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Originally published Friday, June 17, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Lance Dickie / The Democracy Papers

Heaven help us if religion pokes its nose in science class

Heaven help us if the people who would prevent the teaching of the biblical account of Earth's creation succeed in keeping it away from...

Heaven help us if the people who would prevent the teaching of the biblical account of Earth's creation succeed in keeping it away from students.

Certainly, a faith-based view of how the world began has its place in a thoughtful, structured curriculum.

Just keep it out of science class.

Aggressive, purposeful attempts to blend science and religion water down two important topics in a wholly inappropriate setting.

The bullying of school boards across the nation to infuse science classes with distinctly religious and philosophical themes reveals a shameful failure of the education system — in this case, an injection of political science.

Did any of the proponents for brand-specific views of the Bible or subtler forms of theological indoctrination ever stay awake in a social studies class? Does the word "pluralism" have a ring to it?

We live in a country that thrives on a mix of religious viewpoints, with favor toward none. That is a value worth protecting. The alternative yields Iraq, the Middle East, India, Northern Ireland and the Balkans, to name a few places where religious tensions fueled profound human suffering. U.S. history is not exempt.

I have no trouble believing in a God, as the hymn says, "whose robe is the light, whose canopy space." At the same time, scientific inquiry that explains a complex natural world does not diminish my faith.

Where those lines are drawn vary among people and religions. That is why there is not one arbiter — at least in this country — of where the boundaries fall. So far.

Schools need to stay focused, essentially, on a dictionary definition of science, this one courtesy of Webster's: systematized knowledge derived from observation, study and experimentation carried on in order to determine the nature or principles of what is being studied.

The bugaboo, of course, is evolution, which is derided as a theory. Has anyone ever claimed otherwise? As with all theories, it stands ready to be poked, prodded and disproved. Always. That is the nature of science.

Advocates for particular religious interpretations strain to dress up their challenges and defenses in scientific language, but fundamentally, they could never admit to being wrong. To acknowledge defeat or doubt would be to deny their beliefs. That is the nature of religion.

A vastly more sophisticated attempt to put a theological twist on evolution is intelligent design. ID argues life down at the cell level is far too complex to have happened over time through natural selection or random mutation.

And if that is so, there must be — without saying God — an intelligent designer involved. Advocates have heavy résumés and artful analogies I cannot easily understand — or refute — and neither could students getting a so-called balanced view.

But scientists pick apart the philosophy like a taco salad. The biochemistry and mathematics of intelligent design are dismissed by those who work with — and respect concepts based on — observation, study and experimentation.

For this layman, it is all vaguely reminiscent of Erich von Daniken's "Chariots of the Gods?" This pseudo-science fad of the early 1970s looked for cosmic connections to mysterious features on Earth. The question mark was key, because the author largely offered a string of entertaining but scientifically shaky "what ifs?"

My humble solution? Leave science education — including evolution — to its own realm. I am confident the scientific community would be the first to celebrate a humbling exposure of Charles Darwin's theory.

Ignore oh-so-coy intelligent design, and have students explore the common thread that runs through this whole debate: Who are we and where did we come from? Students need to know humankind has searched for explanations for millennia.

Let world-religion classes explore the spectrum of creation beliefs: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, African, Egyptian, Hindu, Shinto, Ancient Greek, Aborigine, Norse, Filipino, Samoan and Iroquois. For starters.

Young minds need a broader, confident world view, especially as the United States becomes a richer mix of ideas and beliefs, and globalization shapes more of the economy.

We live in a big world that developing minds ought to be able to explore. Mixing science and religion to devalue one, degrades both.

Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is ldickie@seattletimes.com

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