Freshwater: The main briefs in the appeal

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Update: The Dennis family’s amicus brief is now up on NCSE.com.

The two main briefs in John Freshwater’s appeal of the Knox County Court of Common Pleas’ decision to uphold Freshwater’s termination by the Mt. Vernon Board of Education are now up on NCSE’s site. The two amicus briefs, from NCSE and the Dennis family, have not yet been accepted by the court. NCSE’s brief is on the site linked above; the Dennis’ brief is not yet available online, though I’ve read a copy.

I’ll briefly (!) summarize what I see as the core arguments of the briefs here, and go into more detail below the fold.

Freshwater’s appeal brief: Basically argues that (a) Freshwater only taught “alternative scientific theories”, (b) there are good pedagogical reasons to do so, and (c) he has free speech and academic freedom rights to do so. Also argues that the moves against Freshwater are motivated by religious animus, though it’s silent about specifically who feels that animus.

Board’s response brief: Argues that because student attendance is required and the public school has an interest in protecting itself against the consequences of illegal actions by teachers, Freshwater, as an agent and employee of the public school, does not have unfettered free speech or academic freedom rights. Also argues that the Common Pleas court did not abuse its discretion when it elected to not hold public hearings in view of the extensive record generated by the administrative hearing.

NCSE amicus brief: Puts Freshwater’s behavior in the context of the history of attempts to teach creationism in the public schools, and argues that his teaching was both pedagogically and scientifically unsound.

Dennis family brief: Reviews Freshwater’s impermissible injection of religion into his teaching, and disputes his de-emphasis of the Tesla coil incident, pointing out the inconsistencies in Freshwater’s stories about the incident.

The case is not yet scheduled for oral arguments. I’m told that Freshwater requested an expedited hearing, which I understand means that there will be no back-and-forth, no rebuttals and rejoinders, in the paperwork. What’s there now is what the appeals court will use to make its decision.

Some remarks and elaborations below the fold

Freshwater’s brief claims that teaching about “alternative scientific theories” is pedagogically appropriate and he has free speech and academic freedom rights to do so. As I wrote earlier,

Throughout this argument, the brief refers to multiple “theories”-it refers to “popular alternative theories” (p. v); “various alternative theories” (p. 10); “competing theories” (twice on p. 10); “alternative theories” (p. 12, p. 14); “alternative origins of life theories” (p. 14); and “widely-accepted theories on the origins of life” (referred to as consistent with “the views of multiple world religions” on p. 14). All the references are attempts to represent Freshwater’s presentation of creationist materials as “a permissible and valuable pedagogical exercise” (p. 15) in a [public] middle school science classroom.

Of course, Freshwater did not in fact teach about “alternative scientific theories,” and no evidence was ever introduced to suggest that he did. His handouts, videos, and remarks were from creationist web sites, and were not evidence in support of “alternative scientific theories” but rather embodied the traditional creationist “two models” approach pioneered by the Institute for Creation Research and now most strongly advocated by Answers in Genesis. Knock down evolution and creationism wins by default.

Freshwater’s brief argues that he is permitted to teach about alternative scientific theories in public schools, and the brief claims that’s all Freshwater did. This is a new claim in the Freshwater saga: previously in both public statements and sworn testimony Freshwater has denied teaching creationism or intelligent design. (See also here for a summary of an interview of Freshwater on Fox News; the original clip is apparently no longer available on the web.) So like Freshwater’s mutually contradictory stories about whether he used the Tesla coil to make an “X” on Zach Dennis’ arm or no mark at all (summarized here), Freshwater’s story has…erm…evolved. Apparently he (or more likely, his Rutherford Institute handlers) have implicitly conceded that they cannot rebut the testimony and evidence about Freshwater’s use of creationist handouts and videos and are now attempting to alter the interpretation of that behavior.

This new Freshwater claim made its first appearance to my knowledge in a recent radio interview Freshwater did with David Barton, the notorious quote faker, where Freshwater claimed that he taught “robust evolution.” By that, Freshwater explained, he meant that

I showed what was the evidence for evolution, I showed evidence that was opposed to evolution. I showed all sides. … You need to study it all, especially in a public school. You need to see all the evidence. And there’s some great evidence for, and there’s some great evidence that goes against it. And I think the kids need to see all evidence rather than indoctrinating them only on one side or the other.

He taught the evidence for evolution? One wonders how much comparative genomics and molecular genetics Freshwater, with his Associate’s degree in Wildlife and Recreation and his Bachelor’s degree in education, taught in his 8th grade class. Did he mention the phylogenetics of pseudogenes or that of endogenous retroviruses? I’m fully aware that undergraduate degrees are not the sole determinant of one’s knowledge, but Freshwater has given us no evidence at all that he actually knows much about the evidence for evolution or that he’s competent to assess what “great evidence” is.

Freshwater further argued in his appeals court brief that he has a First Amendment free speech right to teach those alternative theories. This is again a new claim for Freshwater, and reflects the current generation of creationist tactics in state legislatures (see here for an early (1999) account of that tactic, and here for the Disco ‘Tute’s “Free Speech on Evolution Campaign.”)

Board’s response brief

As noted above, Freshwater’s brief claims that he was only teaching “alternative scientific theories.” That, of course, is knee-deep horse manure: Freshwater used a range of creationist materials in an attempt to cast doubt on various scientific findings and science’s strongly corroborated theories–common descent, evolution by natural selection, the reliability of physics in radiometric dating, the reliability of geology in its finding of an old earth, and so on. Further, he argued that he had both the free speech right and the academic freedom to do so.

