Charles Haynes on the Lebec, CA case


Unlike a few other editorials on the Lebec, CA case about a “Philosophy of Intelligent Design” class, Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center went and actually read the Plaintiffs’ complaint and other relevant materials. And guess what? He agrees with the plaintiffs that the class was “a thinly disguised attempt to challenge evolution by promoting intelligent design and creationism.” He goes on to write,

Labeling a course “philosophy” doesn’t relieve the district from presenting material objectively - using the best scholarship and assigning age-appropriate readings representing a range of views.

Like Dover’s, the El Tejon strategy is self-defeating. After this one-two legal punch, ID advocates are on the ropes. Any future attempt to “teach the controversy” – even if an effort is made to make it academically sound – will be met with much skepticism and a battery of lawyers.

This is signficant coming from Charles Haynes, who – at least before the Kitzmiller decision – tended to bend over backwards to give ID advocates every benefit of the doubt, and endorsed “teach the controversy” in basically every essay he wrote on the topic. See for example this essay by Haynes from June 2005, which the Discovery Institute happily posted on its website. And in this essay from 1999 Haynes pretty clearly recommends teaching ID in public school science classes as if it were a legitimate scientific alternative. I wonder if he now feels like he was tricked by the ID movement, which sold a fair number of the people who paid some attention to ID, but didn’t follow it very closely, on the line that ID really had some science to it, and was “not creationism”. When the Plaintiffs proved beyond any doubt that, well, yes, ID really was creationism, and was in fact a direct continuation of the “creation science” legal strategy that had already tried and failed in the 1987 Supreme Court Edwards v. Aguillard decision, I suspect that people like Haynes felt a little bit burned.

Some day, Haynes might even come around to the view that “teach the controversy” is itself just another sham phrase adopted by the ID movement as a legal and media cover for forcing ridiculous creationist pseudoscience into the public schools. Unfortunately for Haynes’s repeatedly expressed hopes, no ID proponent has ever attempted to make “teach the controversy” academically sound, and there is little prospect of this occurring in the future given the past history of the ID movement, and the so-far universal pattern of creationist politicians using “teach the controversy” as cover for their agenda of government-funded religious apologetics. He might tell the ID advocates what everyone should have been telling them from the beginning: if you are serious about getting your fringe view scientifically accepted, you should ignore the public schools entirely and do what every other science had to do, namely, win the battle in the scientific community first. It will be a shame if it takes another expensive and divisive court case to convince Haynes to take these last few steps.


Unfortunately, there is no scientific validity to the Intelligent Design viewpoint. Even Behe’s “could have been a spaceman” is just an obfuscation. All it does it move the question from “Where did life on Earth come from?” to “Where did the spaceman come from?” At some point you get back to either Goddidit or a naturalistic explanation that includes the development of life and natural organisms from less complex structures.

And if it can happen to Spaceman Spiff, then why must the ID crowd assume it cannot happen here? Invoking the principle of Occam’s Razor, the additional logical overhead of involving space aliens - why come here? why grow humans? Where are they now? How do you travel interstellar distances without winding up looking like a deep fried radiation victim? etc etc - renders this theory less than useable.

From Wikipedia: (’s_Razor)

For example, after a storm you notice that a tree has fallen. Based on the evidence of the storm and the fallen tree, a reasonable hypothesis would be that the storm blew down the tree — a hypothesis that requires you to suspend your disbelief very little, as there exist strong logical connections binding what you already know to this solution (seeing and hearing storms does indeed tend to indicate the existence of storms; storms are more than capable of felling trees). A rival hypothesis claiming that the tree was knocked over by marauding 200-metre tall space aliens requires several additional assumptions, with various logical weaknesses resulting from inconsistencies with what is already known (concerning the very existence of aliens, their ability and desire to travel interstellar distances, their ability and desire to (un-)intentionally knock down trees and the alien biology that allows them to be 200 metres tall in terrestrial gravity), and is therefore less preferred.

The ID position that it doesn’t have to be a supernatural entity, and that makes it science is just an obfuscation of their true belief.

