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Great American Dumb Ideas: Designer God

 article about Great American Dumb Ideas: Designer God
The Bible tells us in the first verse of Genesis: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."

And then He did a whole bunch of other snuff until we get, "27. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them."

Or did he?

In the United States, you are certainly free to believe or not believe any of this, and if you are a believer you can teach it to your kids, talk freely about it, even try to sell it to your friends and neighbors if you like. But, there are legal limits. You can't use force, threats, politics, economic circumstance, or any coercive means to get others to believe your favorite religious fantasies. And according to the United States Constitution, the government and religion will be forever separate.

Or are they?

Not under George W. Bush, a Christian fanatic who diverts taxpayer dollars to religious charities. When he's not making war, he talks to and believes in one God, but never to Congress or to anyone who might challenge his ideas.

Back to a basic question: How and when did we get here? Did we suddenly appear in our present form along with all the other species at some point in recent history? Or, did we evolve slowly from other species under the guidance and supervision of God? Or, did we evolve along with all the other species over millions of years as the result of natural law with no help from supernatural forces such as a god?

In many parts of the world, people regard us as crazy when we take the Bible as literal truth. In a recent poll published in the journal Science and reported in the New York Times, people were asked, "Did human beings, as we know them, develop from earlier species of animals?" Over fifty percent of Americans said, "No," rejecting evolution as an explanation of our existence. England and twenty European countries were included in the poll. Only Turkey has more creationist believers than the United States. The top four countries with a majority who accept evolution were Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, and France.

In graphic contrast to the majority of Americans, only about five percent of scientists believe in Biblical creationism. Almost all scientists in all fields accept evolution as a work of nature alone.

The appeal: Ideas about divine creation flourish among the poorly educated, the lower income brackets, and in rural settings. Sadly, these groups describe a majority of Americans. They want to believe in a personal God who not only created humans, but also knows them as individuals, cares about them, and listens to prayers. They want to think God created people as special creatures and that the hand of a personal God is at work in their lives. They accept anecdotes, legends, and testimonials as evidence while fearing science, scientists, and natural law, none of which they understand any more than they understand scientific method.

Faith asks us to believe something to be true when there is no evidence to support it. Faith does not know or honor the rules of evidence in science or law. Twenty-five percent of American college graduates are creationists while sixty-five percent of those without high school diplomas are creationists. The American public school system, for the most part, fails to teach much real science, and students avoid what they consider to be difficult subjects. We import many of our best scientists from countries with better educational systems.

And then there is this obvious truth: the fruits of science make life better, religion divides us.

Making money on it: Underneath Christian fanaticism lies a profit motive. Religious leaders make their money selling belief. Bright, educated people are not buying, so the religion industry has a big stake in people who are uninformed and scared. The educational and social under-classes provide essential customer support. The appeal of creationism is to ignorance, provincialism, and emotion.

For years now, in the United States, Christian fanatics have been trying to force creationism into the public schools, not just as philosophy, but as part of biological science courses. They've worked hard to get their followers onto local school boards where course content can be manipulated against the best judgment of teachers. They made up the term creation science having found that they could not use the word God in their suggested curriculum. When it became clear that the word "creation" was not acceptable when used along with "science," they invented a fraud called intelligent design.

Devout creationist Henry Morris and others put together this idea of intelligent design. It became the guiding principle of The Institute for Creation Research, sometimes known as the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture. Religious organizations and wealthy individuals fund this organization. Intelligent design, however, does not involve any real science or research. It is not the subject of any papers in real science journals.

The Intelligent Design people did have to give up, or pretend to give up, the idea that God created all living things in their present form all at one time. That just would not fly as parts of any high school biology course.

The intelligent design propagandists have two favorite strategies. If they find what they call a gap in the fossil record, they claim this as evidence of creation or at least the fallibility of evolution as an explanation. The absence of one thing, of course, does not prove the existence of something else. Second, they like to find some very complex biological phenomenon and claim that there had to be a designer, such things as a human eye or a complex microorganism could never evolve without divine guidance according to intelligent design theory.

Unfortunately for the creationists, evolution is not a theory, it is natural law. Evolution is not just fossils. Evolution is the experimental development of species variations in a laboratory, and changes observable in nature. It is the study of the historical record provided by genetic material (DNA).

There is little mystery in Darwin's simple propositions: individuals vary in their characteristics, and the environment imposes natural selection that picks which will survive and reproduce. This is far, far less complicated than intelligent design, and it is testable.

Recent court cases in Alabama (McClain v. Alabama) and Pennsylvania (Fitzmiller v. Dover)— cases in which creationists attempted to force their ideas into science education— resulted in resounding defeats for the intelligent design people. Furthermore, mainstream religion in the United States rejects any form of literal creationism along with the idea of intelligent design.

Is there a better idea? If you Google the work of Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D. of the National Center for Science and Education you will find a scientist who had done a great deal to debunk intelligent design and defend a natural science curriculum for high school biology.

Science and scientific method are good ideas. Science works.

Next month: Prohibition

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