York schools can’t dodge the Constitution

| 36 Comments


The school district in York, Pennsylvania has come to a compromise of sorts on the use of the book Of Pandas And People (1989) in the classroom. This book is controversial because it includes various ID elements. I haven't read it, but glancing through it, there are some pretty objectionable statements--statements that show how illusory is the attempted distinction between creationism and ID.

For example, the introduction discusses "design inference" and makes an analogy between the "messages" in DNA and a message written in sand on a beach:

Are natural causes capable of producing these kinds of patterns [in DNA]? To say that DNA and protein arose by natural causes, as chemical evolution does, is to say complex, coded messages arose by natural causes. It is akin to saying "John loves Mary" arose from the action of the waves, or from the interaction of the grains of sand. It is like saying the painting of a sunset arose spontaneously from the atoms in the paint and canvas.... If science is based upon experience, then science tells us the message encoded in DNA must have originated from an intelligent cause.

Id. at 7. This is the same old creationist "tornado through the junkyard" argument that has been demolished countless times.

Then there's this subtle argument that schoolchildren should look for supernatural causes of events in the world:

The Darwinist concludes from [the fossil record] that the ones in the lower strata evolved into the ones in the higher strata.

This conclusion must be drawn, however, in the absence of empirical evidence of a chain of fossils leading from lower organisms to higher ones. It is a conclusion shaped as much by philosophical commitments as evidence. If we see one organism followed by another, and we assume that only natural causes were at work, then we really have no choice but to conclude that the earlier organism evolved into the later one.

There is, however, another possibility science leaves open to us, one based on sound inferences from the experience of our senses. It is the possibility that an intelligent cause made fully-formed and functional creatures, which later left their traces in the rocks. We simply work backwards from the fossl to the creature to message text in DNA, to the intelligent cause. We are free to take the evidence where it leads. If there is evidence for natural cause, then we conclude descent. If there is evidence for intelligent cause, then we conclude design. On both sides, the decision one ultimately makes regarding the fossils rests on philosophical commitments as well as on empirical data.

Id. at 26-26 (emphasis original). Even assuming (purely for the sake of argument) that "equal time" were an appropriate educational perspective, this sort of rhetorical trick is hardly "equal." The emphasized phrase is just what differentiates science from non-science, and since it's science, and not religion, that they're supposed to be teaching in science class, it's entirely inappropriate to subtly encourage students to assume that supernatural causes are at work. (We've mentioned Of Pandas And People before (here and here)).

The school officials in York have decided not to require the use of Pandas as part of the curriculum, but have instead decided to offer the use of the book to teachers. What exactly this means isn't clear to me; according to the article the book "will be available to students or teachers who want to use it as a reference in biology class...said Superintendent Richard Nilsen..... Nilsen compared the use of the book to the use of maps in a classroom." This seems to be intended to avoid a vote by the school board, and to allow teachers to decide whether to use the book or not. But in a case where a teacher chooses to use the book, this will hardly absolve the school of any potential First Amendment violation. If this book is used to teach children creationism, then the school is violating the First Amendment, regardless of whether the book is required or not.

In Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987), the Supreme Court held that the Establishment Clause was violated by Louisiana's attempt to require "equal treatment" of evolution and creationism. The reason was that the law requiring "equal treatment" violated the test established in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-613 (1971). That test says that an act by the government tends to "establish" religion if it: (1) was undertaken for other than a secular purpose, (2) either advances or inhibits religion, or (2), results in an excessive entanglement of government with religion. The Court found that the "equal treatment" law violated part one of this test: "the Act's stated purpose is to protect academic freedom...[but] the Act was not designed to further that goal.... the Act does not serve to protect academic freedom, but has the distinctly different purpose of discrediting evolution by counterbalancing its teaching at every turn with the teaching of creationism...." Edwards, 482 U.S. at 586-89 (citation and quotation marks omitted). Likewise, although the York decision may be made in the name of "equal time," the fact is that "the preeminent purpose...was clearly to advance the religious viewpoint that a supernatural being created humankind." Id. at 591.

Now, the Edwards Court did emphasize that one problem with the Louisiana law was that it curtailed the academic freedom of teachers. But the fact that that concern may not be as strong here does not mean that the York decision avoids the problems of the Establishment Clause. Teaching school children that "[t]o say that DNA and protein arose by natural causes...is like saying the painting of a sunset arose spontaneously from the atoms in the paint" is not only bad science, not only a blatant mischaracterization of evolution, not only an attempt to mislead schoolchildren, but it is undertaken with the conscious purpose of propagating a religious viewpoint in a government school--to instruct them to "conclude design"--and that violates the Establishment Clause. (The schools could constitutionally use Pandas to demonstrate the flaws of creationism; by pointing out, for instance, the inaccuracy of the painting analogy. See id. at 593-94. But teaching the book as it was intended is unconstitutional.)

