Cobb County Disclaimer Goes to Court

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A few years ago the Cobb County (GA) Board of Education installed the following disclaimer in their biology textbooks. (Contrary to what you might think, Cobb County is the most affluent and one of the least Georgian counties in the state. Damn conservative Yankees making my state look bad.)

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.

After two years and three classes of students that have had their science education undermined by the Cobb County disclaimer against evolution, the ACLU suit against the disclaimers is finally going to trial. Federal Judge Clarence Cooper recently ruled against the Cobb County Board of Education’s latest motion to dismiss the suit.

The suit is the only legal action being taken by any community against the latest wave of assaults on science education. While they are prepared with witnesses, evidence, and a truly strong case, they are again, as they were for the taking of depositions, in need of funds to meet the costs of prosecution. Over a year ago, they asked for help, and it came through. People raised sufficient funds to pay for the sorely needed depositions. With the trial on the horizon, they are again asking for help.

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83 Comments

Oky Dookey, or however you should spell that. Figure that it costs $10 just to open the letter, and cash the check, so I recon’ that a $20 donation is about minimum.

In July I renewed my membership. I urge everyone out there to find out what the ACLU does, and support them.

This is an awesome and timely post. Thanks Reed!!!

Reed,

Debbie’s been a close friend of Ginger’s and mine for the better part of 20 years. She fights the good fight.

Oy, I live in Atlanta, and work in the Northern Burbs, and this is depressing. I haven’t joined the ACLU yet, but I think this pushes me over the edge.

Just curious,

Do you folks object to the statement, the fact that it is required, or both?

In my opinion, the statement arguably true, in a fill in the blank kind of sense, e.g., it just as easily could claim:

This textbook contains material on String Theory. String Theory is a theory, not a fact, regarding the fabric of spacetime. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.

There is nothing wrong with this statement, even when referring to evolution, in fact any teacher/professor that does not adhere to it in any science instruction is a bozo.

So I can’t imagine objecting to the statement itself, although I am very sympathetic to resisting a government mandate to include it in textbooks.

Now the statement

After two years and three classes of students that have had their science education undermined by the Cobb County disclaimer against evolution

Is just too much, too melodramatic, for many reasons. Get real. First of all, as I stated, some scientists would agree with it in the generic sense I discussed above, so how can it “undermine” science education. Second, it’s elitist, for essentially the concern is that while we (the enlightened) can see through it, the overly pliable youth will be turned into frothing Pat Robertsons. Give me a break.

In truth, this statement will sway nobody. It is a student’s overall world view that will determine whether or not they accept evolution.

Like I have said elsewhere on this blog, I think macro-evolution (I know you guys hate that term, but tough) is a bunch of crap, but I encourage my boys to study it. And if the text book had a disclaimer that read “Evolution is fact, and ID is for lunatics” it wouldn’t bother me a bit, and it would undermine absolutely nothing. I have faith in their power of discernment.

Do you folks object to the statement, the fact that it is required, or both?

Me, neither.

In my opinion, the statement arguably true, in a fill in the blank kind of sense, e.g., it just as easily could claim …

Yes, that’s correct. What I (and I suspect many others) object to is the singling out of evolution. Since that statement is true in some sense for all science, it might be reasonable to include it in all science textbooks worded in a a way so as to clearly apply to all science. However, including it worded so as to apply to only one science gives the false and misleadinbg impression that the results and theories of that particular science are more tenuous and suspect than others.

David Heddle Wrote:

In my opinion, the statement arguably true, in a fill in the blank kind of sense, e.g., it just as easily could claim:

“This textbook contains material on String Theory. String Theory is a theory, not a fact, regarding the fabric of spacetime. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.”

There is nothing wrong with this statement, even when referring to evolution, in fact any teacher/professor that does not adhere to it in any science instruction is a bozo.

Hmmmm.…

If the statement is really just an inoccuous fill-in-the-blank self evident kind of thing that could apply to any science, then why should it be mandated for inclusion at all? And if it’s mandated for biology texts, why not a similar statement in every science text, like a chem text?

This book contains material on quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of atoms. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.

Let’s mandate that too.

Why not?