The Board’s brief rebuts both the free speech and academic freedom claims, citing case law to show that the courts, including the Supreme Court, have consistently ruled that when public school teachers are operating in their role as teachers they do not have the right to teach any damn fool notion they please. The Board’s brief argues that the school has a clear interest in what speech teachers utter in their classrooms, and that the Board can regulate that speech so as to not bring the Board into legal jeopardy. The brief argues that “The Board’s decision [to terminate Freshwater] was appropriately affirmed by the trial court because it has a right to control its own speech. The Board exercised control of its speech by preventing [Freshwater] from continuing to improperly teach religion in class.” The argument is that a teacher is an agent of the Board, and that improper behavior–e.g. impermissible speech–by a teacher exposes the Board to legal jeopardy. It therefore has the right to govern that speech. Freshwater’s injection of creationism into his class was “…made pursuant to his duties as an employee,” and was not made in his capacity as a private individual, which would be protected speech. The Board “…took legitimate and appropriate steps to ensure that one of its teachers did not distort its teaching of science to impressionable eight graders by endorsing Christian religious beliefs” (p. 13).

Further, the Board’s brief argues that the Court of Common Pleas did not abuse its discretion when it denied Freshwater’s request for a public hearing in that court, arguing that the extensive administrative hearing record (38 days of hearings, more than 80 witnesses generating 6,344 pages of transcript, and 350 exhibits) was sufficient basis for the Common Pleas judge to choose not to hold additional hearings and make his decision on the basis of his review of that record.

NCSE’s amicus brief puts Freshwater’s approach into the context of the history of attempts to attack the teaching of evolution. NCSE’s brief reviews the history of creationist attempts to subvert the teaching of science, and identifies Freshwater’s approach as being in the “third generation” of such attempts, the two-prong ‘teach the controversy and push intelligent design’ generation. The entire brief is well worth reading for its succinct review of the history of the issue.

Dennis family’s amicus brief reviews the evidence bearing on Freshwater’s injection of religion into his classroom and his teaching of science, and argues that the minimization of the Tesla coil incident in his appeals brief is inappropriate. It also points out the inconsistencies in Freshwater’s sworn statements about that incident, which are similar to his inconsistency in his statements about whether he taught creationism, sometimes denying it (e.g. in sworn testimony in the administrative hearing) and sometimes affirming it (e.g., in his radio interview on Nov 30, 2011). As noted above, the same sort of inconsistencies are found in his varying claims about whether he taught creationism and intelligent design.

139 Comments

Freshwater’s brief argues that he is permitted to teach about alternative scientific theories in public schools, and the brief claims that’s all Freshwater did. This is a new claim in the Freshwater saga: previously in both public statements and sworn testimony Freshwater has denied teaching creationism or intelligent design.

IANAL, but I thought appeals courts only considered whether prior courts acted correctly; they did not (typically?) consider new arguments or new evidence.

If Freshwater is making a new claim to the appeals court, rather than giving an argument on why the original court made a legal error and should be overturned, isn’t Freshwater’s appeal DOA?

Thanks for all of the info Richard. I read the NCSE’s brief you linked to and it was very informative. It does seem as though the creationist/ID people believe that if they tell the same lies enough times eventually they will find a sympathetic venue. Hopefully the court will slam Freshwater and The Rutherford Institute hard. I imagine that when Freshwater loses this attempt that he will seek other avenues of appeal.

eric said:

IANAL, but I thought appeals courts only considered whether prior courts acted correctly; they did not (typically?) consider new arguments or new evidence.

If Freshwater is making a new claim to the appeals court, rather than giving an argument on why the original court made a legal error and should be overturned, isn’t Freshwater’s appeal DOA?

IANAL, either, but the argument seems to be that (a) Freshwater only taught “alternative scientific theories,” (b) the administrative hearing referee ignored that, and (c) the Common Pleas judge ignored that, so the Common Pleas judge abused his discretion in denying a hearing in his court where that could have been argued and therefore his decision should be reversed. At least that seems to be the implicit argument.

An excellent post, Richard. Very informative. I suspect that the Rutherford Institute would like to take this to the Supreme Court. The creationists have been beating the drum for “academic freedom” to teach the “controversy,” and this case is probably as good as any other for that purpose.

cmb,

I’m not sure it’s the same lies all over again since Freshwater seems to be admitting now that he was teaching creationism after all. Isn’t it more like “well that lie didn’t work; let’s try the next one”?

Chris Lawson said:

cmb,

I’m not sure it’s the same lies all over again since Freshwater seems to be admitting now that he was teaching creationism after all. Isn’t it more like “well that lie didn’t work; let’s try the next one”?

True- I guess “same group of lies” would be more accurate. It will be interesting to see what Freshwater & The Rutherford Institute try next after this attempt fails.

I suspect that the Rutherford Institute would like to take this to the Supreme Court.

Given that at least one of the five SCOTUS justices who is not a right wing ideologue is in poor health, the timing could be ideal.

If Romney wins the 2012 election, he could get a fifth right wing ideologue on the court in short order (assuming a retirement), either by simply appointing one and waiting to lickspittle Democrats in the senate to prove their “bipartisanship” by not protesting, or, if he was concerned about token opposition, using the old “Harriet Miers” ruse - first suggesting a totally unacceptable candidate as a sacrifice bunt maneuver, and then following up with a superficially more qualified hard line rigth wing ideologue, arguing in the propaganda press that failure of the senate to immediately ratify the second one would mean that they were “refusing all of his nominations for partisan reasons”.

