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Evolution Ed

by Karla Dial

An ongoing debate about whether schools should teach only evolution in science classes or change their policies to include intelligent design—which says life is too complex to have begun as a random chemical reaction in the primordial ooze—clicked into high gear last August when President George W. Bush said both theories should get equal consideration.

Educators and scientists balked, of course, saying intelligent design (ID) is scientifically untestable. But since evolution is equally untestable, ID advocates say teaching an alternate theory as well shouldn't create a problem.

The reason educators think it does might well lie in the fact that both modern science and the modern education establishment sprang from the theory of evolution.

Shared DNA

In 1859, Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species—a book that made a splash in education circles where the government had only recently taken control to produce the current free universal K-12 education system.

Herbert Spencer, a Victorian biologist and social philosopher, applied Darwin's theory to education in his 1860 book Education: Intellectual, Moral and Physical, a set of essays in which he presented the idea that children learn the same way mankind evolved. The book was reprinted 39 times over the next 20 years and had a profound influence on the generations that followed.

"Spencer created the system that filled in for young scientists the missing links of evolution, a system that in their minds was far superior to God,” explains Dick Carpenter, a professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Four decades later, those ideas would fascinate John Dewey, a Columbia University philosophy professor who was also one of the 34 signers of the Humanist Manifesto I in 1933—the document that established secular humanism as a religion, postulating that because man is inherently good, over time he can evolve into a better species.

"With the idea of evolution as Darwin postulated it and Dewey humanized it, we started training generations of future university professors, who are the gatekeepers of a culture's intellect,” says Brian Carpenter, an education researcher in Michigan (no relation to Dick -Carpenter). "So the idea of any kind of intelligent design is now just openly ridiculed.”

Defacing the Enemy

Though ID opponents often refer to it as "creationism light,” because both theories include the concept of a designer, advocates say there are several crucial differences between them.

"Creationism requires that you subscribe to a faith system—specifically, a literal interpretation of Genesis—to get to the science,” Dick Carpenter explains. "ID requires no faith system to believe its conclusions, and its starting place is the natural evidence from which it works backward.”

But to maintain the upper hand in schools, evolutionists must convince the public that ID and creationism are the same—by misinformation and character assassination if necessary.

As the Kansas education board debated including greater criticism of evolution in its science standards early last year, Liz Craig, public relations manager of Kansas Citizens for Science, detailed her plans to portray ID supporters "in the harshest light possible, as political opportunists, evangelical activists, ignoramuses, breakers of rules, unprincipled bullies, etc.” The fight was inevitable, she wrote, "but we can sure make them look like asses as they do what they do.”

The biggest problem with the debate, Brian Carpenter says, is that evolutionists are trying to suppress it. "My position is, if evolution is so scientific, it shouldn't wither at all in the face of the scrutiny others would level at it,” he says. "The fact that they don't even want to discuss it shows how robust the theory of evolution isn't.” 

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