David,

How about, “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a Scientific theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things, and as a scientific theory - unlike Intelligent Design, which is nothing but Biblical Creation in a new suit of clothes trying to masquerade as something other than religion - evolution is supported by an impressibly large and growing body of multidisciplinary scientific evidence collected over 100s of years of research, observation, and duplicated controlled experiments. A Scientific Theory, in realty, is as close to a fact as is ever claimed in science, and at some point can be considered to be a fact.”

I think that statement, though a bit unwieldy, might suffice nicely.

Dave S.,

Like I wrote (it seems like I have to start many of posts this way–people read what fires them up and ignore the rest) I am sympathetic to resisting a government mandate to include it (the disclaimer) in textbooks.

Bob,

Again, I might object to such a statement on the grounds of government intrusion, but I would not worry about influencing minds. It wouldn’t have had any effect on me, so why should I worry it would affect others? Common sense and experience dictate that such boiler-plate encapsulations carry no weight.

I disagree with your claim that theory can be considered to be a fact. Its predictions can be considered facts–e.g. if I drop a rock it will fall–but the precise explanation is still, and always will be, a theory subject to revision.

For example, just yesterday I read a new SciAm article about a revolution in evolution regarding junk DNA. This highlights that, in a non-pejorative sense, evolution is a theory in progress, not factoids written in stone

David,

Maybe - only maybe - a tad bit of an overreach, but the basic Theory holds remarkably well, and the body of supporting evidence continues to grow. I would agree that there are, and will probably continue to be, disputes and tinkerings over specifics and mechanics but not over the overall Theory.

At a minimum, I think the disclaimer’s use of the innocuous “theory” rather than the proper “scientific theory” creates a (potentially intentional)false impression of its strength. We all know what the fight is all about. Religion/Creationism has no business in a Biology textbook, and this disclaimer is the Wedgies’ first baby step toward an endrun.

As far as government’s place in education, it seems to me that there must be government input and oversight concerning standards and standarization. That does not, to me, constitute intrusion.

No offense intended, but your own beliefs in this area must be considered when weighing the merits of your positions and statements on Science/Faith issues.

Jon writes

What I (and I suspect many others) object to is the singling out of evolution. Since that statement is true in some sense for all science, it might be reasonable to include it in all science textbooks worded in a a way so as to clearly apply to all science. However, including it worded so as to apply to only one science gives the false and misleading impression that the results and theories of that particular science are more tenuous and suspect than others.

Well said. Of course this is the problem.

How about a statement at the beginning of all science textbooks that says, “This is a science textbook. It is not a religious text. If you are religious, please be aware that nothing in this book can harm your soul or undermine your religion. At the end of this course, you will be tested on your understanding of what is written in the textbook, not on the strength of your beliefs. Have a great day.”

David Heddle Wrote:

Like I wrote (it seems like I have to start many of posts this way—people read what fires them up and ignore the rest) I am sympathetic to resisting a government mandate to include it (the disclaimer) in textbooks.

Yes, but you also wrote …

In my opinion, the statement arguably true, in a fill in the blank kind of sense, e.g., it just as easily could claim:

.…

There is nothing wrong with this statement, even when referring to evolution, in fact any teacher/professor that does not adhere to it in any science instruction is a bozo.

Dave S.

Yes I wrote “there is nothing wrong with this statement”. Did you think I wrote that there is nothing wrong with requiring the statement? I did not write or imply that.

David Heddle

My response was to the effect that there is something wrong with the statement.

So not only do I disagree with requiring it (which I know is not necessarily your position), I also disagree with a position that would suggest it’s acceptible to have in there at all.

David H:

Those stickers don’t bother most people too much at all. They don’t bother me anyway. I sometimes wonder though how theists would feel if the shoe was on the other foot?

This book contains mythological material describing an ancient form of supernaturalism/cosmogony common among ANE Cultures. There are competing versions of ANE Mythos which should also be reviewed along with various forms of spiritualism found throughout both early and modern human societies. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.

Now, admittedly my analogy is far from perfect. But would you like to see statements like that on the front of Bibles and Qu’rons? How would you feel about it if the folks who pushed the requirement that that statement be placed on all religious books through the local government were openly atheistic and backed by a National Association of Atheists? Isn’t it factually correct? Even though it is factually correct, might it be possible to misinterpret it to mean more than it really should? Does the term Mythology accurately describe the Bible or could that term be misinterpreted?