And the prize for the most uses of the word obfuscate or derivatives thereof goes to…

I hate it when I get a word stuck in my head like that.

As a future prediction, I think if ID takes up the stance of teaching in philosophy classes, we’re going to have a lot of irate philosophers weighing in as scientists do now.

But the most salient point above was the one about, regardless of the class you are teaching in, needing to adhere to academic standards. Pushing a class teaching a wildly outdated overtly religious viewpoint is going to fail at all levels (below, possibly, college).

Nick Matzke Wrote:

Some day, Haynes might even come around to the view that “teach the controversy” is itself just another sham phrase adopted by the ID movement as a legal and media cover for forcing ridiculous creationist pseudoscience into the public schools.

Sounds like, if he does, he’ll be ahead of many others. The first step is to discover that there is no scientific controversy regarding evolution itself. There are controversies within the theory (specific mechanisms, etc.), but the controversy referred to by the ID catchphrase is a social, political, and religious controversy.

So the question becomes: Is high-school science class the proper venue for such a controversy? Clearly not. Furthermore, no classroom setting is the place for propoganda, and no public school is the place for preaching. I hope that the result of this case is a sign that “expensive and divisive court cases” will not only be unnecessary to convince Haynes but also to persuade schools around the country to respect, as Haynes put it, both “academic rigor [and] the First Amendment.”

Even at the college level, they still need to adhere to some sort of academic standards, even if it’s just integrity in the course description.

Greg H,

You are very correct. I caused a hullabaloo and got my tuition refunded because the teacher had a syllabus that did not match the course description. It wasn’t a bad class, in fact it was a very good one, for someone with one or two more years’ worth of study in the subject.

I think because I was a grown-up and was paying my own money for the class, rather than Dad & Mom’s, or the government’s or the scholarship committees, I was more willing to raise a ruckus.

I think the biggest advantage for adult students is that we no longer treat the instructors and school system as infallible.



There’s also the fact that most colleges are forced to compete for students, as it is not a mandatory forum. The atmosphere is very different when you do not have to be there, so to speak. In college, if your courses suck, you are learning nothing, and they want you to pay, they either have to change or you leave and go somewhere else, in most cases.

In high school, you have a (mostly) captive audience. It’s a very different animal. I thought high school was highly fallible and the vast majority of what I was “learning” I ignored (sometimes arrogantly, sometimes correctly). That didn’t stop them from requiring me to be there, however.

My college experience was dramatically different. If nothing else, I think most college professors take their academic standing much more seriously.

Don’t get me started on the validity (or lack thereof) of course descriptions. Suffice it to say that before I took my “Linear Alegera” class, I had never had one before. And now that I’ve taken it, I still haven’t taken one.

Being in an accelerated program at a private University, I pay a brickload of money for my education - and I get downright ticked off when I don’t get my money’s worth.

I like to believe that professors at the university and college level take their academic standing more seriously, as AD said. And I think that by and large, that’s probably true. But some of them really couldn’t care less if they ever teach again, and they’re dragging their students down with them.

I’m certainly not claiming all of them do. I had a professor who cancelled class for a Yankees game at one point.

However, I can state that from my (approximately 60 member) data set of professors that I took in college, more of them took their jobs seriously than at lower levels of school. More of them also went out of the way to provide a context and evidence for the claims that they were making, especially those in science, philosophy, and literature classes.

Mathematics (my area of specialty) is a little different, because you can be conclusively proven to be right or wrong without any possible question and no lack of evidence. It’s a rather nice field to work in, but you have to suspend that level of proof when working elsewhere.

That’s also why I find Dembski to be such an affront. If he’s really a mathematician, he should know better than to issue the illogical bullshit that he does and claim it is absolute truth.

As a future prediction, I think if ID takes up the stance of teaching in philosophy classes, we’re going to have a lot of irate philosophers weighing in as scientists do now.

There will also be a lot of losing court cases for the IDers.

ID is preaching. And it’s illegal to preach in public schools. No matter what course you try it in.

Interesting subject. Controversial question. I do not even know if I would like to study ID while at school.

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on January 26, 2006 10:05 PM.

Call for science submissions was the previous entry in this blog.

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