Friday, August 19, 2005

Part Man, Part Monkey

After reading this excellent Guest Opinion in today's Courier Times, I'll let you decide which is which (kind of ties into the Hentoff critique below a little).

This was written by Mark Zacharias, who, according to his bio, has a B.S. degree from Princeton University in Chemical Engineering, a M.S. degree in Chemical Engineering from MIT, and is currently employed as an Information Systems Architect with American Express in Philadelphia.

A bill has recently been introduced in the Pennsylvania House (PA House Bill 1007) that specifically endorses the teaching of "Intelligent Design" theory in public classrooms.

A simple analogy can help illustrate how truly outrageous this bill is: How silly would it seem if a similar bill were introduced endorsing the teaching of medieval alchemy as an alternative to modern chemistry? Or if one were introduced endorsing Ptolemaic cosmology as an alternative to the modern Copernican view? What these analogies demonstrate is that motives behind the push to teach "Intelligent Design" are not scientific, but political in nature, ultimately grounded in a political agenda whose aim is to break down the Constitutional separation of church and state.

In a Courier Times article on June 25, "Intelligent design theory in classroom draws mixed reaction," supporters of the bill were described as claiming that "intelligent design has no religious underpinnings." If Intelligent Design theory is not based on religion, then on what is it based? Intelligent Design is certainly not science, and to even consider that it is, as many of the legislators quoted in the article apparently do, demonstrates a total ignorance of the scientific method.

Science is a process whereby specialists spend years learning the facts and theories of a particular field, and then conduct experiments to expand the body of relevant facts, occasionally proposing new theories or altering new ones as necessitated by new evidence. At any given point in time, these experts maintain a consensus regarding the most promising theory or theories, "based on their expert evaluation of the existing evidence." Intelligent Design Theory is not supported by one shred of scientific evidence, and it is for this reason that the overwhelming consensus among evolutionary biologists and zoologists is that it is not a viable theory at all. As Massimo Pigluicci has written in Free Inquiry magazine, his colleagues that are evolutionary biologists will typically think of a creationist as a "mistaken fool".

In claiming that "intelligent design has no religious underpinnings," the supporters of this bill must think that the rest of us are extremely gullible. Since Intelligent Design Theory is not science, the motive for teaching it simply can be nothing other than religious faith. But the teachings of a religious precept in public classrooms is a clear violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which mandates the separation of church and state. Any legislators or judges who cannot see through the extremely thin "scientific" facade of Intelligent Design, to the clear fact that this bill is unconstitutional, are being swayed by their religious bias.

Separation of church and state is vital to the continued success and the future of our nation. Ancient and modern history is full of examples demonstrating clearly that once the theologians get a foothold in politics, things rapidly deteriorate. While clearly the majority of the U.S. population is Christian, we should think twice about using the power of government to enforce Christian beliefs. Not only does this undermine the critical separation of church and state, but it also discriminates against the millions of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Humanists, Sikhs, Bahais, etc. who are citizens of this great nation.

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