~DS~

Fair question, I would of course be upset if the government required such a sticker–which is why I was curious as to whether it was the statement, the mandate, or both that caused the uproar.

Of course, if the government did require such a statement on bibles, what would be the effect? Any number of things, including protests, etc. But what would not be an effect, in my opinion, is the undermining of someone’s beliefs. People would see it for what it was: the government intruding where it shouldn’t.

So fight for the removal of the disclaimer, I’ll even be in your camp. But don’t pretend that the statement has undermined science education.

“Everybody meet our new employee Bob.” “Hi Bob.” “Let me introduce you around, Bob. This is eddie. Eddie’s a great guy. Here’s Sarah. Sarah’s wonderful. Here’s Mr. Reliable himself, Frank. And Jim, you know Jim fixed my car once. Okay, here’s Carl. Carl’s a human, and humans sometimes steal cars, or sleep with your daughter, or shoot people. Anyway. Here’s Raul, Raul is awesome. And here–“ “Hey.” “What Carl?” “Why’d you say all that shit about me?” “Everything I said was factually true, Carl.”

David,

Perhaps it hasn’t occured to you, but the statement is a false. Evolution is both a theory and a fact. Furthermore, evolution is not about the origin of living things. Evolution is about the origin of the diversity of life, not the origin of life.

And in some sense it doesn’t matter what the actual statement is, the fact that material in the curriculium is disclaimed undermines students’ education.

But what would not be an effect, in my opinion, is the undermining of someone’s beliefs.

David, how about some support for your opinion? You know, some kind of argument that a disclaimer which appears on one textbook and not others won’t undermine a student’s impressions as to the relative veracity of the textbook’s contents.

Your claim certainly strikes me as counter-intuitive at best, as Steve’s post 7882 demonstrates. Why do you suppose that teaching materials would be approached differently from any other object or person by teenage students?

As for your other claim, that students would “see it for what it is,” I think that is absurd. Perhaps to ensure that students “see it for what it is,” we should include a statement above the disclaimer which states plainly why the statement is there:

“This statement appears as required by law, said law promulgated at the request of Christians who believe that the contents of this textbook undermine their religious beliefs and increase the likelihood that a reader will choose to become a homosexual. That belief, however, is not supported by any evidence and should be viewed critically, with an open mind.”

So GWW, if you had seen that disclaimer the first time you studied evolution as a teenager, would you have been weak minded enough to be affected?

As for your addendum to the disclaimer, it would be just as absurd as the one about evolution and just as ineffectual. While the evolution blurb would be seen by some as intrusion by religious zealots, your addendum would be viewed by Christian students as common secular humanist nonsense.

In short, both sides would simply ignore it.

Heddle states as a matter of fact:

In truth, this statement will sway nobody. It is a student’s overall world view that will determine whether or not they accept evolution.

There’s that term again. My fundie sensors are tingling.

A couple questions

David, are you referring to the student’s prior indoctrination by his or her parents or church leader when you say “world view”?

In your view, David, which aspect of a “world view” (assuming a “world view” can be divided into aspects) would “determine” that a student could NOT “accept evolution”?

Heddle, sounding like a CECC, writes:

In truth, this statement will sway nobody. It is a student’s overall world view that will determine whether or not they accept evolution.

My sensors are tingling!

In your view, David, which aspect of a student’s “overall world view” would “determine” that a student could NOT “accept evolution”?

I hate this damn server.

What is a CECC? I don’t know if I am one.

What I am stating is the obvious.

A student will accept or reject evolution regardless of some disclaimer in the front of the book. The disclaimer is ineffectual. That said, I agree with you that the government should not require it.

It is demonstrable that not all students will study evolution and accept it. I studied it and did not accept it, and I wasn’t a believer at the time, and came from a family of non believers. And I was very strong in science–so it was not a weakness in matters scientific that made me reject it. Whatever it was, I’m calling it my world view.

If my bio book had a disclaimer in the front that read: “If you don’t accept this, you must be the progeny of Jimmy Swaggart (sp?)”, it would have had no effect.

Heddle writes

So GWW, if you had seen that disclaimer the first time you studied evolution as a teenager, would you have been weak minded enough to be affected?

