Should polls govern education?

On Friday 10/14, my local paper, The Columbus (OH) Dispatch, published an article about the evolution vs. intelligent design debate that has grown hot with the court case going on in Dover Pennsylvania.

The article by Dennis M . Mahoney, titled “Science or democracy?Most voters favor ‘intelligent design, but should polls govern education?”, talks about how most Americans favor the teaching of Intelligent Design along with Evolution in school science classes. The web version of the article is restricted to subscribers but if you would like to read it before reading my commentary just follow this link: Science or democracy?.

The Pew and Harris Poll organizations did a recent survey, in June and July 2005, and found the following bits of info:

  • 55 percent believe that evolution, intelligent design and creationism should be taught in public schools.
  • 54 percent do not think humans developed from earlier species.
  • 46 percent agree that Darwin’s evolution theory is proven by fossil discoveries; 48 percent disagree.
  • Results of a Pew poll conducted in July:

  • 64 percent favored teaching creationism along with evolution; 38 percent approved of replacing evolution with creationism.
  • 48 percent said humans and other living things evolved over time; 42 percent said they have always existed in their present state.

Sources: Harris Poll, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

Shouldn’t the “public” decide what is taught in the public schools?

Paul Djupe, political science professor at Denison University, said he believes there’s not widespread support for using public opinion to determine school curricula.

Many believe that experienced teachers and administrators are the best judges of what should be taught in certain subjects, he said. Still, there are parents who feel that if children are to be taught something that squares with their religious faith and doesn’t disrupt schooling, there is no harm, Djupe said.

While on the other side:

[John Calvert, managing director of the Kansas-based Intelligent Design Network] said polls showing that people want intelligent design taught in schools indicate that parents don’t want their children brainwashed. That’s happening now, he said, and the teaching of evolution has become a doctrine “that does not allow dissent from a naturalistic perspective.”

“Students should be taught evolution honestly,” Calvert said. “And that means that you show both sides of the scientific controversies.”

Calvert has a problem on a couple of fronts. First Intelligent Design (ID) is a religious concept and second the dissent he talks about doesn’t exist within the science community concerning Evolution. Yes, it does contradict the Bible’s story of creation just as Galileo contradicted the prevailing religious view when he suggested the Earth revolves around the Sun. He was charged with Blasphemy.

Evolution is the scientific concept describing adaptation of organisms and how that leads to changes. Those organisms that don’t adapt or adapt incorrectly go extinct. It really says nothing about “how life begins”. That charge is simply a strawman created by religionists. The changes that evolution describes is backed up with evidence and hundreds of years of research. ID is not being kept from the table, it just hasn’t presented itself properly.

[Eric Meikle, spokesman for the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, CA] said his organization doesn’t object to science teachers discussing with students at the start of the school year that some people don’t accept the idea of evolution.

If intelligent-design supporters want the concept taught in schools, he said, they must deal with scientists, not just school boards and lawmakers.

“The intelligent-design people have to do science first,” Meikle said. “They need to convince the scientific community that there’s something there. They don’t have to necessarily convince them of everything they see, but they have to convince them that there’s some content.”

Science is not subject to a vote as Meikle says:

“Science as a process is not democratic,” he said. “You don’t get to vote on whether the sun comes up in the east or the west. You don’t get to vote on whether the Earth goes around the sun or the sun goes around the Earth.”

Also in order to “vote” on something one would think that the people doing the voting should be informed about the topic. A recent Gallop poll showed that only 17% of people even knew what “Intelligent Design” meant. People support including ID in the schools because:

“Intelligent design fits comfortably with the idea that God exists,” Meikle said. “And I think that’s a major reason . . . people are willing to be supportive of the idea.”

Letting people vote is good and bad because sometimes they can be wrong.


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