There once was an aspiring teacher in Tennessee who in his final interview before the school board confronted a question that would determine his fitness for employment.
“Do you believe the world is flat, or do you believe the world is round?” he was asked.
Smart fellow that he was, he offered an answer guaranteed to land the job: “I can teach it either way.”
Now comes Congress, an amalgamation of gentle souls about whom it would be fair to suggest that few, if any, have “rocket science” on their resumes. Nonetheless, some of their number feel qualified to dictate to our schools specifics of science curriculum when it comes to a discussion of the origin of life on our planet.
Said another way, we’ve got a handful of right-wing nuts in Washington who want to push creationism down the throats of innocent schoolchildren under the pretense that religious doctrine has some sort of scientific validity.
Let’s get to the heart of it: Science does not ask why things happen. `Why’ questions are for theologians and philosophers. Science asks how things happen. For instance, how did life originate here? Fossil evidence indicates that life forms have been around for millions of years. Prehistoric remains provide incontrovertible evidence that once great beasts roamed the planet.
Interestingly, they had two eyes, noses, teeth, tongues, wandered about in search of nourishment and ate other livings things, plants and animals, to sustain themselves.
Just like us.
Scientists, as they unravel the human genome, have discovered that the genetic distinction between mouse and man is trivial. Can science prove without a doubt that Charles Darwin got it right in his theory of evolution? Nope. But it’s the best guess we have at the moment.
Should we let kids in on this? Of course.
Should we explain that it is just a theory? Absolutely.
Should the so-called intelligent design theory be taught alongside it? Absolutely not.
Why? Because “intelligent design” – shorthand for creationism, meaning the hand of God in the development of life – does not flow out of scientific inquiry. It is not science. It is theology.
“Intelligent design” at its core assumes a “creator.” It assumes an underlying motivation (a why question) in the creation of life. That’s the stuff of religion.
Why are we here? What is our purpose? What does God want from us? These are wonderful issues to ponder, but they are not scientific questions. These are inquiries that, in the end, cannot be settled on the basis of hard evidence. They are questions of faith. They are fodder for philosophers.
Having said that, it is not inconsistent to believe in God and at the same time believe in the theory of evolution. Who can say how God might have brought about the creation of life?
There are many, many theologians and scientists who are comfortable with this, who believe faith and evolution can peacefully coexist.
The proper forum for a discussion of these issues is church, philosophy class or the dinner table. Not science class.
The Founding Fathers of this country were firm on the notion that religion and government were like oil and water, never to be mixed. We should not put our science teachers in the position of that hapless, if apocryphal, Tennesseean.
It may be too much to expect our congresspersons to understand the biological complexities attendant to The Origin of Species, but they ought to at least have heard of the First Amendment.