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Lileks on Intelligent Design
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James Lileks chimes in on the teaching of Intelligent Design:

Oh: I mentioned yesterday that I wrote a column on Intelligent Design. Basic point: I don’t think schools should be required to teach it. No. But science classes might profit from the occasional discussion hour where students get to speculate about these things. I’ve never thought evolution was in conflict with the idea of a Maker, but that’s just me; everyone tries to square the Mysteries of the Universe with the intellectual emotions that give them a sense of satisfaction and completeness, so if you come up with a cosmological model that feels satisfying, you should worry. That said, I can easily understand how some see God everywhere in creation, and somewhat baffled by those who see God nowhere. I admit it’s hard to square the idea of an intervening diety with human suffering – why didn’t He stop the tsunamis? But that’s like saying that the existence of an intact anthill in Rio disproves the existence of my left foot, when it might mean I just haven’t had the chance to get on a plane to Brazil and kick the thing over. I don’t trouble myself with the micro aspect of theology, since God would seem to be a Macro kind of guy. My only point is that leaving speculative discussions out of science – if only one class, once a year – is like teaching kids about the Constitution without having an hour to discuss whether rights are granted by man or inherently endowed by a creator. Can we talk? As a great bony deep thinker once brayed.

As long as the discussion were lead responsibly and objectively, I wouldn't have any problem with that. But that's a tall order. At this point I'd like to reiterate a call for high school metaphysics or philosophy classes, where such discussion would be appropriate. Disciplines aren't easily partitioned and they do bleed into one another, but I think a class where students are asked to question the meaning, or intepretation of what they are learning, while being presented with contrasting views of how different thinkers and philosophers have thought about morality and god and other such issues would be a good addition.

The problem with bringing it up in a science class is that it might very well be mistaken for science...which it is not. Science is concerned with revealing knowledge about the universe. That's it. Science isn't in the interpretation business. Similarly, I don't have a problem with the Bible being taught in English class, as long as it's presented as literature and not scripture.

That said, I think it would be great for students to have a forum in which they discuss these things. It would be wonderful for them to discuss opposing interpretations of the natural world. Some people see design at the hand of a benevolent and perfect maker. But then do vestigial organs like the appendix reveal god to be a screw-up? Do examples such as the ichneumon wasp, with the female paralyzing a caterpillar, laying her eggs in the living host, who then feed on fatty tissues and less important parts of the anatomy to keep the host alive as long as possible to maximize the nutritional such examples reveal the senselessness and cruelty of god? These certainly are not scientific questions. Science postulates, tests, affirms or rejects, and catalogs. But such discussions are vital to developing critical thinking and a well thought-out worldview.

Would Lileks, I wonder, be up for all that? Would you?

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