CHARLOTTE LAWS - DREAM AND ACHIEVE TOGETHER
Arm Wrestling with Darwin
By: Charlotte Laws
your head has been super-glued inside a science book, you have observed
the furious debate between proponents of intelligent design (ID) and
supporters of evolution; a debate that has bounced from courtrooms into
opinion pages around the country. Pointing to the complexity of life on
earth, IDers posit the existence of an intelligent designer and reject the
notion that all can be explained by evolutionary theory.
issue has become a political tractor with conservatives and liberals
attempting to bulldoze their opponents. Conservatives hope to acquire the
seal of authenticity for their theory of ID, an accolade that only
“fact-based” and “respectable” science can provide; while the
liberals want to protect their turf from what they see as a religious
crusade into the “objective” halls of learning.
controversy has emerged in Georgia, Kansas, Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri
and South Carolina, as well as Pennsylvania where a judge recently ruled
that reading a single sentence about intelligent design in biology class
would violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. In California,
the El Tejon Unified School District permanently cancelled a philosophy
class about intelligent design after Americans United for Separation of
Church and State filed a lawsuit.
was once the supreme authority on all matters, but when the
Enlightenment’s onslaught of secular ideas swept over the European
continent, it carried away the minds—and sometimes the hearts—of many
who had been devout.
century philosopher Baruch Spinoza rebelled against traditional Judaism
and Christianity, replacing them to a great extent with the rational and
scientifically based metaphysic of determinism. This metaphysic argues in
favor of a mechanistic, causal universe and is bolstered by scientific
findings, including later Darwinian theory.
keeping with the prior rebellion against religion, today there is arguably
a rebellion against the new leader called “science.” Kings risk being
toppled from their thrones, and ID has emerged as a weapon to be used
against this final arbiter of “truth.”
are IDers making their move now? First, it could be said that science has
ventured into “disquieting” areas of study, such as cloning,
transgenetic engineering, cross-species transplants and stem cell
research. There may be an urge to rein it in with philosophical or
theological “wisdom.” As Albert Einstein, a pantheist and disciple of
Spinoza, said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without
science is blind.”
is never value-free, and an omission can convey a powerful message. When
students fail to discuss the ethics of scientific actions and outcomes,
they often end up like my former, high school classmates: giggling and
hurling dissection specimens across the room, a behavior that conveys lack
of respect for the animals who died and inability to comprehend that
dissection is considered by many to be ethically impermissible in the
science has faltered recently, leaving it vulnerable to attack by those
who hope to depose it. Scientific fraud has leapfrogged to the public’s
attention with confessions by Korean researcher Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, who
admitted fabricating cloning studies for the past two years. Esteemed
scientific journals published his concocted data, and his peers did not
question his work. One journal editor recently stated that scientific
error and dupery occur from time to time, even at leading American
universities, a statement that taints the image of science as trusted
IDers may feel that any disagreement among prominent scientists opens the
hatch to alternative theories. The discovery of “spooky” quantum
mechanics occurred in conjunction with a pervasive disillusionment with
science and its fundamental tenet: causality. While some quantum
physicists, such as Einstein, support a deterministic hidden variable
theory, others, such as Werner Heisenberg and Max Born, defend a framework
based on the uncertainty principle. If it is acceptable to teach opposing
theories in quantum mechanics, then why not let ID arm wrestle with
words such as “spookiness,” “magic” and “trickery” are
associated with the quantum world, one could argue that mystical, veiled
or opaque theories, such as ID, befit the scientific realm. If quantum
strangeness can be taught, why must intelligent design be expelled?
postmodernism--which rejects any form of absolute truth, even in
science--has permeated modern society, and conservative IDers are
embracing it. This is ironic because the “right” has traditionally
embraced the objective and absolute while the “left” has endorsed the
subjective and contextual.
describing postmodernism, Richard Rorty says, “truth is made rather than
found,” and Jean-Francois Lyotard emphasizes the importance of avoiding
totalizing grand narratives and maintaining an infinite number of
perspectives. Darwinian theory is nothing if not a totalizing grand
ID be allowed to “act up” in science class? Most people might say yes.
According to a 2005 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll on evolution, 84 percent of
Americans believe that God created humans in their present form or helped
guide their development, while a mere 12 percent say God had no part in
bouncers in the “12 percent club” guard the door from party crashers.
They look at “fake” ID, saying it is creationism incognito and that it
lacks “real science” credentials. They announce to the crowd, “If
you think it qualifies, you’ve had one too many drinks.”
are correct in that intelligent design fails Karl Popper’s
falsifiability test; it cannot be proved wrong. ID is philosophy, not
science. But does this mean it should be denied entry?
am convinced by the evidence of natural selection and treasure Darwin’s
theory because it promotes an interconnectedness of all living things, but
I hold that the intense battle to keep ID out of the classroom is
misguided. The shrill, political feud between conservatives and liberals
has spiraled away from protecting students and the Constitution into a
rendition of Hannity and Colmes.
we lack confidence in our children to evaluate, to separate evidence from
fiction, to interpret for themselves? Sweeping ID under the rug makes for
a huge lump that curious teenagers will investigate.
is the resistance to cross-disciplinary study or “big picture”
teaching in which related fields, such as history, philosophy and biology,
are integrated? Math partners with chemistry; philosophy and ethics could
collaborate with all branches of science. Compartmentalized study may lead
to a lack of synthesis, thus an absence of learning in general.
is postmodernism a no-no in science, but a welcome visitor in other
disciplines? No area of study should lose the doubt and humility that a
postmodern filter provides. Theories from the past have been toppled, and
some that are accepted today will be mocked tomorrow.