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Teach Religion in Science Classes
The recent ruling by federal Judge John E. Jones III that it is unconstitutional for public schools in Dover, Pa., to offer intelligent design as a scientifically valid alternative to evolution is a graphic reminder that our schools are the most visible battlegrounds in today's culture wars.
The divisive struggles deciding our nation's future are being fought at thousands of up-close-and-personal public school-board meetings. At such bitter sessions, board members argue with one another and with an audience of often angry parents.
In October 2004, the Dover school board voted to make certain that "students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design." The clear aim was to present intelligent design (or ID) as a scientific explanation for the creation of the world and the human family.
Although ID adherents rarely mention God, most of them are theologically conservative Christians and frequently speak of their faith in creationism -- the belief that the biblical account of creation found in Genesis is scientifically accurate.
Some school parents were upset with the board's policy and brought legal action against the teaching of ID as science. While the six-week trial was taking place last fall in nearby Harrisburg, Dover voters threw out the eight pro-ID school board members and replaced them with a new board that rejects ID as science.
Creationism has also run into stiff resistance in many other school districts. Educators worry that if creationism -- which is based on religious faith -- is offered as scientific fact, it will wreak havoc on authentic science courses, especially biology, botany, physics, geology and astronomy.
It's clear that ID proponents believe they have found a Trojan horse that looks and sounds scientific enough to destroy not only evolution, but other accepted beliefs, including the geological evidence that the Earth is older than the biblical figure of about 6,000 years, and environmentalists' ominous claims about global warming.
Quality science education is critical if the United States is to continue its strong programs of space exploration, medical research, national defense and other technologically advanced industries. The teaching of faith-based creationism or ID, its thinly disguised offspring, will significantly weaken both the quality and quantity of science education in America.
ID supporters are usually circumspect in public, simply asserting that ID makes a divine creator scientifically logical. But in his ruling, Judge Jones, a conservative Republican appointed by President George W. Bush, was not fooled: "The writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity." For Jones, it was a clear violation of the historic principle of church-state separation.
Interestingly, last August President Bush gave the anti-evolution forces a public boost. The president told Texas reporters that ID should be taught in public schools alongside evolution: "I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught."
However, he did not express his own position on the scientific validity of intelligent design. Bush's science adviser, John H. Marburger, tried to distance the president from an endorsement of ID as scientific fact by saying "evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology ... intelligent design is not a scientific concept."
Jones agreed that ID is not a science, declaring that it "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious antecedents." He added: "The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served" by a school board that adopted "an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy."
The Genesis account of creation teaches a magnificent moral lesson about the unity of humanity created by the one God, but it does not belong in the science classroom or laboratory. The proper academic locations for such courses are in philosophy, comparative religion or intellectual history.
Rudin, the American Jewish Committee's senior interreligious adviser,
is the author of the forthcoming book "The Baptizing of America:
The Religious Right's Plans for the Rest of Us.")
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