Nope. But that’s because my parents failed to indoctrinate me that the naturalists were out to take over my mind. I can’t speak for other students whose brains were programmed by evangelical Christian parents or who simply weren’t as intelligent as I was. Not to brag or anything, but I graduated at the top of my class and was always interested in science and evolutionary biology. Surely you agree, David, that intelligence and prior knowledge has something do with how a student will react to such a statement.

your addendum would be viewed by Christian students as common secular humanist nonsense.

Probably. That’s the way many CECC’s tend to characterize indisputable statements about them which expose the prejudicial tenets of their religion. Of course, the term “nonsense” would lose all its meaning if used by CECC’s in that way, but that’s also typical.

CECC = conservative evangelical christian creationist I use the term to avoid capturing benign Christians with my sweeping, totally unfounded, abusive diatribes. ;)

Heddle writes

And I was very strong in science—so it was not a weakness in matters scientific that made me reject it. Whatever it was, I’m calling it my world view.

Okay. So your “world view” “made” you “reject evolution”. In other words, you had no choice but to “reject evolution”, given your “world view” at the time, which (interestingly enough) was not a Christian “world view.” And you claim that you were strong in science.

Presumably the authors of the text books and the authors of the papers which provided the data on which the text book was based were also “strong in science.”

Nevertheless, you were “made” to “reject evolution” because of your “world view.”

I must admit that I have absolutely no idea what you could possibly mean by your statement that your non-Christian “worldview” “made” you “reject evolution.”

In fact, it’s such an odd claim that I’m inclined to think that you’re making it up. What am I missing here, David???

I am not sure if I am a CECC. It sounds like a synonym for a young earth fundamentalist. I am an old earth IDer, and my theology is Calvinistic, if that means anything to you, which is not at all like what is normally meant when someone is described as a fundie. So I don’t really know if I am an CECC.

My first exposure to evolution was classic Darwinianism. Nothing “neo” about it. I remember thinking there just isn’t enough time for all of this. (I still believe that time is a major problem for evolution, but lets not go there).

Was I influenced by other things I read? Possibly, proably, but it wouldn’t have been Christian tracts–I would have pitched those at once. And it wouldn’t have been ID literature, we are talking mid seventies here.

Of course, I could be a liar as you seem to think.

I remember thinking there just isn’t enough time for all of this.

So at age 15? 17? your “world view” dictated that it was impossible, according to the laws of nature as you understood them, for the life forms living on earth back in the 70s and preserved in the fossil record to have evolved?

Did you try to articulate your view rationally/scientifically at the time? Or was your belief something that “simply had to be true” based on an aspect of your “world view” at the time that you haven’t revealed yet?

I can understand being skeptical, surprised, impressed by, or not fully comprehending evolutionary biology as a student.

But we’re talking about “rejecting Darwinism” as a high school student as a direct cause of holding a non-theistic or at least a non-Christian “world view.” I still don’t see how that works unless your “world view” at the time included rejecting every scientific theory you were taught in school. Was that the case?

This still strikes me as an exceedingly unusual scenario, especially for someone who is “strong in science.”

Science deals with things that can be repeated, and the past developments of life cannot be duplicated.

Oh, in that case why all the fuss about destroying the polio virus? Just dump all the remaining stock in a river. In Ohio. After all, past developments of life cannot be duplicated.

So, what sort of “intellectual subjects” do you enjoy Don?

Secondly, there is no goddamn way that you can even throw a theory involving history into the scientific realm. It is simply not science. … I hear a lot of reiterated bullcrap here. Tired arguments have been brought to the discussion here, old statements that are just wrong and misleading.

Few statements here are so wrong and misleading as your second point.

Like it or not, ‘religion’ crosses ‘science’ with this topic. One cannot be taught creation if one believes in evolution and vice versa. The existence of life and its many forms should be studied in a biology book. But the theories of where life began and how it came to be in its current form should not. Remove the origins component from science books and we can all learn to appreciate the wonders of this world.

I know it’s not that simple, believe me. But we have to first recognize the issue. There is so much to be learned in science, but we (all of us) ruin it with the absolutes that are not provable. (and please, don’t even try to “prove” evolution or creation, they aren’t provable)

There is so much to be learned in science, but we (all of us) ruin it with the absolutes that are not provable. (and please, don’t even try to “prove” evolution or creation, they aren’t provable)

Don’t worry, Tom. I won’t try to prove anything to you!

