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Designed and confused

October 04, 2005

CONTRARY TO WHAT the proponents of "intelligent design" say, the theory of evolution does not inherently reject the possibility of God. Nor does the idea that animals sprang forth whole from nothingness require belief in a deity.

This bottom-line argument should be considered by both the public and the judge in the suit brought by a group of parents against the Dover, Pa., school board. The board voted to introduce the concept of intelligent design in science classes, alongside lessons about evolution.

Aside from the paucity of evidence to back intelligent design, such as peer-reviewed research papers, the problem with teaching it as science is that, contrary to its supporters' arguments, it does not even try to be a scientific study. It presents itself as first and foremost a religious belief -- namely, that there must have been intelligent intention behind the creation of life.

The business of science is to observe the physical world, develop theories about how it works and then test them. Science is neither atheistic nor godly.

Those studying Charles Darwin's theories observe and describe the vast evidence that living things adapted through random mutation. Some will conclude from this evidence that there is no God. Others will conclude that it must have taken a marvelous Creator to come up with such a nuanced way for the world to change and rebalance itself.

Either view is valid. But both are unprovable conclusions that are the realm of philosophy or religion, not science.

The frustration of religionists toward public schools is at times understandable. Schools have no trouble teaching the Greek myths as literature, but they shun the stories of the Bible. Students might act out Native American ceremonies to better understand those cultures, but teachers shy from explaining what Christmas celebrates.

In part this is because members of religious minorities will object. But it's also because some Christian factions protest the teaching of the theology as anything short of divine truth. Safer not to enter that territory.

That's a shame. These are rich areas of study in philosophy and literature, and there are valid ways to enrich students' understanding and respect for all beliefs, dominant and otherwise. As Times staff writer K. Connie Kang recently reported, a group of scholars just published a textbook treating the Bible as literature, and it has won approval from groups that promote the separation of church and state.

There is a public place and time for one of the seminal texts of Western culture. It is not science class.

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