Is ID unfairly portrayed?

Radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, who also happens to have been my Constitutional Law professor in law school, has a post here criticizing a Washington Post</i> article about the Dover, Pennsylvania creationism case.

Prof. Hewitt begins by complaining that the Post “put[s] proponents of intelligent design into a box marked ‘snake-handling yahoos,’ and to elevate their opponents to the position of rational science enthusiasts.” Well, if the snake fits. . .. But seriously, he bases this complaint on the fact that the Post failed to provide information on the people who replaced those who resigned from the school board following its decision. We know from several articles that Panda’s Thumb </i>has linked to, that members of the Dover school board claimed to have repeatedly confronted and pressured by religious activists. Prof. Hewitt doubts this, and claims that it is “just lousy reporting to use ‘several’ instead of an exact number [when referring to the number of such confrontations] and to avoid certain key facts like the number of applicants for the vacant positions and the candidates selected to fill them.” Failing to report these facts, he claims, makes the articles “blatant agenda journalism, and the agenda is to discredit the Board’s action by suggesting that theology won out over science in the appointments to the board.”

It would seem to me, however, that a far more reasonable way of establishing that theology won out over science on the Dover school board would be to consult what they in fact did. The school board decided to replace science education on one of the most thoroughly established scientific facts in existence–biological evolution, the foundation stone of the science of living things–and to replace it with a pseudo-theory which alleges that we were all created by an Intelligent Designer, Whose identity is carefully whispered among activists, but Who is, of course, God. The Dover resolution requires that students be taught a religious theory of the origin of species, rather than the scientific one. Whether school board members were exposed to “several” confrontations with snake-handling yahoos or merely “two” or “three” does not change the central fact that students in government-run schools are now going to be taught, in the trappings of a scientific theory, that God created the world, and this to the detriment of actual science. That central fact establishes that theology won out over science. Blaming the Washington Post for calling activists on that fact is to blame the weatherman for the storm. Prof. Hewitt is right that there is a great deal of bias and inaccuracy in the media–particularly with regard to scientific matters and in the portrayal of political conservatives. But in this case, the facts speak for themselves.

More substantively, Hewitt claims that the Dover school board is only an attempt “to assure. . .parents that evolution would not be taught in such a way as to preclude religious belief. Hardly the stuff of Scopes II, but anti-intelligent design professionals and elite media journalists seem intent on making it such.” Well, the school board adopted the following statement:<blockquote>Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of life will not be taught.</blockquote>

A little while earlier, the school board adopted Of Pandas And People as a textbook–a book which is full of basic misrepresentations of biology and not-so-subtle evangelizing.

This is not an attempt to merely assure parents. This is an aggressive attempt to have the school teach students that evolution is “flawed” science and that creationism by God is a legitimate scientific view. Amusingly, Prof. Hewitt himself acknowledges that the ID creationism movement is not merely an attempt to avoid “preclud[ing] religious belief,” when he says that the real reason he objects to the Post’s reporting is that “elites generally and legacy media in particular are aggressive marginalizers of people of faith, and rarely miss an opportunity to debunk, mischaracterize, deride and ridicule people of faith.” But if the Dover school board’s decision was merely an attempt to placate concerned parents about a genuine scientific controversy, then it would not be a matter of “faith in the public square.” Is ID creationism a religious matter or not? For Prof. Hewitt, as for other members of the Wedge Strategy, it is when it’s advantageous, and it isn’t when it’s not advantageous. To coin a phrase, “the better to disguise bias, I think.”

Of course, Prof. Hewitt is right that there are those who have “contempt for people of faith who express that faith in or near the public square.” But the Dover case is not about expressions of faith in the public square. Students, teachers, public officials, talk show hosts, lawyers, and everyone else are free to express faith in the public square at any time–or even in their closets, if they choose to do as Jesus actually taught. What the Dover school board has decided to do is to take taxpayer money from parents, and use it to teach children who have no choice but to attend that God created the world and the animals and so forth. For parents who do not believe this–for atheist parents, for example–this means that their money is being taken from them to support a government putting its seal on a religion which they despise. The controversy here is not about faith in the public square, it is about dissent in the public square–but Prof. Hewitt, who wishes to portray Christians as a persecuted minority, does not give a moment’s thought to the concerns of these parents. Their concerns simply do not matter, because they are “secularists.” When these “secularists” ask that the state not forcibly teach their children a religious ideology–something which the First Amendment guarantees to these “secularists,”–then Prof. Hewitt complains that his rights are being violated: another instance of assuming a right to govern others, as I’ve written about before.

Knowing, however, that this attempt to use government schools to promulgate a religious faith is precluded by the First Amendment, Prof. Hewitt and others attempt to portray their religious position as a scientific matter–when it’s convenient to do so. And then when they get criticized, they hide behind the shield of religious faith and complain that all criticisms are just “bias” and “misrepresentation” and “discrimination.”

There are many other flaws with Prof. Hewitt’s post with regard to ID creationism–for example, his routine attempt to shift the burden of proof to an inappropriate party (“while even conclusive proof of evolution wouldn’t deny the existence of God, no such proof has yet been offered,” he says, ignoring the fact that the onus of proof rests on the person asserting the positive, because it is impossible to prove a negative)–but they have been sufficiently refuted elsewhere. Check out this fine post at Terrestrial Musings</i> and this comment from Jim Lindgren at The Volokh Conspiracy.</i>

Suffice to say that Prof. Hewitt is not a snake-handling yahoo, literally speaking, but he does believe in unscientific assertions which he admits (sometimes) to not having investigated to any serious degree, and he believes in magic. There are a great many people who do not believe in these things, who do not want their tax dollars taken from them to pay to teach their children these things against their will, and who believe that magical thinking deserves ridicule. