IP's marketing director Tony Ryan and I raced across the Bay Bridge at 5 mph toward Dublin, CA, eager to experience the much-touted EXPELLED, the new, controversial documentary with Ben Stein that examines the Intelligent Design in public schools debate. We did not manage to win Ben Stein's money, nor did he get any of ours. Indeed, it must have been Ferris Bueller's night off because after missing our turn and, scrambling not to miss even the first minute of the film, we showed up at the theater only to be informed that the screening was cancelled. The reason? "Security issues".
I am not sure whether atheist and Christian-basher Richard Dawkins' recent gate-crashing at an EXPELLED screening has put theaters on orange alert or whether some other nefarious person caused the producers to bow out of our scheduled showing. In any event, I still haven't seen this documentary. Although I am not a huge ID-as-science enthusiast--I think, in typical stickler for details fashion, that this is mainly a philosophical discussion, not a strictly scientific one--I do think ID should be discussed in public schools, not treated as pornography. Strike that line. In some public schools pornography is treated better.
Public schools are, after all, the property of the public, especially of parents whose children are educated there. Parents elect to employ the assistance of others to educate their children, and society as a whole recognizes the general obligation to help childen get an education and to help parents educate good citizens, hence public schools. If parents want their kids to study ID in public school, parents should have that right. To the objection that ID amounts to a religious credo, I say (1) so what if it does? and (2) no, it doesn't.
So what if ID does amount to religion? Religion can be studied in public schools without establishing any particular religion as the school's religion, so even if, contrary to fact, ID were religion, it would not follow that for that reason it could not be studied in public schools.
But ID isn't religion. Affirming that life shows signs of having been "designed" doesn't require a "religious" commitment. You may argue that most people who think life was "designed" do so on religious grounds. You may think that proponents of ID are religiously-motivated people trying to use science to bolster their religious conclusion. But whether most people who believe life to have been "designed" hold their view for religious reasons is irrelevant to whether it is true or whether science supports the conclusion. Furthermore, even if proponents of ID are religiously motivated and are trying to support their religious views from science, that also doesn't say whether or not those views are corroborated by science. Only science determines that. For the record, I agree with those who say it is also not science (although not with those who say it is not at all scientific). I have, for that reason, qualms about teaching ID in biology class. However, since lots of things that aren't strictly science are often taught in science classes--environmental science classes routinely discuss the ethical implications of things such as global warming or endangered species, which subjects inject nonscientific elements (ethics, for example) into science class--I have trouble excluding the philosophical questions raised by ID from science class. Since public schools don't usually have philosophy classes (a pity), which is what, in my view, ID mainly is, if it is to be discussed--and it's too important a topic not to talk about in school--it should probably be discussed in a class at least related to the issue by subject matter. That would be science class, since ID makes use of scientific data and makes claims to scientific validity, whatever one thinks about those claims as matters of science.
(Sometimes opponents of ID argue that to teach about it in science class on the grounds that it makes claims to scientific validity would be like teaching about astrology on the grounds that some astrologers make claims to scientific validity. Setting aside the important question of whether the evidence and arguments for ID are on the same level as those for astrology, I would note that I had teachers in high school who devoted some class time to the scientific claims of astrology. My teachers refuted those claims on scientific grounds but they at least discussed them. Apparently, my teachers thought the scientific errors of proponents of astrology were so dangerous that the teachers took the time to make the case against astrology. I wonder why opponents of ID don't approach the subject in the same way, if they think ID dangerous and demonstrably false.)
So while I have problems labeling ID "science" and problems with it being taught as science, I think it should be discussed in public school, and that the most likely context where that discussion would fit is science class, even if that discussion must be set in a context of a philosophical discussion about science, other kinds of knowledge, and human origins. Whether EXPELLED is contrary to the aforementioned approach remains to be seen--at least by me--as does the film itself.