Evidently, Americans United for Separation of Church And State have threatened a lawsuit. I think they have some pretty strong grounds.

36 Comments

If that book’s anything like Biology: God’s Living Creation, a biology textbook I’ve read through, I’m glad I’m not a theist. I would have died of shame.

Are natural causes capable of producing these kinds of patterns [in DNA]? To say that DNA and protein arose by natural causes, as chemical evolution does, is to say complex, coded messages arose by natural causes. It is akin to saying “John loves Mary” arose from the action of the waves, or from the interaction of the grains of sand. It is like saying the painting of a sunset arose spontaneously from the atoms in the paint and canvas.… If science is based upon experience, then science tells us the message encoded in DNA must have originated from an intelligent cause.

Id. at 7. This is the same old creationist “tornado through the junkyard” argument that has been demolished countless times.

The above is not, by itself, the tornado in the junkyard fallacy. It’s actually worse than that. The claim is based on the assumption that there’s nothing unique about biological organisms when compared to inanimate objects, and that anything that applies to one will apply perfectly to the other. In other words, it’s an excruciatingly bad analogy. If that sort of reasoning were legitimate, then biologists would have no purpose.

Living organisms reproduce, they pass on hereditary information, and they mutate. They live in harsh environments which favor some phenotypes over others. What makes the above statement so downright silly is that the mechanism for adaptive change was understood long before anything was known about DNA, and in fact, when the structure of DNA was discovered, it was considered a major confirmation of the genetic underpinnings of Neodarwinian theory. \

I had never read any excerpts from Pandas before, but quite frankly, I’m shocked that it’s so transparently bad.

Excellent work, Mr. Sandefur. I hope some of the folks from the AUSCS visit here so they can learn from your posts.

From the book

It is akin to saying “John loves Mary” arose from the action of the waves, or from the interaction of the grains of sand.

I’m not aware of the existence of any verbs or pronouns encoded in the genomes of animals, much less complete sentences describing an event that is real or hypothetical. But I only read Nature and Science these days and we all know biased those magazines are.

On the other hand, we can find the sentence “John loves Gary and God likes it that way” written in the sand grains of every beach in the world, in 12 point Times New Roman font. The reason this fact isn’t well known is because humans typically allow their eyes to be distracted by the sand grains which lie adjacent to the grains which actually form those words.

“It is like saying the painting of a sunset arose spontaneously from the atoms in the paint and canvas”

Indeed. And how many people know that it Michelangelo 10 billion years to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? At least, that was the estimate obtained recently from an ice core sample Philip Johnson obtained from the coke machine in the chapel’s snack island.

I suppose, in a sense, it did take Michelangelo 10 billion years to paint the Sistine Chapel!

I haven’t read it

Which comes across as a wee bit strange to me, given the amount of critical ink being spilled here. How do people get so comfortable criticizing stuff they’ve not even taken the time to read?

As for me, I’ve read it, and though I’m not a lawyer, it’s rather difficult for me to locate any First Amendment violations in there.

One or two after the Kansas controversy erupted, all the students in our university class on “Religion and Science” were called on to give an hour-long class presentation on some topic relating to the interface between religion and science.

For mine, I decided to surprise them and my professor with a presentation on intelligent design. The ~surprise~ part was that each person present received a free copy of Pandas so that we could all see exactly what Davis and Kenyon was saying or not saying.

And not suprisingly, it was the first time the pro-evolution students (or any of them, or even Ole Prof) had seen the book despite it being out there so long.

A good time was had by all. Well, by me anyway. Check out the book sometime.

FL

And in the York Sunday News was an opinion piece praising the paper’s coverage of the issue and going on to repeat many of the usual ID BS. The writer stated that if a natural process could be shown to account for the bacterial flagellum, ID would be falsified or severely discredited. I think the reason the Dover school board accepted the free books (and they are not the first to be offered the books) was to avoid any arguments over the book’s merits, as might have happened if the board had to pay for them. Would they be as willing to accept free copies of “Creationism’s Trojan Horse”?

Well, I haven’t read it either, so I can’t criticize it. Since our library doesn’t own it (which says something, because it’s a pretty big library), I haven’t even glanced through it.*

I would say to FL, though, that I don’t have to read every word of a Watchtower tract to recognize it for what it is.

