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Spencer Rendahl: Intelligent Or Not

My friend was troubled. She was teaching a freshman Earth Science class at a nearby college, and she told me that a student had turned in a paper espousing the theory of intelligent design, which posits that God guided evolution.

I asked her what source he used for his paper. “The internet,” she replied.

She said she had warned the student both before and after he turned the paper in to cite peer-reviewed scientific sources – and not simply to rely on a website that anyone with some free time and a URL could produce. In the end, he passed the class with a D - not the best start to a college career.

My friend wondered aloud how someone without a basic understanding of scientific discourse could get into a prestigious college.

The answer lies at least partially in various state education laws.

The Louisiana Science Education Act, for example, has little to do with science. It allows public school teachers to challenge established science on topics like evolution. Bobby Jindal, the state’s Republican Governor who has already started making appearances in New Hampshire as a possible presidential hopeful – signed it into law in 2008.

And a variation of Louisiana’s law has already been enacted in New England. Last year, the New Hampshire legislature overrode the governor’s veto to pass a law stating that if a parent objects to what his child is being taught in public school, he can opt out of the curriculum. That means a parent who disagrees with the standard science curriculum could demand that the teacher present the creation story from the Book of Genesis. The law is relatively new, and there have been no publicized cases of parents using it to challenge established science. But the door is wide open.

The notion that a God somehow guided natural selection isn’t measurable and therefore falls outside of the realm of science. The U.S. National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science call intelligent design “pseudoscience.” Neuroscientist and writer Sam Harris goes further. He calls intelligent design “nothing more than a program of political and religious advocacy masquerading as science.”

Among the dissenters is Louisiana high school senior Zach Kopplin, who has launched a campaign to repeal the Louisiana law, with the support of 78 Nobel laureate scientists. In researching his project, Kopplin found 300 taxpayer-funded charter schools nationwide that teach creationism or intelligent design. The Louisiana law still stands, and Kopplin continues to challenge it.

High school students in the U. S. routinely test below those of most European and Asian nations in their understanding of science and math. The movement to bring creationism and intelligent design into public schools challenges our constitution’s separation of church and state – and equating these theories with the scientific method may set our children up for future failure in the national and global economy.

When he searched “creationism” on Monster.com and Careerbuilder websites, Kopplin reports that he got “zero job listings.” His search of “biology” rendered more than a thousand.

Suzanne Spencer Rendahl is a former journalist whose work has appeared in publications including the Boston Globe. She lives with her husband and two children in Plainfield, NH.
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