Friday, October 29, 2004

Anti-Evolutionism in Dover, Pennsylvania

Anti-Evolutionism Establishes an Ironic Precedent in a state formerly known for progressive religious tolerance

I suppose this is a symptom of the larger movement in the US toward acceptance of religious conservatism as a common vision, and its (to many of us) frightening tendency to reverse all of the gains made by the tradition of Jefferson's more secularized and tolerant democracy.

I live in Pennsylvania and have always been proud of the history of religious tolerance found in this state. Even small Protestant groups like the Friends (Quakers) couldn't have existed in places like Virginia at the birthplace of the nation much prior to the 1st ammendment. So it is with great disappointment and embarrasment that I read the following article about the Dover school board voting to include theology in the science classroom and by any reasonable account thereby effectively mandate the teaching of theistic religion in science classes. I would find this objectionably of place even in a good private religious school science classroom, but in a public school it is also blatantly illegal. It's very disturbing to see the Constitutional protections that allowed the Friends and my Jewish grandparents to live in peace in Pennsylvania without having the state push the most popular current flavor of theism onto our children against our wishes.

Understand, I'm not even one of these people who is particularly opposed to prayers in school, so long as they are more a matter of solidarity and community than advocating a particular religion and they don't put people of different religions at each others' throats as we once had between Catholics and Protestants in many public schools before the perhaps excessive ban on all prayer. So long as different religions aren't at each other's throats, I think everyone but perhaps a subset of militant atheists might be ok with some degree of reverence in public. However, crossing the line into teaching (essentially a minority subset of orthodox Christian theology) in science class is an unprecedented violation that goes well beyond any reasonable and understandable show of reverence or appreciation of religious diversity. There is a very well established line being crossed there, and it is being crossed.

In response, I sent the following email to Dover Area School District Board President Alan Bonsell via email at

Please consider my emphatic plea that the school board of the Dover Area School District reverse its decision to include "Intelligent Design" (ID) in its biology curriculum as soon as possible.

I'm well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of both evolutionary theory and intelligent design theory, so I am in a good position to make this evaluation. Regardless of what individual politicians and school board members think of the issue personally, there is simply no credible legal precedent or ethical justification for the inclusion of the theological intelligent design philosophy in basic science classes. This is an unprecedented and blatantly unconstitutional incursion of school board sponsored and even mandated religion into a science curriculum.

Indeed, it is universally agreed among both opponents and proponents of ID, that it is intended as a form of theology, or religion. See for example ID author William Dembski's text on Design Inference "as a bridge between science and theology."

Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory. It fails the criteria for a real scientific theory laid out in the 1982 court decision, McLean vs. Arkansas Board of Education, namely that real science is: (1) guided by natural - physical or biological - law; (2) explanatory by reference to natural law; (3) testable against the empirical world; (4) tentative in its conclusions; and (5) falsifiable, i.e., makes predictions that can be tested by observation.

Intelligent Design is a philosophical and theological position and in my opinion and that of most educators and scientists it is based upon the misrepresentation of evolution as a "contested" theory. In fact, the theory of evolution is accepted with the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community. ID is, even according to its primary supporters and authors, intended to redefine science to include the Creator of Christianity. This is done while attempting to discredit the current scientific consensus. This is clearly not an issue for a basic science class.

Teaching ID to the students of the Dover Area School District and giving them the impression that the theory of evolution through natural selection is somehow "controversial" in the scientific community is preparing them for a lifetime of uninformed ignorance.

The Dover Area School Board members are an utter embarassment to the State of Pennsylvania, a proud birthplace of religious tolerance and long respected in the nation for our opposition of this kind of state mandated religion.

Teach the scientific pros and cons of every theory of course, but don't drag religion in to try to fill the theoretical gaps that board members imagine is in a science curriculum. This is not an ethical or desired role for a school board in my opinion.

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