Santorum Spreading Santorum

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Republican Senator Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania is probably the loudest political voice for incorporating tenets of “intelligent design” creationism into biology education. He is infamous for introducing a Phillip-Johnson drafted amendment to the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act Authorization Bill, which was later renamed the No Child Left Behind Act. This amendment contained the following language:

It is the sense of the Senate that (1) good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science; and (2) where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why the subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject.

Although the amendment was passed by the Senate, the conference committee eventually stripped the language from the law after vociferous protests from the scientific community. Even though his amendment failed, Santorum continues to support the anti-evolution movement. The current Newsweek profiles him as a powerful voice, an emerging leader of the “new faith-based GOP,” and potential candidate for president. According to the article, “[e]volution, he says, should be taught in public schools, but only as a still-controversial scientific theory that ‘has holes.’”

With creationist shenanigans happening in his own back-yard, he could not resist speaking out in support of them. However, Santorum’s op-ed drastically misrepresents what’s going on in Dover.

The fact is that the Dover Area School District will continue to teach evolution and prohibit the teaching of intelligent design, creationism or the presentation of any religious beliefs.

This is a questionable statement indeed, but one that the school district’s lawyers from the Thomas More Law Center are actually trying to use. What is factual is that the Dover Area School Board has actually amended the biology curriculum to include the following statement:

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. The Origins of Life is not taught.

Dover Biology Curriculum Press Release

Maybe it’s just the literalist in me, but that sure doesn’t look like a statement prohibiting the teaching of intelligent design. Apparently the Thomas More Law Center’s idea of education holds that it is possible for teachers to make pupils “aware” of something in science class without it being “taught.” It is worthwhile to note that Santorum is on the advisory board of the Thomas More Law Center, a conflict of interest which he failed to mention in his op-ed.

The school board simply has presented a balanced curriculum that makes students aware of the controversies surrounding evolution.

Once again, Santorum is misleading. Dover’s school board has yet to present any new curriculum which implements “balance” in biology classrooms. Instead, they require that biology teachers read a nay-saying statement to the class. Dover’s teachers have noticed this lack of implementation and have asked the board for explicit guidelines for responding to student questions and have refused to be involved in formulating such guidelines. Their position is essentially “we’ll teach whatever crap you tell us to teach, but we’re not going to help you figure out what that crap will be.” There is good reason for the lack of implementation in the curriculum; there is nothing of substance in “intelligent design” to teach. It is hard to develop a curriculum when there is nothing to teach.

But is there a real scientific dispute? Absolutely. Recently, over 300 scientists, including scholars from Yale, Princeton, MIT and the Smithsonian, signed a public statement declaring that they were “skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life” and encouraging “careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory.”

What exactly does Santorum think the statement disputes? Biologists have known for over a century that random mutation and natural selection are not sufficient to entirely explain the complexity of life, which is why concepts like genetic drift, gene flow, and isolation are found in the biological literature and textbooks. Furthermore, no scientist would argue that evidence for any scientific theory should not be carefully examined. But suggesting that “Darwinian theory” (whatever that is supposed to be) is in special need of scrutiny is wholly unwarranted and offensive to the scientists who – unlike anybody associated with the ID movement – are constantly advancing our knowledge of the history of life. The constant pimping of the Discovery Institute’s statement and signatures does not establish the existence of a scientific dispute. Instead, it establishes that the pundits have serious shortcomings in their biology education.

Now we can ignore the literal statement and instead look at the message that the majority of signers, the Discovery Institute, and hacks like Santorum intend to send with the list, i.e. that there is a scientific dispute over evolution. Not every disagreement amongst scientists amounts to a valid scientific debate, dispute, or controversy. Scientists are people like everyone else and may share disagreements about politics, religion, history, English, literature, food, wine, movies, or any innumerable subjects, but such disagreements are not scientific. Similarly, no scientist is an authority on everything, and scientists speaking outside their realm of expertise do not establish that there exists a valid scientific dispute. Clearly the existence of scientists who simply disagree with a scientific consensus does not amount to a scientific or even academic disagreement. In addition, Skip Evans has raised other criticisms of the Discovery Institute’s list. Perhaps the realities of the Discovery Institute’s anti-evolutionary list can be best gauged by comparing it to the the list of over 500 scientists named “Steve” who state “there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence.”

