Scientists Debate Teaching Evolution or Intelligent Design
Concerned by the increasingly strident national debate about the teaching of evolution in the public schools and the campaign by some to teach intelligent design, the New York Academy of Science held a two-day conference for scientists, secondary school and college teachers of science, and public officials responsible for education policy to explore the controversy and to offer skills and background needed to deal with the issue. The conference focused on the nature of scientific inquiry and the importance of evidence and testable hypotheses. The difficulties of teaching evolution in a climate of controversy included a sobering presentation by Jennifer Miller, teacher at Dover High School in Pennsylvania, where instruction in intelligent design and questioning of evolution resulted in a federal court case in 2005.
John F. Haught, professor of theology at Georgetown University, explored the perceived clash between evolution and religion. He explained the difficulty for religious people to accept the implications of evolution at the expense of traditional hierarchical ways of thinking. Deep time seems illogical because, “Why would God fool around so many years before establishing intelligent life?” Where are values and ethics in a system that centers on matter? With evolution, the universe is purposeless and Providence is irrelevant. “Why wouldn’t the religious community react against this view,” Haught asked. Yet, he sees the possibility of reconciliation and an understanding of God that can include evolution. Called “theistic evolution,” this approach includes “tepid tolerance,” or tolerating evolution without celebrating it. This view assumes limited human intelligence and the inability to understand the “mystery” of evolution or the wisdom of God. Another theistic approach is the “soul school” that posits the materialism of Darwin may be harsh but is not evil. It is a “tough love” view and maintains God chastises those he loves and imposes suffering to create challenges. An ambiguous, unfinished universe is consistent with openness to the future.
Gerald F. Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, reported the debate over evolution “is taking a toll on teachers.” He explained, “Most of us got into this job because we like science and we like kids…the public debate puts science teachers in an awkward position.” He lamented that teacher preparation in science is often “atrocious” and leaves teachers unprepared to teach this “touchy” subject. Kenneth R. Miller, professor of biology at Brown University advised taking anti-evolutionists seriously. “They are intelligent and this is an important issue to them.” “Stop trying to sound too scientific and do not use the word ‘theory’.” Haught remarked that clergy have to be better educated in science; few are equipped to adequately deal with the question. He suggested science educators and clergy use “explanatory pluralism,” or offering many answers to a question, each of which complements rather than contradicts.#