Headmaster’s Thoughts – December 2005

Since December is a month in which religion seems to dominate more than in most others, I write to describe a first for me that happened a few weeks ago. An alumna, who had been in my Ethics class when she was a senior here, asked me if we were going to teach intelligent design.

I was so excited about being asked this question that I began to bore her by going into details about distinguishing between religion and science, and whose design would that be anyway, and maybe some parts were extraordinarily intelligent but others not so. She smartly realized that I was having too good a time answering and that the answer might take more minutes than she had at that moment, and so she ended the conversation by saying that it wasn’t too serious a question anyway.

Pity.

First of all, I am quite proud of referring to her as an alumna. I usually get that word wrong until I remember my boyhood Latin. This sentence will mean less to you if you were clever enough to avoid Latin, but Terra, feminine for Earth, has its plural as Terrae, and Dominus, masculine for Lord, has Domini as its plural. So a female graduate is alumna with a plural of alumnae, and a male would be alumnus with the plural alumni. Why “Earth” and “Lord” were chosen in school as the models, I don’t know, but they were for me and I suspect for a lot of others, too.

But I digress.

Intelligent design surely is not incompatible with science. Indeed, life is so unbelievably unlikely, (and I say this rather smugly having recently read Bryson’s book “A Short History of Nearly Everything”) that it is amazing that we are here. The problem with intelligent design for me is that it purports to be a scientific explanation of what is really a faith-based question. Since I teach Ethics, I am used to dealing with faith-based issues. But we shouldn’t mix facts and faith. Boyle’s law, until disproved, is a fact (it’s something about pressure and expanding gas). A principle of faith is, by definition, a strongly held belief that needs no facts. So let’s not confuse the two subjects.

I also ask: Whose design was the whole thing? I know the answer my co-religionists would say….the single almighty God. But what if it took many Gods, some with different agendas? After all, the dinosaurs were wiped out, so their design must have had some defects. I may not ask that particular question since I have been raised to believe in one God, but a scientist might, and there is the problem. Good problem for an Ethics class, not a subject for Science.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that we will not be teaching “intelligent design” in our Science classes. But if you want to ask me the question, and have about twenty minutes, please ask.

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org