Public Education 

Yes, there are many things wrong with the U.S. public education system. Yes, it's complicated. No, there isn't a simple solution. That said, this is about just one small aspect of public education: whether and what to teach concerning Creationism.

To some, the Darwinian theory of evolution is blasphemous, denying God as the Creator. To others, Creationism is superstitious and anti-scientific drivel, dogmatically explaining natural phenomena with divine magic rather than conclusions drawn from observation and study. The fact is, either perspective is accurate if you accept the underlying premise, the existence of a divine Creator or the lack thereof. When we disagree on a basic premise, how do we find common ground on what to teach students?

Rebranding Creationism as Intelligent Design may seem like just playing word games, but it's a bit more than that; it is the best hope for agreement on what to teach students about the origin of life. Truly hardline fundamentalists who will not accept that world is more than 4000 years old will not be able to reconcile their worldview with the idea of early cellular life taking eons to develop into the species we know today, nor will the idea of any kind of divinity sit well with hardline atheists, but anyone in between those two extremes should be able to reach some agreement on what to teach.

There are two parts to teaching about the origins of life. The first is what we actually know from observation, experiment, and study of resources such as the fossil record. We know of the existence of a huge variety of species from simple observation. We know about Mendelian genetics from his experiments. We know about extinct species and worldwide extinction events from the fossil record. The second part is the conclusions we draw from what we know. Given our primary factual knowledge plus the premise that God created the world, Man, and everything else, we arrive at Intelligent Design. Given our primary factual knowledge plus the premise that there was no divine intervention in the development of life, we arrive at Darwinism.

If we can manage to teach the primary factual knowledge about the origins of life separately from the conclusions we draw from that knowledge, we can teach the difference between Intelligent Design and Darwinism as the choice of premise. Darwinism relies on random events to explain how evolution, a phenomenon we can observe with our own eyes at the present time, produced the various life forms we see today. Intelligent Design replaces that randomness with the Hand of God. Whether evolution was guided by a divine Creator or natural randomness is a question for theologians and philosophers, not educators.

Of course, I skipped over something. The debate has always been between Creationism and evolution, hasn't it? What I'm talking about accepts evolution as a given, and only quibbles about how the mechanism of evolution has produced what it has. Like many other debates, this has become a battle because of (deliberate or otherwise) poisoning of words. Evolution has come to refer to the theory of why life developed the way it did, whereas scientific theories explain how natural phenomena occur. Evolution as mechanism rather than evolution as etiology is something everyone can agree on as an observable phenomenon.

You can't please all of the people all of the time, but you can maximize the number of people you please. Sure, teach Intelligent Design in public schools as part of teaching about biology and the origins of life. Explain that it is based on a premise that may be impossible to prove or disprove. Teach Darwinism the same way. The mechanism of evolution, however, and the knowledge we have accumulated through observation, experiment, and study should be taught as fact. The hardliners on both sides will be unhappy, but the rest of us can be satisfied that our children will get a better education with a better distinction between what we know and what we choose to believe about it.

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