Is it okay with you, though, if I just assume evolution is true because it’s the only testable scientific theory that humans have articulated which is capable of explaining the millions of observations scientists have made about living things over the past several hundred years? You know, kind of how you assume that when you let go of your pencil, it’s going to fall toward you feet (assuming that you are standing up) because of gravity?

Hurry up and let me know! I don’t want to waste my time assuming that stuff like gravity, atoms, and reproduction are real if they’re not. What a shame that would be.

“millions of observations scientists have made about living things over the past several hundred years”… That’s exactly what needs to be taught in biology today (period).

But explain to me how a fossil can be “proved” to be millions of years old. You can’t prove it, no one observed it at that time. I can’t prove that it’s only a few thousand years old either. You can talk about carbon dating and other dating techniques which have scientifically known behavior, but there’s no way to prove that the behavior is uniform throughout time, etc. There are significant flaws in dating techniques.

Why not focus on the “millions of observations” that define what science is today? Whether its through intelligent design or random evolution, it’s still something worthy of studying and classifying as science.

What is not science is the proposition of origins. This is what needs to be separated from science, and left to debate. Present the various positions and let every person come to their own conclusion. If you believe evolution contains stronger evidence, then by “natural selection”, it will win out. If you find creation is a more believable explanation, then God will welcome you into His kingdom with open arms.

Everyone should see the Mount St. Helens video about the rock formations that were created from the first eruption. They are indistinguishable from rock formations estimated to have taken millions of years to form, and yet we have observable proof that MSH’s formations developed in a few weeks’ time.

“Everyone should see the Mount St. Helens video about the rock formations that were created from the first eruption. They are indistinguishable from rock formations estimated to have taken millions of years to form, and yet we have observable proof that MSH’s formations developed in a few weeks’ time.”

Classic creationist bait and switch - either ignorance or a lie:

http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/[…]CH581_1.html

Even if you doubt the actual dates, you still have to explain the *sequence* of the fossil record. Nothing but mainstream science does that.

If you find creation is a more believable explanation, then God will welcome you into His kingdom with open arms.

Then is there a god for smart people, too?

But explain to me how a fossil can be “proved” to be millions of years old. You can’t prove it, no one observed it at that time. I can’t prove that it’s only a few thousand years old either. You can talk about carbon dating and other dating techniques which have scientifically known behavior, but there’s no way to prove that the behavior is uniform throughout time, etc. There are significant flaws in dating techniques.

Actually we can prove they absolute age of fossils by isotope dating techniques. The use of isochron dating methods, and the consistent values obtained for objects of similar ages (as established by relative dating methods) show that isotope dating techniques measure some real physical property.

Further, it can be shown that rates of radioactive decay have remained constant over time by astronomical observations. Thus, observations of the fine structure constant show it to have not varied by more than one thousandth of 1 percent over the last six billion years. This is evidence that decay rates have also varied by no more than that amount. More directly, the energy produced by fission reactions following a supernovas can be observed and plotted against time. Observations such as those of super nova 1987a show radioactive decay rates to have been constant over the last 200 thousand years, more than enough to dispose of creationist alternative dates.

Further, on Earth the Oklo nuclear reactors show that decay energetics have remained constant long into the past. Higher decay rates in a nucleur reactor turns it into a nuclear bomb - whose fossil remains would be quite distinctive. Indeed decay halos in minerals also show that decay rates have been constant - so there is a variety of direct evidence on Earth that isotope dating is accurate.

Finally, we can prove the constancy of decay rates by deduction from the well confirmed theory known as quantum dynamics. This establishes reasonable grounds for accepting the accuracy of isotope dating so that any challenge must provide significant evidence to the contrary - something creationists are unable to do.

So we can prove the ages of fossils, at least in the sense of “prove beyond reasonable doubt”. Admitedly, we cannot prove it beyond “creationist doubt” - but that tells us little about the state of the evidence, and much about creationists.

Tom Wrote:

There are significant flaws in dating techniques.

OK, Tom, fill me in. I’m a physical geologist, so I tend to defer detailed discussions about evolutionary mechanisms to PvM and others, but this one’s in my court.

