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Clarence Page: Keeping ID out of science classes

12:03 AM CST on Tuesday, November 15, 2005

WASHINGTON – Call me paranoid, but sometimes I think the mainstream media give maximum coverage to Pat Robertson in order to discredit him.

Or, at least, to discredit politically active TV evangelists who have enough connections to get their phone calls returned from the White House.

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Either way, it hasn't worked. Robertson is still in business. His latest fatwa, delivered on The 700 Club, his daily Virginia-based television show, is directed at "the good citizens of Dover," a Pennsylvania town that Robertson says has "rejected" God.

Their sinful deed, Robertson says, was to vote out of office all of Dover's school board members who were up for re-election and supported intelligent design. That's the politically charged theory that challenges Charles Darwin's 1859 theory of evolution, 80 years after John Scopes was found guilty of teaching it in public schools in Tennessee.

"If there is a disaster in your area," Robertson told Dover, "don't turn to God, you just rejected him from your city. ... And if that's the case, don't ask for his help because he might not be there."

God could not be reached for comment. But Robertson said in a later statement, "If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them."

Ah, Dover. How dare you try to separate church and state! Who do you think you are? Baghdad? Kabul?

Ironically, Robertson's outburst actually refutes the claims that leading advocates of intelligent design, or ID, have been presenting. To get around constitutional concerns, they have insisted that the intelligent designer is absolutely not necessarily God.

It could be, say, "the force" as depicted in the film Star Wars.

Or maybe it could be the flying spaghetti monster, an ID theory created by Bobby Henderson, an unemployed 25-year-old slot machine engineer, in a probably not-serious open letter to the Kansas school board.

After bouncing around the Internet a lot, by the way, Henderson's theory has earned him a book contract ("The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster," to be released in February) and a national cult of self-professed "Pastafarians" who preach the word of their "noodly master" as the one true religion.

Robertson will have none of that. He sees ID as precisely what its concerned critics say it is, a thin camouflage for creationism, the belief that the Bible's weeklong account of creation is all that our kids need to know.

ID advocates make much of the argument that evolution is "only a theory," barely mentioning that in science a theory is not a guess, but the result of rigorous observation and testing over time. ID theory, by contrast, is less a scientific theory than an assertion of one reason why some parts of life and the universe are too complex to have been created by chance and are best explained by an "intelligent designer." Whatever cannot yet be explained by science, in other words, must by default have been created by some higher intelligence.

That's an appealing idea, especially for those of us who believe in God. A Harris poll this summer found 55 percent of adults backed teaching intelligent design along with evolution in public schools. So did President Bush. "Both sides [of this dispute] ought to be properly taught," the president told reporters, "so people can understand what the debate is about. ... I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought."

But, appealing as ID theory may sound, it cannot be proved by the investigative methods of conventional science. It is, therefore, more a matter of faith than science, more suitable in my view for a history or social studies class than for a course in real science.

Proponents say introducing the ID debate will improve students' talents at critical thinking skills. Fine. But we don't need to confuse them by treating ID as Darwin's scientific equal. It is not.

Nevertheless, many people will try and try again. The Dover school board voted to require a one-minute classroom statement about ID in 9th-grade science classes. Parents sued. In the meantime, voters delivered their own verdict by voting out all consenting board members who were up for re-election. As a parent of a high school kid, I applaud their vote.

But Robertson can take solace that, on that very same day, the Kansas State Board of Education voted in new biology standards that challenge the very definition of science in order to shoehorn ID theory into it, reversing a 2001 decision that affirmed Darwin's theory after yet an earlier board voted to remove it two years earlier.

As I mentioned, ID advocates can be relentless. In some places, Darwin rises and falls with election returns. So does quality education. Our students can use your prayers.

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