Did life begin in some primordial soup or did a Supreme Being design and create life? The debate to include or not include intelligent design in the school science curriculum bogs down in a flurry of scientific terms, statistical snowjobs, and tomes of science history. Surprisingly, even the proponents of intelligent design fill their arguments with scientific jargon. The intention of this article is to simplify the debate by clarifying the basis of scientific knowledge and religious belief. Science is based on evidence and religion on faith.
It is only fair to state my bias and not pretend I am coming from a totally neutral viewpoint. I was raised religiously, not only spent every Sunday in church but religion was the dominant force in my family’s life. I understand the concept of faith. But I have been a science teacher for 20 years. I clearly see a difference between science and religion. Based on my understanding of science I do not believe intelligent design belongs in the science curriculumÃ¢Â?Â¦yet.
In the ancient Greek language the word science simply meant, “to know.” Over time as the methodology for science matured two requirements had to be met “to know” scientifically. It had to be observable by using the five senses and verifiable, meaning the same results or observed phenomena had to be repeated over and over again.
Not all that is taught in a science class is based on such stringent scientific knowledge. There are many scientific theories with varying degrees of evidence explored in the science curriculum. A theory is supported with evidence, once again, observable. A theory is only as strong as its evidence. The theory of gravity is understood well enough to put rockets in space, keep satellites in orbit for us to enjoy: TV, mobile phones, weather forecastsÃ¢Â?Â¦. There is tons of evidence of gravity-pun intended. Another example, there are four theories of the origin of our moon. One theory, the impact theory, is most respected and primarily taught because there is more evidence to support it. Science holds physical evidence as the keystone. Evidence drives theories. The more evidence, the more it is scientifically accepted. To step beyond the concept of an idea to a theory there must be evidence. If there is no evidence then the idea remains an idea. Ideas belong in philosophy classes, not science classes.
Where religion and science trip over each other is in the claim of “the truth.” When proponents of either pursuit claim to have the truth, exclusively, conflict can arise. This is when it is important to return to the basis of both. Religion is based on faith in a Supreme Being, a creator. Faith is believing in something that is not observed with the five senses. True believers know without seeing. Countless times I heard while growing up in church, “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt.” The religious belief may be true. But scientifically it cannot be claimed because God is not observable. From my understanding of religion, God set it up this way to test the faith of followers. It is not in the realm of science to prove an unobservable God, also it would seem to thwart God’s faith test if science could. If science sticks to evidence and religion to faith and both trust that “the truth” will eventually win out, less time would be spent quibbling over school curriculum.
Until intelligent design can offer some evidence, even as meager as the evidence of the origin of life theory presently taught in science classes, it is an idea. It may be a true idea. But it is still an idea. It is awe inspiring to look at the varieties and complexities of life on our planet and not feel reverence for the elegance of it all. But until there is some physical evidence to support the idea, it belongs in a philosophy or religion class, not a science class. Once there is a shred of physical evidence then science teachers will include intelligent design in the science curriculum as a theory of the origin of life.
As a final thought and an aside, it is important to look at history and understand this tradition of conflict between religion and science. It is healthy to have the debate. Societies that have allowed the debate flourish in scientific knowledge, technology and commerce. Societies that have been dominated by religion tend to progress more slowly. During the European Dark Ages when the church imposed its thinking on ideas, little progress was made intellectually. At this time Arab math, science and technology soared above the Europeans. But when the conflict between science and religion finally clashed in Europe, for example, between the church and the Copernican ideas and Galilean theories (he had evidence), the Enlightenment took off. The Arab culture thought nothing good could come out of European cultures. Those Europeans were filthy, illiterate people they had fought in the Crusades. Moslems wash before prayer, they were much cleaner than Europeans at that time. They were literate enough to read the Koran as opposed to the majority of illiterate Europeans who could not read their bible. The Arabs shut themselves off to the new ideas of the West (like a New Yorker to New Jersey) and in their isolation their scientific knowledge became stagnant as religion became the dominant force in their culture. Disagreement between science and religion keep a culture dynamic. One does not need to be dominant over the other because both are ways of “knowing.” One is simply based on evidence and one on simple faith.