Was the universe created by an intelligent designer, or not? Some will say yes, some will say no, and some (like me) don’t know. The thing is, it’s unlikely any of us will ever be able to prove we are right.
I am neither a theologian nor a scientist, but that seems to me to be the difference between faith and reason. Faith is about belief in the unprovable, the mystical, the mysterious and the ineffable. All of us have faith, we have to, whether we are religious or not. We have faith in many things we cannot prove, like the love others bear for us and the love we bear towards them. There may be no greater leap of faith than becoming a parent.
We have faith in our own emotional instincts and responses. Whenever we react spontaneously to something, say behind the wheel of a car, we demonstrate our faith in our instincts. Indeed, the car analogy is a good one, we demonstrate our faith in the goodwill and commonsense of others by trusting they will stay on their side of the road, particularly on a blind corner or as we climb a hill.
To survive, we must have faith in our own relative safety. These faiths may or may not be illusions (witness the shattered husband or wife who discovers their partner does not love them the way they believed they did) but they are necessary. We could not function properly without them; indeed, depression may, in part, be a loss of such faith, particularly in ourselves.
Some people also have a religious faith.
Science, however, is not about faith, it is about reason. Science, as I was taught it, is about evidence. Given the car analogy I used above, science can give you exactly the odds about how often your faith in others' ability to stay on the right side of the road is misplaced and how often it is not. These facts would probably lead us to be a great deal more cautious in our driving. Those who believe in something, however, start from the point of view that their belief is true, and set out to confirm it, creating the risk that they will fit the evidence to their belief. The scientist, as I understand it, starts from the exact opposite position. Scientists work to disprove their theories, not to prove them, specifically to avoid the pitfalls of, even unconsciously, distorting the evidence.
Evolution has withstood attempts to disprove it for over 100 years. Evidence keeps turning up that strengthens the theory of evolution rather than weakens it. Should evidence suddenly appear that disproves evolution or the Big Bang (theory) or, even gravity, the ideal for good scientists is that they immediately and dispassionately jettison the old theory in favour of the new. Scientists, being merely human, rarely live up to the ideal. But that’s not the point. Faith expects you to stick to your belief, no matter what. Reason expects you to give it up if something more reasonable comes along. Both have their place, both are necessary, but they are not the same.
To be fair, no one can disprove there is an intelligent designer either, but that is also not the point. Those pressing for the theory’s inclusion in school science classes don’t want it to be disproved. They have faith in it. Their motivation is to prove their point of view, not the opposite. That’s why, to me, the theory has no place in the science classroom. The theory of intelligent design has a whiff of propaganda about it, whereas evolution does not.
What I want my children to learn in science class is how to assess evidence dispassionately. I want them to learn, not just the importance of what we know and what we don’t know, but the difference. In fact, I want them to learn and appreciate the difference between faith and reason.
Scripture or religion classes are the place for them to learn about faith. I am happy for them to debate and discuss their beliefs versus other people’s beliefs at any time and in any class, but I want them to learn and understand that no one has an exclusive handle on the truth. Some people believe they do, and that is fine, but when they want to clothe their faith in the mantle of science, then I want my children out of there.
If a school doesn’t understand the difference between faith and reason, then how can it teach such a difference? And if it doesn’t understand such a fundamental element in education, seriously, should it qualify as a school?