I read in the Observer that Richard Dawkins and the British Humanist society are claiming a great victory, because the government have announced that free schools teaching intelligent design as fact may have their funding removed. They have stated that this is a victory for reason and common sense. I am not so sure. I think they've actually picked the wrong battle. Don't get me wrong, I do not believe that intelligent design is science. It isn't, it's a belief. It is not scientifically verifiable. You may or may not believe it to be true, but you will never be able to "proove" God created Adam and Eve.
My issue is not whether such schools teach about intelligent design. It is that they surely should teach the theory of evolution and why it accepted as the explanation for the diversity of life on the planet. They should have to teach what makes something accepted in this way and why science is based on evidence. If the school, having taught the fundamentals of scientific principles, then say "and we believe this to be science and we believe intelligent design to be scientific" I don't have a problem with this, so long as the pupils have been given the information needed to make an informed decision as to what they choose to believe.
I studied biology to A level. We were taught about the theory of evolution and the competing theory of Lamarkism (which in the 1800's was accepted by many faith groups as an alternative to Darwinian Evolution). The reason a discredited theory such as Lamarkism was mentioned was because it was used to show how flawed theories are superceded by ones with sound evidence. The problem with intelligent design and science is that it is completely unscientific. People who subscribe to the theory, subscribe to belief in God. If you accept that God exists, then you have to accept that God is not bound by the normal rules of science. This in effect means that if you roll a six sided dice, you can get a seven. People such as Dawkins take this as proof that God doesn't exist. People of faith take it as proof that with God anything is possible.
Whatever your belief, you should want your children to have the best possible education. Teaching them things which are not scientific in science lessons, can only be acceptable, if they are taught the science properly and the other bits are taught as belief. If the school wishes to include this in the science curriculum I don't have a problem, so long as everything else is fully covered.
For many years, I struggled with the fact that faith and science are seemingly incompatible. I then realised that I was making a mistake trying to compare apples with pears. The early books such as Genesis in the bible, to me, are early man's efforts to try and understand order in the world. As they didn't have the advantages of science, the book had to describe things in understandable terms. One of the things which many people such as Dawkins use to debunk the bible is the fact that early characters such as Noah lived to the age of 950 year. I happen to believe the reason for this is because until the Jewish people were enslaved by the Egyptians, they used a lunar calendar and had no concept of the solar year. Therefore Noah lived for 950 transitions of the moon. When the people were enslaved by the Egyptians, they were forced to use the solar calendar, but they refused to amend the holy texts. Can I prove this? No of course I can't but it makes a degree of sense. What about the story of Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden? I believe that this merely refers to the awakening of spirituality in Adam and the recognition of God as a single entity. It is quite clear that humanity existed long before Adam and Eve and it is also that many civilisations existed with no links to Adam, Eve and the Jewish people. It really doesn't matter. The purpose of religion, as far as I'm concerned, is to help us to live a life where we are committed to building a better world and looking after those less fortunate than ourselves.
In short, faith should be about improving ourselves as people. Not in a competetive "my faith is better than your faith" mould, but as a tool for us to challenge our own behaviour and to make ourselves better citizens. These Free Schools that Dawkins & Co are getting so animated about, should concern themselves less with trying to turn the world of science on it's head, argue that white is black and start turning out well educated students who are a credit to their school and their faith and recognised as such by all people regardless of whether they believe or not. At the end of the day, if I need to see an oncologist to get my cancer fixed, I want to see someone who understands the dynamics of cancerous cell mutation and the chemicals which prevent it. I don't want them to send me home and tell me that if I say ten Hail Marys it will all be alright because you have faith. Sadly the world is littered with the graves of people who don't recognise the old truism, God helps those who help themselves, and fall for all manner of non scientific nonsense when faced with life threatening illness. And that is the purpose of education, to teach us to make good decisions. Give the children the tools they need to face the challenges of life. Anything less is completely irresponsible and such schools should not be allowed to teach children, let alone be state funded.
Have a pleasant Sunday