Cobb and Dover


The San Francisco Chronicle has a front page story today on the Dover, PA and Cobb County, GA evolution controversies.


Patricia Nason at the Institute for Creation Research, the world leader in creation science,

That should piss off AiG and DrDino.

The first paragraph of the article says it all.

The quotes in this article draw an especially clear picture of the religious motivation behind these recent “flare-ups” of anti-evolution activity. My favorite was:

After the Browns left the restaurant, a waitress in her 30s slipped a note to a Chronicle reporter.

“Beware,” it read. “God wrote over 2,000 years ago that there would be false prophets and teachers. If you would like to know the truth read the Bible.”

Now, who are these “false prophets” she said that God “wrote” about 2000 years ago? It’s obvious to me that the religiously-motivated people in this debate are the anti-evolutionists. Hmmm…

I posted a comment yesterday on this discouraging article. Please write to [Enable javascript to see this email address.] and/or [Enable javascript to see this email address.] and ask them why they didn’t ask a single biologist if they found “intelligent designy” theory useful in the course of analyzing their data.


Am I in a bad mood?

The San Francisco chronicle today had as its above-the-fold headline story: “Anti-evolution teachings gain foothold in US schools: Evangelicals see flaws in Darwinism.”

The CBS poll which shows that 35% of the country somehow feels comfortable claiming that “Darwin’s theory is not supported by the evidence” appears in a gray box, also above the fold.

The article was written by Anna Badkhen, who is clearly not a science journalist. The article focuses mainly on the Dover school issue.

All in all it’s not the worst article I’ve ever read on the issue but I was disappointed to see some obviously lazy blunders. The Discovery Institute is mentioned, for example, without any desription whatsoever of its mission or members. ID is described as having been devised by a “small group of scientists” which is being generous to say the least. A pro-ID website ( is provided for the reader who wants to learn more but there are no links to the Pandas Thumb or to Talk Origins or similar creationism-debunking sites. John West of the Discovery Institute is quoted as saying “Mainstream criticism should be raised in classrooms.”

The article, of course, neglects to point out that the public school board meetings are the ONLY places where arguments from ignorance are accepted as serious challenges to evolutionary theory.

And then there are some quotes from Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, who always comes across to me as just about the weakest hapless spokesman for truth and honesty in public school science classrooms as we could hope for. I won’t go into details about what she does say, but I can tell you what she evidently did not say to this reporter but which she should say: “Intelligent design is not an alternative scientific explanation for the diversity of life on earth. As science, it’s complete baloney and any genuine scientist will tell you that it’s worthless. It is nothing more than an argument from incredulity that is exactly the same as saying ‘wow, that’s so cool that God must have done it.’ That is not science. It’s religion and our Constitution prevents us from teaching religious creation theories as scientific facts in public school classrooms. The only reason we are having this discussion in the 21st century is because conservative evangelical Christian groups want to see their religious beliefs taught in public schools.”

It’s so frigging simple. And Scott must say one other important thing: “If you want to quote me in your article, you must quote me in full. And you must include links to websites like Talk Origins and Pandas Thumb where working biologists and geologists, including Christians, have debunked the pseudoscience peddled by creationists. And you should talk to some actual scientists and you should talk to some scientists who are Christians who know that ID is baloney, and you should talk to some Christians who aren’t scientists but who recognize that evolution is the real deal and ID is a political game. Here are their names: . …”

So frigging simple.

Ms. Badkehn does not talk to a single genuine biologist about “ID theory” buy does quote several pro-creationism twits. For example, Ms. Badkhen includes this nugget which would be hilarious if it weren’t so damn sad

Patricia Nason at the Institute for Creation Research, the world leader in creation science, said her organization and other activist groups are encouraging people who share their conservative religious beliefs to seek positions on local boards.

“World leader in creation science”? Where did Ms. Badkhen get that information? Let me guess … from Ms. Nason?

Ms. Badkhen doesn’t say anything more about the Institute for Creation Science, nor she inclined to wonder why the leader of this “creation science” insitute seems to believe that only “conservative” and “religious” people are inclined to accept the veracity of this “world-leading” Institute’s “scientific” work product.

The bottom line here is that we need to get some well-spoken hard-hitting advocates out there communicating our message instead of weak proponents like Eugenie Scott who don’t seem aware of the fact that neither they nor the integrity of the science whose instruction they are entrusted to defend, being taken seriously the reporters to whom they speak.

If Scott is all we got, then shit let’s just flush the public school system and its associated inherent intractable problems down the frigging toilet. Sandefur has already written its obituary so he can have his final post and we can all go home.

