FSU prof: Gibbs memo is ‘hollow threat’

| 16 Comments

Remember the memorandum by Gibbs III ‘arguing’ that teaching evolution as a foundational principle for biology would violate the establishment clause?

As reported by our diligent friends at Florida Citizens for Science, FSU law Professor Steven G. Gey, a leading scholar on religious liberty issues calls this a hollow threat. Grey’s full comments can be found here.

In the mean time, enjoy the following excerpt

As I had hinted, I was amazed by the quote mining of Kenneth Miller’s “Finding Darwin’s God” to argue for a position totally opposite to what Miller was arguing.

The offensive part of the memo’s discussion of this point is that it uses several quotes from Ken Miller to bolster the memo’s contention that teaching evolution “will demand that the concept of ‘God’ be banished from the mind and replaced by atheism.” I know Ken Miller. He is not only one of the country’s leading evolutionary biologists, he is also a deeply devout Catholic, who takes his religion very seriously. Here’s what Ken has actually written about the subject (in an article he wrote for the religious website beliefnet.com): “Like many other scientists who hold the Catholic faith, I see the Creator’s plan and purpose fulfilled in our universe. I see a planet bursting with evolutionary possibilities, a continuing creation in which the Divine providence is manifest in every living thing. I see a science that tells us there is indeed a design to life. And the name of that design is evolution.” (See http://www.beliefnet.com/story/171/[…]17123_2.html.) To even remotely suggest that Ken Miller believes that (again quoting the memo) evolutionary theory is “anti-religious and atheistic leaving no room for religion in the life of the mind” suggests that the memo’s author is completely ignorant of both Ken Miller and evolutionary theory.

Full text follows, with author’s permissions.

The first set of recommendations, starting on page 4 of the memo, seeks to water down the language of the proposed benchmarks in a way that subtly casts doubt on the scientific legitimacy of evolution. These recommendations are mostly just silly, but would have the serious effect of reducing the accuracy of the benchmarks. Changing the benchmark language from “is” to “seems to be,” or from “are very different” to “may be different” makes the language more imprecise and makes sense only if one understands the underlying agenda to sneak religious alternatives to evolutionary theory into the science standards. Some of the recommended changes are so badly written they are downright incoherent. Note the additional language at the end of the third recommended change: under the proposed revision of Benchmark SC 912.L.2.1, students are asked to explain what evidence supports evolution and “which division of evolution it supports.” What is a “division of evolution”? I assume this is a reference to the creationist notion (rejected by mainstream scientists) that there is a difference between so-called microevolution and macroevolution, but of course they cannot say this without giving away what they’re trying to do. So instead they just introduce into the benchmarks gibberish that has no bearing on the real science and that will confuse anyone trying to satisfy the standard.

The second set of recommendations, starting on page 5 of the memo, is predicated on a misstatement of the basic scientific evidence. The essential contention in this part of the memo is that the only aspect of evolutionary theory that has been validated sufficiently to serve as a fundamental concept of biology is (in the words of the memo on page 6) “Evolution identified by ‘change over time’ within given species or genera.” Again, this is a reference to the creationist canard of limited or microevolution – which is the notion that although evolutionary changes can happen within species, speciation (that is, the evolution of one species into others) never happens. No mainstream scientist accepts this notion. There is abundant evidence in biology, paleontology, and now genetics, demonstrating definitively that speciation occurs through evolution. Any suggestion that it does not, or that there is any real dispute about this in the scientific community, is flatly inaccurate.

The third set of recommendations, starting on page 7 of the memo, suggests that evolutionary theory is equivalent to atheism. Again, this is inaccurate, misleading about the very nature of science in general, and in some of the references in this section, deeply offensive to the large group of scientists who are both evolutionary biologists and religious adherents. In this section, the memo does what creationists always try to do, which is conflate scientific naturalism – which is the explanation of natural phenomena by natural explanations – with philosophical naturalism – which denies that there is any reality beyond the physical world. Evolutionary biology is clearly naturalistic in the same sense that all science is naturalistic. To reject the claim of scientific naturalism is to adopt the claim that natural phenomena should be explained by supernatural explanations. This leads to absurd conclusions like that offered by Michael Behe in his testimony at the Dover, Pennsylvania intelligent design trial, in which he acknowledged that under the definition of science proposed by intelligent design advocates, astrology is science. It doesn’t take someone with a Harvard Ph.D. in biology to understand the foolishness of that statement.