Then a Freshwater case could be decided 5-4 in favor of declaring post-modern sectarian right wing Christian science denial as “an alternate scientific theory”.

Ideally (from creationist perspective), the next step after that would be to require the teaching of creationism as part of “national standards”.

I certainly think that there is still an excellent chance that this type of scenario can be avoided, but it is uncomfortably possible.

harold said:

Ideally (from creationist perspective), the next step after that would be to require the teaching of creationism as part of “national standards”.

I certainly think that there is still an excellent chance that this type of scenario can be avoided, but it is uncomfortably possible.

If such a scenario were to happen, teachers can introduce the really damning history of ID/creationism along with devastating critiques of ID/creationist pseudo-science. By the time a well-informed teacher got done with it, creationists would be petitioning the administration to cut the embarrassment of ID/creationism from the curriculum.

And those of us who have kept up with the history and the misconceptions of ID/creationism stand ready to instruct the current teaching community on what we have learned. Many of the current science teachers are already aware of the hoax of ID/creationism, but are not skilled in wielding the devastating critiques that would make ID/creationists wish they had kept their mouths shut.

Those teaching physics and chemistry would also have to step up and take responsibility for defending the biologists while pointing out why ID/creationism mangles all of science, not just biology.

I hope current political trends don’t go in that direction; but our political system is nuts enough that it can’t be ruled out.

SensuousCurmudgeon said:

An excellent post, Richard. Very informative. I suspect that the Rutherford Institute would like to take this to the Supreme Court. The creationists have been beating the drum for “academic freedom” to teach the “controversy,” and this case is probably as good as any other for that purpose.

That’d be tough, I think. The appeal is in the state court system and could go as high as the state supreme court; it’s not in the federal courts. Freshwater has already had his federal suit, in which he made at least one of the same allegations (religious discrimination) that was his state appeals court brief, dismissed with prejudice, so it’s doubtful whether he can revive it in the federal courts again.

Richard B. Hoppe said:

Freshwater has already had his federal suit, in which he made at least one of the same allegations (religious discrimination) that was his state appeals court brief, dismissed with prejudice, so it’s doubtful whether he can revive it in the federal courts again.

Yes, but if his current case seems to have slightly different issues, so if it goes all the way to his state supreme court, he might try to take their decision (assuming it’s against him) to the US Supreme Court. They probably wouldn’t accept the case, although I think they could if they want to.

The Board “…took legitimate and appropriate steps to ensure that one of its teachers did not distort its teaching of science to impressionable eight graders by endorsing Christian religious beliefs” (p. 13).

The Board just took careful aim at its own foot and pulled the trigger by equating some sects’ biblical literalism with across-the-board Christianism.

Pierce R. Butler said:

The Board “…took legitimate and appropriate steps to ensure that one of its teachers did not distort its teaching of science to impressionable eight graders by endorsing Christian religious beliefs” (p. 13).

The Board just took careful aim at its own foot and pulled the trigger by equating some sects’ biblical literalism with across-the-board Christianism.

I don’t see how you came to this interpretation.

The anti-scientific beliefs he endorsed as science were of a sectarian Christian nature.

No-one said that all Christians believe the same things. He was still endorsing Christian beliefs.

I would prefer stronger language, reflecting the narrow sectarian nature and deceptive quality of the sectarian dogma he illegally foisted on a captive audience of school children, at taxpayer expense, but the statement is accurate as it stands.

Yes, but if his current case seems to have slightly different issues, so if it goes all the way to his state supreme court, he might try to take their decision (assuming it’s against him) to the US Supreme Court. They probably wouldn’t accept the case, although I think they could if they want to.

I can’t comment on whether he can legally get this thing to the stage of being considered for acceptance by the US Supreme Court.

I can remind everyone that at least four current members of SCOTUS probably would, if given the opportunity, vote for acceptance, and then very likely find in favor of Freshwater. At least one of the most prominent members of SCOTUS has a long public record of supporting the teaching of creationism. http://www.belcherfoundation.org/ed[…]_dissent.htm

Scalia is ostensibly and ostentatiously a Catholic. The Catholic Church does not even deny evolution, let alone endorse post-modern fundamentalist Protestant creationism. Scalia’s words here remind us that doing a favor to members of one’s preferred ideological group can trump all ethical considerations.

A great deal of freedom seems to have been lost in the last ten or twelve years, probably permanently, since both corrupt “major parties” support this trend.

However, outright forcing tax-paying citizens and residents of the United States to fund not only the teaching of sectarian propaganda, but of sectarian propaganda which blatantly denies scientific reality and insults numerous other religious traditions, as “science”, to children in American public schools, in blatant violation of what are now accepted constitutional rights, would truly be outrageous.

It is extremely sobering that the struggle to prevent such really obvious and blatant abuse is so constant.

harold said:

I don’t see how you came to this interpretation.

The anti-scientific beliefs he endorsed as science were of a sectarian Christian nature.… the statement is accurate as it stands.

And if he’d pushed, say, the Jews4Jesus line that pork and shellfish are intrinsically unclean, or some other sectarian doctrine, that would still be a “Christian belief” so long as any group with “Christ” in its name professes it.

But the Board’s language puts them in direct opposition to “Christian religious beliefs”, when they could have dodged that accusation by stating more precisely that they opposed one particular component within some church creeds, rather than conceding Freshwater’s claim that creationism = christianism.

I predict that more than one of the bible-bangers certain to challenge incumbent School Board members in future elections will use this tactical misstep to paint them as Myers-class howling infidels.

