Game Over in Rio Rancho, NM: Science 1, Wedge 0

| 31 Comments

By Marshall Berman, Kim Johnson and Dave Thomas

rip401.JPG

After producing division and confusion for more than two years in Rio Rancho (New Mexico) science classes, the Rio Rancho School Board formally terminated the ill-fated experiment known as “Policy 401.” First passed in August of 2005, the policy did not mention “Intelligent Design” (ID) by name, but was perceived by the community and press as favorable to ID and creationism arguments, and as encouraging discussion of these “alternatives” to evolution.

All seats were filled during the Rio Rancho school board meeting of Dec. 3rd, 2007.

The original policy declared that

The Rio Rancho Board of Education recognizes that scientific theories, such as theories regarding biological and cosmological origins, may be used to support or to challenge individual religious and philosophical beliefs. Consequently, the teaching of science in public school science classrooms may be of great interest and concern to students and their parents. … discussions about issues that are of interest to both science and individual religious and philosophical beliefs will acknowledge that reasonable people may disagree about the meaning and interpretation of data.

The policy was met with strong opposition before and after its passage, from both the science community and the science teachers affected by the decision. Policy 401 was modified in March of 2006, leaving in language that was already in statewide science standards, but removing the remark “that reasonable people may disagree about the meaning and interpretation of data.” Still, the policy was perceived by the general public and the media as allowing and promoting discussions of ID and creationism in district science classes. The main reason for this perception was the continuing claims by many ID supporters, most notably the Intelligent Design Network of New Mexico, that the policy was ID/creationism friendly. More than a year after 401 was modified, Joe Renick, the executive director of IDnet-NM, declared on Christian Radio station KNKT (107.1 FM in Albuquerque, NM, minutes 18 to 21 on the media file) that

We already have a very good policy statement that was written for the Rio Rancho district, that basically does something, and so help me, Peter, I believe that this may be the first time in the country that any school district has ever done this, this is simply to acknowledge that yes, the teaching of biological origins has religious implications… If we had a dozen school districts in New Mexico that came up with a policy on science education similar to that one that was passed by the Rio Rancho school board, that would shake the ground. … That would be the start of a revolution.”

When the host of the talk show, Peter Benson, responded by saying

“If you just have a curiosity about some of these amazing things going on, within Intelligent Design, within Creation, just looking, looking again, anew at God’s Creation… It’s pretty amazing.”

Renick’s reply was immediate:

You find His fingerprints everywhere.

IDNet-NM’s executive director, Joe Renick, penning pages of comments for the Rio Rancho school board meeting of Dec. 3rd, 2007.

The policy was first passed in 2005, when three people on the five-member board were supporters of ID: pastors Marty Scharfglass and Don Schlichte, and Kathy Jackson, whose husband Kevin Jackson had previously had a formal family organization send copies of Michael Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box” to state science teachers. Jackson was later elected Mayor of Rio Rancho, but was forced to resign after a series of financial scandals. In the last school board election, Kathy Jackson was replaced by science supporter Divyesh Patel, and pastors Schlichte and Scharfglass suddenly found themselves in the minority regarding Policy 401. Patel was joined by the two members who opposed the policy from its inception, board president Lisa Cour and member Margaret Terry, and the topic of this divisive policy was re-visited, culminating in a vote on December 3rd, 2007.

Of the fourteen people who made public comments before the vote, eleven supported the board’s decision to revoke the policy, while three wanted the policy to be retained. Jesse Johnson talked about the divisive nature of the Dover, PA situation, warning everyone that “One teacher promoting creationism, plus one angry parent, equals a divided community and an expensive lawsuit.” Another speaker mentioned that science changes and progresses, while religion remains static, and urged the board to consider the advice of Father George Coyne (former Vatican astronomer) to keep science and religion separate. Teacher Teresa Walker supported revocation of the policy because it redundantly re-states state science standards, and therefore implies that Rio Rancho’s science teachers are incapable of following these standards.

