For every setback, spin spin spin.

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The Discovery Institute has now begun to spin Judge Cooper’s ruling in Selman v Cobb County School District. No word yet from Answers in Genesis. Let’s be clear about the ruling from the outset:

For the above-stated reasons, the Court hereby FINDS and CONCLUDES that the Sticker adopted by the Cobb County Board of Education violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and Article I, Section II, Paragraph VII of the Constitution of the State of Georgia.

Creation Apologists should take note of that final point, lest they attack the ruling as if it were based solely on the federal constitution.

Now, back to the spin-doctors at the Discovery Institute:

In a somewhat bizarre ruling, the judge found that the sticker’s “fostering critical thinking” about evolution “is a clearly secular purpose.” And, the judge also found that the Cobb County school district had secular, not religious reasons for adopting a textbook sticker dealing with evolution. Yet, he somehow concludes that the “effect” of the sticker would be to advance religion.

The Discovery Institute is just plain wrong about Judge Cooper’s ruling. He did find that the Cobb County School Board had religious reasons for adopting the disclaimer.

The school Board’s decision to adopt the Sticker was undisputedly influenced by sectarian interests . …

Selman v Cobb p28

However, he also found that the board had two honest secular reasons for the disclaimer: primarily appeasing creationist parents and secondarily fostering critical thinking. The judge ruled that these secular reasons outweighed any additional religious reasons. Of course, it can be debated whether the primary reason is non-sectarian.

Furthermore, the Discovery Institute is again just plain wrong in stating that the judge found the disclaimer to be fostering critical thinking about evolution. In fact he found that the disclaimer did not live up to the board’s goal of fostering critical thinking.

the Sticker appears to have the purpose of furthering critical thinking because it tells students to approach the material on evolution with an open mind, to study it carefully, and to give it critical consideration. The other language on the Sticker, which states that evolution is a theory and not a fact, somewhat undermines the goal of critical thinking by predetermining that students should think of evolution as a theory when many in the scientific community would argue that evolution is factual in some respects. Selman v Cobb p24

Judge Cooper also found that the disclaimers undermined biology education in general, to the benefit of creationists.

this Sticker misleads students regarding the significance and value of evolution in the scientific community for the benefit of the religious alternatives. By denigrating evolution, the School Board appears to be endorsing the well-known prevailing alternative theory, creationism or variants thereof, even though the Sticker does not specifically reference any alternative theories.

Selman v Cobb p46

the Sticker also has the effect of undermining evolution education to the benefit of those Cobb County citizens who would prefer that students maintain their religious beliefs regarding the origin of life.

Selman v Cobb p38

distracting tangential issues [caused by the Sticker] effectively dilute evolution instruction to the benefit of the anti-evolutionists who are motivated to advance their religious beliefs.

Selman v Cobb p38

This is a very important part of the ruling, one which the Discovery Institute is happy to ignore.

There is nothing bizarre in this ruling, despite the Discovery Institute’s spin. It is plainly obvious that a public policy could be enacted for secular reasons, but still have the primary effect of advancing sectarian interests. For instance a school board, having been misled by activists, might actually believe that “intelligent design” creationism is revolutionary science and add it to their curriculum. Such subterfuge and innocence would not change the primary effect of the policy, which would be to introduce religion into a public school science class.

The spin-doctors continue:

And, the judge acknowledges that there are scientists who are critical of Darwin’s theory on a scientific basis.

The actual opinion reveals that Judge Cooper acknowledged no such thing. The section which the Discovery Institute is spinning actually says the following:

the amicus brief filed by certain biologists and Georgia scientists indicates that there are some scientists who have questions regarding certain aspects of evolutionary theory . … Selman v Cobb p33, italics mine

The judge found that some scientists question “certain aspects of evolutionary theory” not “Darwin’s theory.” The phrasing is too vague to be taken as support for any “intelligent design” politics. More importantly, the judge made no finding about the basis of the questions of these amici scientists, mostly chemists, who signed a brief prepared by the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute is simply spinning an unfavorable result. (Another amicius brief, which I helped write, raised questions about the basis of anti-evolutionary scientists.)

The ACLU’s focus on the whole theory vs. fact issue was just a side-show. The real issue is whether or not students should learn about both the evidence for Darwin’s theory, as well as that which challenges it.

Wrong again. According to Judge Cooper,

the narrow issue raised by this facial challenge is whether the sticker placed on certain Cobb County School District science textbooks violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and/or Article I, Seciton II, Paragraph VII of the Constitution of the State of Georgia.

Selman v Cobb p2

In fact, Judge Cooper used “theory vs. fact” to establish that the disclaimers were unconstitutional:

unlike the [u]Edwards[/u] and [u]Epperson[/u] Courts, the Sticker does not reference “evolution” as a “scientific theory” or a “prevailing scientific theory.” To the contrary, the Sticker appears to purposely leave to question whether evolution is an accepted or established theory in the scientific community, even if evolution is subject to scientific critique.

