Lyndon Johnson liked to tell a story about a Depression-era school teacher who was applying for a job in Johnson City, Texas, the president's hometown. The school board, he said, was divided on whether Earth was round or flat, so they asked him how he taught it.
"The poor fellow needed a job so much; he said, 'I can teach it either way.'"
Henceforth, if President Bush has his druthers - or if the school boards in Kansas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere that have decreed equal time for "intelligent design" in their classes have theirs - teachers will have to teach it both ways. Or maybe no way.
The idea of giving equal time to scientifically untestable beliefs that question established scientific principles says in effect that if enough people believe in something, you should not only respect that belief, but call it science. Yes, evolution is scientific theory; so is gravity.
The late Pope John Paul II recognized years ago that biological evolution had progressed beyond the hypothetical stage as a guiding principle behind the understanding of the evolution of diverse life forms on Earth, including humans. At the same time, he rightly recognized that the spiritual significance that one draws from the scientific observations and theory lie outside of the scientific theories themselves. To mush them up is to offend both, and some Catholic scholars have suggested that intellegent design (as known in the US: an alternative to evolution) is actually blasphemous.
Many people have been concerned by a recent New York Times opinion piece by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna and a close associate of the new pope, declaring, "Evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense ... is not true." Schönborn's opinion appeared to redefine the church's view on evolution, though he has since clarified that the article was based on personal opinion rather than Catholic doctrine. The two systems - belief in a divine origin and Darwinian science - aren't incompatible. They belong in different realms, and they're another argument why sectarian doctrine doesn't belong in public education.
There are no scientific studies that even mention intelligent design. It rests largely on the argument that DNA is too complex to have evolved through random selection. To shove it into the classroom as science is an attack on science itself (and in fact, many school boards introducing intellegent design have also inserted changes on the age of the Earth and on the Big Bang).
None of this would matter nearly as much if the United States were still leading the world in the training of scientists. But by almost any measure we are losing ground to China, India and other competitors in the global high-tech world. Teachers around the country say the president's statement will only encourage creationists and other fundamentalist activists who already have them afraid to discuss evolution.
Since his election campaign in 2000, the president led the cheerleading for tougher academic standards. His showcase No Child Left Behind education law requires teaching techniques and other school programs to rest on "scientifically based research" - the law uses the phrase 111 times. But apparently, when it comes to biology or geology, equal time for something that's scientifically untestable is good enough.
Excerpted from: Peter Schrag, Sacramento Bee, August 10, 2005
Tags: evolution, creationism