President George W. Bush favours teaching both evolution and
“Intelligent Design” in schools, “so people can know what the debate is
about.” To proponents, Intelligent Design is the notion that the
universe is too complex to have developed without a nudge from a higher
power than evolution or natural selection.
Intelligent Design is creationism â€” the literal interpretation of the
Book of Genesis â€” in a thin guise, or simply vacuous, about as
interesting as “I donâ€™t understand,” as has always been true in the
sciences before understanding is reached. Accordingly, there cannot be a
The teaching of evolution has long been difficult in the United States.
Now a national movement has emerged to promote the teaching of
Intelligent Design in schools.
The issue has famously surfaced in a courtroom in Dover, Pa., where a
school board is requiring students to hear a statement about Intelligent
Design in a biology class â€” and parents mindful of the Constitutionâ€™s
church/state separation have sued the board.
In the interest of fairness, perhaps the presidentâ€™s speechwriters
should take him seriously when they have him say that schools should be
open-minded and teach all points of view. So far, however, the
curriculum has not encompassed one obvious point of view: Malignant
Unlike Intelligent Design, for which the evidence is zero, malignant
design has tons of empirical evidence, much more than Darwinian
evolution, by some criteria: the worldâ€™s cruelty. Be that as it may, the
background of the current evolution/intelligent design controversy is
the widespread rejection of science, a phenomenon with deep roots in
American history that has been cynically exploited for narrow political
gain during the last quarter-century. Intelligent Design raises the
question whether it is intelligent to disregard scientific evidence
about matters of supreme importance to the nation and world â€” like
An old-fashioned conservative would believe in the value of
Enlightenment ideals â€” rationality, critical analysis, freedom of
speech, freedom of inquiry â€” and would try to adapt them to a modern
society. The Founding Fathers, children of the Enlightenment, championed
those ideals and took pains to create a Constitution that espoused
religious freedom yet separated church and state. The United States,
despite the occasional messianism of its leaders, isnâ€™t a theocracy.
In our time, the Bush administrationâ€™s hostility to scientific inquiry
puts the world at risk. Environmental catastrophe, whether you think the
world has been developing only since Genesis or for eons, is far too
serious to ignore. In preparation for the G8 summit this past summer,
the scientific academies of all G8 nations (including the US National
Academy of Sciences), joined by those of China, India and Brazil, called
on the leaders of the rich countries to take urgent action to head off
“The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently
clear to justify prompt action,” their statement said. “It is vital that
all nations identify cost-effective steps that they can take now, to
contribute to substantial and long-term reduction in net global
greenhouse gas emissions.”
In its lead editorial, The Financial Times endorsed this “clarion call,”
while observing: “There is, however, one holdout, and unfortunately it
is to be found in the White House where George W. Bush insists we still
do not know enough about this literally world-changing phenomenon.”
Dismissal of scientific evidence on matters of survival, in keeping with
Bushâ€™s scientific judgment, is routine. A few months earlier, at the
2005 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of
Science, leading US climate researchers released “the most compelling
evidence yet” that human activities are responsible for global warming,
according to The Financial Times. They predicted major climatic effects,
including severe reductions in water supplies in regions that rely on
rivers fed by melting snow and glaciers.
Other prominent researchers at the same session reported evidence that
the melting of Arctic and Greenland ice sheets is causing changes in the
seaâ€™s salinity balance that threaten “to shut down the Ocean Conveyor
Belt, which transfers heat from the tropics toward the polar regions
through currents such as the Gulf Stream.” Such changes might bring
significant temperature reduction to northern Europe.
Like the statement of the National Academies for the G8 summit, the
release of “the most compelling evidence yet” received scant notice in
the United States, despite the attention given in the same days to the
implementation of the Kyoto protocols, with the most important
government refusing to take part.
It is important to stress “government.” The standard report that the
United States stands almost alone in rejecting the Kyoto protocols is
correct only if the phrase “United States” excludes its population,
which strongly favours the Kyoto pact (73 per cent, according to a July
poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes).
Perhaps only the word “malignant” could describe a failure to
acknowledge, much less address, the all-too-scientific issue of climate
change. Thus the “moral clarity” of the Bush administration extends to
its cavalier attitude toward the fate of our grandchildren.