But the School Board doesn’t and can’t disallow teaching only a particular Christian sect’s religious beliefs, or Christian religious beliefs in general. They have to disallow teaching all religious beliefs of any stripe whatsoever. The reason given for the dismissal should have been stated in those general terms. No particular reference should have been made to Christian religious beliefs.

Freshwater was teaching his religion and refusing to teach science where it was in conflict with his religion. He was acting in violation of the Constitution of the United States, as has been made painfully clear to all teachers in all public schools throughout the nation, AND ALSO failing by deliberate intent to perform the legitimate duties of his position. He was doing BOTH. EITHER is grounds for dismissal. The former is also grounds for suit; suit that was finally brought, forcing the school board and the other authorities into (reluctant) action.

harold said:

I suspect that the Rutherford Institute would like to take this to the Supreme Court.

Given that at least one of the five SCOTUS justices who is not a right wing ideologue is in poor health, the timing could be ideal.

If Romney wins the 2012 election, he could get a fifth right wing ideologue on the court in short order (assuming a retirement), either by simply appointing one and waiting to lickspittle Democrats in the senate to prove their “bipartisanship” by not protesting, or, if he was concerned about token opposition, using the old “Harriet Miers” ruse - first suggesting a totally unacceptable candidate as a sacrifice bunt maneuver, and then following up with a superficially more qualified hard line rigth wing ideologue, arguing in the propaganda press that failure of the senate to immediately ratify the second one would mean that they were “refusing all of his nominations for partisan reasons”.

Then a Freshwater case could be decided 5-4 in favor of declaring post-modern sectarian right wing Christian science denial as “an alternate scientific theory”.

Ideally (from creationist perspective), the next step after that would be to require the teaching of creationism as part of “national standards”.

I certainly think that there is still an excellent chance that this type of scenario can be avoided, but it is uncomfortably possible.

Please consider that the same kind of calculation was done prior to the Kitzmiller v Dover trial, relative to how Judge Jones was a Dubya appointee, etc. That calculation was spectacularly wrong.

Previous comment was mine, not MP’s. Not sure why the system thought I was Masked Panda when I signed in with my Yahoo address.

Pierce R. Butler said:

harold said:

I don’t see how you came to this interpretation.

The anti-scientific beliefs he endorsed as science were of a sectarian Christian nature.… the statement is accurate as it stands.

And if he’d pushed, say, the Jews4Jesus line that pork and shellfish are intrinsically unclean, or some other sectarian doctrine, that would still be a “Christian belief” so long as any group with “Christ” in its name professes it.

But the Board’s language puts them in direct opposition to “Christian religious beliefs”, when they could have dodged that accusation by stating more precisely that they opposed one particular component within some church creeds, rather than conceding Freshwater’s claim that creationism = christianism.

I predict that more than one of the bible-bangers certain to challenge incumbent School Board members in future elections will use this tactical misstep to paint them as Myers-class howling infidels.

I think this is a misunderstanding. Butler seems to be arguing that HIS religious faith, not being a fringe faith, CAN be taught as science, probably because Butler thinks his faith is scientifically true.

But the way the Constitution reads and is interpreted, the State cannot preach in class, which is to say, it cannot endorse (explicitly or implicitly regard as “true”) ANY religious faith whatsoever. This is illegal even if every single member of the community including the entire school faculty are of that same faith, and take its tenets for granted.

The board is opposing the representation of ANY religious faith as “truth”, regardless of sect, because that’s illegal. It may well be the case that the board is in a bind, because following the law with respect to religion is unpopular with the voters, who wish to see their particular faith preached in EVERY public school classroom.

Pierce R. Butler said:

The Board “…took legitimate and appropriate steps to ensure that one of its teachers did not distort its teaching of science to impressionable eight graders by endorsing Christian religious beliefs” (p. 13).

The Board just took careful aim at its own foot and pulled the trigger by equating some sects’ biblical literalism with across-the-board Christianism.

They’re both verboten for public school teachers for the exact same reason (separation of church and state), so I don’t see why this would affect any change in the outcome. And like it or not, Freshwater’s Creationist material is endorsing a Christian religious belief. It’s not one that’s universal among Christians, but it’s not a Hindu one either. If Freshwater were a devout Muslim and was pushing Harun Yahya books on the students the Board would be accurate in describing his material as endorsing Muslim religious beliefs.

-Wheels

to the evolutionist on this website. i have a question for you which still has not been answered yet by you evolutionist. how do you add more information to the DNA?

https://me.yahoo.com/a/qB10dxoimPr5[…]UjAdQ1VLcubg–#f5b2f said:

to the evolutionist on this website. i have a question for you which still has not been answered yet by you evolutionist. how do you add more information to the DNA?

You instruct it as you would any student.

But the bigger question is how does anyone add information to an ID/creationist?

https://me.yahoo.com/a/qB10dxoimPr5[…]UjAdQ1VLcubg–#f5b2f said:

to the evolutionist on this website. i have a question for you which still has not been answered yet by you evolutionist. how do you add more information to the DNA?

Like this. You change the DNA in a random way. If it’s good, you keep it. If it’s bad, you throw it away. Then you do that over and over again. See?

https://me.yahoo.com/a/EBuqgDwH1NA.[…]mmy_Y-#47eea said:

harold said:

I suspect that the Rutherford Institute would like to take this to the Supreme Court.

Given that at least one of the five SCOTUS justices who is not a right wing ideologue is in poor health, the timing could be ideal.