Specifically, what flaws in what methods? Are you talking relative or absolute dating? Have a particular problem with U-Pb, or K-Ar (or Ar-Ar or Nd-Sm or Lu-Hf, etc.? (I just love being able to work lutetium into a conversation!) Or do you expect to be another “make unsupported assertion” poster for us to snark about?

Neil

I think it’s inefficient that the smart people here have to reargue the same fifteen things every time some dunce stumbles through the door. When possible, I think we should–if we’re even going to respond–link to well-made answers whenever possible.

The dating questions are so stupid that one christian geologist wrote basically a primer for his fellow christians, because he was tired of them, as he saw it, besmirching his faith by making idiotic arguments against solid science.

Radiometric Dating

A Christian Perspective

Dr. Roger C. Wiens

http://www.asa3.org/ASA/resources/Wiens.html

OK, Tom, fill me in. I’m a physical geologist, so I tend to defer detailed discussions about evolutionary mechanisms to PvM and others, but this one’s in my court.

Dating techniques are flawed because they produce obviously wrong answers. We KNOW the earth is only a few thousand years old, God said so! This is Absolute Truth. If the rocks seem old to your techniques, it’s because God MADE them to seem old. Were you there when those rocks were made, huh, were you? If you spent more time with your Bible and less time with your Geiger counter, you could be as righteous as I am. What are you waiting for?

OK, Tom, fill me in. I’m a physical geologist, so I tend to defer detailed discussions about evolutionary mechanisms to PvM and others, but this one’s in my court.

Dating techniques are flawed because they produce obviously wrong answers. We KNOW the earth is only a few thousand years old, God said so! This is Absolute Truth. If the rocks seem old to your techniques, it’s because God MADE them to seem old. Were you there when those rocks were made, huh, were you? If you spent more time with your Bible and less time with your Geiger counter, you could be as righteous as I am. What are you waiting for?

Tom Comment #10099 Wrote:

You can talk about carbon dating and other dating techniques which have scientifically known behavior, but there’s no way to prove that the behavior is uniform throughout time, etc

Yea? If you think that then gravity might stop tomorrow or the Earth might start orbiting the other way and cause the sun to rise in the west…oh wait…maybe the sun will be purple tomorrow.

Flint Wrote:

Dating techniques are flawed because they produce obviously wrong answers. We KNOW the earth is only a few thousand years old, God said so! This is Absolute Truth. If the rocks seem old to your techniques, it’s because God MADE them to seem old. Were you there when those rocks were made, huh, were you? If you spent more time with your Bible and less time with your Geiger counter, you could be as righteous as I am. What are you waiting for?

LOL, Flint. You definitely have their shtick down. Hey, if there was money in trolling, you could make a fortune…at least for as long as you could keep your meals down! Neil

Neil:

So long as my point isn’t lost amidst the words. Creationists come in all levels of sophistication and knowledge, but ultimately they are creationists and deny evolution for the same simple reason: the interpretation the experts assign to the evidence contradicts an unimpeachable preference. It is wrong because if it is not, THEY are wrong.

We should count ourselves lucky that IDers are our opponents. Not everyone has opponents who humiliate themselves in print, the internet, in person, etc.

Flint,

After reading many of your earlier posts, I have been impressed with your grasp of the hard-core creationist mentality. I suggest that regardless of their resistance to reality, we need to continue to respond to them, even if there is little to no hope of them escaping from the (intellectual) Dark Side. My suspicion is that a significant amount of their popular support is ‘soft ‘ and potentially can be convinced by reality-based arguments.

Neil

Neil,

Well, some thoughts on this stuff, for what they’re worth.

1) I really don’t have any good feel for the “shape of the curve” on which we might graph the non-fanatics. Even if we grant that the virulent creationists occupy the tail of the curve, there’s no question that their total output is impressive and influential, and that their strategies evolve through unquestionably intelligent design. Maybe the silent majority is unconvinced, I don’t know.