*(I will accept a free copy if you’re still passing them out!)

FL writes that my saying that I have not read Pandas destroys my credibility on the subject. But Russell has the right answer to that. Although I have not read Pandas all the way through, the passages I quoted are alone enough to make this book an inappropriate text for science instruction, as well as a likely violation of the Establishment Clause if used in a government school. (FL’s criterion—of having read every word of a text—would surely force many professed Christians to abandon that appellation!) If, however, there is language in the book, such as a disclaimer on the last page that says “psych! Fooled you! We’re not really saying students should look for supernatural explanations of phenomena, and here’s why our writing-in-the-sand analogy is so stupid…” then yes, I would have to change my mind. Somehow, I doubt that my assessment is incorrect.

However, I, too, would be grateful for a free copy. I will send you my mailing address if you would like to send me one.

Russel Wrote:

I would say to FL, though, that I don’t have to read every word of a Watchtower tract to recognize it for what it is.

Yep.

You don’t have to smell every part of the skunk to know it stinks.

I have read Pandas – both editions (there are some moderate changes between 1989 and 1993, such as a blood-clotting section almost certainly written or suggested by Behe), and it is as bad as people say. Frankly, all of the “new” ID arguments (specified complexity, irreducible complexity, cambrian explosion/origin of phyla) were all presented *first* there, in the textbook, long before the ID guys got around writing trying to write books (and very recently, articles) to justify these arguments.

As a little project, I recently went through the first edition of Pandas looking for “specified complexity” or similar ID buzzwords supposedly introduced as design arguments by Dembski in The Design Inference in ~1998. Here is an example:

Davis, Percival and H. Kenyon Deasn 1989. Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins Dallas, TX, Haughton Publ. Co. From “Excursion Chapter 1: The Origin of Life”

What does all this say about how life originated? For a moment, consider how living organisms and manufactured products both exhibit the property of organization or specified complexity. The pickup truck has many parts that make up a working whole and they all obey discoverable physical and chemical laws; but the truck’s complexity does not arise spontaneously. A truck does not naturally form under the right conditions because of the nature of its constituent materials. A specific complex arrangement had to be impressed on the materials from the outside by means of machinery designed and operated by intelligent beings (or robots programmed by intelligent beings).

[…]

No, the properties of the chemicals themselves were not the source of the information that is characterized by the specific sequences of chemical bases (in DNA), and amino acids (in proteins). We do find numerous examples of order (repeating patterns, symmetry, etc.) in the chemistry that would be found in a primitive soup and elsewhere in nature. However, nowhere in nature do we find specific complexity that is even roughly analogous to coded information. In fact, the only comparable analogy known for the genetic code does not occur naturally. It has been discovered that the structure of information in living systems is mathematically identical to that of written language. Since both written language and DNA have that telltale property of information carried along by specific sequences of ‘words’, and since intelligence is known to produce written language, why isn’t it reasonable to identify the cause of the DNA’s information as an intelligence too?

When the available evidence is taken into account, it seems highly probable that the origin of life on earth involved the fashioning of molecular complexity in a way similar to the production of manufactured items. In fact, the living cell (even the very simplest one) has the complexity of a miniaturized, automated factory. We should no more expect the spontaneous emergence of molecular “machines” such as the DNA, aminoacylsynthetases (a-ME-no-ah-SEEL-syn-tha-TA-sees), transfer RNAs, ribosomes, etc. from simple organic compounds than the spontaneous assembly of robotic tools in an automated automobile factor from raw rubber, steel, plastic, and silicon. In both cases, a complex set of engineering designs is required, designs that were intelligently created. Then further activity is required in the assembly process.

Modern ideas of spontaneous generation or chemical evolution do not realistically account for the appearance of biological complexity in prelife chemical systems. By no means does the highly improbable become possible, much less inevitable, given enough time. The assumptions underlying the idea that life originated by natural evolutionary processes do not correspond to the facts of science, and they are not supported by sound reasoning from those facts. Some scientists protest such statements, maintaining that in the future discoveries will essentially circumvent present findings. This notion has been called “promissory materialism” by one scientist. And while no one can say for sure this won’t happen, science cannot confidently proceed by discounting what is known in favor of hoped-for future discoveries. On the other hand, the experimental work on the origin of life and the molecular biology of living cells is consistent with the hypothesis of intelligent design. What makes this interpretation so compelling is the amazing correlation between the structure of informational molecules (DNA, protein) and our universal experience that such sequences are the result of intelligent causes. This strong analogy leads to the conclusion that life owes its origin to a master intellect.

