Montanan Shenanigans

| 27 Comments

There's rumbling in Darby, Montana. The school board there seems to be ready to adopt an ID curriculum, and they anticipate lawsuits over it, although they have support from the Speaker of the House of the state legislature. But now, the board's in trouble because they held a behind-closed-doors meeting where they apparently decided to rescind a job offer extended to a new superintendent of schools, and offer it instead to another person because of his "a sense of strong spirituality."

The Ravalli Republic, a local newspaper, has filed suit against the board for its closed meetings. Now, Montana law on open meetings appears to be pretty strong--the state Constitution, Art. II s 9, declares that "No person shall be deprived of the right to...observe the deliberations of all public bodies...except in cases in which the demand of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure," and under the statutes enforcing open meetings requirements, courts can void decisions made at closed-door meetings. See, e.g., Bryan v. Yellowstone County Elementary School Dist. No. 2, 312 Mont. 257, 274 (Mont.,2002) ("open meetings violations remain of utmost concern to this Court. Nothing in this opinion should be interpreted to suggest that violations of open meeting laws by any entity subject to those laws will not result in voiding decisions so reached. We will not hesitate to affirm a district court's determination to void such decisions or reverse a court's refusal to do so." quoting Common Cause of Montana v. Statutory Committee to Nominate Candidates for Com'r of Political Practices, 263 Mont. 324, 333-34 (1994)). Why the school board secrecy, though? Because not all the parents are real thrilled about their kids being taught lies. Not to mention the fact that "Both federal and Montana's civil rights acts forbid religious discrimination by employers." Wolfe v. State, Dept. of Labor and Industry, Bd. of Personnel Appeals ex rel. Helena Educ. Ass'n, 255 Mont. 336, 339 (1992). See also McCann v. Trustees, Dodson School Dist., 249 Mont. 362, 364 (1991).

27 Comments

1 in 10 to the 200 billionth chance? The largest I’ve heard so far from the ID movement is 1 in 10 to the 113rd. I’m hoping that was a mistake.

Beyond that little numerical flump, the article described this Curtis Brickley fellow (I’m new to studying the controversy, so if he is more familiar to everyone than I thought, I apologize) as a “parent” and did not elaborate on any scientific, or even professional, credentials. I did a little research. Apparently he’s a reverend with Power of One Ministries. I have not been able to find anything online about Power of One other than it is associated with news articles about Brickley’s stand against evolution.

http://www.lifeway.com/lwc/article_[…]0170,00.html

This Christian site suggests that neither Sagan nor Christians are as stingy about the odds of life-arising as the second-linked article suggests.

Also, in what can only be attributed to divine providence, I discovered a link at the site which will enable me to finally find freedom from my homosexuality. Mom will be so proud.

If Timothy’s presentation of these facts is accurate (and I have no reason to think otherwise given the press accounts), then I agree that the Board’s conduct is probably in violation of the state constitution. The fact that they may have used a “religious test” violates article VI of the U.S. Constitution. I am with Timothy on this one.

Frank

“Duggan said the school district issues are driving a wedge through what is typically a tight-knit, supportive community.”

The Wedge at work.

I’m having trouble understanding this strange use of ‘lie’ as if it’s synonymous with ‘falsehood’. In English, at least outside the contexts of opposing intelligent design and opposing President Bush, a statement isn’t a lie unless the person telling it believes it to be false.

In English, at least outside the contexts of opposing intelligent design and opposing President Bush, a statement isn’t a lie unless the person telling it believes it to be false.

I don’t think ignorance is much of an excuse. IMO, reckless disregard for the truth is just as bad as intentional deceit. For all practical purposes, there’s no way to tell them apart.

In the law, a negligent misrepresentation is as actionable as an intentional one, and both are collectively referred to as “fraud.”

Then be accurate in your criticism and describe it as parents not liking kids being taught falsehoods by people who ignorantly believe those falsehoods.

I take issue with your calling it reckless disregard for the truth. These are complex arguments that the average layperson has a hard time understanding and won’t have equal access all the time to both sides of the story. I therefore find it intolerable that you consider it inexcusable ignorance to find the ID arguments compelling and try to convince others of this, even if it turns out that no ID argument in the end should convince someone who understands the issues aright. Therefore, assigning these people to the same moral category as liars is in itself lying in an inexcusable way.

What strikes me as odd about this whole thing is that the ID crowd, as far as I’ve seen, just wants the ID arguments and the arguments against ID presented alongside the arguments for standard non-theistic explanation. I can’t see any way to represent that as even falsehood if it’s required to be presented in the form of the arguments given from each side. Every philosophy course I’ve ever taught goes about it in exactly that way, and my students tend to think it’s fairly balanced, even when they sometimes know what my own view is. I don’t see how this should be anything different. Calling it deceptive or lying is downright awful if even calling it a falsehood is a misnomer. What it is is a balanced presentation of two different views, one of which is the dominant view among scientists and the other a fairly small but vocal minority. If presented that way, then it’s just flat-out truth. As far as I’ve seen, the leaders of the ID movement want that kind of presentation exactly.

