Intelligent design no part of science class

10th August 2007 at 01:00

Ewan Aitken is a Church of Scotland

minister and former education authorities' leader

One of the whackier questions I was asked as a school chaplain was: "If God made the world, what did he stand in to make it?" Again, I was exposed to the truth that the minds of young people are not simply empty spaces to be filled by adults, but the source of serious challenges to adults themselves.

The idea that the world is the work of a divine creator is not new. The Genesis 1 story of a seven-day creation is, without question, a gathering together of many myths and legends to express the scientific and theological understandings of the day. That the two should be expressed in one piece of educational literature merely reflected the way knowledge was categorised and passed on. Genesis 1 is written to be learned by rote as a rhythmic piece of prose to teach people of that time about God's role in how the world came into being and our place in that world.

Our sophisticated understanding of the world and how itwas created has taken our understanding of when life began to a very different time line from seven days. But the question remains: did our world and our place in it happen by chance or by design?

Some would argue that the very existence of the world is evidence of a divine creator as its complexity could not be the result of chance. Plato suggested a demiurge of complete wisdom and intelligence as the creator of the world, while Thomas Aquinas (right) used the Earth's complexity as one of his five proofs for God.

Others, notably Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker and elsewhere, have argued that you cannot deduce any divine hand for the complexity of the world and all that lives in it; it simply exists as the present stage of evolution, which is a constantly changing process.

The debate in recent times, however, has moved from one about the validity of each side's argument to the venue for the argument. Proponents of "intelligent design" want it taught in science classes. All science is based on theory, goes the argument, so this is just another theory to be debated.

The truth is they don't just want the debate to be about the idea of a divine hand behind creation. They want us to conclude not simply that "something" created the world, but that the Christian God created the world. They want to move from a sense of awe and an idea to a sense of orthodoxy and an ideology.

That's why I, a Christian minister and someone who has been involved in education for some time, would argue strongly against the teaching of intelligent design theory as part of the science curriculum. To do so would be to encourage quantum leaps, not quantum physics.

There is a place for religious thinking to enter scientific debate where the issues have an ethical dimension. Religious communities, along with all other communities of interest, have a place in offering their views on matters that affect all of life, whether it is stem cell research or animal testing or the rights of patients or the consequences of using science to harness the world's resources or the many, many other ethical debates science constantly faces.

But those views start from a position of faith, not as a process to prove the basis of faith. That is another journey and is not the task of the science classroom.

The ID debate should be part of religious and moral education, exploring that part of the Christian faith community that holds to that theory. It should be part of philosophical debates about what we can deduce from what we experience. But, as a contribution to scientific exploration, it offers nothing to stand upon, far less build an understanding of how we came to be in existence.

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