America is a deeply religious and spiritual society. Some of the most deeply religious men in American history have been its founding fathers. The founders, however, saw the need for religion as a means to enlighten democracy to guide a set of basic values. They did not view religion as an essential component for inclusion within the governing practices of the young nation.
This is why it is so disheartening to see the recent decline in the separation between church and state, most notably demonstrated by debate over the inclusion of intelligent design into public school curricula.
Debating the merits of intelligent design – in the context of injecting it into public schools – seems a moot discussion. There is no way to empirically prove or disprove the concept, and the scientific evidence mounting against intelligent design is staggering.
Intelligent design – a pseudoscience designed to compete with evolution theories – is creationism in new clothes. Because traditional theories about evolution do not necessarily coincide with dominant Christian beliefs, proponents of intelligent design have catapulted their theory into the limelight. Even President Bush has said that the two sides deserve equal consideration.
This is the central problem with the debate over intelligent design and indicative of a general anti-intellectual trend in America. Namely, that scientific exploration and empirical evidence are relegated to the same plane as any popular theory, no matter how unfounded.
Inherent with anti-intellectualism is the propensity to allow religious and theological traditions to explain what was previously in the domain of scientific pursuits. Religion, of course, can and has been a guide in the development of law and government. It should not, however, be a replacement for science or other academic disciplines.
Religion is a personal commitment. Accordingly, it is imperative that there is a separation between church and state. Religion has its merits as it allows people to feel that they are part of something greater than themselves and enlightens their actions. But that does not mean that there should be a strict application of one religion to a society that is built on an immigrant culture with diverse backgrounds and religious beliefs.
Specifically, intelligent design should not be taught in schools because it is a theory grounded in theology. Any theories that develop first in religious tradition don’t have a place in schools and are a matter for personal faith rather than universal instruction. Learning about religion in an academic context, such as history or its impact on society in a qualitative manner, are completely acceptable. Normative questions pitting science against religion, however, are better left out of public schools to ensure that the wall between church and state remains intact.
The debate over intelligent design signifies a lack of priorities in American public discourse. There is a lack of debate over the cutting of programs that promote intellectual stimulation in American children. Art and music programs continue to disappear, yet many segments in the country seem more concerned with destroying the concept of evolution rather than funding struggling programs.
Up until about 400 years ago, the prevailing view in the educated world was that the sun was the center of the universe. It was too difficult for people at the time to imagine a different reality. Just because it is difficult to grasp the astonishingly complex theories of evolution or the big bang doesn’t mean that a pseudo-science should be accepted as a truth or integrated into the public education system.