If Romney wins the 2012 election, he could get a fifth right wing ideologue on the court in short order (assuming a retirement), either by simply appointing one and waiting to lickspittle Democrats in the senate to prove their “bipartisanship” by not protesting, or, if he was concerned about token opposition, using the old “Harriet Miers” ruse - first suggesting a totally unacceptable candidate as a sacrifice bunt maneuver, and then following up with a superficially more qualified hard line rigth wing ideologue, arguing in the propaganda press that failure of the senate to immediately ratify the second one would mean that they were “refusing all of his nominations for partisan reasons”.

Then a Freshwater case could be decided 5-4 in favor of declaring post-modern sectarian right wing Christian science denial as “an alternate scientific theory”.

Ideally (from creationist perspective), the next step after that would be to require the teaching of creationism as part of “national standards”.

I certainly think that there is still an excellent chance that this type of scenario can be avoided, but it is uncomfortably possible.

Please consider that the same kind of calculation was done prior to the Kitzmiller v Dover trial, relative to how Judge Jones was a Dubya appointee, etc. That calculation was spectacularly wrong.

Hence a lot of Christians screeching and threatening to try and harm/kill Judge Jones for his alleged “treachery.”

harold said:

I can remind everyone that at least four current members of SCOTUS probably would, if given the opportunity, vote for acceptance, and then very likely find in favor of Freshwater. At least one of the most prominent members of SCOTUS has a long public record of supporting the teaching of creationism. http://www.belcherfoundation.org/ed[…]_dissent.htm

Scalia is ostensibly and ostentatiously a Catholic. The Catholic Church does not even deny evolution, let alone endorse post-modern fundamentalist Protestant creationism. Scalia’s words here remind us that doing a favor to members of one’s preferred ideological group can trump all ethical considerations.

However, outright forcing tax-paying citizens and residents of the United States to fund not only the teaching of sectarian propaganda, but of sectarian propaganda which blatantly denies scientific reality and insults numerous other religious traditions, as “science”, to children in American public schools, in blatant violation of what are now accepted constitutional rights, would truly be outrageous.

Let’s also not forget the Catholic Santorum and his Santorum amendment to Bush’s NCLB. He also wrote the forward to the ID book “Darwin’s Nemesis” which praises Phillip Johnson’s efforts in trashing evolution. I think Gingerich and Romney are not far behind in this category as well.

New efforts are also underway in Indiana and New Hampshire to teach alternate theories to evolution. And I’m sure the dishonesty institute I’m sure is behind these efforts as part of their wedge strategy.

https://me.yahoo.com/a/qB10dxoimPr5[…]UjAdQ1VLcubg–#f5b2f said:

to the evolutionist on this website. i have a question for you which still has not been answered yet by you evolutionist. how do you add more information to the DNA?

Well the way i do it is called site directed mutagenesis. Or You could do some other type of genetic engineering.

The way nature does it is called random mutations and natural selection. Look it up on the internets.

Now i have a question for creationist posting nonsense on science sites, why is you so ignorant?

Please consider that the same kind of calculation was done prior to the Kitzmiller v Dover trial, relative to how Judge Jones was a Dubya appointee, etc. That calculation was spectacularly wrong.

By extraordinary good fortune, Judge Jones turned out to be honest and competent.

Since he was appointed to what was probably assumed to be a minor, sleepy, rural circuit, Judge Jones may not have been vetted very intensely by the Bush administration.

Judge Scalia, on the other hand, has a less surprising take. http://www.belcherfoundation.org/ed[…]_dissent.htm

https://me.yahoo.com/a/qB10dxoimPr5[…]UjAdQ1VLcubg–#f5b2f said:

to the evolutionist on this website. i have a question for you which still has not been answered yet by you evolutionist. how do you add more information to the DNA?

Others have already answered this, but I’d be delighted to add more. However, first I have a few questions for you.

1) This site has a “preview” function, yet your very short comment is riddled with spelling and grammar errors. Did you deliberately intend an informal tone? Are you dyslexic? Is English a second language? Or have you simply not learned to write standard English?

The reason I ask is that, if deliberate informality, dyslexia, or second language is the issue, it makes sense to proceed.

On the other hand, if English is your native language and you were trying to write it correctly, it might make sense for you to work on remedial reading and writing before jumping to molecular biology.

2) Even if deliberate informality, dyslexia, or second language is the issue, it would not make sense to proceed unless we are using the term “information” in the same way. Standard treatment is good enough for me http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_theory. In fact, I’d say that if you don’t accept the standard usage of the term “information”, there wouldn’t be any point in talking about “information” with you. Could you state whether or not you accept the standard science/engineering/computing treatment of information?

3) It also wouldn’t make much sense to engage with you if you don’t know anything about DNA and are just mindlessly parroting a propaganda phrase. Could you summarize some knowledge of DNA/molecular biology? Just enough for people to be sure you have some slight clue what you are talking about? Make sure to use citations if indicated.

4) “i have a question for you which still has not been answered yet by you evolutionist”. Actually, this question has been brought up and dealt with many, many times on this site alone. Therefore there are only three possible explanations for this statement - sheer ignorance, bald-faced lying, or parody. Which of these three is it - sheer ignorance, bald-faced lying, or parody?

5) Your comment seems to imply that if mainstream science can’t explain something, your particular religious sect must be the default answer (you incorrectly identify something that science easily explains as unexplained, yet your question does seem to imply this underlying logical structure). Yet this is a non sequitur. Even if science can’t currently explain something, there may be an answer forthcoming in the future. Indeed, even if we were to throw up our hands and declare something to be magical in nature, why should your particular sectarian ideology be the correct magical answer? How do YOU answer your own question? How do YOU think that “information is added to DNA”? Please answer in as much mechanistic detail as possible.