Suggested Reading/Resources

The Mystery of Life’s Origins: Reassessing Current Theories, by Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, and Roger L. Olsen. New York: Philosophical Library Publishers, 1984. A scholarly critique of chemical evolution.

Origins: A Skeptic’s Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth, by Robert Shapiro. New York: Bantom Books, 1986. Another good critique of chemical evolution.

(pp. 57-58)

For good measure, here is a quote from Mystery of Life’s Origins:

We know that in numerous cases certain effects always have intelligent causes, such as dictionaries, sculptures, machines and paintings. We reason by analogy that similar effects also have intelligent causes. For example, after looking up to see “BUY FORD” spelled out in smoke across the sky we infer the presence of a skywriter even if we heard or saw no airplane. We would similarly conclude the presence of intelligent activity were we to come upon an elephant-shaped topiary in a cedar forest.

In like manner an intelligible communication via radio signal from some distant galaxy would be widely hailed as evidence of an intelligent source. Why then doesn’t the message sequence on the DNA molecule als constitute prima facie evidence for an intelligent source? After all, DNA information is not just analogous to a message sequence such as Morse code, it is such a message sequence. [sub76] The so-called Shannon information laws apply equally to the genetic code and to Morse code. True, our knowledge of intelligence has been restricted to biology-based advanced organisms, but it is currently argued by some that intelligence exists in complex non-biological computer circuitry. If our minds are capable of imagining intelligence freed from biology in this sense, then why not in the sense of an intelligent being before life existed? [sup77]

We believe that if this question is considered, it will be seen that most often it is answered in the negative simply because it is thought to be inappropriate to bring a Creator into science.

The above discussion is not meant as a scientific proof of a Creator, but is merely a line of reasoning to show that Special Creation by a Creator beyond the cosmos is a plausible view of origin science.

[ 76. H.P. Yockey, 1981. J. Theoret. Biol. 91, 13. 77. A.E. Wilder Smith, 1970. The Creation of Life. Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publishers, 161ff. ]

(pp. 211-212)

To get an idea of what else is in the book, see:

Just to be thorough, the list o’ online critiques of Of Pandas and People:

See also: Bookwatch Reviews, Volume 2, Number 11, 1989, published by NCSE, including:

  • “A View From the Past” by Gerarld Skoog
  • “Gross Misrepresentation” by Kevin Padian
  • “They’re Here!” by Michael Ruse

From Nick’s excerpt from oP&P:

aminoacylsynthetases (a-ME-no-ah-SEEL-syn-tha-TA-sees)

Guffaw!

Did that pronunciation make it into the second edition as well? If so, I wonder if Behe passed on it. (Heck, I wonder if Behe pronounces it like that!)

Here’s an especially fun quote from the 1993 edition of Pandas:

The absence of unambiguous transitional fossils is illustrated by the fossil record of whales. The earliest forms of whales occur in rocks of Eocene age, dated some 50 million years ago, but little is known of their possible ancestors. By and large, Darwinists believe that whales evolved from a land mammal. The problem is that there are no clear transitional fossils linking land mammals to whales. If whales did have land-dwelling ancestors, it is reasonable to expect to find some transitional fossils. Why? Because the anatomical differences between the two are so great that innumerable in-between states must have paddled and swam the ancient seas.

[then follows some incredulous discussion of a mesonychid and Basilosaurus, and then they move on to bats and birds

(pp. 101-102)

For what happened with whale evolution research in 1994 and afterwards, see:

Yep, pronunciations of Big Complex Words are present throughout…however, they managed to spend a chapter plus talking about the origin of life, and yet deal with RNA World in a sentence…

RNA’s really wonderful stuff. I urge people to check out the latest issue of Scientific American, which has two nice articles about RNA.

Well, Russell and Dave and Tim, I’ve read Watchtower tracts AND I’ve read Pandas, so I know for certain that they are in no way the same thing.

(Sorry, though, you had to be in the class for me to get you that free copy, Russell! Not expensive, but alas, not cheap either!)

FL

The quotes are from the book, as quoted by TS:

There is, however, another possibility science leaves open to us, one based on sound inferences from the experience of our senses. It is the possibility that an intelligent cause made fully-formed and functional creatures, which later left their traces in the rocks.

A “fully formed” what? Adult, non-adult (child, larva, etc.)? fetus? Embryo? Zygote? Gamete? Seed? Spore, etc? And “fully formed” from what? Existing matter? A vacuum? Many extraordinary claims are implied, but the authors dare not state them directly, because they know that there’s have no evidence, extraordinary or not.