My personal (and therefore limited) observation is that evolution is terra incognita to the overwhelming majority of the American public. Until Sputnik, it was illegal to teach it in public school. After Sputnik, students might have had a single class session where evolution was presented by unqualified teachers. So most people’s notion of evolution is the standard cartoon sequence of fish crawling out onto land, becoming a dog, then a monkey, then a troglodyte, finally a human. The “ladder” image, which is plain wrong, is about the only “knowledge” knocking around in the otherwise-empty bin labeled evolution in most peoples’ minds. About the only thing concerning this general ignorance in favor of evolution, is that people are aware that science “believes in it”, and science (also very poorly understood) is synonymous with “good” and “smart” in our culture.

Competing with this, as I see it, is a generalized cultural religious homogeneity. Americans are overwhelmingly raised to believe that there is one god, who actually DOES something – most especially with regard to our exalted position as the “highest” life form. Science might be generally agnostic and not factor any gods into their theories, and people are indifferent for the most part. But when science invokes no gods in the origin of US, that’s going too far. When it comes to us, not involving any gods becomes a highly partisan anti-God position, rather than a neutral position.

And this explains the appeal, and the danger, of ID. For those not immersed in this tarbaby, the claim of ID is that “science has discovered that God created us after all.” What a wonderfully congenial message that is - you can keep your faith in both Jesus and science. ID proponents carefully position themselves as trying to get a valid scientific theory into the schools. This is a seductive argument both because it appeals to what people want to hear, and because the fact that it’s a flat lie can’t really be understood without an education effort few people will make.

Anyway, for nearly everyone, exposure to evolution will take place through school and church. I predict that the more it’s presented in school, the more it will be correspondingly be attacked in church, which will regard this campaign as “damage control.” Perhaps bad publicity is better than no publicity? I don’t know how this will shape up.

2) How should creationists claims be responded to? As another thread here argues, patient responses to the ludicrous become ludicrous themselves. This has historically been a problem, adopting a posture with respect to the Big Lie. If one carefully refutes point by point, one can hardly avoid creating the impression that the points being refuted are legitimate, valid, competitive points based on genuine merit. Conversely, responding with ridicule tends to backfire, creating the impression that one is hopelessly closed-minded.

The public debates are an extreme example of this problem. The creationist spews forth a long list of crap that’s not simply wrong, but instead carefully misleading. Each individual point can truly be countered only with an argument the audience would require at least a semester of study to understand – and another semester of different study for each point! And of course, creationists won’t debate unless they get to name the moderator and (usually) bus in their own audience from poor churches in neighborhoods where scientific education is essentially unknown. The notion is, if any scientist agrees to debate the creationist claims must be worth debating; if nobody agrees, then science is locking out non-institutionalized viewpoints.

So the question of the general, popular response is important. I think it’s important to bear in mind that the entire creationist/ID budget goes into PR campaigns and political lobbying, and none into research. Creationists seek hearts, and science defends minds. There is a disconnect here.

3) There is always the outside possibility that evolution’s opponents can find genuine weaknesses in the theory, areas which have been taken for granted and not sufficiently investigated, and the like. Creationist attacks, in other words, are not necessarily 100% dishonest, though of course most of them (as befits a PR campaign) are misrepresentations calculated to take advantage of the target audience simply not knowing (and not *wanting* to know) better. As politicians well understand, *loyal* opposition is an absolutely requirement. I think some creationists are loyal in this sense, genuinely seeking a rapprochement with their faith, rather than a denial.

Flint:

Your responce to Neil is excellent. There is one factor that ought to be included. I used to be both an evangelical Christian, and an YEC. In the end, I ceased being a Christian, but remained agnostic about evolution for at least another 10 years, until I read “The Blind Watchmaker”. The reason I stayed agnostic is because I had an implicit trust that other Christians were trustworthy. It just did not occur to me that Christians would lie about the scientific evidence. Consequently, even as an agnostic, I assumed that the creationists must have some sort of genuine case.

I think this attitude would be wide spread amongst Christians. They would feel that even if the YECs are wrong, there must at least be some evidence in favour of what they say or else they would not be saying it. With that attitude, they don’t need to examine the evidence to “know” that when evolutionists say there is no evidence for YEC, or ID, that the evolutionists are being close minded and stopping “genuine scientific debate”.

For this reason I think it is essential for defeating creationism in the short term that, in addition to detail point by point responces, it should be made clear that the creationists are not being honest with the evidence. Really this should be especially encumbant on Christian evolutionists, because we atheists and agnostics just won’t be believed on the subject.

