I have written before about the debate between the scientific theory of evolution and the religious theory of intelligent design, so I won’t rehash the details here.
But recently two news stories have been published that have muddied the already-mucky waters on the subject. It’s a new development that may need clarifying.
First of all, Pres. Bush has chimed in on the debate. During a question-and-answer session that took place prior to the start of his long vacation, Bush took the position that intelligent design should probably be taught along side evolution in biology classes.
He declined to give his personal belief about intelligent design and said that it should be up to local school districts to decide whether or not to teach it. But when asked if he thought it should be taught in school he said, “I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught.” And that is, “so people can understand what the debate is about.”
It sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? And, although I disagree with Bush on just about every important issue, I agree with him on this, up to a point.
He left out one very important factor, however.
The debate that continues to rage between religious fundamentalists and science associations is indeed a current event that young people should not only be exposed to, but invited to participate in. But in what class do students usually study and debate current events?
Most schools offer courses in social studies that cover current events. Some schools may also offer courses in philosophy and religion, in which different religious and philosophical views are discussed.
But Bush apparently meant that he favors teaching intelligent design as an alternative theory to evolution in science classes. Almost all scientists, and the vast majority of religious leaders, feel that would be a grave mistake, since intelligent design isn’t science.
Bush’s science advisor, Joseph H. Marburger III, tried to clear things up a bit, stating that intelligent design is not a scientific concept. Perhaps he should have informed his boss first.
Even some right-wing organizations are worried about Bush’s statement. Among them are conservatives who want the Republican Party to be something other than a political arm of the religious right.
Unlike Calvin Coolidge, a conservative who was president during the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, Bush never hesitates to introduce his views on controversial issues.
Coolidge clearly understood the separation of powers in the federal government and that, although he would have had the constitutional right to voice his opinion, it would have been improper for him to take sides in the trial.
Bush could learn something from history.
The second attack on evolution came from Cardinal Christoph Schönborn in an op-ed piece in the New York Times last month. In the editorial, he claimed that certain aspects of the theory of evolution cannot be reconciled with Catholicism.
He said that there was “purpose and design” in nature that was incompatible with evolution. That seems to throw support to the intelligent design concept.
Officially, the Catholic Church’s position on evolution was last stated in 2004 by the International Theological Commission. In a document entitled “Communion and Stewardship,” it states that Catholic theology does not commit the church to one side or the other in the dispute. It stated that even if evolution appears “random” and “undirected” from an empirical point of view it could still be part of God’s plan.
Schönborn’s editorial does not represent an official shift in the Vatican’s position. The appearance of his editorial was orchestrated by a conservative think tank that supports intelligent design. The new pope has yet to state a position on evolution.
But, together with Bush’s apparent endorsement of intelligent design, the cardinal’s remarks may embolden conservative Christians to take their struggle even further as they try to inoculate the science curriculums in state after state with their bogus “theory.”
That would be a mistake, according to aerospace engineer and science consultant Rand Simberg. A political conservative, Simberg wrote on his Web site that intelligent design “doesn't belong in a science classroom, except as an example of what's not science.”
No matter what one’s faith tells them about the development of life, it should be exceedingly apparent that Simberg is correct. If it isn’t science, keep it out of the science classroom.