We simply work backwards from the fossil to the creature to message text in DNA, to the intelligent cause.

IOW we can outsmart the “intelligent cause.”

We are free to take the evidence where it leads.

And free to take it out of context as well if it leads us where we do not want to go.

If there is evidence for natural cause, then we conclude descent. If there is evidence for intelligent cause, then we conclude design.

Can the false dichotomy be any more obvious? Why not a naturally caused independent abiogenesis, or a design-by-descent?

On both sides, the decision one ultimately makes regarding the fossils rests on philosophical commitments as well as on empirical data.

What are the “both sides”? There are many mutually contradictory anti-evolution positions, and all of them fail the tests, which is why there’s a “don’t ask, don’t tell” ID strategy in the first place. Or does “both sides” simply mean the advocates and misrepresenters of mainstream science? If so, the former includes a wide range of “philosophical commitments” including those of most major religions. The one common “philosophical commitment” of the latter (including IDers and all sorts of creationists) is the willingness to bear false witness and confine their designer to the gaps.

FL has a point. Watchtower is far more intellectually honest, in that it does not pretend to be science.

”…innumerable in-between states must have paddled and swam the ancient seas”

Must have swam?

Bad science AND bad English - two for the price of one!

If Watchtower doesn’t claim to be a scientific text, perhaps it would be more appropriate to compare OPAP with the Jack Chick science series.

If Watchtower is not an appropriate science text, perhaps it would be fairer to compare OPAP with the Jack Chick series of science books.

Whoever that creationist was who said chimps don’t have thumbs, might already be familiar with Jack “Gluons are a made up dream” chick.

The classic.

http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts[…]/0055_01.asp

On the principle that “sauce for the goose is sauce for the ganda”:

To Timothy Sandefur’s admission that he has not read OPAP, FL responds:

Which comes across as a wee bit strange to me, given the amount of critical ink being spilled here. How do people get so comfortable criticizing stuff they’ve not even taken the time to read?

In turn Timothy responds:

FL writes that my saying that I have not read Pandas destroys my credibility on the subject. But Russell has the right answer to that. Although I have not read Pandas all the way through, the passages I quoted are alone enough to make this book an inappropriate text for science instruction, as well as a likely violation of the Establishment Clause if used in a government school.

I must disagree. First, if the quoted sections are the only objectionable parts of an otherwise unexceptionable book, I do not think there would be a problem. Equally objectionable claims in the opposite direction can certainly be found in otherwise quite excellent text books in current use. (I am not concerned with legal issues, but with educational standards in making this claim.)

Second, if they are representative of the book as a whole, there is also no doubt that the book should not be used. But Timothy’s claim to have made a fair assessment of the book depends on how thoroughly he has read it. If he just quickly skimmed to hot topics where he was likely to find objectionable material, then he is not qualified to make the criticism. (Of course, I suspect his “skimming” was far more thorough, and representative than that.)

Timothy could well imagine the damage to his case if his expert witness on the suitability of the textbook admitted under cross examination, that “No, I have not read the book, but I skimmed it.”

I will be the first to admit that I have no reason to think that a thorough reading of the textbook would alter Timothy’s criticisms; and FL certainly gives us no reason to think otherwise. But in principle, FL’s criticism is correct.

If I am wrong to think that these passages are representative of Pandas, I would like someone to show me.

I am entirely confident that the extreme flaws referred to in my post and in the comments to it, speak for themselves.

‘Intelligent design’ voted in

http://ydr.com/story/main/45864/

The Dover Area School Board voted to add “Intelligent Design Theory” to the district’s biology curriculum Monday evening just two weeks after Supt. Richard Nilsen assured former board member Lonnie Langione that wouldn’t happen.

ID supporters, broadly, are like those we’ve seen on this board. They’ll never stop, and they’ll never understand. I vaguely expect ID to eventually win a place in secondary school curricula across the country.

Time for the First Amendment lawyers to come in and clear up the damage wrought by idiots like York “community member” Mr. Riddle, who argued that Intelligent Design be taught in York’s schools, but who currently home schools his children.

Does anyone doubt that Mr. Riddle has been busy brainwashing his children to believe that gay people are sinners and doomed to eternal damnation unless they behave as Mr. Riddle’s minister has advised him is proper? Does anyone doubt that Mr. Riddle’s tongue is intimately familiar with the term “secular humanist agenda”? Do you suppose that Mr. Riddle used the term “worldview” when he made his speech to the school board?