Selman v Cobb p39

The Court’s review of pertinent law review articles affirms that encouraging the teaching of evolution as a theory rather than as a fact is one of the latest strategies to dilute evolution instruction employed by anti-evolutionists with religious motivations.

Selman v Cobb p35

Nevertheless, the Sticker here disavows the endorsement of evolution, a scientific theory, and contains an implicit religious message advanced by Christian fundamentalists and creationists, which is discernible after one considers the historical context of the statement that evolution is a theory and not a fact.

Selman v Cobb p41

The Discovery Institute believes that they found the problem with the case:

We’re not surprised at the ruling because the defense attorney mounted a weak defense – which we noted (here and here) during the trial in November. Although the plaintiff’s attorney called scientists to testify, the defense never called a scientist to rebut that testimony, even though there are over 300 - many of them right in Georgia -who have questions about the scientific validity of parts of Darwin’s theory.

I’ve already addressed such statements in detail. Briefly, the scientists for the plaintiffs testified as a textbook author, biology teacher, and county resident. The defendants had a Chemist lined up as a resident to testify against evolution. He dropped out at the last moment, probably because it became known that we were preparing a strong cross against him. It is not the fault of the lawyer for Cobb County that their scientist got cold feet. Personally, I think it is funny that the Discovery Institute is using the school district’s lawyer as its scapegoat. Is there no honor among anti-evolutionists?

The spin concludes with the timeless classic:

There are more than 300 scientists who doubt Darwinism, that’s evidence that proves this is a scientific debate.

I’m going to be repeating myself. When real controversies exist in science, they are between scientists in relevant fields actively researching, experimenting, publishing their results on the issue in critically peer-reviewed journals, and actively defending their work at mainstream, general conferences and in further scientific publications. The individuals in the Discovery Institute’s list do not fit this requirement.

This ruling has been a victory for the scientists, educators, clergy, and ordinary citizens who want quality science education. The Discovery Institute seeks to undermine biology education in an effort to “renew” America, and an opinion like this hurts their campaign considerably. Their misrepresentation of the opinion is little more than a baseless, rhetorical attempt to convince their supporters that all is not lost.

6 TrackBacks

Reed Cartwright thoroughly demolishes the DI's spin concerning the Cobb County case in this post at the Panda's Thumb. Timothy Sandefur continues the fisking in this post, where he points out that all the talk of "critical thinking" on the... Read More

It's been an excellent week for science all around! The attempt by religious fundamentalist board members and residents in Cobb County Independent School District, to place misleading stickers on biology textbooks concerning evolution, was struck down ... Read More

It's been an excellent week for science all around! The attempt by religious fundamentalist board members and residents in Cobb County Independent School District, to place misleading stickers on biology textbooks concerning evolution, was struck down ... Read More

It's been an excellent week for science all around! The attempt by religious fundamentalist board members and residents in Cobb County Independent School District, to place misleading stickers on biology textbooks concerning evolution, was struck down ... Read More

It's been an excellent week for science all around! The attempt by religious fundamentalist board members and residents in Cobb County Independent School District, to place misleading stickers on biology textbooks concerning evolution, was struck down ... Read More

As the reading of the Dover intelligent design statement draws near, the blogosphere seems to be holding its breath. The York Daily Record, with no other shoe to drop just yet, reported on some of the behind-the-scenes action: Attorneys for... Read More

16 Comments

A comparsion between the philosophies of David Hume and Daniel Dennet.

HUME: When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

DENNET:When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract concerning the prefections of darwin and dawkins ? does it suit my philosophical predjudicies concerning evolution and naturalism? No. Commit it then to the universal acid, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

Imagine yourself in the DI creationist’s shoe. How next would you evolve the Sticker given this Judge’s ruling?

Does the Discovery Institute promote critical thinking?

Reed, thanks for the anlysis. It cogently outlines why the ID legal offensive will almost always fail, provided the attorneys for the evolution side mount a competent case. From reading Cooper’s opinion, I also think he drew support from the amicus briefs for his ruling, which only illustrates their importance. Speaking of amicus briefs, does anyone know if any plans are being drawn for one or more amicus briefs in the Dover case? I’m a Pennsylvania resident, living an hour’s drive from Harrisburg, where the trial will be held and two hours from Dover, but I’m neither an attorney nor a biologists (just a retired text book editor) so I’m not competent to assist in any direct way. But I’d be more than happy to contribute financially in supporting a amicus effort (I already support the Pennsylvania ACLU).

The decision reads

Nevertheless, the Sticker here disavows the endorsement of evolution, a scientific theory, and contains an implicit religious message advanced by Christian fundamentalists and creationists, which is discernible after one considers the historical context of the statement that evolution is a theory and not a fact.

