Florida: Open Letter on Learning from History

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The “academic freedom” and “critical analysis” bills currently being considered by the Florida legislature are old stratagems borrowed from antievolution efforts in other states. Ronda Storms and Alan Hays have been asked whether “intelligent design” could be taught in science classrooms. Storms and Hays steadfastly refuse to answer the question posed. You have to look at what has been done in the name of narrow religious antievolution and not what is said.

(Originally at the Austringer.)

Storms and Hays are treating this as a rhetorical shell game, that if they consistently claim that religion has no part in their bills, then they are being put upon when the issue comes up. For antievolutionists, the essential viewpoint revolves around this simple argument: creation can only have happened by evolution or by God, and one must choose one or the other. The simple – and erroneous – conclusion they make is that arguments made against evolutionary science are thus also arguments for their preferred narrow religious viewpoint, the one that denies that God could possibly have used the methods science is discovering in creating life and its diversity. They don’t have to mention their religious stance explicitly, or so they believe – if enough of their favored arguments against evolution are taught as if science to students, the students will make the “right” choice in rejecting evolutionary science and accepting their particular interpretation of God as creator. Their choice of this narrow religious doctrine does not have to be named, it is implicit in the ensemble of arguments that they wish to permit teachers and students to bring into the science classroom without oversight, interference, or rebuttal.

This is where the history becomes useful. Following World War I, religious antievolutionists took up the obvious strategy to make sure only their view was heard in science classrooms: exclude evolutionary science. That gave us the Scopes trial and about forty years in which textbooks excised or de-emphasized instruction in evolutionary science. In 1968, the Supreme Court decided in Epperson v. Arkansas that scientific concepts could not be excluded from the science classroom to privilege a specific religious doctrine. And religious antievolutionists made the needed adjustment: they now claimed that what they had to offer was just as scientific as evolutionary science. The new stance was called “creation science” and it repeated all the same arguments as plain old creationism before it, except that it dropped those arguments that made direct reference to scripture. It was during legal battles over twenty-five years ago about “creation science” that antievolutionists began to misuse “academic freedom” as a convenient rhetorical tool to press their view. Those came to an abrupt end with the 1987 Supreme Court decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, where the court correctly called “creation science” a sham and an illicit attempt to sanitize the narrow religious view of their brand of exclusionary creationism.

This setback famously led to the use of “intelligent design” as a reference to a non-existent field of study, accomplished simply by changing references to “creation science” in the drafts of the “Of Pandas and People” textbook to the new label, “intelligent design”. All the same arguments made against evolution under “creation science” would now be taught as the content of “intelligent design”, except for those that made explicit mention of a young age of the earth and a recent global flood. Along the way, they made an incomplete change from “creation scientists” to “design proponents”, giving us the delightful verbal transitional fossil of “cdesign proponentsists”. In 2005, the Kitzmiller v. DASD decision in Pennsylvania found an “intelligent design” policy to be an establishment of religion and that “intelligent design” itself was not science.

Ohio adopted new science standards in 2002, and it incorporated a compromise urged by “intelligent design” advocates, that evolution be the subject of “critical analysis”. A lesson plan that implemented “critical analysis” went through a first draft with open use of many arguments from creationism and those most closely associated with “intelligent design”. The second draft again chose a sanitized subset of arguments, but they were recognizably part of the religious antievolution ensemble of arguments. In 2006, the Ohio state board of education finally realized that it could not trust antievolution advocates when they asserted that no “intelligent design” would be taught, and removed the “critical analysis” language from their standards.

The arguments comprising “intelligent design” and other labels for the same old religious antievolution are meant to knock down more than “Darwinism”. They also stand for a rejection of the views of Christian denominations that have made their peace with the progress of science, such as the Catholic church and many mainstream Protestant denominations. The methods of deception and subterfuge consistently chosen by religious antievolutionists should earn the scorn of Christians everywhere.

Florida will make a choice soon. Florida can repeat the lessons of history by adopting the narrow religious doctrines that are implicit in the current mislabeled “academic freedom” and “critical analysis” bills, guaranteeing that students across the state are inculcated with a view that science and the scientists who practice it are untrustworthy. Or Florida can benefit from the experience of other states around the country and avoid a morally and legally indefensible adoption of a narrow religious doctrine dressed in secular language.

See Florida Citizens for Science for more information.

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“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is an interesting philosophy in politics and war. Usually the amity between “enemies of enemies” lasts about as long as hostilities between those particular enemies. Wesley Elsberry has po... Read More

20 Comments

What does that christiannews link have to do with anything?

This is a very good description of the history. If we can make it any more concise I say we start sending it to the reps in the Florida House so they can make an informed decision and hopefully this anti-science bill doesn’t get passed.

Dollars to doughnuts, Ben Stein and Premise Media take it up the ass for not obtaining permission for the distorted use of “Imagine”.

It’s funny how the rules apply to everyone else but, when lying for God, you can do whatever you wish.

The link had nothing to do with the essay, so it’s been treated as spam.