Now it’s time for Mr. Riddle to get a real education about the status afforded to his religious beliefs by the US Constitution. Perhaps Mr. Riddle will be given the opportunity to read some passages from his holy book to a Federal judge so that the record may be clear as to where the only “evidence” for “intelligent design” is found.

Poor Mr. Riddle. He is about to be made frustrated and angry, just like he was the first time he saw two men holding hands in “real life” and he realized he couldn’t have them thrown in prison.

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 5, column 537, byte 2358 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

As an aside, am I the only one who finds “Of Pandas and People” a terrible title? I’m not sure why. There’s just something about it which seems pretentious, or something.

Or maybe I just find the concept of a creationist biology textbook pretentious, and I’m taking it out on the title. i don’t know.

Sadly, Timothy, your view is overly optimistic. There are many cases of faith healing going wrong.

Cases of Childhood Deaths Due to Parental Religious Objection to Necessary Medical Care

These are just but a few of the cases. Its funny. We are so hesitant to intervene in religious practices even if they are harmful. Normally authorities would step in when individuals participate in suicidal practices and if it was in a group then its almost a given. Yet religious people practicing snake handling are off limits.

When will these people realize that their survival rates after getting bitten is on average with those that are bitten by the same types of snakes without the aid of faith and prayer. The difference is the latter is normally an accident while the former will get bitten, have their brother get bitten. The brother will die and they’ll be sick for weeks then the idiot will go back to the snake handling sessions. I’m convinced that there is a bit to much inbreeding in those Penn State mountains.

Near where I’m from, Lake City, Florida, is a cult called the End Timers. The usual apocalyptic stuff. Every now and then a kid dies from, you know, strep throat, or diabetes, or appendicitis. More or less nothing happens, at least in part due to how a few years ago the state agency responsible for child welfare was defanged by conservatives, who’d whipped up their supporters with bogeymen images of Libruhl Byurocrats stealing kids.

Mr. Sandefur, in a typically thoughtful and nearly air-tight response to my post, writes:

teaching a child creationism is simply not child abuse.

Hey, when you put it that way (“teaching a child creationism”)it sounds pretty good. If only it were so simple as that. “Here, Johnny, read this and let me know if you think it’s reasonable. Some people do. Some people don’t. It’s up to you to decide.” As if.

I’m a firm believer that there are rights to be found in the Constitution which the Supreme’s, in their finite wisdom, have not yet recognized. Among those rights is the right of children to be free from mandatory religious indoctrination at the hands of adults, i.e., the ritualized and methodical insertion of irrational beliefs into the brains of children using techniques which include invoking fear of death, extreme pain, and emotional and physical isolation, in addition to the constant threat and/or application of physical stress or violence.

Readers of the comments here are used to Great White Wonder’s irrationally extreme hatred for religion. This hatred is unfortunate, in that it ultimately harms the cause of secular humanists or of science educators in general.

I don’t hate religion. Religion has produced great things. Many great men and women are religious. I spend as much time as possible floating about in transcendental states, often by watching films with religious themes (e.g., Bresson, Dreyer, et al.) or by listening to music with religious lyrics written by like-minded people.

I do hold people like Mr. Riddle in utter contempt. If Mr. Riddle is not a self-righteous conservative evangelical Christian pro-death penalty, anti-abortion, homophobic etc. than I am a “monkey’s uncle.” I’ll send you twenty bucks, Sandefur, if you can convince me that he isn’t anything other than the usual sort of character who pretends to be “skeptical” about the “claims” of evolutionary biologists but who is really just reading from the script that his preacher sold him. I’ll give you $1000 if he’s openly gay.

Wonder’s reflexive hostility to religion leads him to make broad, and apparently baseless assumptions about people he does not know. Yes, social conservatives tend to believe these things, but we do not know that this is the case.

Mr. Riddle is obviously more than a mere “social conservative” if he knows what “intelligent design” is and cares enough about it to speak up at a school board meeting. I know plenty of socially conservative Christians who are smart enough to know what they don’t know and who are happy to let scientists decide what is and what is not quackery. They tend to of a completely different stripe than the evangelical types, e.g., some of them are openly gay themselves, e.g., one of my friends is an openly gay Christian lawyer who is going to be a church minister. Hate religion? No, you have the wrong guy.

This hatred is unfortunate, in that it ultimately harms the cause of secular humanists or of science educators in general.

I didn’t know that science educators had “causes” other than to teach science. How are my wry and acerbic and honest comments directed towards anti-science apologists like Mr. Riddle harming the teaching of science? What is more harmful, in my opinion, is speaking of “secular humanist causes” as if secular humanists are a political group with 1 milligram of clout. They are not. But Mr. Riddle likely believes that the “secular humanist” want to ban the bible. That is why Republicans have paid to have such information personally delivered to people like Mr. Riddle.