A 2001 Zogby poll shows that 71 percent of Americans believe that “biology teachers should teach Darwin’s theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it.” Even more overwhelming is a 2004 Steinberg Poll showing 73 percent of California voters believe that biology teachers in public schools should teach the scientific evidence for and against Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Such opinion polls are questionable because they ask loaded and leading questions. (If national opinion polls actually drove Santorum’s politics then he would favor legal abortions because nearly 60% of Americans do.) But perhaps the more important observation is that nearly 100% of all working biologists would say that there exists no scientific evidence against evolution. In fact, a poll of scientists in Ohio from all disciplines found that 93% were not aware of “any scientifically valid evidence or an alternate scientific theory that challenges the fundamental principles of the theory of evolution.”

If we want our students to become educated citizens, we should all support an open, engaging and broad discussion of evolution theory in our public schools.

If this is Santorum’s view of education, then I’d hate to be one of his six home-schooled children. Open discussion does not educate students if it is neither informed nor honest. An objective investigation of anti-evolution literature and politics easily demonstrates the paucity of informed or honest ideas. There is nothing more unfair than treating unequal ideas equally.

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I recently sent a letter to Senator Santorum requesting clarification on his position regarding the teaching of evolutionary biology. I know that he is probably too busy to read, let alone answer my letter, but I could not just sit back and do nothing. I even invited him to participate on Talk Origins if he prefers. If he truly puts principle over politics, he will ignore the possible political risk of telling America exactly where he stands. So far, his editorials tell us next to next to nothing. One even suggested that he privately accepts evolution, but has fallen for the “fairness” line.

My questions were:

1. Your recent editorial indicates that you advocate the teaching of evolutionary biology and none of the specific, mutually contradictory “creationist” alternatives in science class. Is this an accurate statement of your position?

2. Do you object to the teaching of creationist positions because the Supreme Court determined that they are religious views, because their specific claims fail the scientific tests, or both?

3. Do you agree that the “full range of scientific views” presently concurs with the conclusion that life on earth has existed for approximately 3.8 billion years?

4. Do you agree that the “full range of scientific views” presently concurs with the conclusion that humans are biologically related to other species?

5. Do you agree that “intelligent design” (ID), as presented by its chief advocates, is best taught in a non-science class, along with a critical analysis of it?

6. Do you agree that a true scientific critical analysis of the “full range of scientific views” is appropriate for science class, and that it is not the same as the “critical analysis of evolution” approaches as presented by ID advocates?

7. Do you agree that evolutionary biology, as presented by mainstream science, and as opposed to a common false caricature, does not rule out that an intelligent designer ultimately controls it?

8. Do you agree that many scientists who have challenged specific details of evolutionary theory have been misrepresented as challenging the theory in general, and/or its conclusions regarding common descent and the timeline of natural history?

To Talk Origins and Pandas Thumb participants: Please take the time to remind him of these questions, and others that you may think of in the same vein. And please avoid questions that challenge his religion or politics. I don’t want him to get away with the myth that this is a religious conservative vs. “secular liberal” issue.

Note: I am also posting this on Talk Origins.

“I think by far the most important bill in our whole code, is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness… The tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.” –Thomas Jefferson to George Wythe, 1786. ME 5:396

As George Lakoff might suggest, the Dover “balance” will be less appealing if we can make the general public realize that it’s a balance between science and pseudoscience.

‘Apparently the Thomas More Law Center’s idea of education holds that it is possible for teachers to make pupils “aware” of something in science class without it being “taught.” ‘

Somewhere in the mountain of comments, letters, etc. regarding the Dover Affair that I’ve collected, someone representing the school bored said exactly this.

Les Lane Wrote:

As George Lakoff might suggest, the Dover “balance” will be less appealing if we can make the general public realize that it’s a balance between science and pseudoscience.

