For the Science Room, No Free Speech

Will the federal courts, and the people who rely on the federal courts to enforce secular ideals, ever get it? The anti-school-prayer decisions of the past 40 years — not unlike the pro-choice-in-abortion decisions, starting with Roe vs. Wade — haven’t driven pro-school-prayer, anti-choice Americans from the marketplace of ideas and activity.

Neither will U.S. Dist. Judge John Jones’ anti-intelligent-design ruling in Dover, Pa., just before Christmas choke off challenges to the public schools’ Darwinian monopoly.

Jones’ contempt for the "breathtaking inanity" of school-board members who wanted ninth-grade biology students to hear a brief statement regarding Darwinism’s "gaps/problems" is unlikely to intimidate the millions who find evolution only partly persuasive — at best.

Millions? Scores of millions might be more like it. A 2004 Gallup Poll found that just 13 percent of Americans believe in evolution unaided by God. A Kansas newspaper poll last summer found 55 percent support for exposing public-school students to critiques of Darwinism.

This accounts for the widespread desire that children be able to factor in some alternatives to the notion that "natural selection" has brought us, humanly speaking, where we are. Well, maybe it has. But what if it hasn’t? The science classroom can’t take cognizance of such a possibility? Under the Jones ruling, it can’t. Jones discerns a plot to establish a religious view of the question, though the religion he worries about exists only in the possibility that God, per Genesis 1, might intrude celestially into the discussion. (Intelligent-designers, for the record, say the power of a Creator God is just one of various possible counter-explanations.)

Not that Darwinism, as Jones acknowledges, is perfect. Still, "the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent scientific propositions."

Ah. We see now: Federal judges are the final word on good science. Who gave them the power to exclude even whispers of divinity from the classroom? Supposedly, the First Amendment to the Constitution: the odd part here being the assumption that the "free speech" amendment shuts down discussion of alternatives to an establishment-approved concept of Truth.

With energy and undisguised contempt for the critics of Darwinism, Jones thrusts out the back door of his courthouse the very possibility that any sustained critique of Darwinism should be admitted to public classrooms.

However, the writ of almighty federal judges runs only so far, as witness their ongoing failure to convince Americans that the Constitution requires almost unobstructed access to abortion. Pro-life voters and activists, who number in the millions, clearly aren’t buying it. We’re to suppose efforts to smother intelligent design will bear larger, lusher fruit?

The meeting place of faith and reason is proverbially darkish and unstable — a place to which the discussants bring sometimes violently different assumptions about truth and where to find it. Yet, the recent remarks of the philosopher-theologian Michael Novak make great sense: "I don’t understand why in the public schools we cannot have a day or two of discussion about the relative roles of science and religion." A discussion isn’t a sermon or an altar call, is it?

Equally to the point, what does secular intolerance achieve in terms of revitalizing public schools, rendering them intellectually catalytic? As many religious folk see it, witch-hunts for Christian influences are an engrained part of present public-school curricula. Is this where they want the kids? Might private schools — not necessarily religious ones — offer a better alternative? Might home schooling?

Alienating bright, energized, intellectually alert customers is normally accounted bad business, but that’s the direction in which Darwinian dogmatists point. Thanks to them and other such foes of free speech in the science classroom — federal judges included — we seem likely to hear less and less about survival of the fittest and more and more about survival of the least curious, the least motivated, the most gullible.