Tom Curtis,

I agree, but I also have an issue here, as they say. I’m convinced that while Philip Johnson is cynically aware of his dishonesty, many creationists are not. As an example, I’m convinced Duane Gish is as sincere as he is deluded. For him (and those like him), the possibility that evolution is true is simply unthinkable. Evolution must be wrong, it has to be wrong, God really DID say so; Genesis is not ambiguous. Since scripture is absolute truth, any conflict between scripture and evidence can have only one possible explanation – the evidence has been fatally misinterpreted. All that remains, all that can remain, is to determine the cause of the misinterpretation, what combination of ignorance, humanism, atheism, bias, or whatever contributed to such obvious error. If there is no currently plausible way to fit some bit of evidence into scriptural Truth (and to the scientific ignoramus, uh, typical American, nearly anything is plausible), that’s OK, God will fill us in in His own time.

And so I read some of what you regard as dishonesty with the evidence, as instead sincere attempts by non-specialists to place the evidence within the context Truth requires. Maybe, as non-specialists, they don’t know exactly how it fits, but as Christians, they know it MUST fit. So I suspect most Christians, lacking any useful knowledge to serve as a better context, look at the creationists and see only the facts that (1) these people are Christians; and (2) they are obviously and enthusiastically sincere. I just don’t read Salvadore, for example, as lying. He simply has too much of his self-image wrapped up in his faith. For him, it’s not a matter of honesty, it’s just that the price of doubt exceeds his ability to pay. He might get the details wrong, but the Big Picture?

It’s as hard to determine if they’re lying, as it is to determine that they aren’t trolling. More or less impossible. But I suspect the head creationists with some science education, Behe and Dembski, know by now not only that they’ve failed to create a science, but that their arguments require proving the unprovable. Why do they soldier on? Maybe out of religious devotion. Mabye they believe in the political consequences of believers thinking they created Jesus-Certified Science. I don’t know. And that only applies to the few IDiots with any scientific education. There’s no reason to suspect that the Philip Johnsons and the Kent Hovinds can understand the impossibility of creating creation science. Over and over, people fail to learn from history that when your religion conflicts with science, the sooner you ‘reinterpret’ your religion to accomodate science, the better you’ll look in retrospect.

I agree that it is almost impossible to know whether a persistent liar is actually a liar, or merely a sincerely and massively individual - and vice versa. So far as I can tell, most of the YEC leadership would fall into the latter category, as indeed would most of the ID leadership. That is why I suggested it be shown they are not “honest with the evidence”, rather than that they are deliberate liars.

When Gish cites a joke as evidence against evolution, he is not being honest with evidence even if he is not a deliberate liar. When Royal Truman accuses someone of ad hoc assumptions for coming to a conclusion (based on evidence) that Truman agreed with, he is not being honest with the evidence. The creationists may not be deliberately lying in the sense of saying things they know to be false with intent to decieve. But they are demonstrably making claims based on non-existant evidence; chopping their words fine to avoid admissions of error; repeatedly asserting as facts things that have clearly shown in their presence to be false; and so on. I think if you could show this to most Christians, they would not try to make fine distinctions about sincerity etc. They would conclude that Gish and co are straight up liars.

The problem is getting them to listen to that evidence in the first place. If an atheist or other non-Christian source gets up and presents the evidence, their minds close two seconds before the presentation starts. They here the atheist calling a Christian a liar and never get as far as considering the evidence that it is true. They will only listen if conservative, well respected Christians or Christian publications start spreading the message.

Facile skepticism about the past (see 10044, 9861 above) is a familiar trait of creationist/ID defenders. But it’s untenable. What’s the point of repeatability if knowledge of the past is not part of science? And a quick move to ‘only testimony counts’ is useless: the evidence shows that testimony itself is often unreliable– and we show this by appealing to multiple kinds of evidence about the past and cross-checking the results. Well understood physical evidence of past events is the gold standard here. And processes like plate tectonics, sedimentation, fossilization, and evolution (descent with modification) meet that standard in spades. If you’re skeptic enough to reject all that, you’ve already handed out enough rope to hang all empirical science.

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This page contains a single entry by Reed A. Cartwright published on September 22, 2004 3:00 PM.

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