That has to scare the bejeebus out of the Discovery Institute. If every court considers IDC in “historical context” it will be impossible for them to seperate themselves from the creationism of the 80’s and 90’s. Heck, some of their arguments are word-for-word!

And I’ve always said, IDC may be the last gasp for creationists in this country. When compared to the old biblical creationism, intelligent design creationism concedes so much that if it gets shot down, I’m afraid there’s nowhere else in biology for them to retreat to.

Maybe then they’ll become a millstone for cosmologists. We’ll hear rantings against Hartle-Hawkinsism and the materialist mindset of the entire astrophysics community.

Reed, thanks for the anlysis. It cogently outlines why the ID legal offensive will almost always fail, provided the attorneys for the evolution side mount a competent case. From reading Cooper’s opinion, I also think he drew support from the amicus briefs for his ruling, which only illustrates their importance. Speaking of amicus briefs, does anyone know if any plans are being drawn for one or more amicus briefs in the Dover case? I’m a Pennsylvania resident, living an hour’s drive from Harrisburg, where the trial will be held and two hours from Dover, but I’m neither an attorney nor a biologists (just a retired text book editor) so I’m not competent to assist in any direct way. But I’d be more than happy to contribute financially in supporting a amicus effort (I already support the Pennsylvania ACLU).

Keanus Wrote:

Speaking of amicus briefs, does anyone know if any plans are being drawn for one or more amicus briefs in the Dover case?

It has been considered. As far as I know, no definate plans have been made.

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Sorry, I mistyped my formatting instructions, but you get the point.

Jason further observed…

And I’ve always said, IDC may be the last gasp for creationists in this country.  When compared to the old biblical creationism, intelligent design creationism concedes so much that if it gets shot down, I’m afraid there’s nowhere else in biology for them to retreat to.

Evolutin will always win in the sphere of science. Barring a court system packed with Scalias and Rehnquists—not an impossibility given the current political climate—It will almost always win in the courts. But it can still lose in the political sphere. All it needs are enough key congresspeople and senators, e. g., Ricky Santorum, and we could find Congress at best cutting off science funding or worse, legislating the results, which we’re already seeing signs of under the current administration.

Kefanus wrote, “[evolution] can still lose in the political sphere.” To say the least. Since most people are never going to understand very much about evolution or any other scientific topic, there is no reason to believe they will ever change their minds or stop resisting the teaching of real biology. The realistic hope is to keep them more or less at bay. Much more than that is utopian.

It is important to support the ACLU. The right wing machine has been as successful in misleading people about them, as they have been in rallying republicans against democrats. Lots of people are now misinformed about the ACLU. Years ago, I was a victim of such misinformation. I too thought they were nutty until I went to their website and read their positions, and found I agreed with about 80% of them, and immediately joined.

It is important to support the ACLU. The right wing machine has been as successful in misleading people about them, as they have been in rallying republicans against democrats. Lots of people are now misinformed about the ACLU.

An interesting exercise is to compile a list of all the conservative or right-wing causes and positions the ACLU is supporting, and post this list on one of the many websites dedicated to excoriating the ACLU, the UN, secular humanists, gays, the income tax, and the Usual Suspects. Most of the time, this list will simply sink to the bottom without any comment at all. Sometimes you get a token protest that you are posting lies or exceptions. The anti-ACLU volume level never even blips. People are protesting a symbol for *something*, but it’s not reality.

Lurker Wrote:

Imagine yourself in the DI creationist’s shoe. How next would you evolve the Sticker given this Judge’s ruling?

It would say something like:

“Evolution is the only scientific theory (explanation) for the origin of species. It is not to be confused with the origin of life (abiogenesis) which occurred at least once by definition. While scientists continue to debate the details of evolutionary processes, the conclusion that species are related through decent with modification over a nearly 4 billion year history on earth is overwhelmingly supported by multiple lines of independent evidence. Unfortunately, some activist groups misrepresent this evidence, and what scientists say about it, in order to pretend that another theory is as good or better. Because evolution is so well supported, detractors resort to promoting a false dichotomy, whereby it’s either a caricaturized ‘naturalistic’ evolution or ‘something else’ driven by a Creator or ‘designer.’ Evolution, like anything else in science, does not rule out the possibility that an almighty Creator is responsible for any event in nature.”

Then another DI shoe would promptly kick me out of the DI.

How about this:

“Every scientific theory has ultimately proved to be at least partly wrong. Students should understand that in learning any scientific theory, they are not necessarily learning the truth. All study of science should be performed with a firm knowledge of the limitations of science and the scientific method.”

Well put, Flint. The key point is that anyone promoting a sticker, disclaimer, qualification, reservation…, whatever, applied to one particular scientific area better be prepared to explain why that one area is singled out from all the others. And that explanation needs to be free of implicit as well as explicit religious “reasoning”.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Reed A. Cartwright published on January 15, 2005 2:56 AM.

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