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Problem that the Dover ruling won’t solve

December 20, 2005

Pharyngula, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Unscrewing The Inscrutable, ***Dave, Orac, Buridan, and The Revealer have all written excellent analysis about the Dover ruling, in which it was found that ‘Intelligent Design’ is just religious creationism dressed-up in science-y sounding language (not to be confused with actual science).  Some of them have multiple entries covering different angles of the case, so I won’t try to duplicate their work.

Instead, I’m putting on my psychic fortune-teller hat and peering into the future to see what will happen next:

  • The Discovery Institute will try to say this is ‘a necessary step’ in a long battle.  They will probably also renege on their promise to cover the Dover school district’s legal expenses.

  • Pat Robertson (and possibly James Dobson) will whine that it is evidence of activist secular judges leading our nation away from God’s blessing, or some such, thereby proving that even they know ID is a religious concept that doesn’t belong in a classroom
  • Thousands of letters will be written to editors of hundreds of newspapers, complaining about how Christianity is persecuted and just can’t get fair treatment at the hands of those awful secularists.  (An ‘activist judge’, by the way, is any judge who ruled in a way you don’t like)
  • Many school districts will misunderstand the ruling and actually prevent any mention of Intelligent Design in any context, even to discuss what science actually IS and what it is NOT

That last point is the downside.  Many school principals and district superintendents have misinterpreted rulings against state-sponsored religion to mean that no one, not even students, can pray in school or read the Bible.  (Not true) The same thing will happen to discussions of science and religion, which is a shame.

I would like science classes and religion classes to devote more time to the respective theory of those disciplines.  What is science, after all?  And what is religion?  What kinds of questions does each attempt to answer? 

Although many scientists (being human) have opinions on the existence of God one way or the other, science itself does not intrude into that question because it is not testable or falsifiable.  Yet religion does make some scientific claims, such as; “The Earth is 6,000 years old.”  It is a testable, falsifiable statement of fact that can be addressed by science, and since it has been tested and falsified, it does not belong in science class.

Another collision between science and religion is where religion wants religious claims taught as science.  ‘Intelligent Design’ is such a claim; it is inspired by religion (as the judge clearly found), and there is no way to test it or falsify it.  To believe in Intelligent Design, as with creationism itself, is an act of faith, and outside the realm of science.

Ask 100 adults what science is, and you will learn just how badly our educational institutions have failed to lay the groundwork.  The same is probably true of religion – you will be given examples of each, rather than hear a fundamental understanding;  “Uh, science is like, laboratories, and computers, and dissecting frogs, and physics and stuff.” 

They might say something similar about religion: “Uh, religion is like, Christianity, and Judaism, and Islam and stuff.”

The operative word in both cases is: “Uh…”

I’m awfully glad for the court ruling but it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem.

  1. December 21, 2005 at 17:33 | #1

    Agreed.  A lack of understanding of what science is, and what religion is, means that folks tend to mix them up—treating faith-based beliefs as scientific facts, or accepting stuff that sounds scientific as something that warrents blind, faithful adherence.

    Ammonia’s good for a lot of things.  Bleach is good for a lot of things.  Use one when you should be using the other, you’ll make a mess.  Mix them together, and you’ve got *real* problems.

  2. WeeDram
    December 21, 2005 at 23:43 | #2

    The common denominator is opinion based on ignorance.  I deal with this every day.  Both prospective customers and co-workers (sales reps) who don’t truly understand what they’re talking about.  Plus they don’t know how to even think about stuff.  I think we should teach lots of courses on thinking.  I know I could use those from time to time.

  3. December 24, 2005 at 23:08 | #3

    I think the best thing I have yet heard on ID (Intelligent Design) was a debate on CSPAN-2.  Where the gentleman arguing for Evolutionism stated simply that if ID truly wanted a place in science they would get into science the same way everything else has.  By arguing their point to the scientific community and using facts to persuade the other side or disprove the other side.  Instead what your seeing is the ID people going straight to courts and local boards to try to force their way in.  They are using political means.  This I think should scare people more than anything else.
    The man went on to say that ID would simply be accepted into science like anything else if they went to the scientific community.  Which is why he states which I firmly believe is that the ID people do not really care what the children are learning as long as it is “God’s words”.
    Whatever their reasons they have been kept out of schools for now…  Thank God.

  4. Al
    January 4, 2006 at 23:56 | #4

    Uh. . .actually, from what I remember from school (about 40+ years ago), we spent about fifteen minutes in class discussing evolution, the origin of the Universe, the Big Bang Theory, and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and then we went back to dissecting frogs.  Meanwhile, in my Baptist Church we kids discussed a few problems with taking the Genesis story literally, such as, the Sun and Moon didn’t exist for the first three Days so why would they necessarily be 24 hours long? My point being that this is a vast subject for half-vast minds and I don’t trust the public schools (or the private ones, either) OR the churches to treat the subject even half-decently.

  5. January 5, 2006 at 22:37 | #5

    Wow… that’s a lot to cover in 15 minutes.  Sounds like your church did a more thorough job of teaching their subject matter than your school did, though.  Unfortunately things don’t seem to have improved.

    If the schools and churches can’t do it, how can it get done?

    I really would like us all to work harder at this.  Do we have something more important to do than educate the next generation?  Some TV program or a football game?

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