Sunday, August 21, 2005

Senator Frist Endorses ID

Senator Bill Frist weighs in in favor of teaching the controversy. Evidently a candidate's stance on the ID/Darwinism controversy is shaping up to be a major issue in the 2006 and 2008 elections. We're anxious to hear Hillary explain her position:

Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, spoke to a Rotary Club meeting Friday and told reporters afterward that students need to be exposed to different ideas, including intelligent design. "I think today a pluralistic society should have access to a broad range of fact, of science, including faith," Frist said.

My friend Ryan Miller at The Buckingham Inquirer argues that such suggestions as Sen. Frist's are impractical. Teaching all sides of this issue, he believes, would be exceedingly time-consuming since there are so many possible alternatives that one couldn't possibly discuss them all and still cover the rest of the curriculum.

Ryan and I disagree on this. There are really only two points of view on the matter of creation that are contending for serious consideration: One claims that everything is ultimately explicable in terms of purely natural processes and forces, and the other is the denial of that proposition. Do the universe and life show evidence of being purposefully designed or do they not? Those are the two major options, and the myriad of other creation myths, legends, and hypotheses all gather on one side of that question or the other.

The assertion that ID should be "taught" in public school science classrooms suffers, however, from a lack of precision. When one asks specifically what it is that should be taught the answer is not always clear. Indeed, what should be taught are the empirical facts of science, but the philosophical assumptions that underlie those facts and which are employed to interpret those facts should be discussed as well, and that's where ID fits in.

In other words, there is little formal content specific to ID that needs to be taught in science classrooms apart from a discussion, perhaps, of how human beings infer design. What teachers could do when they discuss, for instance, the structure of bio-molecules like proteins, bio-machines like the flagellum, or bio-processes like the blood-clotting cascade; or when they explain the exquisite fine-tuning of cosmic forces and parameters, or the incredible coincidences that we find in the astonishing fit between atomic structure, the properties of elements like carbon and oxygen, and the properties of carbon dioxide and water with the physiological requirements of living things -- when these things are presented it could be mentioned to students that there are essentially two ways to think about it all. One way is to see these marvelous facts of the natural world as a grand coincidence, highly improbable and wondrously fortuitous, and the other is to see them as the result of intention, purpose and intelligence. The teacher need not feel obliged to say anything more than that, but if her students ask questions about it neither should she feel she is transgressing some boundary if she seeks to answer those questions as honestly as she can.

Teachers should teach the facts of science and not shy away from discussing the philosophical implications of those facts. That's one way to make science classes exciting.

The objection that philosophy has no place in the science classroom is absurd. Not only has good science instruction always been replete with philosophical assumptions and concepts, it is also, if it is quality instruction, richly spiced with allusions to the historical context in which science has developed. History is not science, of course, but no one suggests it should be purged from our classrooms.

Not only the history of science, but bioethical issues (such as stem cell research and cloning) as well as social and political issues associated with science (e.g. nuclear power and other environmental issues) are all discussed daily in science classes in every school in the nation. Why should one controversy in the philosophy of science be disallowed when so many other philosophical, historical, political, and economic controversies are admitted?

Moreover, for the past thirty years teachers have been frequently reminded that the best learning occurs when students see relationships between different subjects. Nothing should be taught in isolation, the theory goes, but rather instruction should tie together each field in the curriculum. We think that's true and we wonder why all of a sudden there's been a stark change of mind just because one of the disciplines vying for inclusion, the philosophy of science, raises a challenge to the sacred Darwinian orthodoxy.