Flint said: …the way the Constitution reads and is interpreted, the State cannot preach in class, which is to say, it cannot endorse (explicitly or implicitly regard as “true”) ANY religious faith whatsoever.

…which is why creationists occasionally try to convince others that evolution is a religion, or that evolution are so closely associated with atheism, and since atheism is a religion (?), evolution cannot be taught in public schools.

The ignorance of creationists knows no bounds.

https://me.yahoo.com/a/qB10dxoimPr5[…]UjAdQ1VLcubg–#f5b2f said:

to the evolutionist on this website. i have a question for you which still has not been answered yet by you evolutionist. how do you add more information to the DNA?

Random mutation and genetic (or allelic) drift - then natural selection comes into play. Or do any of those terms mean anything to you?

Flint said:

I think this is a misunderstanding. Butler seems to be arguing that HIS religious faith, not being a fringe faith, CAN be taught as science, probably because Butler thinks his faith is scientifically true.

You got the “misunderstanding” part right. Pls note I use the phrase “bible-bangers” - not part of the regular vocabulary of believers.

I understand and agree with your point that public schools need to keep all religious doctrines out of curricula. However, I still maintain that it was politically unwise and factually false to say that, in rejecting Freshwater’s creationism, such creationism is the same thing as Christianity.

Dave,

While dale and I might throw some sternly worded disagreements at each other, when it comes to matters like keeping creationism out of schools we’ll be on the same side. The fact that we can have open conflict without resorting to threats of violence (either by directly or in the afterlife), SLAPP-type lawsuits, or unconstitutional efforts to force our opinions onto schoolchildren is one of the things I like about skeptics/freethinkers. A little bit of heated identity politics is nothing to worry about.

tomh said:

So your evidence for the statement, “I see people right here who act like True Atheists all the time asserting as dogma that “There is no God,” is that you saw PZ Myers do it on a different blog?

Uh, no, but that was just one example I had on file that I could provide to prove my point that there ARE dogmatic atheists like him. Besides, P Z is a frequent contributer here too.

But you said people do it “all the time” right here. You were just making that up, weren’t you.

And I WILL call atheists out if they do that and then assert out the other side of their mouths that atheists are not dogmatic. That simply will not stand with me.

So have you done that on PZ Myers’ blog, where you actually saw it? Because it seems like you do it here, where you haven’t actually seen it.

Like it or not, there is a difference between “Lacking belief in any god” and “believing there is no God” and we need different terms to distinguish them.

You actually see this as a pressing need. How odd. For myself, not only do I lack belief in any god, but I believe there is no god - just like you claim to.

tomh said:

So your evidence for the statement, “I see people right here who act like True Atheists all the time asserting as dogma that “There is no God,” is that you saw PZ Myers do it on a different blog?

But you said people do it “all the time” right here. You were just making that up, weren’t you.

More to the point, since I’ve known you to have commented on this blog for a long time, I am amazed that you would deny or even question what I said. I thought it was simply obvious. Do you even read what some of your fellow atheists write as comments here?

Flint said: Yes, I know what you’re saying and I agree with you. But to those like Marilyn (and related creationsts who post here), the religious implications are ALL that matters. All observations and evidence MUST be filtered through theololgical models, or else they simply are not evidence. It simply makes no theological sense to say “gravity makes apples fall”. This statement fails to explain WHY God MAKES apples fall. And without that, the statement is meaningless.

Well, I’m trying to see things through a creationist’s eyes. And through those eyes, there is no neutral. If you teach that apples fall and omit why God makes them fall, you are deliberately leaving out the only aspect of falling apples that really matters. And if you loved God, you surely wouldn’t leave Him out when His Will controls all reality, and His purposes are all that matter! And that means you are deliberately anti-God. And so the lesson creationists draw from your approach is that you must hate God, who is everywhere and causes everything.

My wife is a K-12 teacher. One of her tasks is to evaluate new curricula, new text books, often for home-schooled children. There are several publishers that have both a line of secular texts (often quite good), and a parallel track of creationist texts. (Okay, not exactly “parallel”. More like, somewhat going in a similar direction.) Occasionally they will send her the wrong set, or just send the creationist set just because they want to.

Flint is absolutely right, in this case. In these text books, no matter what the subject matter, not a single page goes by without referring to why God did this, or how this shows the glory of God or God’s love for you, his child, or how humans have twisted God’s creation to their own sinful ends. Every. Single. Page. The moon shows God’s love for his Creation, lighting our way at night. Electricity, magnetism, and gravity are all examples of God acting in mysterious ways. You know, spooky action at a distance? It’s all a mystery that humans can sometimes harness, but have no explanation for.

So, yes. To a true Creationist, not mentioning God in every school lesson is *by definition* denying God. God *is* Creation, and Creation *is* God. To the True Creationist™, there can be no “neutral” position. Even to imply that there *might* be a neutral position is to deny Creation, and therefore to deny God.

[Yes, not every theist is a True Creationist™, but we’re not talking about your mainstream milquetoast theist here. We’re talking about the ones who are arguing to change the meanings of science and knowledge.]

Chris,

It seems that you’re not sore at dale because you actually differ from his position on the existence of God - neither of you believes in one. It’s not because he does not completely rule out the existence of one, either - you say that’s the usual atheist position, and your own. Fine.

It’s also not because he says that some atheists do dogmatically rule out the existence of God, because you agree that there are some who do that, only you don’t think there are many of them, while he thinks that they are a significant presence (FWIW, on that, I think he’s right, AND ALSO that the two statements are not really mutually contradictory, but the point is very nearly moot because nobody has provided any hard numbers, only the opinion that they aren’t often seen here. Dale might have gone too far by saying that they are. Does it really matter how many there are, or where they are found?)