Hint to trolls: I don’t know what you’ve come to expect with other authors here, but if you can’t comment topically on my essays, I will add you to the list for moderation queueing. Once there, it will take extra effort on someone’s part to pass your comments through. And I think you already know that extra effort on comments is not where authors like to spend their time.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

-Albert Einstein

Apparently ID/creationists are either stupid or insane because their tactics never seem to change. And as Einstein predicted, the results of thier tactics are always the same. Great post Wesley.

Pardon me for getting “soppy” for a minute but I have to say that it absolutely fills my heart to know that there are people in the world like Dr. Elsberry and Brandon Haught(FCS) that are doing their best to protect the kids in Florida (my son esp.), from these whackos’.

Stacy :-)

Well, the post efficiently points to characteristics were creationists have come full circle now and again, but at the same time they do try different variants. This time they try for their perverse “academic freedom” to push away science implicitly instead of explicitly.

Another reason for the timing of Expelled presumably, to energize school teachers that are willing to sacrifice science on the altar of religion.

But yes, if they expect a different outcome from their experiment in selection on variants they are either crazy or deluded. Oh, wait, …

When Judge Jones commented that it would be generations before science wouldn’t be actively counteracted against in US, he wasn’t kidding, was he? How long will it be before a politician can stand up and declare that this practice against basic science is “unamerican” (in the “value” sense), et cetera?

A similar academic freedom bill has already been passed in Texas. Reports are circulating that it has been a real help to teachers and school districts wanting to teach creationism in high school.

OTOH, they would have just ignored the laws and state standards and done it anyway. Like they do in many other states, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Florida, etc..

Now Raven, I went to High-school in Oklahoma and I have to say my teacher never so much as mentioned creationism, unfortunately, she never so much as mentioned evolution either. This is probably why I didn’t really have much interest in Biology until I was half-way through my undergraduate education. I expect to see this “Academic Freedom” bill here soon. We were already blessed with bills requiring the wonderful text book disclaimers on evolution and the “critical analysis” charade.

Thanks, Wesley, for a very succinct and readable summary of the antievolution movement’s terminology.

Wesley, your namesake, John Wesley, pointed to links between men and apes. Sir Richard Owen propounded a “Law of Progression” based on pre-determination, about 1850 - not long before Darwin’s was published. Owen’s was presented to the highest science bodies in England. Given that it is now being discovered that genetic potential pre-empts the environmental triggers that see it come into expression (e.g., Hox genes in paddlefish, which are believed to pre-date tetrapods) and given that the geologic record is patently and undeniably a record of preparation for something like man (the fossil fuels, the sudden arise of necessary plants and animals shortly before man - many with no seeming purpose other than to be useful to man) - Owen’s idea about the unrolling of life - evolution - has merit. It can also now be explained in technical detail, because sophisticated information technology is now known to be involved in speciation.

So why equate evolution with your particular variety of evolution - Common Descent - which by definition attacks the christian Religion, not to mention some other religions? (When Jesus Christ said, ‘By their fruits ye shall know them’, he was speaking in the language of nature to people who understood nature - grapevines do not bear figs, never have, never will)?

Why do you suppose AIG advances apace? Are you personally trying to maintain a controversy? Where is the big historical picture in this history?

Common descent attacks the Christian religion? Not all of it, according to the Clergy Letter Project’s 11,000+ signers. Unless “unrolling” involves separate creation of kinds, that would be a variant that still results in common descent.

This little essay was written not to push Phillip Heywood’s peculiar views, but rather to inform people in Florida that the antievolution stuff they were seeing was all old news. There are word limits for possible publication.

Phil,

Leave religion out of this. Fix your ignorance of the science. Learn the lessons of history, that is the topic of this thread you know.

First, I have already pointed out to you that the hox gene example you keep blubbering about does not prove anything like you claim. Stop trying to make a paddlefish out of a mole gene. Lots of genes predae the tetrapods. That is due to historical contingency and common descent as predicted by the modern theory of evolution. It isn’t evidence of anything else except your lack of understanding.

Second, the fossil record is not a record of preparation for man. If you must interpret the fossil record in such a post-hoc way, then surely you must concede that the fossil record clearly shows that the earth was made for insects not humans. And if you think that plants and animals have no other purpose than to be useful to man, you are once again sadly mistaken.

You have claimed at least one hundred times that “sophisticated information technology is now known to be involved in speciation” but you have consistently failed to even explain what you mean, let alone provide any evidence. I think that we can all agree that “sophisticated information technology” is known to be involved in the internet that you use to push your nonsense, but that’s about it. Speciation occurs every day. Can you demonstrate the mechanism, or even the existence of, this technology? The answer is no.

Why should we equate evolution with common descent? Because that is what all of the evidence shows. You cannot explain the fossil evidence, genetic evidence and developmental evidence. Indeed, you have demonstrated over and over again that you are completely ignorant of all of the evidence. Given your own lack of evidence, why should anyone equate your particular variety of insanity with reality?

