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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Intelligent Design

Let me preface this by saying that I think science is, more or less, pretty stupid. I'm glad it's out there, and I like my computer and clothes made by orphans in China, but for my money, the vast majority of science is pointless. Case in point is evolution. Evolution is, as far as I can tell, a totally useless theory. Not useless for its explanatory power, but useless as far as making my life tangibly better. Whether or not Darwin's theory of evolution (in its updated, modern version) is an accurate depiction of how species adapt over time, or not, doesn't change how tasty cows are when killed, diced, and cooked - nor does it do anything convenient, like enable engineers to create devices from which I can order pizza. So whether or not we teach kids evolution is something I couldn't really care less about.

That being said.

I am unabashedly for teaching intelligent design in science classrooms. In fact, I think they should teach intelligent design even if it supplants the teaching of evolution. In the past, schools have done everything from an outright ban on Darwin saturated textbooks to creating warning labels that indicated that evolution is "just a theory." And every time some midwestern state does it, people go fucking nuts over how we're deteriorating the quality of science education in this country.

The first thing I don't get is the whole "we're forcing God into the classroom" thing. Not, "I don't believe it's the intention of ID advocates to do this" or "I literally cannot comprehend a classroom with religious overtones," but rather, why this is inherantly a bad thing. The public writ large seems to vastly overestimate the influence a school's messages can have on kids. For one, every survey or test done to date has shown that kids who have gone through the American educational system can't do basic math and don't know history, geography or facts about government. So there's a pretty significant likelihood that, even if we teach ID, the kids will forget it about sixteen minutes after they're tested on it. For another, ID is a particularly nonsectarian view of things. It's not as if this is Bible reading. The only people who this could possibly offend are atheists, and at the point where an atheist is turned into a religious individual because they have to write "The theory of intelligent design, which I do not espouse, states X, Y, and Z" in a test booklet... well, they weren't really that skeptical, were they?

I spent eleven years in public schools, during which time I sat through roughly seventy billion hours listening to police officers, video taped police officers acting like geriatric high-school bullies, and puppets who were ostensibly deputized telling me not to drink, not to smoke, and that, were I so inclined, they would appreciate if I would take a bite out of crime.

This message was, based on the last 72 hours, utterly lost on me. And judging by national statistics on teenage drug use and the number of alcohol-facilitated auto fatalities, I am not alone. Look at how well teenage abstainance programs are working at keeping teenagers from having sex. And people are worried that, because a biology text uses a descriptive, nonpredictive metaphor for the creation of the universe that somehow schools are going to permanently alter a teenager's spiritual beliefs? Even when telling kids something that is obviously true, they don't listen. I doubt pondering the ether is going to be the tipping point in teenage cognitive decline.

That's not even considering the merits of ID. Right now, we teach the Bohr model of the atom. It's nice, compact, makes it easy to visualize electron levels, and so on. The only problem with it is that it's blatently wrong and gives students a manifestly misguided view of how things work at the atomic level. Yet it's taught anyway, because it helps someone being introduced to a concept to work through it. Someone who understands atomic theory on the rudimentary level of "Two electrons rotate around the protons in the nucleus" does not actually possess any serious command of quantum physics, but they 'get it' better than someone who thinks Democratus' atoms are the way things are built.

High school science is chalk-full of such helpful crutches, and ID can be one. For someone who has been religious their entire life, and accepted the literal creationism that many parents are teaching, intelligent design is a way to fit long-term biological development into the worldview they already possess. Whereas, if you taught them only Darwinian evolution, they would be significantly more likely to facially reject it. Again - a religious fifteen year old will not "get quantum theory," but they'll have a better understanding of the science behind the development of life than someone who thinks everything was created in six days. And that same religious person, who doesn't believe that a branch of science totally conflicts with their preconcieved notion of the world, is a billion times more likely to become a scientist, or at the very least, to look more deeply into it.

Within the context of a science classroom in a public high school, you will never be able to convince a fundimentalist Christian that God is absent from the narrative of biological progression. And if they can be so easily dissuaded, the strong likelhiood is that their parents haven't been endoctrinating them well enough. If one good thing has come out of evolution in the classroom, it's that parents are paying better attention to their kids' education.

The opposite direction is also true. An atheist is not going to be harmed in any particular manner by having to listen to the exposition of a theory that is 'offensive' to them. They almost certainly won't become religious as a consequence (not that it would be harmful if they did.) And to be honest, the idea that everyone needs to be shielded from anything that even vaguely bothers them to hear is getting out of hand.

All in all, I don't get what the fuss is about. People just like complaining about stupid things like this because it's easy to have a strong opinion.

cranked out at 2:33 PM | |

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