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  • Issue 54:
    Gracious Christianity

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    The Good Book

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  • A Mandate to Teach Stupid Design

    Robert N. Minor


    In all my student years, I never thought the teaching of biological evolution was anti-God or religion. Even when I studied the two creation stories in the Bible's first book, Genesis, it didn't seem as if they forced anyone to choose between God and evolution.

    Later when Pope John Paul II agreed that a Christian could be a theistic evolutionist, many thought that he made good sense. Right-wing Protestants such as radical commentator Cal Thomas criticized him, accusing the Polish Pope of embracing Communism for doing so. It became obvious, then, that the Pope was more theologically and scientifically nuanced than such fundamentalists.

    I certainly wouldn't have respected my own beliefs more if my public school had taught them. As kids we made fun of so much of the national piety the schools already taught ("I pledge allegiance to the wall," I can still hear kids laughing.), that mandatory prayers would have probably encouraged another set of childish mocking.

    We kids respected those who died for our country - those stories intrigued us. But we sensed something shallow in school time's compulsory rituals.

    I certainly would have thought that our teachers praying at the beginning of classes was hypocritical. My teachers were dedicated, honest, moral, and hardworking, but I never expected them to be models for my spirituality.

    It took the politicization of right-wing, Republican-Party-style Christianity to revive the political argument that teaching evolution in science classes (along with such dangers as gay people, female control of their own bodies, and racial equality) was a major cause of crime, disease, and the declining belief in the fundamentalists' Judgmental-Divine-Father-way of seeing the Universe.

    Fundamentalists created another debate they framed in the simplistic political way they defined most things, in either/or terms. You were either for them or against them. There was no place for the relative intellectual sophistication of Pope John Paul.

    Then they went further. In a new testimony to their unbelief, they wanted the government to push their sectarian religious ideas. Having so little faith that God could do it successfully, or that their arguments could win on their own merits, fear-filled leaders began to fight for the backing of political institutions and human governments, to see to it that their beliefs would win. So much for "WWJD."

    I doubt if up to this point there had been even one public school science teacher in the whole county who had spent a single minute of classtime arguing that evolution proved there was no God. It would have been out of place and unscientific. I haven't even heard of any urban legends - the fabricated kind the right-wing usually passes around -- about this.

    The radical religious right-wing wants that all changed.

    Unable to get a sectarian Christian creationism taught blatantly, their think-tanks came up with something called "Intelligent Design." They want their claims that scientific evidence implies an intelligent, Divine Designer to be taught in tax-payer-funded schools as if it's a viable scientific option, not merely a dogma from their faith.

    The result would be that public school science classes would have to present "evidence" for the fact that the human body, for example, is so well and intricately made that an "Intelligence" must be responsible. They want teachers to teach that these things couldn't have developed merely by chance.

    So, a new type of discussion must take place in science classes. Teaching evolutionary theory as a scientific explanation to understand and predict biological change, is no longer enough.

    The new mandate that results is one that requires teachers in the end to start presenting arguments against the existence of an Intelligent Designer, too. It actually requires schools to argue against the right-wing's view of God.

    The first new question about which the schools will be required to present "both sides" is: Does evidence such as the human body, for example, actually prove in any way that an intelligence has designed it?

    The right wing apparently assumes a 'yes' answer. In their hope to prove that there is a God like theirs, they assert one of the classic religious "proofs" -- that the universe is so ordered that we must conclude that there is a Designer. They assume there's an order that other philosophers have questioned.

    With the new mandate, science classes will also have to present apparent evidence that argues that nature, the "product," is scientifically flawed enough to conclude that there may be no Designer, or that the Designer was sometimes asleep at the switch, mentally flawed by designing lapses, short-sighted, or just plain stupid.

    This follows from the latest strategy for inserting the right-wing position in science curricula.

    The strategy sounds fair enough at first. Frame this as just a matter of presenting all sides in the way Bush did in response to a question asking him if the public schools should teach "Intelligent Design."

    "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," Bush said on August 1st. "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes."

    Science teachers now will have to point out what would be "design" flaws such as the human spine, the existence of the appendix, the susceptibility of human beings to viruses such as the common cold, the fragility of certain joints in the body, the fact that human bodies at some point flip into a non-renewable mode. They'll have to teach how people use such evidence to conclude that there is no Designer at all.

    Right-wing religion may explain any design stupidity as the result of sin, evil, the Devil, or even the Designer's desire to make us fragile and see to it that we all will die. But that's not science at all. It's more dogma.

    The atheist can explain this as the result of chance, the absence of a Designer, or even proof that there is none.

    But the result of the "Intelligent Design" mandate will be that schools will now need to point out to students the evidence that argues that there is no Designer.

    That would be scientifically fair, wouldn't it?


    Robert Minor is a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas. Visit his Web site, Fairness Project.

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