So George Will thinks that intelligent design is worth talking about, just not in science class. I don’t agree, but not for a reason I’ve seen anyone else mention. Intelligent design belongs in the science classroom not because it’s science, but because it’s philosophy.
I’ve had this gripe for a long time. Considerations of how a discipline is pursued, and its basic epistomological underpinnings, should not be put off until graduate school. It’s a glaring weakness of secondary and undergraduate college education in the United States that it so often is. I’m not claiming the hard sciences are particularly bad in this regard; in fact, they’re probably better than history and some of the social sciences.
I came to realize how ill prepared undergraduates were to make basic process critiques when I started teaching History of Economic Thought at the UT/Dallas. (Yes, this is an odd course to relegate to a teaching assistant. But until I offered to teach it, it had been in the catalog for ten years and taught once.) You have to start somewhere in a survey course like this; I started with the Scholastics. But you can’t understand anything about how the Scholastics approached economic questions unless you know something about the philosophical structure they used, and in particular the ways they thought it was permissible to argue from individual observation to general theory. Then, when we moved on to the early French and English mercantilists, I realized that my students were no better prepared to understand their epistomology than they were with Aquinas. Most of them had picked up what the mercantilists believed in other classes; none of them had the foggiest notion why they believed it. And so it went, on up into Marshall and Keynes and the standard supply-demand and IS-LM analyses they’d all been suckling since they were freshmen.
And it’s just the same in other disciplines. A student who majors in history spends his entire undergraduate career taking courses that teach him what happened when. They teach nothing about why historians think that happened then, how historians work, how evidence is weighed, how contradictions are reconciled. And students of evolutionary biology learn the evolutionary theories that are currently in vogue. They learn nothing about how those theories are formed and tested. They learn nothing about how one would challenge a standing theory, what constitutes a meaningful challenge, how a priori assumptions focus attention on some evidence and blind us to other evidence.
That is why students of biology should be introduced to intelligent design in the science classroom. I hold no brief for or against intelligent design. I don’t know enough about it to have an informed opinion. But the little I do know seems to place it squarely in the Kuhnian tradition. Evolutionary biology as it currently stands, while it has significant explanatory power and a body of solid physical evidence, has unexplained mechanisms, apparent contradictions. Intelligent design is one approach to correcting those problems. There is nothing unscientific about the process that sometimes lead to scientific revolutions.