The head of the district’s Scimatics Academy, science teacher Dan Barbour, had some of the most penetrating commentary:

The policy has done exactly what the Wedge Strategy is designed to do: divide our community, discredit the scientific process, and promote religious explanation as a scientific explanation.

Former State Board of Education member and post author Marshall Berman, a physicist, mentioned that ID claims such as the lack of evidence of evolution in the fossil record are patently false, and that supporting such claims resulted in the Dover PA board members losing their elections, while the district ended up paying a million-dollar fine. Science teacher Jennifer Miyashiro talked about how distracting and divisive the policy had been in her own classes, and how the district was running the risk of alienating both good science teachers and high-tech businesses. Another science teacher complained that giving students spoon-fed questions straight out of ID texts was hardly “critical thinking,” and asked why, out of 800 state performance standards and benchmarks, was this single standard subjected to such meddling. Physicist and post author Kim Johnson talked about the Lemon Test, and mentioned that Policy 401 certainly engaged both the Effect and Entanglement clauses regarding unconstitutional mixing of religion with public policy, and quite likely the Intent clause as well.

Among those arguing that the board should retain the policy were a parent who said that since neither evolution nor creation could explain new species, both should be taught, and a speaker who cited Einstein’s comment that “Science without religion is lame.” The executive director of IDnet-NM, Joe Renick, read a lengthy statement defending the policy’s “honorable intentions and clear language.” Renick said the policy simply promoted neutrality through objective science education, and blamed the speakers against the policy for being the ones who got things so entangled with religion. He also called them the Darwinist SWAT team!

Post author Dave Thomas was the last commenter, and he read Renick’s statements on the Christian radio station to the board, explaining that statements such as these were the real reason the policy was perceived as supportive of religion, ID, and creationism.

The board members then discussed their own views on the policy. Members Cour, Patel and Terry gave brief and eloquent reasons for their opposition to the policy. Scharfglass said he still supported his policy because biology indeed challenges the religious beliefs of some students, that evolution should not be a topic of indoctrination, and that NM’s standards do not say “Other data should be excluded.” Schlichte went on for many minutes, backed up by a Powerpoint presentation which he said was necessary because “Not everyone in our culture understands these issues.” He went on for quite a while on the claim that all laws stem from beliefs, some religious in nature, and cited bad laws (Nazi extermination of Jews, Communist suppression, Prohibition) as well as good laws (women’s suffrage) as all being based on belief. He said that bad legislation results in the sacrifice of Truth and Freedom, and said that the First Amendment of the Constitution has been reinterpreted from its original purpose (no state-sponsored Religion) to a new, invalid purpose (separation of God from public institutions). He declared that the Supreme Court was schizophrenic for thinking this way, and yet allowing “In God We Trust” to be printed on US currency, or “One Nation Under God” to be included in the Pledge of Allegiance. Schlichte then declared that evolution is just a theory, not a fact, and that students could not learn how to get to Mars if facts (like 2+2=4) were stripped out of science texts. However, he claimed, if all references to evolution were torn out of biology texts (and he complained that they all mention evolution), students would not be impaired one whit in getting to Mars. He then compared the “Two Models,” one being “Matter=>Monkeys=>Man” and the other being in the Book of Genesis, and involving the Creator mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. He said it was better just to remove evolution from school rather than indoctrinate students into believing it as fact, and cited the preponderance of public support for creationism (over 50% in some polls) as evidence that there are valid theories besides evolution.

Board president Cour made a few additional comments, pointing out that the Rio Rancho School District already has policies regarding “Controversial Issues” (Policy 426) and “Freedom of Expression” (Policy 354), and said that students are quite free to pray on their own, and to discuss God and religion in humanities classes like sociology or philosophy, where the discussions are much more respectful and restrained than in science classes. Cour reiterated that students are encouraged to think critically about all topics, not just about evolution, and that she trusts science teachers to follow state curriculum guidelines without redundant coercion by the District. Board president Cour also stated that

Just because evolution is embraced by evil and unethical people, it does not mean evolution is evil.

The Media Circus at the Rio Rancho school board meeting of Dec. 3rd, 2007. KOB TV-4 got it wrong, saying

Dozens showed up from both sides to voice their opinion tonight.

