Monday, December 19, 2005

Intelligent Designers Retreat!

Intelligent design as a political program for sneaking the teaching of religion into science classrooms is in big trouble, and is on the verge of having to retrench. My evidence? Today’s Chicago Tribune column by the conservative Dennis Byrne. Byrne is clearly sympathetic to intelligent design, and spends much of his column defending it and criticizing the arrogance of secularists and scientists regarding “the Big Question: How did we get here, and why?”

But here’s what Bryne has to say when he comes to the big political question of the day – should intelligent design be taught alongside evolution in science classrooms?

The reality today is that when theology, philosophy or religion dares to examine the Big Question, its practitioners find themselves increasingly bumping heads with scientific claims of exclusive competence. This is wrong. Neither science nor theology has the right to tell the other to butt out of this quest. In this, no one has the right to demand that the study of intelligent design be kept out of schools. Out of the science class, perhaps, but not out of all classrooms.
So Byrne seems to be conceding that scientists should decide what gets taught in science class, and scientists overwhelmingly reject intelligent design as an unscientific theory.

Where then, according to Byrne, should intelligent design be taught? He doesn’t directly say, but since he refers to the contributions that philosophy, theology, and religion can make towards answering “the Big Question.” So I assume he supports the teaching of intelligent design in philosophy, theology and religion classes. Since all high school students take biology, but relatively few take philosophy, theology, or religion, I would consider this a major scaling back of the education agenda for intelligent design.

The next question to ask, now that it has been conceded that intelligent design doesn’t belong in the science classroom, is whether intelligent design is good philosophy, theology, or religion. Byrne says:
Philosophers and theologians may--must, actually--rigorously examine the scientific theory that random chance explains everything. A denial of that right and responsibility rises from the same spirit of arrogant certitude that haunted

It isn’t clear to me who Byrne thinks is denying philosophers and theologians the right to examine any question, so the comparison to the inquisition seems hysterical. By all means, examine away. But as philosophers and theologians examine this question, they should start by trying to understand the most rigorous work by scientists on this subject—and it isn’t by intelligent design proponents.