While it is true that some people – Richard Dawkins is a prime example – use scientific evidence to bolster their own religious or nonreligious views, these arguments about religion have nothing to do with the merits of the scientific evidence itself. Science is science and religion is religion. Nothing in the proposed benchmarks has anything to do with religion; they are all about the details of scientific evidence. The fact that creationists continue to claim that science is nothing more than atheism in disguise is just a rehashed version of claims that have been made for decades by religious fundamentalists who object to secular school curricula on the grounds that by neglecting religious explanations the curricula are anti-religious. These sorts of claims have been litigated and rejected by the courts in various places, including in a famous decision written by Judge Frank Johnson in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (see Smith v. Johnson, 827 F.2d 684 (11th Cir. 1987)).

The offensive part of the memo’s discussion of this point is that it uses several quotes from Ken Miller to bolster the memo’s contention that teaching evolution “will demand that the concept of ‘God’ be banished from the mind and replaced by atheism.” I know Ken Miller. He is not only one of the country’s leading evolutionary biologists, he is also a deeply devout Catholic, who takes his religion very seriously. Here’s what Ken has actually written about the subject (in an article he wrote for the religious website beliefnet.com): “Like many other scientists who hold the Catholic faith, I see the Creator’s plan and purpose fulfilled in our universe. I see a planet bursting with evolutionary possibilities, a continuing creation in which the Divine providence is manifest in every living thing. I see a science that tells us there is indeed a design to life. And the name of that design is evolution.” (See http://www.beliefnet.com/story/171/[…]17123_2.html.) To even remotely suggest that Ken Miller believes that (again quoting the memo) evolutionary theory is “anti-religious and atheistic leaving no room for religion in the life of the mind” suggests that the memo’s author is completely ignorant of both Ken Miller and evolutionary theory.

You are probably right that this memo is intended to suggest that if the proposed science benchmarks are adopted, there will be litigation by those who oppose evolution. I have written, litigated, and taught in this area of law for over two decades, and I can tell you that this is as hollow a threat as could ever be mustered. The simple reality is that for almost 40 years various generations of creationists have tried to stop the teaching of evolution or require that public school authorities “balance” the teaching of evolution with some version of creationism (now marketed under the term “intelligent design”), and every single time they have done so they have lost in court, including two major decisions by the United States Supreme Court. Taking the advice offered by this memo may ensure litigation, but the litigation will come out the same way every other case on the subject has come out: creationists will lose, and anyone taking their advice will end up paying the ACLU millions of dollars in attorneys’ fees. Just ask the Dover, Pennsylvania school board.

Professor Gey is one of the co-authors of the paper Is it Science Yet?: Intelligent Design Creationism and the Constitution which explores the constitutional issues regarding the teaching of intelligent design.

16 Comments

To even remotely suggest that Ken Miller believes that (again quoting the memo) evolutionary theory is “anti-religious and atheistic leaving no room for religion in the life of the mind” suggests that the memo’s author is completely ignorant of both Ken Miller and evolutionary theory.

Sorry, but to me it suggests that, while he may or may not be ignorant of evolutionary theory, he is deliberately misrepresenting Miller.

Frank J:

To even remotely suggest that Ken Miller believes that (again quoting the memo) evolutionary theory is “anti-religious and atheistic leaving no room for religion in the life of the mind” suggests that the memo’s author is completely ignorant of both Ken Miller and evolutionary theory.

Sorry, but to me it suggests that, while he may or may not be ignorant of evolutionary theory, he is deliberately misrepresenting Miller.

I agree. The guy obviously meant to misrepresent Ken Miller’s views. The insanity defense is his only option. Why pretend that it could be simple ignorance when the guy claims to have read the book and misrepresented quotes out of it?

