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Faith-based science doesn’t belong in our schools

Fri, Aug 12th, 2005
Posted in Commentary

President Bush is now advocating the teaching of “intelligent design” in our schools. Intelligent design (ID) holds that certain features of our universe are best explained by an “intelligent” cause rather than by natural selection.

Because evolution cannot explain the structural details to all existence, intelligent design has become a default explanation by proponents of ID. They believe there is a super-natural or intelligent creator causality to all of life.

From a scientific standpoint, evolution is both a fact and a theory. It is a historical fact that organisms are linked together and have changed over time; fossils have provided endless clues as to how life has evolved on earth. Evolution also provides a theoretical framework for exploring that which we do not know.

Evolution is a very simple concept with very complex implications. Living things adapt over time to their environment in order to survive: lizards change color to camouflage themselves from predators; a virulent type of flu crosses species from birds to humans; prairie grasses, with their enormous root systems, are impervious to the effects of prairie fires.

My own personal education about evolution occurred when I had malaria while a Peace Corps volunteer in the Solomon Islands.

Malaria is a parasitic disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes. The malarial parasite enters the human host when an infected Anophelese mosquito bites a victim, infecting their red blood cells as well as their liver.

Despite the Solomon Islands government’s anti-malarial program, where village huts were whitewashed with DDT, malaria thrived on the island of Guadalcanal where my wife and I lived.

We both took prophylactic medication against malaria: weekly doses of chloroquine to keep the parasite out of our blood streams and quinoquine once a month to keep it out of our livers.

On the day we were to leave the Solomons to return home, I came down with malaria while still taking my medication. My wife came down with malaria three months later in Minnesota while a January blizzard roared outside.

For over two years, the medication we took while in Guadalcanal kept us malaria free. But over time, the parasite changed and adjusted, developing a resistance to the medication we were taking. Quite simply, the parasite evolved.

While evolution cannot explain all of life’s mysteries, evolutionary biology provides a scientific framework for understanding the changes that have occurred since life first emerged on earth billions of years ago. It also provides the best opportunity for the advancement of science, like the creation of gene specific medicines for preventing disease.

For some, intelligent design may explain the unknowable as an act of faith. But ID falls well short of the standards necessary to provide a foundation for scientific study.

President Bush, who is not known for his commitment to science, (he still doesn’t accept the science around global warming), is wrong on this one. Intelligent design may play well to politicized Christians, but faith-based science has no place in our schools.

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