Mr. Riddle … has constitutional rights and … we all must respect them.

Of course. I don’t want the guy arrested. I just want to tear him a new one. I wonder if he has net access.

Dover curriculum move likely a first Even some supporters of intelligent design suggest the board might have overstepped. By LAURI LEBO and JOE MALDONADO Daily Record/Sunday News Wednesday, October 20, 2004

At bottom: · ‘INTELLIGENT DESIGN’ ISSUE When the Dover Area School Board voted to require the teaching of intelligent design Monday night, it likely became the first district in the United States to do so. Until now, the battleground over intelligent design — the theory that all life was created by a divine being — has been largely fought in states such as Kansas and Ohio.

But with Dover’s 6-to-3 vote in favor of teaching alternative theories to evolution, “including, but not limited to, intelligent design,” the battle lines might have shifted to include York County.

Eugenie Scott, director of the California-based National Center for Science Education, an organization that closely monitors challenges to evolutionary theory, has been following the issue in Dover since June.

Both she and her counterparts at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute — a staunch proponent of intelligent design — say this is the first time they know of where a school district has required the teaching of the theory.

Scott said she believes intelligent design proponents are now looking for a test case to defend the issue in court.

“And Dover may be that guinea pig,” she said.

School board member Bill Buckingham is the chief architect of Dover’s newly revised biology curriculum that states “Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of life will not be taught.”

The devout Christian admitted that before presenting the revised curriculum to the board, he had been talking to a conservative Michigan law firm that is interested in defending an intelligent design legal challenge.

But he said those on the other side of the debate are also interested in a battle on the issue as well.

“We just happen to be at the head of the pack right now,” he said. “So it might be us.”

The devout Christian admitted that before presenting the revised curriculum to the board …

“Devout” Christian? What do you suppose “devout” means? Does that mean he grows to church every Sunday? That he doesn’t eat fish on Fridays? That he observes not only Christmas and Easter but also Palm Sunday? I believe it means something else entirely, something that has very little to do with the meaning of the term “devout” as it appears in the dictionary.

he had been talking to a conservative Michigan law firm that is interested in defending an intelligent design legal challenge.

Any one have any idea which firm this is? It would be useful to remind the attorneys who are considering representing “devout” Christians that they have a duty to the Michigan bar to not mislead the court.

I unfortunately missed this event(s) in real time but apparently someone with an attitude very similar to my own actually managed to speak for several days about the pervasiveness of phony religious baloney in our public discourse, **on nationally broadcast TV**!!!!! Unbelievable. The partial transcript(s) and analysis below was provided by the inimitable Bob Somerby www.dailyhowler.com

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2004

RE-SCOPING SCOPES: All of a sudden, everyone except golf pal Bob Schieffer is troubled by Bush’s religion. In today’s Times, Maureen Dowd even sets aside lightweight concerns to ask if the prez “mistakenly assumes that his concerns are God’s.” Well, actually, no, check that statement; Dowd simply asserts that Bush makes this assumption. Meanwhile, everyone’s scanning Pat Robertson’s comments to Paula Zahn (more below). Ron Suskind’s tangy article in the New York Times mag has largely touched off this discussion.

And yes, this discussion is long overdue, whatever its result might be—and the discussion has been amazingly frank in one unexpected locale. Last Thursday night, in Scarborough Country, Lawrence O’Donnell had finally heard enough. Guest host Pat Buchanan played the religion card for Bush. In reply, O’Donnell said things Big Major Scribes haven’t said out loud for many, many years:

————- BUCHANAN (10/14/04): John Kerry looks like an Episcopal priest up there. You know how he is. And George Bush does look like very much a man of the people, I think, and somewhat of a more basic, if you will, Baptist faith or Protestant faith from the South. And I think that’s very appealing…

O’DONNELL: Well, but most Americans do not have that kind of simple-minded faith. George Bush’s God is a very strange God. This is a God who wants everyone to be free. That’s a very, very peculiarly frustrated God. That is a God that has been apparently frustrated for centuries in George Bush’s imagination. ————

Say what? Buchanan, who plays a rube on TV but is actually more cosmopolitan, laughed and allowed his guest to speak on:

————- BUCHANAN (continuing directly): Ever since the Garden of Eden.

O’DONNELL: Well, this is a God—this is also a God who gives the gift of freedom. He says that’s a gift from the almighty, that the Afghan people got this gift from the almighty this year. What was George Bush’s God doing to those people up to now? You see, that’s the problem with this. For very simple-minded religious people, that stuff works. That is a minority of the American population.