KRQE TV-13 did much better:

For every one person speaking in favor of Policy 401, there were three speaking against it. Many of these were science teachers.

After some more back-and-forth between the opposing poles on the board, the vote was taken, and Policy 401 was revoked at 8:02 PM. Reason and civility are expected to be restored in science classes beginning on December 4th, 2007.

Commentary

When the school board meeting was over, we learned that the Rio Rancho Public Schools lawyer had come to the conclusion that any suit brought against the 401 policy would have been dismissed, because of its benign wording adopted a year ago. While it might be true that a suit brought to dismiss the policy may have been dismissed if this were the only issue, in fact the policy would have almost certainly been named as implemental in any suit brought against the school system for teaching ID creationism. It appears that the real nature of the battle escaped the legal eyes of the lawyer. After the religious intent of 401 was fully established by the two pastors by their own words, and as perceived by the public and press, and after the effect was reported by science teachers, and after the observed entanglement with ID creationism was established, it is not at all clear that the school district would have escaped the cost for and loss of a court suit.

The district should be thankful for all those people who fought for over two years to rescind this policy. The rescission of the policy may very well have kept Rio Rancho Public Schools from being the next “Dover.” It is fairly clear that the two pastors will never either intellectually or viscerally understand this, just as they do not understand science and especially the science of evolution. It is clear that the pastors and like-minded people will probably never understand that the intent of the First Amendment has always been to keep the federal government and any state governments (via the 14th Amendment) from establishing religion in school.

Previous Panda Posts on Rio Rancho:

31 Comments

After reading this, I think another round of “pats on the back” are in order for those who worked so hard on the Dover case.

He said that bad legislation results in the sacrifice of Truth and Freedom, and said that the First Amendment of the Constitution has been reinterpreted from its original purpose (no state-sponsored Religion) to a new, invalid purpose (separation of God from public institutions).

Ah, yes, the notion that Freedom of Religion is not Freedom from Religion. I wonder who is ordained as the keeper of the official list of religions from which we are all forced (by God, or man?) to choose, and by what criteria items are added and subtracted, and by what criteria “none of the above” is forbidden.

He declared that the Supreme Court was schizophrenic for thinking this way, and yet allowing “In God We Trust” to be printed on US currency, or “One Nation Under God” to be included in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Agreed, but his resolution and mine would be quite different. I would like someone to explain to me how the concept of God is anything other than religion.

However, he claimed, if all references to evolution were torn out of biology texts (and he complained that they all mention evolution), students would not be impaired one whit in getting to Mars.

Or, as Scott Adams once put it: “If a grapefruit is happier than a bulldozer, then that means your toaster can turn jam into sound.”

Congratulations to all those involved.

“He declared that the Supreme Court was schizophrenic for thinking this way, and yet allowing “In God We Trust” to be printed on US currency, or “One Nation Under God” to be included in the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Agreed. So, in the interest of accuracy, I propose the following corrections:

In some Gods some of us trust, at least some of the time.

One nation, under Canada, except Alaska and Hawaii.

It certainly appears that policy 401 was only supported by an activist minority in Rio Rancho, and we should all thank the rational people who fought against it.

I note that the wording of the policy was very careful to avoid any mention of ID creationism, but comments like Renick’s on the radio show uncover the true intent of such policies.

Incidentally, I feel it is at best disingenuous and at worst downright dishonest for anyone to claim that there is any scientific doubt about the position of evolutionary theory in modern science. I realise that these people are merely swallowing the claims of the DI, but the truth is so easy to find that people such as pastors Schlichte and Scharfglass have obviously let their own preconceptions colour their judgement. Why are these people deciding what should be taught in a public school anyway?

However, he claimed, if all references to evolution were torn out of biology texts (and he complained that they all mention evolution), students would not be impaired one whit in getting to Mars.

I wouldn’t count on lack of knowledge of biology not being a handicap to long duration spaceflight. If the trip takes years, they need a functioning biosystem on the ship. And that means the planners have to understand biology. Which includes its primary underlying principles.