This guy doesn’t have to be insane. He’s probably just another “Liar for The Lord”. The fundies will believe anything that appears to support their position. After all, they already believe a ton of nonsense.

So science is religion and teaching science in public shcools shoud be illegal. OK, then I guess you have two choices - either you have to do away with science in this country (good luck with that), or you have to throw out the constitution that protects your religious freedom (good luck with that). Either way, you and the horse you rode in on are screwed.

If you don’t like science, don’t go to school. If you don’t like the constitution, go live in another country. Either way, it is hypocritical to reap the benefits of both science and the constitution while trying to overthrow one or both.

I don’t think cutting and pasting an entire document found on the web constitutes “fair use”. Did you have the author’s permission? Please be careful, even with the works of friends.

Of course, Prof Gey is the voice of sweet reason itself here. Sadly, sweet reason does not seem to be motivating Gibbs or a broad swath of Floridians at the moment. Perhaps Gibbs thinks he can litigate the next KvD better than the TMLC did.

David vun Kannon:

I don’t think cutting and pasting an entire document found on the web constitutes “fair use”. Did you have the author’s permission? Please be careful, even with the works of friends.

Fair enough… Will update the article

Permission requested and received, updated again with full text.

This reminds me of the old gag that creation science, unable to convince the courts that it really is science and not religion in disguise, has no other option than to try to prove that mainstream evolutionary science is religion in disguise as well. “Plan B!”

Mr G,

I have been saying that for years. Of course, you may have noticed that, when Plan B fails too, they just find a new audience, and start over with Plan A.

I could be wrong, but I seem to notice a higher B/A ratio after Dover.

Frank J:

Mr G,

I have been saying that for years. Of course, you may have noticed that, when Plan B fails too, they just find a new audience, and start over with Plan A.

Ever see John Derbyshire’s witty demolition of George Gilder (one of the founders of the DI)? Derbyshire compares fighting Darwin-bashers with playing “Whack-A-Mole” …

Mr. G,

Thanks, I do remember that, and enjoyed it, along with many of his other criticisms of ID/creationism. I must, however, disagree with this statement:

“A research program in paleoanthropology premised on the idea that speciation by evolution is not the case, would have nowhere to go, nothing to do, and nothing to tell us.”

Right off the bat there’s saltation and independent abiogenesis - two formal alternatives that would not only offer promise in pinpointing design actuation, but would offer alternative hypotheses supported on their own merits, as opposed to the same old “weaknesses” with “Darwinism.”

But instead of pursuing those tantalizing new ideas, the scam artists will continue to play Whack-A-Mole. And they - the ID faction at least - will do it because they know that the new ideas will fail the tests. But every now and then we need to take a break from “whacking the moles” and show the less hopeless part of their audience how their endless game playing is an effective admission that they have no promising alternate theory.

a famous decision written by Judge Frank Johnson in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (see Smith v. Johnson, 827 F.2d 684 (11th Cir. 1987)).

Just curious about this decision. Does anyone have any more information about this? A search for “Smith v. Johnson” turns up a lot of cases, and specifying it any more only turns up this particular essay.

TomS:

a famous decision written by Judge Frank Johnson in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (see Smith v. Johnson, 827 F.2d 684 (11th Cir. 1987)).

Just curious about this decision. Does anyone have any more information about this? A search for “Smith v. Johnson” turns up a lot of cases, and specifying it any more only turns up this particular essay.

I found this

It’s interesting to note in the article I linked to above there is an eight term Republican representative from Alabama who is a spokesperson for “People for the American Way.” How times have changed!

Don’t forget

Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District where the Ninth Circuit rejected the argument that evolution is a religion.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peloza[…]ool_District

Joe McFaul:

Don’t forget

Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District where the Ninth Circuit rejected the argument that evolution is a religion.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peloza[…]ool_District

This link is great - Do you think we should send this to the Fl. BoE? Or the CLA attorney Mr. Gibbs?

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on January 21, 2008 10:42 PM.

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