Science and religion

It was a long time ago when I was a kid in public school. Back then we had no problem reconciling evolution with religion. We were taught Darwin’s theory of evolution did not have all the answers. Our science teachers showed no disrespect for religion. If you were a believer, then science merely explained how God went about the miracle of creating life on Earth.

Back in the day, we laughed at the ignorance that fueled the Scopes Trial. We were very happy we didn’t live in one of those narrow-minded communities that refused to accept evolution. We laughed as Clarence Darrow (Spencer Tracy) demolished William Jennings Bryant (Fredric March) in Inherit the Wind. We viewed the arguments set forth in the Scopes Trial as the battle of enlightenment against ignorance. What has happened to America since then? Why are we marching steadily back into the 19th century?

The current debate over whether to teach intelligent design in the science classes of public-school systems was something we would have laughed at 50 years ago. There are very good reasons for teaching evolution in the science class and leaving intelligent design for the churches. We teach evolution in science class because, despite the corrections along the way in Darwin’s theory and the gaps in that theory (which still exist), we have a factual set of rules to which nature conforms. But intelligent design is a belief system, which assumes things we can’t prove.

Science shows the Bible has been wildly inaccurate when it comes to some of the specific details of creation. The biblical age of the Earth is one such example. Some religions have explained away the Bible’s mistakes by not holding to its literal word. However, there are other churches which still teach that every word of the Bible is literally true, presumably even the discrepancy in the age of the Earth. This is yet another reason to keep intelligent design out of science class. Religions don’t agree. And when faced with facts, some persist in their beliefs. We’re, in effect, having the kind of debate today that should have been settled after the Church recanted on Galileo. When you begin introducing religion into science class, facts sometimes get in the way and, in those cases, facts almost always take a backseat.

In a sense, the debate over intelligent design is phony. At least the old creationists were honest about their agenda. They wanted to replace Darwin with the biblical teaching of creation. In essence, this was what the Scopes Trial was all about. Evolution was considered blasphemous. The fight being waged to insert intelligent design into the science class is being sold as co-existence with Darwin. Why not teach our pupils, they say, that there may be another explanation for the creation of life? Put that way, the debate is framed as a question of fairness. But history teaches us this would not satisfy the creationists. Soon the true believers would begin battling over whose particular belief system should be taught. Finally, we would wind up back in the days of the Scopes Trial with creationists arguing for removing Darwin from the classroom. Scientific inquiry would be replaced by dogma. You will believe what they want you to believe.

There is another way to teach intelligent design, a way that makes sense in a pluralistic democracy. Enroll your child in a religious school or a Bible study program.

As science solves one mystery, it unfolds another. There is no real conflict between it and religion. Science answers the question "how" not "why." We had it right in the public schools that I attended. We didn’t shy away from religion. Mrs. Young taught us respect and tolerance for the religions of the world. She took us to churches and synagogues and mosques. But she never confused religion with science.

If you’re in doubt, just watch Inherit the Wind again or read about Galileo.