Why Intelligent Design Should Not Be Taught in High School

Last week, a long time reader pointed my attention to two blog posts by the Washington Post‘s Jay Matthews, who argues that creationism should be taught to advanced biology students by qualified teachers. Matthews has been flogging this horse for a while. He has always struck me as a nice guy, and that’s his problem–he’s a nice guy. The fundamental problem is that he thinks the professional ‘teach the controversy’ advocates are acting in good faith: they are not. They view teaching the ‘controversy’ as a first step towards removing evolutionary biology from the classrooom.

What’s also frustrating is that we are asking teachers, some of whom are already inadequately prepared in certain areas of biology including evolutionary biology*, to waste time preparing to teach and actually teaching students idiotic things. It’s one thing to teach a real controversy, such as the role of genetics in human behavior. But do we want to waste time teaching settled things? Can we afford to do it?

Is there overwhelming evidence for natural selection from multiple disciplines? Yes.

Is there the confusion about macro- versus microevolution that the creationists claim? No.

Are the primary pieces of evidence for intelligent design in nature shot full of holes? Yup.

Is the whole notion that we chalk up the currently unexplainable to an intelligent designer (who is probably not the Great Raven) philosophically unsound–since every time we figure out the previously unexplainable, the intelligent designer shrinks a little (aka ‘the God of the gaps’)? Yes.

I would rather teachers spend the time teaching some more biology, maybe even something like neutral theory, which advanced students should be able to handle (and neutral theory is the philosophically challenging bit, not natural selection). It might even get them interested in genetics.

Keep in mind, in some states, creationism is actively supported at the expense of, well, actual education. But ultimately, Matthews goes off the rails at a more fundamental level.

In college courses (excepting the Jesus diploma mills) where evolution is taught, intelligent design creationism is discussed. But ultimately, it is presented as something that, at best, is refractory to science–intelligent design advocates can always find something we don’t understand and claim the Great Raven did it. At worse, it is ludicrous. How do we teach that without being accused of religious discrimination (and worse)? That’s why Sen. Santorum, as Matthews notes, when asked if intelligent design should be taught, begged off the question. Creationists don’t want that to happen (be careful of what you wish for). They simply believe, erroneously, that ‘Darwinism’ is the bow wave of godless materialism and children should not be exposed to it.

In other words, this is an ersatz controversy. Don’t be suckered into it.

*In many biology programs, it’s possible to receive an undergraduate degree having only been exposed to evolutionary biology for a few weeks in an introductory course freshman year.

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2 Responses to Why Intelligent Design Should Not Be Taught in High School

  1. HCA says:

    Honestly, if we’re going to add anything to HS biology (or undergrad biology), it should be paleontology. Attempting to understand biology without understanding paleontology is like attempting to understand the political events of the past week without any knowledge of anything that happened more than a month ago.

  2. Min says:

    Oh, if I were teaching high school biology, I would definitely spend time on Intelligent Design. Sample quiz:

    1) Why did the Intelligent Designer give you an appendix?

    2) Why did the Intelligent Designer give gills to the human fetus?

    3) Why did the Intelligent Designer give us backaches?

    4) Why did the Intelligent Designer put the left brain in charge of the right side of our body, and the right brain in charge of the left side?

    5) Why didn’t the Intelligent Designer give us enough fur so that we wouldn’t need clothing?

    6) Which is more complex, a tree branch or a baseball bat? Is complexity or simplicity a hallmark of design?


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