For wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you.
– Proverbs 2:10-11
I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led, and bearding every authority which stood in their way.
– Thomas Jefferson
I am an atheist, and I favor the teaching young-earth creationism in public schools. I believe that this would be beneficial not just for the students, but for our society. Religion is a serious topic, worthy of serious study, and it should be taught in the classroom, in a serious way. But not in a science classroom. Religion is not science, nor should it be, so let’s not confuse the two. Just as we would not consider teaching history in a gym class, let us clearly separate these subjects.
A Religions class would, in the spirit of unbiased fairness to all points of view, necessarily give equal time to all the world’s religions, past and present, including all of their various creation stories and myths. By demonstrating the diversity of religious views, students would be made aware that their own particular traditions and beliefs are the result of their upbringing. Properly executed, this class would serve to distinguish between the subjective nature of religious thinking and the objective, verifiable reality of science.
If you’re thinking, “Yes, but intelligent design is a scientific theory, worthy of a science classroom,” then let’s briefly cover some well-trodden ground together:
- It is not a coincidence that the intelligent design strategy is promoted by the Discovery Institute, and that it has been explicitly described by this organization as a way to introduce a “wedge” into popular thinking so as to allow the introduction of more religiously-based material into public classrooms.
- The obvious scientific question to intelligent design theorists is “Who is the designer?” If the answer isn’t some supernatural entity, then a scientist would expect to see some supporting evidence for the existence of this creator. If it is… well, then it’s God (or gods), and that qualifies this as a religious notion.
- A scientific theory makes testable predictions. Evolutionary theory is a singular success in this regard. Intelligent design predicts only that no path will ever be found to explain how certain complex structures evolved from simpler ones. This is tantamount to saying that everything that is currently unexplained must be the work of a mysterious and mystical place-holding entity. This is not how knowledge moves forward.
- The fact that there remain open questions in evolutionary theory, which are actively investigated by the scientific community, in no was implies that the theory is wrong. This is how science works: Questions are raised, answers are proposed and tested, and then new questions arise. Intelligent design, by contrast, raises no questions because it gives the same answer to every unknown, offering no further lines of inquiry.
- At no point in the scientific method is the investigator’s personal preference as to the outcome of the experiment queried. If a particular scientist would prefer to live in a universe containing a supernatural entity, that is of no concern to the theory being tested.
Supposing, as some creationists might, that belief in evolutionary theory has led to all manner of social and moral ills says nothing about the veracity of the theory itself. Society would be better served by addressing these ills, rather than silencing the expression of a well-established theory. Moreover, if evolutionary theory is an attack on religion, then so is a astronomy, physics, geology, and any other science that is not based on religious ideas. Should we scrap this knowledge as well, because having it might lead our children to do drugs?
Now, please, let us all agree that creationism, in any guise, is not science. If the people want religion to be taught in schools, then by all means, I agree. Let us label it clearly as such, and teach all religions, not just our personal favorites. Would doing this make the Christian Right happy, and finally put to rest this tiresome discourse? I’d like to hope so.
One last thought: “Science” may be a taboo word to the religious far right, but it is really nothing more than our extended ability to draw conclusions based on what we see around us. Supposing there were a divine Creator, why would He give us eyes with which to see, hands with which to act, a brain with which to think, and mountains of converging evidence indicating our origin? The divine logic of a Creator who would provide all this as some sort of bad cosmic joke is, I admit, beyond me. If there is a God, then indeed, our knowledge does come from Him, and it is abundant.
If you are religious, then don’t worry. There are still plenty of questions that science will never answer. Let’s not add one more to the list.