News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Who led mother seabird on 2,500-mile round trip?

A mama bird traveled 2,500 miles in 26 days, returning to Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean with food for her chick, according to scientists who tracked her with a satellite.

The story of the endangered frigate bird named Lydia raises more questions than it answers: How did Lydia know where she was going and how to get back to her nest? Did she really need to go that far for food, and if so, why? Was it because humans had polluted the environment near her? Why would she go across shipping lanes, industrial areas, mining sites, heavily fished waters and volcanoes when you'd expect her to find less spoiled areas closer to home? Was her trip unusual, or do she and other birds do this frequently?

People of faith, including those promoting an "intelligent design" science curriculum in schools, would add another question: Who put her up to this?

The latest setback for intelligent design came last week from U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III in Pennsylvania. He said it is religion and shouldn't be taught as science in public schools. Although his ruling does not legally bind other states, it is expected to influence courts throughout the country.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, sees the decision as the last gasp of a judicial philosophy that President Bush's Supreme Court appointments will stop.

"This decision is a poster child for a half-century secularist reign of terror that's coming to a rapid end with (Chief) Justice (John) Roberts and soon-to-be Justice (Samuel) Alito," Mr. Land said, as quoted in The Washington Post.

Maybe, maybe not. But what we know — and what we still hope to learn — about Lydia the seabird comes not from reading the Bible but from cold, hard science.

Some people, probably including skeptics and nonbelievers, will see Lydia's behavior and consider at least the possibility that a higher power is guiding her. If they do, it will be a result of the rigorous scientific inquiry and inventiveness that make it possible to know details of Lydia's behavior, rather than depending on chance sightings by birdwatchers.

Schoolchildren need to learn that science is about objective studies based on evidence — not influenced by assumptions, religious or otherwise, that can't be scientifically tested. Children also need religion, which should be taught in homes, churches and elsewhere, but not in public schools.

What they learn in school about science can bolster their faith. But making science less than objective just hurts its credibility.

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