Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), a physicist, spoke out this month against teaching
intelligent design as science in the nation's classrooms. "A scientifically
literate nation would not permit intelligent design to be presented
and treated as a scientific theory," Holt wrote in an article appearing
on the Internet. "Public school science classes are not the place
to teach concepts that cannot be backed up by evidence and tested experimentally,"
Holt's article followed comments by President George Bush on August
1, in answer to a reporter's question about whether both evolution and
intelligent design should be taught in public schools. "I think
that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought,"
Bush said. Recalling his response as Texas governor to the question
of teaching creationism, he said he "felt like both sides ought
to be properly taught...so people can understand what the debate is
about." John Marburger, Director of the Office of Science and Technology
Policy, who has repeatedly stated that intelligent design is not a scientific
concept, said in an interview with the New York Times that Bush meant
intelligent design could be addressed as part of the "social context"
Two Member Societies of the American Institute of Physics, the American
Physical Society (APS) and the American Geophysical Union (AGU), issued
responses to Bush's remarks. APS President Marvin Cohen stated that
only scientifically validated theories, such as evolution, should be
taught in the nation's science classes (see http://www.aps.org/media/pressreleases/080405.cfm
for the complete APS response). AGU Executive Director Fred Spilhaus
declared that "ideas that are based on faith, including 'intelligent
design,' operate in a different sphere and should not be confused with
science" (see http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/prrl/prrl0528.html
for the complete AGU response).
Holt's article, entitled "Intelligent Design: It's Not Even Wrong,"
originally appeared in the September 8 "Talking Points Memo"
Internet blog, and can be found at http://www.tpmcafe.com/story/2005/9/8/183216/1039/.
Selected portions of the article follow:
"As a research scientist and a member of the House Education
Committee, I was appalled when President Bush signaled his support
for the teaching of intelligent design' alongside evolution
in public K-12 science classes. Though I respect and consistently
protect the rights of persons of faith and the curricula of religious
schools, public school science classes are not the place to teach
concepts that cannot be backed up by evidence and tested experimentally.
"Science, by definition, is a method of learning about
the physical universe by asking questions in a way that they can be
answered empirically and verifiably. If a question cannot be framed
so that the answer is testable by looking at physical evidence and
by allowing other people to repeat and replicate one's test, then
it is not science. The term science also refers to the organized body
of knowledge that results from scientific study. Intelligent design
offers no way to investigate design scientifically. Intelligent design
explains complicated phenomena of the natural world by involving a
designer. This way of thinking says things behave the way they do
because God makes them behave that way. This treads not into science
but into the realm of faith. A prominent physicist, W. Pauli, used
to say about such a theory It is not even wrong'. There is no
testable hypothesis or prediction for intelligent design.
"It is irresponsible for President Bush to cast intelligent
design - a repackaged version of creationism - as the other
side' of the evolution debate.' Creationists and others who
denigrate the concept of evolution call it a theory, with a dismissive
tone. They say that, as a theory, it is up for debate. Sure, evolution
is a theory, just as gravitation is a theory. The mechanisms of evolution
are indeed up for debate, just as the details of gravitation and its
mathematical relationship with other forces of nature are up for debate.
Some people once believed that we are held on the ground by invisible
angels above us beating their wings and pushing us against the earth.
If angels always adjusted their beating wings to exert force that
diminished as the square of the distance between attracting bodies,
it would be just like our idea of gravitation. The existence of those
angels, undetected by any measurements, would not be the subject of
science. Such an idea of gravity is not even wrong'. It is beyond
the realm of science. So, too, is intelligent design.
"Colloquially, a theory is an idea. Scientifically,
a theory is an accepted synthesis of a large body of knowledge, consisting
of well-tested hypotheses, laws, and scientific facts, which concurrently
describe and connect natural phenomena. There are actually very few
theories in science, including atomic theory, the theory of gravity,
the theory of evolution, and the theory of the standard model of particle
physics. Without the ability to test the hypotheses of intelligent
design, it cannot be considered a theory in the scientific sense.
"So who cares? What difference does it make if schools
spend time on unscientific ideas? This raises the role of science
education in the United States. A scientifically literate nation would
not permit intelligent design to be presented and treated as a scientific
theory. Science education is necessary for all students, especially
for those who are not going to become professional scientists. We
must not lose the important American characteristic - hard, practical
"Traditionally, Americans are a faithful people. Most
say they are guided by their faith in their God. Also, Americans are
an intellectually lively people. Our forbearers did not lapse into
lazy thinking. Sometimes it has been called Yankee ingenuity or good
old American know-how. Whatever you call it, it has been a source
of our prosperity and quality of life. Throughout our history, every
farmer, every business owner, every manufacturer, continuously has
been thinking how things work and how to make them better. Americans
have thought like scientists. Not just those in lab coats, but many
Americans, even most Americans. We must not allow this American intellectual
habit to be replaced with wishful thinking or lazy thinking. Intelligent
design is lazy thinking."
"Our weakened state of science and mathematics education
reverberates throughout national and even global issues, and this
should be the focus of our school systems rather than a debate'
that only diverts attention away from the challenges at hand. The
United States must prepare for the changing global economy through
fundamental scientific research fueling technological innovation.
When the tenets of critical thinking and scientific investigation
are weakened in our classrooms, we are weakening our nation. That
is why I think the President's off-hand comment about intelligent
design as the other side of the debate over evolution is such a great
disservice to Americans."