A federal district court judge in Harrisburg, Penn. is hearing a case this week that will have profound implications for U.S. science education. Before the judge is a question that has grabbed headlines across the country during the past few months: Does intelligent design belong in science classrooms? American Civil Liberties Union attorney Eric Rothschild, who is representing seven families in the case against the Dover School Board, has asserted that because Intelligent Design is no more than creationism in disguise, teaching it as a scientific theory in a science classroom violates the separation of church and state. Even though the Dover School Board did not go as far as mandating instruction of ID – it merely forced teachers, before teaching evolution, to mention ID as a competing theory – leaving the impression that ID is a scientific challenge to evolution is highly inappropriate. ID is not a scientific theory in any sense, and has no place within a science education.
The debate over ID is not limited to Pennsylvania. Several states are considering adding intelligent design to science classrooms; Kansas, proudly at the forefront of all trends conservative, has already done so. Well-funded think tanks, such as the Discovery Institute, have undertaken professional campaigns to promote ID as a rival scientific theory to Darwinian natural selection. Unlike previous attempts to put Judeo-Christian creationism in schools – attempts that were struck down because they violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause – ID has gained traction because it doesn’t go as far as defining a creator; it merely argues that because science cannot fully explain the complexity and origins of life, a creator must exist.
Yet, despite its glamour and hype, ID fails the basic test of what constitutes a scientific theory. While it masquerades as science – supporters have adopted the language and terminology of biology while serious proponents publish articles in ID journals – it cannot be construed as a scientific theory. All scientific theories must be falsifiable; that is, they must present testable hypotheses that can be evaluated on the basis of empirical evidence. ID is nonfalsifiable – it is impossible to empirically prove or disprove the existence of a creator – and is therefore a philosophical or metaphysical argument, not a scientific theory.
Indeed, there is no credible scientific evidence to support the idea of ID. The big gap between ID’s hypothesis of irreducible complexity and its conclusion of the existence of a creator is filled not with empirical evidence, but with faith. The scientific method that should drive a science curriculum is explicit in its rejection of faith as an explanatory mechanism and its strict requirement of empirical investigation.
While proponents of ID claim that their “theory” is not based on creationism, its implications are obvious. State legislatures should not be entertaining the idea of tainting science classrooms with unscientific material. Focusing class time on ID takes away from the amount of time that can be allotted to actual science. Like it or not, faith doesn’t have a place in a science classroom.