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31 July 2008

"Intelligent Design" in Louisiana Schools Not So Smart

By Gina Liggett

Louisiana recently passed the impressive-sounding Science Education Act. This law will allow teachers to use "supplemental materials" to promote the "open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."

That might sound pretty good, given the deplorable state of science education in the public schools, but it's not. The purpose of this bill is to allow schools to teach Creationism in the science classrooms.

There are several reasons this is a bad idea.

(1) Creationism, the biblical explanation for the origins of the earth and life, is a religious story. The basic "text book" is the Bible. The story must be accepted on faith, and there is no way to use human methods of reason to test it. This is what religion is: accepting by faith alone the teachings of the church or religious leader.

(2) Darwin's explanation of evolution is the theory that the Creationists are fighting against. It is the brilliantly-discovered scientific explanation about how biological life on earth came about and evolved into the billions of different species we have now.

It is the unifying theory in biology and has been proved over and over again by the scientific method of observation, data collection, analysis, and explanation.

(3) Creationism and Evolution are not competing theories. Merely claiming, "that's what the bible says," does not constitute a valid explanation of the facts of our earth and the life on it.

(4) The bill's stated goal of teaching "critical thinking" will accomplish just the opposite. You cannot "critically think" about Creationism, because by definition it must be accepted on faith and merely learned and memorized.

When studying Evolution, on the other hand, students can learn the history of the painstaking "critical thinking" process Darwin undertook to collect data, analyse it and integrate it into a ground-breaking theory that has withstood the test of time. His was a process of reason: knowledge because of evidence--not a process of faith, which is belief in the absence of evidence.

And amazingly, we observe evolution happening now! For example, the development of antibiotic- and pesticide-resistant organisms has become a huge problem because these microbe species are evolving the characteristics to resist our medicines!

There is no amount of learning about Creationism that will teach students the skills necessary to go into careers to combat these modern threats to human health. A solid foundation in the facts of Evolution will be an absolute requirement to meet these challenges.

(5) This law is a blatant violation of the separation of church and state. The first amendment's freedom of religion does not grant advocacy groups the right to promulgate their religious beliefs in the public schools. I cannot imagine that many evangelical Christians would appreciate school boards requiring the teaching of Islamic Sharia laws in the classroom; it is likewise unacceptable to teach Christian stories in science class.

In summary: we are beings who must discover the truths of reality by a process of reason in order to survive. The faithful have no more choice about this fact of our existence than the non-faithful.

Teaching the myth of Creationism, which requires faith, alongside the science of evolution, which requires reason, will cause confusion in students' minds about what science is and why it's important. It will impair -- not enhance -- the development of their ability to think.

And finally, we must vigorously uphold the separation of church and state. That is the only way to protect the rights of the faithful and the freedom of the life-sustaining mind.

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