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Mar 6 2005
Op: Why Science and Religion Should Be Like Oil and Water

Why science and religion should be like oil and water

By Gil Smart, Sunday News (Lancaster County, PA)

Published: Mar 05, 2005 10:57 PM EST

LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - “So, are you going to the thing in Elizabethtown?” a colleague asked.

No, I am not going to the thing in Elizabethtown. The “thing” being last Tuesday’s forum on teaching religion in science class. Excuse me, “intelligent design.” Same thing, really. I know what the arguments are in favor of it. I might even agree that some of them are valid —or would be, if the entire point of “intelligent design” weren’t to roll a hollow wooden horse right into downtown Troy.

See, it’s not that Darwinism itself must be taken as religion. Darwinism is a theory, to be sure; but it’s the theory that approximately 99 percent of scientists believe is closest to the truth.

The proponents of intelligent design say, in effect, “Hold your horses.” (See?) They point to scientists such as those appearing at E-town’s forum as proof that there is no consensus in the scientific community regarding the origin of life.

And they’re right if you define “consensus” as “100 percent agreement.”

But at the E-town event, University of Virginia professor Paul Gross pointed out that 99 percent of the world’s scientists believe evolution is fact; and in a Feb. 7 story on intelligent design, Newsweek reported an interesting statistic: The Discovery Institute, a think tank/advocacy group devoted to pushing the intelligent design theory, likes to tout its list of 350 scientists who signed a petition saying they have a problem with Darwinism. What they don’t tell you is that the American Association for the Advancement of Science has 120,000 members. So 350 isn’t exactly what you’d call a representative figure. The AAAS itself collected signatures on a document that stated, in part, that “there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is [the] major mechanism.”

“As a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould,” reported Newsweek, “they signed up only scientists named Steve.

“At last count they had 528.”

And the issue is not that the advocates for intelligent design at last week’s event were ineloquent or didn’t present a good case. Because there is a good case to be made that Darwinism may not be able to explain the complexity of something like the human eye. And in theory, I have no problem telling kids that some people, most of whom are influenced profoundly by their religious beliefs, are not satisfied with Darwin. Because that’s a true statement.

And intelligent design is not the same thing as creationism; many creationists, in fact, think ID is bunk, perhaps because it doesn’t go far enough. But others do like ID; and on the Web site of an outfit calling itself “Answers in Genesis,” we find out why: Many Biblical (or Genesis) creationists ... realize that [ID] doesn’t go as far as we like, but think that this is a reasonable price to pay for what they see as a potentially effective “thin edge of the wedge” strategy. They reason, “Let’s just get the camel’s nose inside the tent, then we can concentrate on these other issues. Let’s win one battle at a time.”

So ID becomes the first step in subjugating science to religious faith. And that’s a horrible idea.

We as a nation already are tumbling down this slippery slope. Stem cell research is a case in point; here we have a procedure, a technology, whereby some of the most sorrowful maladies known to man might ultimately be eradicated. Yet there we let it hang, like the proverbial apple.

What is gained by insisting that intelligent design be inserted into a child’s curriculum? Is this about opening kids minds? Or is it really about slamming them shut? Religion is not science, and religion does not belong in the science classroom. Period. And to say otherwise is to say to kids: You know what? We really don’t care about your science education. Our agenda is more important.

So no, I didn’t go to the thing in Elizabethtown. And it’s not because I see proponents of intelligent design as fools. It’s because I know there’s no shortage of people out there who see them as useful idiots.

Gil Smart is assistant news editor of the Sunday News. E-mail him at, or phone 291-8817.

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