Philip Bruce Heywood said: ‘By their fruits ye shall know them’,

Right indeed; we know them by the sour tasting fruits of creationism, sometimes disguised as the not-so-intelligent name of “Intelligent Design”. Let’s get rid of that tree once and for all!

Philip Bruce Heywood said:

So why equate evolution with your particular variety of evolution - Common Descent - which by definition attacks the christian Religion, not to mention some other religions?

In addition to all those Christians who accept evolution, you even have some anti-evolution activists like Michael Behe, who beg to differ.

If you have evidence of two or more separate abiogenesis events that lead to humans and other species, you are free to support it on its own merits. Start with “when” and “how many.” Then debate it with Behe.

Guys, having encountered a great deal of PBH’s antisense in the last couple of months, I have reached a conclusion. For reasons best known to PBH himself, he either refuses to or is incabale of acknowledging his ignorance of fairly basic biology. He also appears to be incapable of grasping the notion that evolution (as observed by modern scientific techniques) could be god’s toolkit. There are many conceivable scenarios in which an omniscient and omnipotent deity could use natural processes to bring about whatever life forms (s)he desired.

Common descent (whether from one or a few ancestor populations) is a prediction of Darwin’s original evolutionary theory. We now have evidence from a variety of fields that all supports universal common descent. Much of this evidence would have been inconceivable to Darwin himself, but I am sure he would have been delighted to have it. Common descent has been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

PBH - if you honestly doubt common descent, you need to marshal your arguments, and present a coherent case explaining, with reference to physical evidence, why so many millions of people who have devoted years of study to this field are, in your eyes, wrong. An unsupportable theological assertion is not science. All biological scientists (including Michael Behe) consider the evidence for common descent to be overwhelming. Remember especially that your inability to understand a particular scientific proposition does not constitute evidence against that proposition.

Philip Bruce Heywood said:

(When Jesus Christ said, ‘By their fruits ye shall know them’, he was speaking in the language of nature to people who understood nature - grapevines do not bear figs, never have, never will)?

Please attempt to be less comically inept when citing scripture. It’s

By their fruits ye shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

This expression is apposite to many facets of the “discussion” we encounter on PT, in that, whereas we might reasonably expect the gentle, sweet, constructive and agreeable from these believers, all they manage to produce is the sharp, prickly, unpleasant and non-nutritious.

Jesus apparently knew more than some Christians give him credit for.

Some people are masochists, myself included. I came by here the second time, somewhat belatedly. Why, I don’t know. Oh, these long nights. The denial of history, of the advice of superiors, of observation, of Nature as she stands, and of modern scientific advance, we have grown accustomed to: bringing in the clergy is a novel twist: why I don’t get some sense and avoid replying, is because I am entrapped by this novel revelation of biblical scholarship. We get everything here.

Jesus said, “By their fruits ye shall know them”, plus the bit about thorns. Refer post immediately above. A man thought to be his blood brother, James (the lesser) wrote about a vine not bearing figs. These people observed nature! I was referring directly to the words of Christ, and backing it up with the opinions of those around him. If we really wish to start quoting the Bible, lead on. How about, “Comfort the feebleminded”. I’m going to quote to myself (James again); “Let patience have her perfect work”. I’m a long way from christian perfection, going on that.

I shan’t go into the reason why the biblical law of kinds reproducing only their own kind is certifiably technically correct, to be taken at face value, literally literal. Not everything in Scripture is quite like that, but this law, ruling out Common Descent, is.

Some people are masochists, myself included. I came by here the second time, somewhat belatedly. Why, I don’t know. Oh, these long nights. The denial of history, of the advice of superiors, of observation, of Nature as she stands, and of modern scientific advance, we have grown accustomed to: bringing in the clergy is a novel twist: why I don’t get some sense and avoid replying, is because I am entrapped by this novel revelation of biblical scholarship. We get everything here.

Jesus said, “By their fruits ye shall know them”, plus the bit about thorns. Refer post immediately above. A man thought to be his blood brother, James (the lesser) wrote about a vine not bearing figs. These people observed nature! I was referring directly to the words of Christ, and backing it up with the opinions of those around him. If we really wish to start quoting the Bible, lead on. How about, “Comfort the feebleminded”. I’m going to quote to myself (James again); “Let patience have her perfect work”. I’m a long way from christian perfection, going on that.

I shan’t go into the reason why the biblical law of kinds reproducing only their own kind is certifiably technically correct, to be taken at face value, literally literal. Not everything in Scripture is quite like that, but this law, ruling out Common Descent, is.

Over short time frames (i.e. small number of generations), “after their own kind” agrees with evolution. Unless there’s something in that verse that states that it’s talking about huge amounts of time, it doesn’t contradict common descent.

Henry

Say, what if “kind” actually means the same as “clade”?

On a side note, why doesn’t the spell checker know that “clade” is a word?

Henry

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This page contains a single entry by Wesley R. Elsberry published on April 25, 2008 8:22 PM.

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