Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

designing intelligent curriculum

President Bush has stepped into the debate about evolution, arguing that students should be "exposed to different ideas," particularly the idea of Intelligent Design (ID).

Certainly it's good to expose students to ideas. The question here, it seems to me, is which ideas should be taught in science classes.

According to the National Center for Science Education, ID does not qualify as a scientific theory. Biochemist Michael Behe and mathematician William Dembski have been working for nearly a decade now to develop the theory, but have not gained the acceptance of the scientific community. The reason for scientists' skepticism is that ID has not provided a comprehensive alternative to evolution. If it doesn't explain a wide variety of phenomena that can be observed every day, ID can't be called science.

There is an ironic precedent for this state of affairs. In 1927, a Belgian physicist and Jesuit priest named Georges Lemaitre proposed that the universe began with an explosion from what Lemaitre called a "primeval atom". The scientific consensus at the time was that the universe had existed forever. Lemaitre was accused of mixing his science with religion. His primeval atom theory was ridiculed by most scientists. Subsequent research and observations, and an accidental discovery by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson in 1964, proved conclusively that the universe had a beginning after all. Lemaitre was vindicated; his theory is now accepted as mainstream science. We know it, however, by the derisive name its opponents applied to it: the Big Bang.

Will Intelligent Design follow the same path? The odds are against it. For every theory that eventually becomes mainstream science, countless other theories are discarded for lack of evidence or lack of explanatory power. But who knows what the future may hold?

ID, as it is expressed today, is not science. It should not be taught as science. Its proponents have not amassed a body of supporting evidence that can account for more phenomena than the theory of evolution. Should students be exposed to the idea of intelligent design? It wouldn't hurt to mention that some scientists espouse the idea. Maybe those students would be inspired to become research scientists, to confirm or refute the tenets of ID. But in today's classrooms, it would be irresponsible to teach ID as a valid scientific theory that has equal standing with evolution.


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