The final straw: Bush endorses intelligent design
Yes, as you might have guessed, yesterday I missed this (another report is here) which I only discovered when an e-mail informed me of it. The news? Our President has endorsed the teaching of "intelligent design" creationism in public schools:
President Bush said Monday he believes schools should discuss ''intelligent design'' alongside evolution when teaching students about the creation of life.
During a round-table interview with reporters from five Texas newspapers, Bush declined to go into detail on his personal views of the origin of life. But he said students should learn about both theories, Knight Ridder Newspapers reported.
''I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought,'' Bush said. ''You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes.''
Naturally, I turned to PZ Myers for his inimitable take on this bit of news and through him learned of Bush making this comparison:
Mr. President, "intelligent design" is creationism. Period. If you have a doubt about that, just ask your own science advisor, who has denounced ID as unscientific. Just ask an ID advocate who this "intelligent designer" is. Ask him if the "designer" is God. He will almost certainly either decline to give a straight answer (or even to speculate), or he will mumble that he does not place any "conditions" on who the "intelligent designer" is. Then ask him: Why can't the designer be David Icke's race of intelligent giant lizards, an extraterrestrial humanoid civilization, as the Raelian cult claims, or even a Flying Spaghetti Monster, as illustrated here? The question will make an ID advocate very uncomfortable (or even angry), especially if you're persistent and don't accept the usual equivocating, handwaving responses, a point I've been making since very early on in this blog.Bush compared the current debate to earlier disputes over "creationism," a related view that adheres more closely to biblical explanations. As governor of Texas, Bush said students should be exposed to both creationism and evolution.
The bottom line is that there should be no inherent contradiction between accepting evolution as the best current scientific theory explaining how the diversity of life developed (which it is) and a belief in God. Evolution has enormous quantities of experimental and observational evidence to support it, evidence that is consistent with and complementary to evidence and theories from other disciplines. "ID" creationism has no such evidence or science to support it, and is ultimately not falsifiable. In essence, all ID does is throw up its hands whenever it encounters a complex biological structure whose origin cannot yet be understood by science and says "it must be 'designed,'" basically giving up on an explanation other than a higher intelligence (whose identity is left intentionally vague but implicit). Science cannot answer the questions of whether God exists or whether He is guiding the evolution of life forms (barring a highly unlikely Revelations-like appearance of the Almighty telling us that that is what He has been doing, complete with miracles to convince the doubters). Such questions are simply not within the purview of science. There is nothing wrong with believing that a "higher power" either set evolution into motion (otherwise known as theistic evolution) or is guiding evolution to complex organisms ("intelligent design"). Belief in theistic evolution or ID make perfect sense if you believe in God. However, such beliefs are a matter of faith, not science. It would be perfectly acceptable to teach ID as religion or philosophy in public schools, but not as science because such beliefs are not science. Indeed, it is at the very least ascientific, relying on unfalsifiable hypotheses, fallacious reasoning, and distortions or even outright lies about what evolutionary theory actually says and what the evidence supporting it really is.
This statement by President Bush not unexpectedly has caused pro-ID bloggers, such as Jonathan Witt, Denise O'Leary, Stephen Jones, and William Dembski to crow. At least one was more circumspect, pointing out correctly that the President cannot dictate what school boards include in their curricula. True enough, but the President can influence where federal education aid goes and to what sorts of programs. Fortunately, this announcement has outraged even many conservatives, seemingly (to me, at least) even more so than liberals, a heartening development. It shows that not all conservatives drink the antiscience Kool-Aid being laid down by fundamentalists, nor do they all want to teach thinly disguised religious beliefs as "science" in the public schools. Examples from the conservative half of the blogosphere who have attacked the President's statement include: Instapundit, Rick Moran, John Cole, Right Thoughts, Catallarchy, Roger L. Simon, Don Surber and Andrew Sullivan, among others, and even some conservative columnists are also taking aim at ID. The best quote, as is often the case, comes from The Commissar:
Trying to prove the Dems right, one stupid f*cking statement at a time. Is Bush ‘playing to the base’ or does he believe it? I don’t know which is worse. One is horribly irresponsible; the other is just ignorant.Charles Krauthammer also gets in a good shot, though:
There are gaps in science everywhere. Are we to fill them all with divinity? There were gaps in Newton's universe. They were ultimately filled by Einstein's revisions. There are gaps in Einstein's universe, great chasms between it and quantum theory. Perhaps they are filled by God. Perhaps not. But it is certainly not science to merely declare it so.
Regular readers know that I've been becoming increasingly disillusioned with the brand of conservatism that is currently in ascendence in this country, even though my own political beliefs haven't changed much, if at all. This clear ignorance about what is and is not science on the part of our President, now confirmed yet again, is just one more reason why. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be a place for someone like me in the Democratic Party either, which leaves me without a party to call my own, at least a party with a chance of actually influencing policy. As John Rogers put it, I miss old-fashioned Republicans, the pro-science realists of the past.