They're wrong.

There is no doubt that intelligent design is a highly evolved form of creationism. For decades, some of the shrewder creationists have whittled down statements of their belief in an effort to make it palatable both to the courts and more members of the public. They realized that to bring the idea of miraculous creation into schools and the rest of official public life, it had to pass the Supreme Court's current interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

With intelligent design, they've basically succeeded -- they've pared back the idea of miraculous creation to such a general notion that it is not inherently religious. There are two components of this generality: first, it does not advocate any particular religion; intelligent design leaves room for the Creator(s) to be Jehovah, Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, Marduk, or whoever else. The second component is that it doesn't even specify divine species creation. ID opens the possibility that some non-supernatural intelligent entity -- the space aliens? -- created Earth's species. Snarky folks lampoon ID by saying a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. Laugh all you want, but this is ID's great strength: it's agnostic about the source of Creation.

So even though most proponents of ID, both academic and populist, clearly think the intelligent designer is the Christian God, the theory does not -- at least not inherently or overtly. This may sound like a weaselly legalism, and it is. But legal systems work, by definition, with legalisms. As long as ID retains its creation- and religion-agnosticism in schools -- no mentions of Jesus or the Bible, folks -- it passes constitutional muster. The federal courts should allow the teaching intelligent design.

All of this is not to say that intelligent design should actually be taught in science classes. Teaching intelligent design as though it were science is forsaking part of the pursuit of truth, and anyone who supports ID is pushing our our children and our nation toward regressive ignorance. But our country has different bodies to make different decisions, and in this case, the power to choose between ignorance and the pursuit of truth lies in local school boards. This choice belongs to regular people chosen by their communities, not professional jurists on the federal bench.


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