Henry

However, he claimed, if all references to evolution were torn out of biology texts (and he complained that they all mention evolution), students would not be impaired one whit in getting to Mars.

He is probably right. However, evolution is very important in agriculture and medicine. This only matters if you eat or see a doctor and want to live a long time. How many people eat and avail themselves of modern medicine as opposed to going to Mars?

What a moron. Who allows these people to be around children anyway?

Congratulations to you all in NM. And thanks for your errots and the good news. There is presicious little good news these days, and a victory was good news indeed.

I can’t help but be amused by the confident “game over” headline. With creationists, the game is never over, they simply lost this round and will reorganize, raise more funding, and try again. They were only one vote short; how hard can it be to change it with a good stealth candidate?

So while I applaud everyone who worked so hard to get that one vote altered (the creationists only won by one vote in 2005), don’t sit back and relax. Ignorance never sleeps.

He [Schlichte] said that bad legislation results in the sacrifice of Truth and Freedom, and said that the First Amendment of the Constitution has been reinterpreted from its original purpose (no state-sponsored Religion) to a new, invalid purpose (separation of God from public institutions).

He [Achlichte] declared that bad legislation results in the sacrifice of Truth and Freedom, and said that the First Amendment of the Constitution has been reinterpreted from its original purpose (no state-sponsored Religion) to a new, invalid purpose (separation of God from public institutions).

Since when is it the responsibility or right of a school board in NM to decide what the US constitution says and overrule the US supreme court. Last I heard, schools educate kids, not try to overthrow the federal government.

It would be nice if unrealistic if these clowns would take their ideological hammer and go bludgeon somebody else rather than our kids.

Yeah, Flint. We know this is but one victory in the midst of a war of sorts. We have been fighting these people on the ground for over a decade in many battles. But once in a while, you have to cheer when you win one. We have 1.5 years until the next election. This week we celebrate a bit.

We have learned to always sleep with one eye open.

I am proudly a *Darwinist SWAT Team* charter member, or so says at least one ID creationist ;-)

Kim,

I should emphasize my thanks. What you’ve done takes a lot of time, and seems like holding back the tide. Someday soon, I hope to retire and join your team.

Thanks to Marshall, Kim, and Dave for the mighty effort to maintain science curricula without religious dicta interfering.I would say that Law has prevailed. My thanks also to those citizens who appeared in opposition to Science 401 throughout the year.

Perseverance and reason succeeds. Well done. Kim - Darwin Swat Team - the DST - sign me up. Its deserving of a well designed patch to enhance a good quality ball cap, emblematic of what all of you have accomplished. I’d like to place the first out of state order. Raise some money. A good design would appeal to all the rest of us whose states are at risk of similar ignorant stupidity. David

Now the Dishonesty Institute is going to retract that little pamphlet that claims six, nay, five, nay four states have some kind of vague requirement to teach the controversy in some form and issue it with the corrected number. Scratch New Mexico from its list of states. Real soon, pretty soon. Yeah, sure. I am not holding my breath.

May be we should try to drive a wedge between the professional liars of the Discoverup Institute, its media shills and the rubes who get taken in by such persistent lies and half-truths.

May be till we know for sure otherwise, we should give the pastor Scharfglass the benefit of doubt and explain how he was lied to and cheated by the ID people. May be he is not capable of understanding evolution, as the summary says, but may be he can detect lying and cheating. He must have some level of dishonesty detection as per Darwin’s theory.

Darwinist SWAT Team. When does the T-shirt come out? Can we get Mr. T to model one?

((big sigh of relief))

[However, he claimed, if all references to evolution were torn out of biology texts (and he complained that they all mention evolution), students would not be impaired one whit in getting to Mars. He is probably right.]

First off, the statement about “not getting to Mars” comes off as implying that either the main scientific endeavors, or the only scientific endeavor worthwhile comes as those related to going to Mars. As already pointed out, PLENTY of other scientific endeavors come as worthwhile, and in no way do “moon shots” or “Mars shots” give us enough to motivative most of scientific research.

