Stopping relentless push for `design' in classroom

November 15, 2005|By CLARENCE PAGE

WASHINGTON -- Call me paranoid, but sometimes I think the mainstream media give maximum coverage to the Rev. Pat Robertson in order to discredit him.

Or at least to discredit politically active TV evangelists who have enough connections to get their phone calls returned from the White House.

Either way, it hasn't worked. Mr. Robertson is still in business. His latest fatwa, delivered on The 700 Club, his daily Virginia-based television show, is directed at "the good citizens of Dover," a Pennsylvania town that Mr. Robertson says has "rejected" God.

Their sinful deed, Mr. Robertson says, was to vote out of office all of Dover's school board members who were up for re-election and supported intelligent design. That's the politically charged theory that challenges Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

"If there is a disaster in your area," Mr. Robertson told Dover, "don't turn to God, you just rejected him from your city. ... And if that's the case, don't ask for his help because he might not be there."

God could not be reached for comment. But Mr. Robertson said in a later statement, "If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them."

Ah, Dover. How dare you try to separate church and state? Who do you think you are? Baghdad? Kabul?

Ironically, Mr. Robertson's outburst actually refutes the claims that leading advocates of intelligent design, or ID, have been presenting. To get around constitutional concerns, they have insisted that the intelligent designer is absolutely not necessarily God.

It could be, say, "the force" as depicted in Star Wars.

Mr. Robertson sees ID as precisely what its concerned critics say it is, a thin camouflage for creationism, the belief that the Bible's weeklong account of creation is all that our kids need to know.

ID advocates make much of the argument that evolution is "only a theory," barely mentioning that in science, a theory is not a guess but the result of rigorous observation and testing over time. ID theory, by contrast, is less a scientific theory than an assertion of one reason why some parts of life and the universe are too complex to have come into being by chance and are best explained by an "intelligent designer." Whatever cannot yet be explained by science, in other words, must by default have been created by some higher intelligence.

That's an appealing idea, especially for those of us who believe in God. A Harris poll this summer found 55 percent of adults backed teaching intelligent design along with evolution in public schools. So did President Bush. "Both sides [of this dispute] ought to be properly taught," the president told reporters, "so people can understand what the debate is about. ... I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought."

But appealing as ID theory may sound, it cannot be proved by the investigative methods of conventional science. It is, therefore, more a matter of faith than science, more suitable for a history or social studies class than for a course in real science.

Nevertheless, many people will try and try again. The Dover school board voted to require a one-minute classroom statement about ID in ninth-grade science classes. Parents sued. In the meantime, voters delivered their own verdict by voting out all consenting board members who were up for re-election. As a parent of a high school kid, I applaud their vote.

But Mr. Robertson can take solace that on that very same day, the Kansas State Board of Education voted in new biology standards that challenge the very definition of science in order to shoehorn ID theory into it, reversing a 2001 decision that affirmed Darwin's theory after yet another board voted to remove it two years earlier.

As I mentioned, ID advocates can be relentless. In some places, Darwin rises and falls with election returns. So does quality education. Our students can use your prayers.

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun. His e-mail is

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