The Philosophy of Design

A rural California school district withdrew a high school philosophy class which explored religious beliefs of Creationism and Intelligent Design. The “Philosophy of Design” class was withdrawn after a lawsuit was filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington based group representing parents.

My point of view as a teacher, Christian, and mother is that Intelligent Design and Creationism should not be taught in a science class. Yes, I believe in a creator. That is my belief. Nothing in science proves or disproves that. But I do believe that students can benefit from the opportunity to learn about these ideas in a philosophy class. There are clear guidelines from the Department of Education about this. So what was it that tripped the anger, the outrage, the lawsuit? Anti religious fury gone amok? Or was the course a means of teaching religion in a public school?

The class, which had 15 students, was taught by a social studies teacher who is married to an Assembly of God minister. The board approved the class offering by a vote of 3-2 in a meeting on New Year’s Day. A major point of division for the board was the lack of guest speakers who could offer a balanced view in support of evolution, as all three guest speakers who were scheduled to speak were in favor of intelligent design. Two speakers were invited to speak about evolution. One speaker who was invited declined, and was part of the lawsuit. The other has been dead since 2004. Oops! How’s that for doing our homework? It does not sound like the program was thoroughly developed – it sounds like it was hastily put together. Why the rush? Something worth doing is worth doing well.

There’s a hint of the problem in the course description sent to parents in December. The class would examine “evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological, and Biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin’s philosophy is not rock solid.”

If you are going to teach students about Intelligent Design, Creationism, and philosophies behind the belief in a creator, why does the course then discuss “evolution as a theory” and “suggest” that Darwin’s “philosophy” is not rock solid? This sounds more like the unteaching, unschooling of what is being taught in the science class.

There’s some very muddled thinking going on here, and it shows that maybe people don’t have a clear notion of what science is. Or what philosophy is, for that matter. Science is not a philosophy. A theory is arrived at after observation, testing, retesting – a process. A theory is not “rock solid”. The course description sets up an argumentative tone – it sounds like the objective of the course is to debate evolution in a non scientific forum than teach the “Philosophy of Design”. And that is where a public school has to be careful about crossing the line between teaching religion and teaching about religion.

It really is a shame that more thorough planning and balance with input from many sources did not go into the “Philosophy of Design”. Such a class could have introduced students to long held philosophies which argue the existence of a creator, such as those advanced by Thomas Aquinas and St. Anselm, and which relate to some of the conclusions of proponents of ID. The topic is timely, and students would benefit from an opportunity to examine the beliefs behind the controversy, and the different nuances in the approaches by proponents of Intelligent Design, Young Earth Creationism, and so on. They should be able to do so in a philosophy class that is truly teaching about the philosophy, the logical constructions of reasoning, and not attempting to disprove a specific scientific theory.