Absolutely. And my main point of late is that, when we try to frame it as a “left vs. right” or “religious vs. ‘secular’” issue, we only wind up making it (ID, “teach the controversy,” etc.”) more appealing.

mark Wrote:

Somewhere in the mountain of comments, letters, etc. regarding the Dover Affair that I’ve collected, someone representing the school bored said exactly this.

To make students “aware” all one needs to do is point them to www.talkorigins.org, which is the best source for easy access to all of the anti-evolution positions and strategies. Schools have computers for students without home Internet access. Students can find out for themselves why the anti-evolutionist sites do not make it nearly as easy to access contrasting opinions. I have yet to see any “teach the controversy” group emphasize Talk Origins as a resourse, of course, which means that it is they who have something to hide.

I appreciate how counterintuitive it is, but the “it’s only fair” approach of the anti-evolutionists is decidedly less fair that of the “evolution only” advocates.

Here’s a good read:

Blinded By Science How ‘Balanced’ Coverage Lets the Scientific Fringe Hijack Reality By Chris Mooney Appearing in the Nov/Dec 2004 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review

I find it interesting, and puzzling, that Sen. Santorum attacks the use of crank science in courtrooms, where, he claims, it unfairly costs corporations money when they lose, but he supports the use of crank scienc in schools, where it costs all of us our future.

Or has he come out against “tort reform” that I missed?

In early 2003 I wrote a letter to Sen. Santorum specifically about the “Santorum Amendment” to the No Child Left Behind Act. After briefly describing the gulf between evolution and intelligent design and expressing my dissatisfaction at his efforts to promote ID, I added the following …

“Your effort strikes me as similar to that of the legislator in Indiana a century ago, who sought to legislate that the value of p be a nice round 3. Of course, had he succeeded, and he almost did, it would have been to no effect since the value of p is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to it’s radius, an invariant number not subject to popular vote. The same holds true for evolution. It is the factually based, thoroughly validated, extraordinarily powerful bedrock of modern biology. Neither religious lobbying nor edicts from Washington, no matter how subtly couched, will change that. Nature is as nature does, and not as Washington or some brand of theology does. I expect Democrats to believe that all wisdom and knowledge originates in Washington, but I never thought I’d see a Republican do the same. But then given John Ashcroft’s willingness to nibble away at the Bill of Rights, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.”

And then I closed by noting that …

” … your web site maintains that the language of your “sense of the senate” resolution on evolution and intelligent design was included in the version of H. R. 1 that was signed by George Bush. That is not the case. The conference committee very significantly edited your language, stripped that edited version from the final bill, including it only in the conference report where it has no force in law. Not only should you be embarrassed to have initiated such an effort, you should be doubly embarrassed to imply that it is law, when it is not, especially when you are a lawyer. How are voters like my wife and me to interpret such a misstatement of fact?”

More than a year later he answered my letter giving me two pages of blather but claiming that …

“My amendment was included in the final version of H. R. 1 [the NCLB Act].” And claiming the amendment was not edited by the conference committee.

We live in Pennsylvania, so you can imagine my wife and I might not vote for him when he’s up for re-election in 2006. By the way his op-ed piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last weekend repeated the canard that his amendment is still part of the law. Such hubris!

The CJR piece still misses the mark when it says

That doesn’t mean that scientific consensus is right in every instance. There are famous examples, in fact, of when it was proved wrong: Galileo comes to mind, as does a lowly patent clerk named Einstein.

Actually, neither of those instances are correct. Galileo’s problems with the Church were more subtle. The Church was perfectly willing to accept the heliocentric model as a means of doing positional calculations; they got testy when Galileo asserted that the earth really did revolve around the sun. The issue was the role of revelation vs. observation in how humans learned about the world. There was some Vatican politics involved, too. And Einstein worked on a mainstream problem of Physics, how light behaved if there were no medium to propagate it (recollection may be faulty, here).

Our journalistic friends often suffer from naive Kuhnianism, the idea that every change in Science is due to a revolutionary act that sweeps aside the detritus of the past. In fact, progress is more often cumulative. I’ve witnessed the initial presentations of a few paradigm shifts in my day (reverse transcription, interrupted genes, catalytic RNA) and the most common response is to check the data, and then get to work exploiting the new information.

