The Polk County, Florida school board is upset that the proposed Florida science standards include evolutionary science and don’t include “intelligent design”.
I was born in Lakeland, Florida, and lived for eighteen years there. My parents still live there. I still care about what happens in my home town.
To those on the Polk County school board: You’ve been conned. “Intelligent design” is a legal sham, a con game, one whose sole purpose is to insert a narrow sectarian doctrine into public school classrooms. It is not a “paradigm shift”; it’s advocates are not “top scientists”; it generates no hypotheses and stays far, far away from even trying to test any of its claims. It is not science. The latest date that it even could have been considered scientific would be sometime in the 19th century, as our understanding of science developed a cognizance that reliance on untestable mechanisms (or non-mechanistic “explanations”) was unproductive. It is not a slur on you that you have fallen for this; it is the property of a well-crafted con that it should be made believable to the mark. But continuing to believe in the con after it has been explained would be a serious lapse of good judgment.
Please do have a look at the experience of the Dover, Pennsylvania Area School District. They adopted an “intelligent design” policy, having believed the hype handed to them by “intelligent design” advocates. Some of those advocates made them a tempting offer; they would be represented in court for free. What they didn’t get was a guarantee on the outcome. During the course of the case, ID advocate after ID advocate withdrew from roles as expert witnesses in response to a call from the Discovery Institute that they should distance themselves from the case. If you adopt “intelligent design”, you don’t have a choice; you have to get your experts from the Discovery Institute or do without. Even with two primary ID advocates testifying for them, the Dover Area School District lost in court, unable to demonstrate that teaching “intelligent design” had any secular purpose, and unable to counter the clear linkage of the content of “intelligent design” to earlier forms of creationism that had been ruled unconstitutional. They lost the case and were assessed costs for the plaintiffs’ legal expenses in the amount of $1,000,011. If you check with your insurer, I am sure that you will find that adopting “intelligent design” will mean that you forgo coverage when you go to court; any fines or costs assessed will be directly your responsibility.
“Intelligent design” had its day in court and was exposed as the sham it is, without scientific standing and without the ability to sidestep the simple fact that every one of its arguments comes from earlier forms of creationism. You don’t have to repeat that experience.
Now, if you do choose to follow the same path that the Dover Area School District did, please rest assured that I will be doing my best to make sure that you fail as spectacularly as they did. I will offer to assist any legal challenge that is made to any policy you adopt that advocates “intelligent design” with the weight of the public educational system behind it. (Among other things, I helped prepare materials used by Kitzmiller v. DASD expert witness Barbara Forrest, as acknowledged in her supplemental expert report filed in the case.) I will do that because what you are contemplating at the moment is wrong. The history of reaction to antievolution shows that those who object to antievolution are predominantly members or clergy of mainstream Christian denominations. “Intelligent design” scorns the beliefs of a large segment of Christian believers, with an ID advocate famously declaring that “intelligent design” was no friend of theistic evolution. ID is not a generic sentiment even among Christians; it remains a divisive, narrow sectarian viewpoint. It is your responsibility that students receive the best education possible, without adopting particular religious views at the expense of others. This means that you must leave the preaching to the churches, who have access to students outside of the public school context. Please also consult the resources of the Clergy Letter Project, where over 10,000 Christian clergy have signed a strong statement of support for teaching evolutionary science.
We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.
I hope that you make the right choice.
Wesley R. Elsberry, Ph.D.