Oh, sure, we all beleive in John Stuart Mill’s collision of truth and error and all that.

My question is more simple: What has ID done to deserve “balanced presentation” status alongside evolution? Why does ID, unique among falsehoods, get to be placed into collision with evolutionary theory? Why not, say, Norse mythology? Or Aesop’s fables? Or some other equally erroneous and conflicting set of theories? What makes ID so special?

In answer to Jeremy Pierce’s comment, the evoluton vs. creationism/ID debate should be taught in philosophy/comparative religion/social studies classes. The debate is fascinating and relevant, but it is not a scientific debate because creationism/ID is not accepted by a significant number of professional biologists. At best, ID is a hypothesis with precious little legitimate work to back it up. Creationism is not accepted by any biology professor teaching at a secular American university. I agree that “falsehood” is accurate. “Lie’ is not.

Mr. Pierce:

The “equal time” argument is a convenient platform because it appeals to the public’s sense of fairness, as apparently it has appealed to you. Fairness, however, has nothing to do with the real issue at hand. That is: should public schools be permitted to teach what is, at bottom, a religious position – one with no foundation whatsoever in science – in a science classroom?

Many ID advocates try to frame the question in different terms, most obviously when they deny the middle clause. This is where the lies/falsehoods/obfuscation/etc. enter into the picture. Don’t assume that the national-level advocates of ID are sincere in their “scientific” convictions. More that one has occasionally been rash enough to make public statements that show convincingly that the greater concern lies with the religious dimension of this controversy.

The institutional sources of ID advocacy are collectively little more than sophisticated propaganda machines. School boards have an ethical and a constitutional duty to see through their garbage – bottom line. There is no excuse for accepting ID as it’s presented in these cases; relevant information is available to anyone with internet access seeking to develop an informed opinion. Just as ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it, ignorance of science on the part of law- and policy makers is no excuse for incompetently legislating on matters of science.

Ralph: Make sure you distinguish between intelligent design and the various senses of ‘creationism’. Intelligent design is a philosophical argument based on scientific data accepted by the consensus. Creationism in most people’s minds is a six-day process based in theological views, and this kind of creationism is inconsistent with current scientific consensus. ID doesn’t argue for that. ID proponents see everything they say as consistent with the current consensus, just going beyond it because the current consensus hasn’t explained everything.

The more literal sense of creationism is simply theism. Many biology professors at secular universities are creationists in that sense, including Ken Miller at Brown Univerisity. I can’t even figure out what you’re saying until you start playing fair and using terms properly or defining them in your misuse of them so I know we can use them consistently without leaping fallaciously from one definition from sentence to sentence. That you call ID creationism and act as if the debate is between evolution and ID is testament to your not doing this. The very explanation of this site does the same thing, in fact. It says it’s about evolution and those who oppose evolution and then spends most of its time arguing about an issue orthogonal to evolution. That’s quite a dirty trick.

eon: You’re making an even worse mistake than Ralph. ID is not a religious position (or maybe it’s just the same mistake but more explicit). ID is most definitely a philosophical position. The ID authors often mistake it for a scientific position, and those who wish to dismiss it without argument often mislabel it as religious, but both groups have their head in the sand. It’s a classic philosophical argument going back thousands of years, at least to Plato and Aristotle if not further back. Each time it presents a feature that appears to have been designed. The argument later gets rejected when someone offers an explanation of the appearance of design without appealing to a designer. Then someone finds a new piece of data that appears to be designed but still without an explanation for the apparent design. This has happened many times in the history of science (e.g. Aristotle with the complexity of organisms, 19th? century scientists with the origin of life, 20th century scientists with the origin of the universe and its cosmological constants, and now Behe and crowd with the complexity of the cell).

Each time the argument is offered, it’s not based on religion or science but on a scientific premise and a philosophical premise (that something that appears to be designed, if no explanation is given for its apparent design, should at least give us reason to think it may have been designed). This is a fairly good argument if there turns out not to be an explanation of the data. I don’t know enough of the current issues to evaluate any of the current arguments for ID. I do know, however, that those who label it religious are either offering an ad hominem argument based on the fact that some people holding it also happen to be religious (which is extremely deceptive) or are misunderstanding the premises of the argument (which is negligence on the part of a professional working in the field trying to give a professional response to the argument). Neither is fair to the ID theorists. Both seem to me to be common on this site and others that criticize ID.

