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Originally published Friday, August 5, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Editorial

The philosophy of intelligent design

Intelligent design is the new name for the idea that the Earth's different species originated through the active management of God. In his recent remarks...

Intelligent design is the new name for the idea that the Earth's different species originated through the active management of God. In his recent remarks, President George W. Bush did not say he believes this. He said that the idea "ought to be properly taught" in schools "so that people can understand what the debate is about."

These are not the words of a man trying to impose a theocracy. Bush is a politician trying to paper over an issue that divides his supporters. The president tried to redefine the issue as a matter of freedom of speech. But freedom of speech means no one can be penalized by the government for lawful speech. It does not mean that everyone gets equal time on the radio, in the newspaper, in the pulpit or in science class. Nor does it mean all opinions have equal weight.

This is particularly true of science. A scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable to fail. The theory of evolution, for example, postulates complex life arising from simple life. If the geological record showed otherwise — that the further one went back, the more complex life was, or that unrelated species repeatedly appeared as if from nowhere — that would falsify the theory.

Intelligent design implies that God did it. That may be true. Certainly, millions of Americans believe so. But intelligent design is not a scientific theory because there is no set of facts that would disprove it. No matter what science says tomorrow, a believer in intelligent design could say, "Yes, that's the way God did it."

These issues are important for students to discuss, as the president said. But where? Presidential science adviser John H. Marburg III, who told The New York Times that intelligent design "is not a scientific concept," said Bush believes it should be discussed as part of the "social context" in science classes.

That's possible, though the better place for intelligent design to "be properly taught" is in an elective philosophy class.

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