Yes, I’m in a bad mood today.


Katarina Aram Wrote:

The first paragraph of the article says it all.

I like their poll question:

Q: Which theory of the origin of species should be taught?

1. Evolution (25%) 2. Intelligent Design (2%) 3. Both (5%)

But the winner by a wide margin …

4. My theory is that the USA is rapidly devolving (67%)

Hence, we should teach that last theory.

I wonder how they’re going to include the theory of intelligent design when there is no scientific theory of intelligent design. And the lab for that section should be interesting. I’m guessing it’ll feature human-designed objects compared to rocks.

Apparently Darwin’s theory has to be challenged because its, and I quote, “not adequate to explain all natural phenomena. “

What about that quote from John West?

“Mainstream criticism should be raised in classrooms”

I agree. Of course, what he didn’t mention was that ID is about as far away from mainstream biology as the members of the Flat Earth Society are from mainstream geoscience.

IMHO, the place where the introduction of scientific criticism is effective is at the college level. Here, students are (hopefully) familiar enough with the nature of science to see through the pseudoscientific veneer of ID and correctly conclude that it is rubbish. As a teacher of 9th graders, I can tell you that they very rarely can recognize pseudoscience at first sight.

From the article:

The idea of intelligent design was initiated by a small group of scientists to explain what they believe to be gaps in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which they say is “not adequate to explain all natural phenomena.”

I’ll just echo Mr. Wonder’s opinion about the quality of journalism here.

In reality, of course, non-scientist evangelical wedgie Phillip Johnson had at least as much to do with “initiating the idea of intelligent design” as any small group of so-called scientists.

GWW said

I won’t go into details about what she does say, but I can tell you what she evidently did not say to this reporter but which she should say:…

In Genie’s defense, it’s possible she did say some or even all of those good things to the reporter, but they just weren’t included in the story. I’ve been intereviewed a few times, and usually marvel at how little of what I told the reporter actually gets into the story.

My 1$/50, Dave

In Genie’s defense, it’s possible she did say some or even all of those good things to the reporter, but they just weren’t included in the story. I’ve been intereviewed a few times, and usually marvel at how little of what I told the reporter actually gets into the story.

I agree this is a common problem. But I think you can take steps to alleviate the problem. I think it is imperative for a public spokesperson to understand how to do that.

One rather ineffective but obvious step is to express your diasappointment after the fact. In that regard, I note that I didn’t see a letter from Genie to the editor in today’s Chronicle (although there were some very good letters which set forth some of the facts left out of the article).

I agree that Eugenie Scott is capable of doing better than she did in this piece. Or maybe, as Dave Thomas suggests, the reporter didn’t do her interview justice.

Ms. Scott should try to make clear that all the important scientific organizations are on record as opposing anti-evolution material and creationism being taught in the public schools. I know AAAS is on record on this matter. And isn’t the National Academy of Sciences the really elite body? Aren’t they against it, too? Scott should try to make this point at every opportunity. Most U.S. citizens aren’t that well-educated on matters of science. But most tend to fear – and respect – the considered judgment of scientists. And I don’t know anyone in the world with PhD in biology who teachers biology at an accredited university who does not accept the key tenets of evolution, including the hypothesis of common descent.

Some people might say this is the fallacy of the appeal to authority. But it’s not. Most U.S. citizens don’t know much about science. And those people with a PhD in biology who teach biology at an accredited university understand a lot about evolution. So what U.S. citizens here them say about evolution is very important in terms of whether most U.S. citizens are justified in accepting evolution.

Scott should also say explicitly that this stuff has no business in the public schools. I’ve never seen someone who refers to him or herself as a proponent of intelligent design even offer a clear hypothesis about what he or she thinks happened that is at odds with evolution. What do they think the designer did? Specifically, what event(s) do they think the designer proximately caused? It would be nice to know.

Do they mean to suggest that a designer caused the existence of the first cell(s) on earth?

The following is the closest thing I’ve seen to a hypothesis: Life is too complex to have happened without a designer.

Well, that shouldn’t be taught in public school biology classes. For one thing, it most definitely will suggest to a number of students that common descent is not true. And of course it is true! It might suggest to them that a deity turned inert matter directly into the first two humans. And that didn’t happen. The first organisms that we would recognize as human were born like I was. All organisms descended from a common ancestor. Finally, the above “hypothesis” is so vague that I don’t know what to do with it. I just shrug my shoulders.

Why aren’t more professional scientists getting involved in, and vocal about, this issue? I know many of them think it’s a waste of time – and silly. But if we don’t get more scientists to make clear that that this is nonsense, it might be harder to have good biology teaching in the public schools. Evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology. That’s not even right – modern biology *is* evolution.