The problem with the ID movement is not the ID concept, but the ID movement itself. Many people seem to have no problem reconciling science with their spiritual beliefs, and it has been pointed out that many people see God (or whoever) working through evolution. However, each time I need a reason why the ID movement is wrong, I reread the Wedge document. It’s goal is to destroy the theory of evolution, and it will not hesitate to use any political or propaganda tool at it’s dispersal. The mere fact that it’s goal is not the pursuit of knowledge but the destruction of it should be reason enough that it can’t be allowed to succeed.

I take issue with your calling it reckless disregard for the truth. These are complex arguments that the average layperson has a hard time understanding and won’t have equal access all the time to both sides of the story.

I don’t think it’s the average layperson who’s at issue here. These pro-ID bills don’t come out of nowhere when a bunch of citizens get up and ask for it; they come out of national organizations like the Discovery Institute, which calls itself a scholarly think-tank run by full-time fellows with academic degrees. I don’t think these people can be defended by appealing to their ignorance.

The fact is, many (if not most) of the arguments that they use, or the “facts” that they cite, are just plain false. They’re not false simply because they’re misleading, they’re false in the trivial sense that the exact opposite is known to be true. For example, when Philp Johnson says that no natural processes can create genetic information, and he says it repeatedly, he is promulgating a falsehood*. And since Johnson is a scholar – one who claims to take an interest in evolution to boot – there is simply no excuse for this. He is either lying, or he cares so little for the truth (i.e., reckless disregard) that he couldn’t be bothered to properly research one of his major theses.

You can try to spin it however you wish, but these kinds of falsehoods are precisely what get stuck into proposals for curriculum overhauls that come up before schoolboards. The people responsible for spreading these falsehoods are liars, and aside from being politically sensitive, I see no reason to pretend otherwise.

*( BTW, many more Johnson falsehoods can be found here.)

ID is most definitely a philosophical position. The ID authors often mistake it for a scientific position, and those who wish to dismiss it without argument often mislabel it as religious, but both groups have their head in the sand. It’s a classic philosophical argument going back thousands of years, at least to Plato and Aristotle if not further back.

You’re welcome to view it this way if you wish, but that’s not how the ID movement views it. They claim that ID is a scientific theory that is backed up by empirical evidence. And the “evidence” that they cite happens to consist of fraudulent claims about biological evolution. And it’s these fraudulent claims, alongside the notion that ID is a legitimate scientific alternative, that they’re trying to get taught in public school science classes.

That makes the issue somewhat different than a mere philosophical debate. When ID advocates make claims about science, then it becomes legitimate to critique them based on what we know about science. Not the science of Aristotle, but the science of today.

Jeremy:

“Then someone finds a new piece of data that appears to be designed but still without an explanation for the apparent design. This has happened many times in the history of science (e.g. … now Behe and crowd with the complexity of the cell).”

Behe and crowd weren’t the first to appreciate the complexity of “the cell” by a long shot, nor were they the first to point out that NOBODY will ever be able to answer every question that a human might ask about “the cell.” Any scientist will tell you that.

The issue is whether, with respect to the latter question, we want to teach in our science classes that every unanswered question should be addressed by resorting to a supernatural explanation, namely, “the designer made it way.”

And if it’s not fair to prevent ID “theorists” from expressing their “theory” I assume you’d have no problem with the teaching the additional detail that the designer of all those complex cells, galaxies, etc. could very well be Satan. I think that is the most interesting explanation, really, for most cells (especially bacteria) and no one has been able to explain to me why Satan isn’t the likely designer the ID “theorists” are referring to. Can you? If not, then I will start assembling my “vocal” minority to ensure that we aren’t left out. It’s all about fairness, after all.

horned one: The objection that the designer doesn’t have to be the traditional theistic God is standard fare and should be presented with the argument. I do that myself when I teach the teleological argument. I also teach the problems with that objection having to do with cumulative case arguments involving different attributes of God and that most people who use such arguments in their own beliefs are doing it in the context of other things that their experiences may justify them in believing, including God’s goodness.

Steve: I never said anything against using the science of today or for using the science of Aristotle. I said the argument Aristotle presented was refuted based on later science. Then other versions of the argument came in, consistent with the science of their day, and those were answered with later science. The irreducible complexity of anything could be used to support a design argument, as long as there’s no alternative explanation that we might think follows from things we do know. The issue here is exactly whether there are such explanations.

I’m not assuming one answer or the other to make my point. My point is that it’s philosophy that gets us to figure out how to sort through that sort of issue, not religion and not science. It’s therefore a philosophical conclusion that supports scientists’ saying what they say in support of evolutionary theory. If the philosophical background of evolutionary theory is made clearer to the average person, shoddy thinking will more easily disappear. None of these philosophical foundations ever get discussed, though. People just teach that we know evolutionary theory to be correct, and that easily gets dismissed as a false claim to knowledge by the other side. If both views are taught, and the reasons for each view are analyzed, then students will be able to see for themselves why the dominant view in science is evolutionary theory without a need for intelligent design.

