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No Intelligent Design for PA

A federal court in Pennsylvania struck down “intelligent design” in the classroom. But the ruling likely won’t end the culture war.
December 20, 2005

A federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled today that “intelligent design” is not a science, and therefore cannot be a mandated part of the state’s high school curriculum, according to this Associated Press story.

Of course I’m thrilled with the decision, particularly after all the brouhaha lately in Texas and Kansas surrounding the teaching of Darwin’s evolution theory. I’m not a scientist. I have little more than a hobbyist’s interest in science, which includes about a half-dozen magazines and my weekly intake of PBS’s NOVA. That hardly qualifies me as an expert on what is and what is not science. But, to steal a line from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: I know it when I see it.

I’m even more impressed that the Pennsylvania community came together to take back their local school board from extremists who were more interested in pushing their own agenda than in pursuing a proper science education for their children.

To whit:

The controversy divided the community and galvanized voters to oust eight incumbent school board members who supported the policy in the November 8 school board election.

As we barrel ahead into the digital age, it’s so important that we give our children a strong foundation in the useful arts and sciences, preparing them to further the marvels that are only now starting to be conceived of in laboratories around the world. It’s just so vital. Technology and science won’t solve every problem – many times, they’re simply elbow grease that gets the job done – but they certainly can go a long way towards alleviating some issues, particularly in developing nations.

So, today was a victory for science and technology.

Yet, there is another side to this victory, one that gives me a twinge of sadness…not for the outcome, but for the coming onslaught of battles that will once again pit one part of our country against another.

Possibly I have these feelings because I just finished What’s the Matter With Kansas?, an interesting book that nevertheless failed entirely to accurately capture the reasons that Middle America has turned so far away from coastal America. Let me try to explain…

As I’ve written before, I’m from a small town in northern Appalachia – one that is increasingly being assimilated into the city, despite its somewhat remote location. It’s a place where people fear God in a reverent, Midwestern way. There is no thumping. No revival. Just quiet Presbyterian Sundays and slightly up-tempo Catholic carnivals. It’s a pious place, really, and while I never quite found myself fitting in, I did find myself understanding, at least on some level, why these people – my neighbors and friends – felt as they did.

I kid them about their obsession when I’m home. Many are still trying to get me to come back to the Church. At the end of the day, though, these are my friends, my family, and my neighbors. I love them, and, for the most part, I understand them. It’s a healthy respect that we have for each other – one that, I fear, the looming court battles over evolution and intelligent design won’t improve, as both sides run for the far edges of the political spectrum.

That is what’s the matter with Kansas. As the world has gotten smaller (thank you Internet and cheap commercial flights), our country seems to have gotten larger. We are, by and large, no longer neighbors, friends, and family who can disagree with each other in the lovingly, vicious way that only lifelong kin can.

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