From Badkkhen’s article”

The intelligent-design theory makes no reference to the Bible, and its proponents do not say who or what the greater force is behind the design.

No! ID advocates say that they do not say who the designer is, but they fall all over themselves to say exactly who it is on any religious forum, and indeed, in most of thier popular books.

The only bright spot of the article as the poll question on people’s opinion that there is evidence to support evolultion, though split 35/35 on the yes/no, enough people are willing to admit that they do not know enough to form an opinion.

…Unfortunatly, they are only getting one side from this article.

Apparently Darwin’s theory has to be challenged because its, and I quote, “not adequate to explain all natural phenomena.”

She (or one of her sources) apparently conflates the general theory of ID (namely, that science just ain’t so) with the special theory of ID (namely, that evolution just ain’t so).

funny dover spoof:[…]-for-pi.html

Dover Math Teachers Required to Offer ‘Alternative Value’ for Pi (email to a friend)

DOVER, Pennsylvania - The Dover school board has raised eyebrows and ire across Pennsylvania and the country after requiring math teachers to offer 3 as an acceptable value of Pi. Pi is the name given to the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, commonly accepted to be 3.141592, though the actual number is believed to go on endlessly, without repeating. “That’s all well and good,” said Maureen Callister, Dover school board member, “But what about God? Doesn’t he have a say?” Callister cited the Bible, First Kings chapter 7, verse 23, where it says, “He [King Solomon] proceeded to make the molten sea ten cubits from its brim to its other brim, […] and it took a line of thirty cubits to circle all around it.” “If 3 is a good enough ‘pi’ for the Almighty, then it ought to be good enough for us,” stated Callister.

Aw, c’mon, Steve.

Everyone knows that in King Solomon’s times cubits varied in length by a few percent. People back then didn’t know how to make measuring rods of uniform length. They were too busy accurately transcribing ancient scrolls.

Legislating pi = 3?

Y’know, the same thing did (not) happen in Huntsville, Alabama in 1998.

Click here for all the sordid details.

Cheers, Dave

A couple of points. First, a fragment of a quote from Longhorn says, “…it might be harder to have good biology teaching in public schools.” I submit that it has been nearly impossible to get good biology teaching in any public school in the U.S. at any time in its history. In support, let me simply point out that this controversy even exists. If a majority of public schools had “good biology teaching” there wouldn’t be so many people who buy into the ID fallacy. Second, my teeth gnash every time I hear/see the statement that random chance simply couldn’t create such diversity. What random chance? Natural selection is a fundamental and powerful force; the stakes in the game are life and death. True, the variations on which natural selection works tend to be stocahstic (within rather proscribed limits), but the winnowing agent is about as directed as it can be: live or die! (Yes, yes, overly simplified.) Thanks for listening to my rant. Randy

The Philadelphia Inquirer had a similar survey article on Dover (which is about a three-hour drive west of Philly) on November 11th, even giving it front page space below the fold. The reporter made the classic mistake of looking at the issue as two political policy choices and carefully presented “both sides.” She did quote both Jim Miller of the AAAS and Eugenie Scott at NCSE, but not a single local biologist, who I’m sure would be happy to have been quoted, nor Kenneth Miller, author of the text book in question, who is quite voluble on the subject.

The reporter was factually incorrect, however, in describing the Discovery Institute as a “ … think tank … [supporting] scientists who are doing research in intelligent design.” Taking issue with the statement I wrote a letter-to-the-editor to the Inquirer pointing out that the DI did no scientific research of any kind and never has, and that all the resources of the DI were committed to politics and public relations. I kept my letter short, to the 200 words the paper prescribes for a letter-to-the-editor, but two weeks later they have yet to commit it to type. It would appear that despite the reputations for both San Francisco and Philadelphia for being liberal and open-minded towns, when it comes to reporting on evolution/ID neither city can offer a paper much better than what we might find in oh, say Dayton, Tennessee.

So, issue a press release. It should say that the challenge to the Discovery Institute to stage a 5-man football contest between their ID scientists and biologists was scrapped, because they couldn’t find enough people to field a team.

Same with the solo tennis match.

Send it to the sports section, and to the gossip section. Hit them where it hurts.

Recently, whenever I’ve encountered an academic who insists ID has science behind it, I ask for an invitation to visit the lab where the work is carried out.

No ID advocate, or DI representative, has ever issued an invitation to tour an ID lab. To anyone.

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This page contains a single entry by Timothy Sandefur published on December 1, 2004 9:22 AM.

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