Too many people think teaching both would necessarily be a concession to the “creationists” that there’s a real dispute, which would signal that evolutionary thought isn’t as dominant as it really is. I think teaching both would allow people to confront the issues directly. Most of the biology teachers don’t believe a word of ID anyway, so what are you worried about? It would allow teachers to point out that there are explanations for the things that are explained and that every design argument in the history of science has had an explanation cancel it out. I’m not sure why that kind of presentation would scare people so much.

Oh, and I’ve never heard of anything called a Wedge document.

Jeremy, http://www.antievolution.org/features/wedge.html for the Wedge document. It outlines the goals and strategies of the Discovery Institute’s intelligent design movement. See the book “Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design”, by Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross for the complete story on ID and the Wedge.

Jeremy:

“[Teaching ID] would allow teachers to point out that there are explanations for the things that are explained and that every design argument in the history of science has had an explanation cancel it out.”

If what you are proposing is that science teachers teach their students why ID is a bogus supernatural non-answer to *scientific questions* about life on earth, then I am all for that.

Most of the biology teachers don’t believe a word of ID anyway, so what are you worried about?

What I am “worried about” is that teachers will be mandated, as part of the curriculum, to teach things which are simply false. Most of the proposed ID bills floating about in various states or local schoolboards that I’ve seen don’t require that students learn about deep philosophical issues concerning scientific epistemology (which I don’t think is appropriate anyway), they mandate that students are taught things which are false or deliberately misleading. Most of these bills seem to be taken straight out of Jonathan Wells’ Icons book, which is littered with BS. How do you defend requiring students to know something when that “something” is just plain wrong?

If we were to excise all of the counterfactual claims from these various ID bills floating about, then we might have some interesting explorations of the nature of science and evolutionary theory left over. Maybe. But it’s not clear that these kinds of exercises are really worthwhile. Is there time for highschool students to explore the creation/evolution controversy in depth, when they maybe get three hours of class to explore evolution per se in depth? Are serious philosophical issues (and I must stress, the ID camp is as guilty of crappy philosophy as they are of crappy science) the sort of thing that students should spend time on in highschool biology class?

Difficulties aside, it’s certainly not the intention of the ID movement to enlighten students about these kinds of issues. It is their avowed intent to use ID as an evangelism tool. Why even bother trying to accomodate them?

Sorry. I should have linked to it, but I’m lazy.

From Jeremy:

“Creationism in most people’s minds is a six-day process based in theological views, and this kind of creationism is inconsistent with current scientific consensus. ID doesn’t argue for that. ID proponents see everything they say as consistent with the current consensus, just going beyond it because the current consensus hasn’t explained everything.”

Really? Exactly what is the ID position on the age of the earth?

Jeremy wrote: “Ralph: Make sure you distinguish between intelligent design and the various senses of ‘creationism.’”

I made that distinction: “ID is a hypothesis with precious little legitimate work to back it up.”

That statement certainly distinguishes ID from any definition of creationism.

Jeremy wrote: “That you call ID creationism and act as if the debate is between evolution and ID is testament to your not doing this.”

I never called ID creationism. Creationism, or more accurately if you want to split hairs, “creation science,” does not even rate being a hypothesis.

Jeremy wrote: “ID proponents see everything they say as consistent with the current consensus, just going beyond it because the current consensus hasn’t explained everything.”

I beg to differ. ID proposes that there are biotic structures and processes too complicated to be a result of the mechanisms described in the Theory of Evolution. The “current consensus” (It is really a near consensus since we are splitting hairs.) accepts that the Theory of Evolution does explain these complications quite adequately, which leaves ID unsupported, unnecessary, and contrary to the “current consensus.”

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Jeremy:

Your position on ID is simply naive. If you’re not aware of the Wedge, you have no functional knowledge of the modern ID movement.

One of the (many) difficulties with the Design argument is that it immediately goes into an infinite loop, when asked the simple question “Who designed the Designer?” Eventually one has to come to an Undesigned Designer, i.e., an Uncaused Cause, which in Western theology is an argument for the existence of God. Really, the only way out is to assume that causality is an illusion, as is time… Not a position that the DI’ers would like to climb into bed with, I’d guess.

The Design argument has embedded in it the supposition of a divine Being. Hence it cannot be taught in the public schools without running afoul of the Establshment clause. If you read Forrest and Gross, that’s the IDers’ point: to get rid of that inconvenient little bit of civil liberty.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Timothy Sandefur published on April 15, 2004 6:08 PM.

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