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Creation and Science Friction

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Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana .parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.

My current fixation is “intelligent design,” the belief that life as we know it must have been the handiwork of Someone With a Plan.

I was a C student in science, so I’m not the one to explain the ins and outs of intelligent design versus evolution. I’m just a planetary resident wondering: How the heck did we get here?

Of more immediate interest is whether intelligent design is coming to a public school nearby any time soon, especially after President Bush said recently that he sees nothing wrong with the idea.

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Even here in the O.C. -- a fertile garden of Christian evangelism and political conservatism -- the answer is probably no. That’s the prognosis of Ryan Huxley, programming director at the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center in San Diego. The center’s last foray into Orange County was in 2004, a 15-week course on intelligent design theory at Coastland Christian Bible College and University in Laguna Niguel.

Huxley, quite hip to the contention that intelligent design is creationism warmed over, says ID isn’t ready for a high school curriculum. Nor, he says, has he heard any buzz from anyone advocating it for Orange County schools. The ID center is concentrating on setting up clubs on college campuses in the United States and abroad, he says.

“The majority of people I’m aware of in the intelligent design community don’t want to see it taught in schools,” Huxley says. “It’s other people who seem to want to have it done. We don’t want to see philosophy or religion taught in science classes.”

ID adherents contend that life as we know it is simply too complex or ordered, if you will, to have occurred without a guiding hand. Huxley says his center doesn’t say who that guiding hand is, but concedes that many other ID supporters have a pretty good idea.

“I guess I’d be a little happier if this sort of exposure [for ID] were happening several years down the road,” he says. He thinks ID is unfairly knocked but also concedes that the theory “is still a relatively young idea and a lot of details still need to be fleshed out.”

But when I ask why it shouldn’t be taught, Huxley says, “I think it should be allowed to be taught, but not mandated.” Teachers would have to do it in a responsible way, he says, because the subject of life’s origins and meanings “can touch on personal philosophical beliefs ... “

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Uh, yeah.

Like many of my fellow Americans, I have way too many questions to automatically buy into any designer theory, yet cannot honestly claim to fully comprehend the sweep of evolution either. It’s hard enough contemplating hundreds of millions of years having gone by, let alone grasping the historical link between a sea slug and Bill Gates.

For that reason, intelligent design discussions don’t send me shrieking from the room. I have no idea how, or if, ID could be taught in a science classroom. But I don’t see why high school teachers discussing evolution couldn’t make it clear to students that not everyone buys into it. Nor would I blanch if they outlined the arguments of intelligent design supporters.

That is not the same as “teaching” it or giving it scientific credence.

That’s as far as I’m prepared to go. It’s not my fault evolution is so hard to grasp.

Huxley says not to worry. He doesn’t disavow natural selection or genetics, the cornerstones of the evolutionary process. He merely follows that up by asking the question that Peggy Lee sang about: Is that all there is?

He thinks there’s more, and that science supports it. “We would say it’s perfectly valid science,” he says of ID, “because it makes use of observation, hypothesis and going through experimentation to test them and then coming up with conclusions on their validity.”

And I’ll leave it there, against the backdrop of the sound of scientists throwing down their newspapers and walking away, muttering.

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