You’re also not offended by dale not wanting to be called an atheist because he doesn’t want to be mistaken for one of the latter group (which I will refer to as “hard-liners”). You have said that he may call himself whatever he likes. Fine.

No, you’re offended because you think dale is trying to redefine “atheist”. On that point, I think it would be reasonable to ask dale if he really is trying to force his definition of “atheist” on to you, or is demanding that you not describe yourself as one, before you assume that he is doing either. Me, I think he is defining himself, not the word.

A secondary source of your indignation is apparently his suggestion that the “hard-liners” (as defined above) include other atheists with themselves so as to inflate their numbers. That suggestion is, I agree, unwarranted, although it is not illogical. Personally, I very much doubt that there is any such intention. But on that particular point, your indignation is not for yourself, but on behalf of a group that you say hardly exists.

On the basis of this indignation, you are ready to use words like ‘smug’ and ‘self-satisfied’ and ‘bullshit’. You say that “some heated replies” are to be expected, although you rule out actual threats of violence.

Uh-huh. Well, let’s be thankful for that.

To change the subject completely, have you ever read the history of the controversy about whether Jesus was of the same substance as God, or of a like substance to God? Scary stuff, this theology.

Marilyn said: There is natural biology where nature takes it course and then there are goats that produce silk where man has intervened…

Goats have been genetically modified to produce spider web “silk” protein - not “silk” fibers or fabric and not silkworm silk - see http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_rep[…]idersilk.jsp - they’re also working on how to get alfalfa plants to produce silk protein.

By the way, Marilyn, have you seen GloFish? - http://www.glofish.com/

Marilyn said -

Biology is a celebration of Gods work.

I have absolutely no problem with this statement whatsoever.

I am not personally religious, but for whatever reason, many of my fellow humans have the emotional experience of feelings that they describe as “religious” or “spiritual”. I do not see this as being the same as authoritarianism and/or outright reality denial.

I even agree with the statement on a purely emotional level, because I love learning about biology as something worthwhile in its own right, and the statement implies a similar sentiment.

Once biology has finished going this way or that way it is what we do with it what matters and a lot of what God requires is that you look after yourself and fellow man, snatch him out of harms way so to speek, and certainly zapping a fellow is dangerous and not on.

I also agree with the ethical statement here; I am not religious but a fair number of religious people have ethical codes that I completely agree with; in fact, many of the people whom I admire for their ethical lives, for example Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi, etc, were religious. If you’re religious and I’m not, but we agree on how to act, that’s fine with me. Of course, agreeing on how to act would include agreeing to respect one another’s right to hold and express our particular beliefs, agreeing not to lie about science, etc.

There is natural biology where nature takes it course and then there are goats that produce silk where man has intervened, it’s if things get out of containment when creationist as you call them start to put the rains on, I think so would a scientist.

Here there are a couple of things I disagree with.

First of all, I strongly agree that science and technology can be used to do evil, and that scientists should resist that. It’s tempting to say that they greatly enhance our potential to harm our fellow humans, but I must point out that history shows that incredibly brutal acts of mass violence don’t necessarily require much techology.

I strongly disagree that goats who can produce silk proteins in their milk are an example of a harmful activity; I see this as an example of useful research. All agriculture is and has always been characterized by genetic engineering; selective breeding was the usual mechanism. Application of additional genetic techniques is not, in and of itself, unethical. (*Note to the person who will now falsely accuse me of endorsing all use of genetic techniques, without ethical or environmental controls - first of all, you lack reading comprehension for having formed that interpretation, and second of all, I will copy and paste this sentence as a reply to your inevitable comment*.)

And most importantly, I VERY, VERY strongly disagree that creationism has anything whatsoever to do with putting ethical reins on scientific activity. Creationism is a social/political/religious authoritarian movement that seeks to force people to deny scientific reality and kowtow to a particular narrow sectarian ideology, whatever the actual evidence or the actual religious or cultural beliefs of the victims. The behavior of creationists is itself unethical.

On the whole issue of who is or isn’t what kind of atheist, one is reminded of the joke set in N. Ireland, where the punchline is:

But are you a Catholic Atheist or a Protestant Atheist?

–W. H. Heydt

Old Used Programmer

The atheism/agnostic distinction is not simply a matter of common usage. The roots of the words themselves demonstrate that one is about belief while the other is about knowledge. They are not two different points on the same continuum.

This has been demonstrated on a number of charts available online, such as this one: http://bit.ly/zTc4TJ

People lacking belief in gods are atheists, just as people lacking hair are bald. It doesn’t matter whether or not someone who lacks such belief also holds a positive belief that no gods exist. The bottom line is that bald is not a hair color.

Dave,

I too am running out of enthusiasm for this subthread. I would make two observations, though, before I bow out. The first is that I strongly disagree that “dogmatic atheism” happens “all the time” here at PT. Unless you and dale can show examples of lots and lots of threads being overrun by people saying the equivalent of “there is no god and I can prove it”, then I will continue to think that you are mistaking assertive atheism for dogmatic atheism.

Secondly, I am trying to understand why dale can use othering techniques (inventing the pejorative “True Atheist”), false equivalence (saying that a large amount of atheist commentary on PT threads is equivalent to religious dogmatism/creationism), using insulting language like “arrogance” and “damn both of them”, imputing bad motive (atheists misdefine atheism to swell their ranks dishonestly), without giving a single specific example of any of this, and doing so on a thread that had nothing to do with the subject…and the most you will say against all that is that maybe the imputation of bad motive is “unwarranted, but not illogical.” Meanwhile, I use words in response like “smug”, “self-satisfied”, and “bullshit” referring to one person’s specific statements without generalising to others, all the while defending his choice of words to describe himself…and that’s unacceptable.