Which is what happened with Galileo’s and Einstein’s work, too.

And Einstein worked on a mainstream problem of Physics, how light behaved if there were no medium to propagate it (recollection may be faulty, here).

I suspect that the reference here is NOT to Einstein’s work in relativity, but to his opposition to various aspects of QM (leading to the now infamous “God doesn’t play Texas Hold ‘em with the universe.”)

The Einstein quote “God does not play with dice” was brilliantly answered by Neils Bohr: “Who is Einstein, telling God what to do?”

Re Santorum, this is a political ploy. He is due for a nasty reelection battle in 2006. And it’s not going to be pretty. He got in trouble when it was revealed that the State of PA was paying big bucks for his kids’ private education in DC area. I suspect he is shoring up his support among the fundies, in the same way that Bush referred to the Dred Scott decision (code for Roe v. Wade) in the debates. It’s a way of ensuring that they stay in the fold. Santorum is an Opus Dei Catholic (i.e., somewhere on the Pope’s right flank), and therefore should have no truck with creationism.

re Nothing to teach about ID

How about we teach that intelligent agents wearing lab coats in the year 2002 took a gene map of poliovirus, a decidedely unnatural gene splicing machine, non-living chemicals, and created a living organism thus proving that it is possible for intelligent agents to create life. The effort took about two years.

We can also teach that in 2003 the usual suspects accomplished the same thing in a few weeks with an esoteric bacteriophage demonstrating that intelligent agents improve their game with practice.

Or how about we teach them about genetic engineers (presumably intelligent agents) that have tinkered with genes to produce useful results that are (controversially I might add) sitting in grocery store produce bins. Once again proving that intelligent agents can interfere with natural evolution.

The problem we have here, folks, is that no additional scientific proof is required to prove the possibility for ID. We all know that it’s not just possible, it’s proven that intelligent agents (such as ourselves) can tinker with evolution.

On the other hand, evolutionists are getting the living bejesus smacked out of them (pun intended) just trying to demonstrate possible paths to naturalistic evolution.

So let me get this straight, DaveScot; if I use a photocopier to reporduce the King James version of the Bible, I get to claim that I wrote it?

Wow, ID is cool!

DaveScot,

The differences in your examples and actual “intelligent design” creationism is that IDC claims to infer the existience of a sentient designer from the nature of an object. However, IDC refuses to make any hypothesis about the nature of the designer, other than saying in private that it was the Christian God. This is very important because one cannot detect design without knowledge of the designer. Unless I am willing to constrain the designer, giving it specific traits, I am unable to infer whether anything was designed by it.

We are able to infer human design and action by the simple fact that we have knowledge about humans and human design processes. Such knowledge is lacking for “intelligent design” creationism’s creator.

Demonstrating the possibility that things can be designed intelligently in no way validates the possibility of “intelligent design” creationism.

There is still nothing to teach.

Just for the record, the Indiana bill did not set Pi to 3, but several other values including 3.2 and 4.

http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a3_341.html

It was basically one crackpot and a legislature that did not understand.

DaveScot,

The problem we have here, folks, is that no additional scientific proof is required to prove the possibility for ID. We all know that it’s not just possible, it’s proven that intelligent agents (such as ourselves) can tinker with evolution.

Unfortunately for the purposes of education, this is not the kind of ID that the ID movement is concerned with. If it were, they would discuss these kinds of intelligent designers in the various and appropriate places.

The fact that the movement refuses to discuss the actual nature of the designer (except, of course, for those wonderful folk in Dover; God bless ;em!) indicates that they are concerned with designers operating in time-space areas where human and animal designers do not appear.

For those designers, we have neither evidence nor hypothesis. In fact, all have is religion.

On the other hand, evolutionists are getting the living bejesus smacked out of them (pun intended) just trying to demonstrate possible paths to naturalistic evolution.

Your ignorance is duly noted. Do you have any support for this remarkable joke? (Though I do appreciate the unintended humor of your remark).

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This page contains a single entry by Reed A. Cartwright published on December 31, 2004 1:37 PM.

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