Second, I don’t think it “probably right” that evolutionary theory has no bearing on getting to Mars. Artifical intelligence devices of various sorts, probably will come as needed or at least signficiantly enough used on whatever ship goes to Mars in some capacity. Various sorts of evolutionary algorithms come as one of the main “engines” of artificial intelligence. So, does work as plausible or significantly possible to think that a “Mars shot” vehicle might have a genetic, memetic, symbiogenetic, or other evolutionary algorithm in some system of the ship or some part of the equipment the astronauts will use? I’d say yes, and if it a “Mars shot” vehicle has such, then evolutionary theory has played a signficiant role in getting to Mars. Of course, one need not know biological applications and details of the theory like how eukaryotes developed from prokaryotes, but someone has to understand the theory in terms of its structure and use such for an evolutioanry algorithm to work.

Left out of the “going to Mars” comment was, why would we go to Mars. One of the main motivations is to…look for life. One of the central scientific questions left is how and where does life arise, what does extraterrestrial life look like, and does it even exist anywhere but earth.

You will need someone with training in the biosciences to figure that out on another planet. You won’t need a religious bigot with an axe to grind.

Life may have arisen there and still be there, evolving to survive under conditions very different from earth. A current theory states that life might have first arisen on Mars as it cooled first and seeded the earth by the known process of collion mediated interplanetary transport. There are pieces of Mars found on earth occasionally. Only one way to find out.

This part struck me:

…Kevin Jackson had previously had a formal family organization send copies of Michael Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box” to state science teachers.

(begin sarcasm) I’m confused. I thought these people wanted to “teach the controversy” and/or give “equal time” to other views. Wouldn’t the obvious way to justify that claim be to also send copies of Kenneth Miller’s “Finding Darwin’s God,” which critically analyzes DBB? Surely they know that Miller sees the same “fingerprints” as Behe, and goes even further at speculating whose “fingerprints” they are. (end sarcasm)

It gives me a lot of hope that, when starkly faced with the issue, voters, even in conservative, rural areas like Dover, Kansas and N.M., have again and again voted out creationists in favor of good science. Of course, the creationists never quit trying, but between the courts and the voters their efforts have been held in check. Hopefully when things blow up in Texas, the creationism controversy will help get a democratic governor elected. Yes, I believe that even in Texas, most parents want their kids to get a good science education!

David Stanton declares: “One nation, under Canada, except Alaska and Hawaii.”

Some people have such a warped view of the world. These North Pole centrists always thinking they are on top, always deciding which way is up. Shouldn’t it be One nation, under Mexico or the Caribbean?

Some groups will always view things through the bottom of a coke bottle and believe they see clearly. I guess the DI will have to produce another rewrite of their pamphlet.

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

KyCobb:

It gives me a lot of hope that, when starkly faced with the issue, voters, even in conservative, rural areas like Dover, Kansas and N.M., have again and again voted out creationists in favor of good science. Of course, the creationists never quit trying, but between the courts and the voters their efforts have been held in check. Hopefully when things blow up in Texas, the creationism controversy will help get a democratic governor elected. Yes, I believe that even in Texas, most parents want their kids to get a good science education!

I truly wish that were so. I suspect the stronger motivation is shame of becoming a laughing stack and spending huge amounts of money in legal proceedings (ala Dover) or fear of that becoming the case (as it appears in New Mexico).

I remember in the mid 70’s the lawsuit in Kalamazoo MI on busing (my parents and sibs were plaintiffs, I was out of school already). The school board lost the suit, insisted on taking to the Supreme Court, lost, and were recalled more for flogging the losing horse than for their stand.

When all is said and done, public school curricula are still being decided on the basis of politics and not on merits of the science and/or scholarship involved.

dpr

Congratulations to the good people of Rio Rancho.

I’m interested that one thread of argument is consistently missed in these discussions. There really are questions about evolution, serious issues that scientists discuss. Intelligent design doesn’t touch on any of them, however, and discussing it only frustrates the serious discussion of such problems.