———- Yikes! It’s been years and years since major scribes took pot-shots like that at professed religion. As the debate proceeded, Bob Zelnick sensibly said that he’d judge Bush’s policies, not his faith. But O’Donnell wasn’t finished:

————- O’DONNELL: The danger of simplification is that God wants him to do what he is doing. God wants people to be free; therefore, I, George Bush, will free them. That’s a dangerous political implication.

———– The following night, the discussion continued. After conventional matters were limned, Buchanan returned to the ancestral wars:

————– BUCHANAN (10/15/04): Lawrence O’Donnell is still with us, along with Paul Kengor, who’s joining us. He’s the author of God and George W. Bush: A Spiritual Life. Lawrence, I want to ask you, you believe that the president’s faith is simple-minded?

“Yes, it’s extremely childish,” O’Donnell said. “He anthropomorphizes God and attributes to human motivations, human desires, human aspirations, all these things that you and I, Pat, in Catholic education were taught not to do very, very specifically.” Just like that, the pair of pundits were debating whether God has desires:

BUCHANAN: Do you believe that God wills that all men be saved?

O’DONNELL: No, I do not.

BUCHANAN: Do you believe God desires that all men be saved?

O’DONNELL: No, I don’t believe that God has desires. What we were taught in Catholic education is God’s ways are unknowable. The essence of the Catholic God is that God works in mysterious ways. George W. Bush doesn’t think God works in mysterious ways. George W. Bush thinks he knows what God wants, and George W. Bush then says, I am here to execute what God wants.

————— On Monday, the debate entered Day 3, with Scarborough himself presiding. Cable conservative Shmuley Boteach was on hand, prepared to dispense scripted cant (Boteach is a rabbi). But land o’ goshen! The times were a-changed! O’Donnell even fought against that! —————

BOTEACH (10/17/04): People like Lawrence O’Donnell—and Lawrence is a fine man, I know him…believe that religion is actually a lobotomy. It makes you into a moron, that the fact that Bush is stupid, it’s actually because he has this faith, which makes him silly enough to see the world in black and white. I would rather have us dumb men of faith, who see that Bush is good and Saddam is evil. I would rather have us than have a guy like Kerry, that couldn’t get it right in Vietnam, saying that our troops were evil and the communists were good.

O’DONNELL: What does this have to do with prayer? What does this have to do with religion? What are you talking about?

BOTEACH: What I’m talking about is that religion gives you the vision to know what’s right. What Bush prayed for before that war was can I remove a tyrant, so that he doesn’t gas Kurdish children in their homes?

O’DONNELL: “Gives you the vision to know what is right.” Did religion give him the X-ray vision to see the weapons of mass destruction? What did he pray for that was right?

—————- And O’Donnell, piling heresy high atop outrage, even slammed Democratic pols, men whom he knows personally. “I think the Kerry references to God are phony. I think every reference Bill Clinton ever made to God was phony. I think every reference Jimmy Carter made to God was political and phony and designed to trick people who believe in God to believe in them.” At this point, O’Donnell’s host restored order. “Well, you know what?” he said. “ We will be right back. I will tell you what—that’s inflammatory language for a lot of us in Scarborough Country!”

Inflammatory it was—and long overdue. For decades, secularists and religious moderates have stood aside as the Robertsons, the Boteachs and yes, the George Bushes have offered their versions of public piety. Everyone agreed not to notice the more absurd aspects of their professed faith. As they stared off into air, secularists and religious skeptics had a plainly mistaken belief. They believed that they had won a war some time after the Scopes monkey trail—that society had driven a brand of religious simplist into the fringe and into the corner. But those religious simplists didn’t give up, and it’s fairly clear that they’re now back in power.

In truth, that monkey trial (which the simplists basically won) decided next to nothing. Yes, it’s true; by the 50s and the 60s, it seemed that simplist forces had lost a great war. But simplism is built in the human gene pool. Religious simplists will always be with us, and their views should be publicly challenged, just like everyone else’s.

For decades, polite public pundits have looked away as simplists professed their inspiring faith. Lawrence O’Donnell got it right when he spoke up in Scarborough Country last week. We strongly suggest that you read those transcripts, and prepare for a long strong debate.

Full transcripts of the discussions with Lawrence O’Donnell may be found at http://msnbc.msn.com/id/3719710/

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This page contains a single entry by Timothy Sandefur published on October 5, 2004 8:05 PM.

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