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September 30, 2005

During the red scare in the early 1950s, there was hue and cry about schools which taught Communism as anything other than a dangerous unamerican ideology. The liberal establishment -- in particular, the American Civil Liberties Union -- rushed to defend teachers' right to do so and the notion that education requires students to be exposed even to unpopular ideas. Now many of the same advocates of academic freedom have circled the wagons against the threat of something called intelligent design.

The A.C.L.U. and 11 parents are in federal court in Harrisburg suing the rural Dover, Pa., area school district to protect their children from harmful confusion wrought not by teaching them about intelligent design, but by exposing them to a rather innocuous disclaimer advising that not everyone agrees with everything contained in or applied by Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and that a book presenting one alternate view is available in the school library should they want more information.

The trial hasn't generated the level of media hype that the celebrated Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 did, but it seems to have a whole lot of scientists and public school educators trembling in fear for their professional lives. Creationism cloaked in a not very convincing disguise, they say, is howling at the door and, with a politically right-leaning Supreme Court shaping up, threatening to huff and puff and blow down the wall separating church and state.

In preparation to write this commentary, Delaforum asked some local school spokespersons for their positions on the issue. Rob Ziegler, on behalf of the Brandywine School District, said, "We teach the [state] standards in the science courses. At this time, intelligent design is not, nor will [it] be included in the science curriculum." Pati Nash said the Red Clay district "follow[s] the state science curriculum, which does not include a discussion of intelligent design." Ron Gough, of the Delaware Department of Education, has not responded.

This is the offending disclaimer in full:

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.

With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments.

It seems to be not much more than a statement of relevant facts. It doesn't express an opinion in support of -- or in opposition to -- intelligent design. So, what's to be afraid?

Science is a quest for truth through observation, experimentation and reasoning. Just as that process was applied to a then-novel viewpoint when naturalist Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859, it would seem equally incumbent to apply it to the views expressed in legal scholar Phillip Johnson's 1991 book, Darwin on Trial.

Of Pandas and People was published in 1989 and is not now available in the New Castle County public library system catalogue.

Scientific investigation can't be done, the folks in the white lab coats say, because Darwin is science and Johnson is religion. Johnson, however, stops after positing that life as we know it is too complex to have happened by chance and natural selection and, therefore, requires some form of intelligence to have started and to be sustained. To be sure, intelligent design implies the existence of a designer, but Johnson's theory does not speculate on who or what that may be.

For many people, science and religion are not incompatible. Each recognizes the existence of the other. Here in northern Delaware, we except without more than a quick second glance the seeming juxtaposition inherent in "the miracles of science."

Even a casual brush with world history makes clear that every peoples and cultures which now exist or have existed have intuitively recognized the probability of something beyond the human realm. Whether singular or plural, be it personification or a force, by whatever name, it is an entity which exists. From there, widely varying theology attempts to define its nature and religion seeks to govern humans' relationship with it.

If that is too threatening a reality to expose to 10th-grade science students in Dover, Pa. -- or in Delaware or anywhere else -- perhaps it's time to examine the perils of learning about a dogma which proclaims:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (emphasis added)

CLICK HERE to read court documents in the matter of Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover School District, et al. in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

It may be too steep a hill to climb, but, whatever happens with the Astros and the Phillies this weekend, it's been a heck of a ride. If needs be, we'll gladly wait til next year. CLICK HERE phor the Phanatic's phavorite website.

Affordable housing, once shorthand for low rents for the poor, is being stretched like never before to include homeownership for people who are more likely to have Starbucks cash cards than food stamps in their wallets. CLICK HERE to read the New York Times article.

A new set of regulations require radio and television personalities in China to avoid vulgarity, dress modestly and "uplift their young viewers." And to watch their language. Specifically, they must use only standard Mandarin Chinese and not include Hong Kong or Taiwanese slang and accents -- which young Chinese, but not their government, regard as 'cool'. CLICK HERE to read the Washington Post article.

2005. All rights reserved.

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