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Intelligent design is not science

Here are choices for learning about "intelligent design": the late brilliant paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould or the goofy politicized televangelist Pat Robertson.

Here are choices for learning about "intelligent design": the late brilliant paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould or the goofy politicized televangelist Pat Robertson.

Hmm. Let's see. Brilliant or goofy. A tested scientist or a grinning opportunist. One hundred fifty years of good research or a perversion of serious religious faith.

I gotta go with Gould, even though I reject his atheism. At least he was honest. Robertson's brand of political religiosity is offensive and dishonest. Gould's work explains and expands and enhances. Robertson's preaching divides, condemns and misrepresents.

Intelligent design is the latest permutation of "creation science." Creationism as science has been rejected again and again, not only by competent scientists, but by American courts on every level. As a result, the folks who want creationism taught alongside real science in public schools have changed tactics, but not the goal. They've come up with "intelligent design," a serious-sounding idea that is, in effect, creationism in not-so-clever disguise.

By promoting such a scam, its purveyors not only are pushing a specific religious viewpoint on public schools, they also are lying about their motives. The ultimate goal, after all, is to taint science curricula with religious doctrine. From there it's a short leap to undermine the basic foundations of modern science with ecclesiastical myths, legends and hocus-pocus.

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Intelligent design, however seductive it is for believers, is not science. It can't be tested by the scientific method: observation of a phenomenon; formulation of a hypothesis; prediction of the existence of other phenonema; independent experiments to test predictions.

Evolution theory, on the other hand, has been rigorously subjected to the scientific method for more than a century. It holds together, even as experimentation and observation discover gaps. The theory itself evolves when new science looks ever more closely (DNA, virology) at the natural world. The continuity of scientific scrutiny brought to bear on evolution overwhelmingly comes down on the side of Darwin's conclusions. Gould himself challenged Darwin with a theory that questions natural selection without scrapping the basics of evolution. It's science at work in its traditional, proven way. Gould's approach might stand or it might not. Its fate will be determined by the rigors of the scientific method.

Intelligent design requires a conscious designer. But since the existence of a designer - a "creator" - cannot be tested and proven, intelligent design relies on the supernatural. The realm of the supernatural is defined by religion, myth and superstition.

Maybe intelligent design should be taught in public classrooms. But not in science class. Put it in the social studies curriculum. Discuss it as history with its roots in the 17th century persecution of Galileo. Make a chapter in a political science text, since intelligent design in the hands of the good Rev. Robertson and his ilk is a political tool - the inheritor of the movment that spawned the John Scopes monkey trial in Tennessee in 1925. For good measure, invite Robertson as a guest lecturer. But keep him away from the science labs.

Zaleski can be reached at jzaleski@forumcomm.com or (701) 241-5521.

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