Anyway, yes I have a read a lot about historical theological disputes. They make for amusing reading until they get to the parts about the massacres.

Just to add to the confusion, there is the term “adevism”, which can mean disbelief in nature gods, or disbelief in the gods of Hinduism, or disbelief in all gods (as distinguished from disbelief in the God of the Bible).

Harold,

“I strongly disagree that goats who can produce silk proteins in their milk are an example of a harmful activity; I see this as an example of useful research. All agriculture is and has always been characterized by genetic engineering; selective breeding was the usual mechanism. Application of additional genetic techniques is not, in and of itself, unethical.”

I didn’t mean to imply it was harmful activity as no harm seems to have been done, it is useful and an incredible achievement if there is a great need for the strong material developed.

“And most importantly, I VERY, VERY strongly disagree that creationism has anything whatsoever to do with putting ethical reins on scientific activity. Creationism is a social/political/religious authoritarian movement that seeks to force people to deny scientific reality and kowtow to a particular narrow sectarian ideology, whatever the actual evidence or the actual religious or cultural beliefs of the victims. The behavior of creationists is itself unethical.”

It doesn’t have to be a creationist, so who is to say enough is enough - A creationist follows a blue print as to how things should be, you could even call it a thin blue line that leads to a broad scope of something better. One should not overstep the mark. An underachievement is a place to begin development towards better. A creationist doesn’t put the reins on making things better.

Marilyn said:

A creationist doesn’t put the reins on making things better.

Neither do any contribute anything positive to any scientific discovery. Oh to be sure, they used to, when they didn’t let their religious preconceptions blind them to the evidence. But today they seem to be more concerned about just saying no to science than actually doing any.

No sectarian group should be given exclusive rights to control either morality of scientific discovery in a free and democratic society. If they can’t argue persuasively on rational and scientific grounds, they should be rightly ignored. If they can’t legally force people to come to their churches, they shouldn’t have the right to demand that everyone live by their rules. If they can’t respect the rights and opinions of others, they should be shown the exact same consideration.

Of course that doesn’t mean that we should create huge goat spiders that go around encasing people in silk and sucking their blood. But then again, anyone could make that case.

DS said:

Of course that doesn’t mean that we should create huge goat spiders that go around encasing people in silk and sucking their blood.

Are you some sort of silk-hating prude?

apokryltaros said:

DS said:

Of course that doesn’t mean that we should create huge goat spiders that go around encasing people in silk and sucking their blood.

Are you some sort of silk-hating prude?

Yeah, what’s the problem with a few vampire spider-goats?

SWT said:

apokryltaros said:

DS said:

Of course that doesn’t mean that we should create huge goat spiders that go around encasing people in silk and sucking their blood.

Are you some sort of silk-hating prude?

Yeah, what’s the problem with a few vampire spider-goats?

You guys are so NAIVE! The DANGER is what happens after Chupacabra feasts!

Marilyn -

A creationist doesn’t put the reins on making things better.

Yes, they do. I will use an example to illustrate how.

The Ptolmeic model of astrophysics modeled the earth as the center of the universe. However, one gets a better, more useful model if one accepts that the earth revolves around the sun and rotates around its own axis.

Someone who attempts to enforce a Ptolmeic model, for ideological reasons, would prevent not only targeted space travel and accurate prediction of astronomical events, but would even hamper marine navigation at a seventeenth century level of technology.

Forcing people to deny a major central theory in biology would greatly hamper biomedical research.

I have no interest in arguing with anyone’s religion. I have no problem even with people choosing to personally deny scientific reality for religious reasons.

However, science education must teach evidence supported science. Whether people choose to “believe” the evidence is their business.

Science education cannot include science-denying religious dogma. In the US, it is illegal for the government to promote one religion over others anyway. In other countries, it may or may not be, and in a fair number of countries, there may be an official church (many of which do not deny science anyway, e.g. Church of England, Swedish Reformed Church, etc), but it still makes sense to concentrate science education on science. To do otherwise hampers society’s ability to produce scientifically knowledgeable citizens.

“The Board’s brief rebuts both the free speech and academic freedom claims, citing case law to show that the courts, including the Supreme Court, have consistently ruled that when public school teachers are operating in their role as teachers, they do not have the right to teach any damn fool notion they please.”

I really hope that phrasing is in the actual brief…

Marilyn said: A creationist follows a blue print as to how things should be, you could even call it a thin blue line that leads to a broad scope of something better.

Unfortunately, they think teaching Christian theology as legitimate science and not teaching anything inconsistent with Christian theology is ‘how things should be.’

A creationist doesn’t put the reins on making things better.

Yes, in fact they do. Teaching kids creation science or intelligent design as science is making things worse. Teaching kids poorly reasoned, decades-refuted objections to evolutionary theory is putting the reins on making things better. Trying to prevent the teaching of evolution at all is putting the reins of making things better.

These activities pretty much define modern creationism. At least, IMO. If you can show me some significant group of “secular creationists” - i.e. YECs who nevertheless support sound science education because they agree with separation of church and state - I’ll take back this claim. But we can probably count those folks on one hand; they are the exception, not the rule. Until you can show me some big group of secular creationists, I’ll stick with my claim that the social/educational activism is a defining trait of the creationist movement.

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on January 20, 2012 12:27 PM.

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