I’d like to see, in some community some day, a parade of evolution specialists to discuss such problems. A woefully incomplete list of such problems would be: The difficulty of preventing laboratory populations from speciating (that is, “evolving” through “macroevolution”), especially insects in insecticide research; the speed of evolution to a speciating event; how to determine whether a speciating event that did not affect outward morphology occurred between the fossil form of an animal and its living-millions-of-years-later descendant; the role of viruses in evolution; the line between species, especially in ring species; the difficulty of perceiving evolution that occurs over hundreds, thousands or millions of years, by people who generally live between seven and eight decades; serious ethical issues (Is it fair to e. coli to make ‘em make human insulin? Is such a question even rational?); and so on. I’m not really an expert, and I’ve probably missed a few of the most delicious controversies. Yes, I appreciate that present controversies must be done carefully in hopes of avoiding Discovery Institute twisting of the existence of the controversy into another slick press release claiming evolution will soon be dead.

To get into these questions students will need a good understanding of evolution. Intelligent design offers no insight or information of any use, and in fact probably confuses most serious issues in evolution.

In fact, to understand the ID view of evolution and what the faux controversy is, one should have a good understanding of evolution.

So, let’s get the good understanding of evolution first. Teach the facts first (evolution is a fact and the theory that explains it), before teaching any controversy.

Schlichte then declared that evolution is just a theory, not a fact, and that students could not learn how to get to Mars if facts (like 2+2=4) were stripped out of science texts. However, he claimed, if all references to evolution were torn out of biology texts (and he complained that they all mention evolution), students would not be impaired one whit in getting to Mars.

Oh, getting to Mars is a good goal.

But what if I want a treatment, or God bless it, a cure for cystic fibrosis? What if I want to find other chemicals to attack other cancers the way substances from Pacific yews attack breast cancers? What if I want to find a new, safer and easier-to-use vaccine against anthrax? What if I want to find a way to treat or cure HIV/AIDS?

What if I want to find a way to grow grapefruit better in the Rio Grande Valley? What if I want to figure out how to really control the imported fire ant? What if I want to cure malaria, or short of that, figure out better ways to slow and reduce its spread? What if I want to preserve the bald eagle from extinction?

For all of those things, I need evolution. Almost all of those things more directly affect my daily life than getting to Mars would.

I suppose that if ID supporters don’t give a damn about the human race, how we live, the things that kill us, the things that can dramatically improve the lives of the poor, injured, aged and diseased, we could follow their advice on curricula.

But if we do give a damn about the human race, we need to study evolution.

The question should be, why don’t the IDists give a damn?

“Scharfglass said he still supported his policy because biology indeed challenges the religious beliefs of some students, …”

He is not even wrong. If I believed in my house being green, this would be seriously challenged by a photograph of it being red. But evolution is by far not the only fact that should make reasonable people doubt religions…

I can’t help but be amused by the confident “game over” headline. With creationists, the game is never over, they simply lost this round and will reorganize, raise more funding, and try again.

Ah, Flint being Flint once again. The headline says “Game Over in Rio Rancho, NM: Science 1, Wedge 0”. This obviously leaves room for a change in score in subsequent rounds/games. When the bell rings, the Cunucks have won 1:0, and someone says “Game over!”, they aren’t declaring an end to hockey. Sheesh.

I hadn’t realized it was biologists who built spaceships…

I hadn’t realized it was biologists who built spaceships…

For a long duration manned trip they’d need biologists to help plan the life support systems.

Henry

Agreed. I was referring to Schlichte’s notion that evo was irrelevant to space travel, sarcastically. Obviously, it is relevant. It is even more important for those students planning on becoming biologists so, in fact science would be losing much by tossing out evo in school. Schlichte’s remark seemed to imply the opposite…

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dave Thomas published on December 4, 2007 4:00 PM.

The Discovery Institute and the Gonzalez Tenure Issue: Why Should Intelligent Design be Privileged? was the previous entry in this blog.

The Disco Institute has a press conference on Gonzalez’s behalf is the next entry in this blog.

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