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S ome may be gloating that federal district court judge John E. Jones rules "against" intelligent design in the case of Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover School District. Such an attitude is as unproductive as the attitude of those who abuse the court system to advance underlying religious beliefs. Equally unproductive is using politics to advance religion or using religion to inspire politics, but, unfortunately, that is not likely to change anytime soon.
In our day and age, Christianity is organized in various and very different denominations that have more of an eye for the differences than for the commonalities among them. Whether Thad Balkman is first and foremost politically or religiously inspired is not as important as the possible harm that is done to the reputation of his church (the Latter-day Saints) which has consistently maintained since 1931 that religion should stay out of science. Indeed, Sept. 2 the Utah Board of Education rejected the teaching of intelligent design in science classes. Any religious fundamentalist harms church members of any denomination who firmly believe in God yet acknowledge that natural phenomena are best studied according to the rigorous scientific methods developed since the 16th century. But then, Balkman echoes President Bush, who supported teaching of ID alongside evolution so "students can learn both sides of the debate." (see www.cnn.com/ 2005/politics/08/02).
Both sides? Do they now know that a substantive debate between two incommensurable positions is never possible and results only in an infantile "is too, is not" sparring? Perhaps there are some who still argue the earth is flat. Thank goodness there was nothing written about that in the Bible.
What is so threatening about the idea of evolution? Does it undermine religion? Will it make religion disappear? There are some scientists who hope it will. Prominent among them is the theoretical physicist and Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg, who said, "I can hope that this long sad story, this progression of priests and ministers and rabbis and ulamas and imams and bonzes and bodhisattvas, will come to an end. I hope this is something to which science can contribute ... it may be the most important contribution we can make." (Freethought, April 2000).
But most of us know this will not happen any time soon. What science has undermined is the Genesis version of earth's origins and humankind's creation which embraces supernatural causes. But Genesis was compiled from various sources and by people who did not have the instruments and methods we have today for studying natural phenomena. ...
Why do advocates of intelligent design seek to incorporate it in a science curriculum? Do they need the respectability of the scientific aura? It seems somewhat hypocritical. And then, to shore up the case for ID with slanted or even outright conjred facts, as Balkman did (see Hutchison in The Norman Transcript, Dec. 20) is misleading to say the least. Why not conceive of ID as part of a law curriculum? After all, the Bible is treated by fundamentalists as law.
The debate between creationists (in whatever disguise) and evolutionists is particularly strong in the U.S. Perhaps this is because this country has a tradition of religious fundamentalism going back to the 17th and 18th centuries' immigrants who left Europe in search of economic and religious freedom. Those early colonists wanted to preserve the orthodox and conservative interpretation of the Bible that, they perceived, was being threatened by the increasingly dominant liberal interpretation of the moderate Protestant denominations in Europe. With Darwin's theory, the Old World presented a threat to the status quo in the New.
To ID supporters I say: Oh, ye of little faith, are you so afraid science will trump religion that you must dilute the sciences' accumulative empirical evidence with unsubstantiated claims? Does God need a court ruling in order to keep followers? What would Jesus say? In reference to Jesus' admonishment of Thomas (John, 20:27) I suspect he would say that you should have faith without evidence.
To scientists like Weinberg I say: Please refrain from inflammatory and baseless observations such as hoping science will obliterate religion, even when the object is to provide counterweight to religious fanaticism. After all, the wise individual rises above the fray.
To politicians like Balkman and President Bush I say: Remember, we should teach people how they can think, not what they can think, and we should teach in the proper framework of reference (i.e., creationism in religious studies and evolution in biology). Throwing doubt upon evolution with pitiful assertions about ID as a viable alternative within a science framework negates the objectives of both science (which is to advance falsifiable laws of nature) and of religion (which is to advance faith and morality).
We live in a country where freedom of religion, free exercise of politics, and the free pursuit of knowledge are foundations to prosperity. When we abuse these freedoms, they become meaningless. ... Science advances our knowledge of the natural world around us. It should in no way be regarded as an instrument for any other purpose. ... It may have taken four centuries, but Galilei was vindicated by the Catholic church. Indeed, the late Pope John Paul II had no problem acknowledging science next to religion (cf. his 1996 remark that "Evolution is more than a hypothesis"). In his words, science and Catholicism could not clash because "truth cannot contradict truth" (The Boston Globe, Aug. 8). His faith must have been quite strong.
Jos C.N. Raadschelders is professor of public administration in the Department of Political Science and Henry Bellmon Chair of Public Service at the University of Oklahoma.
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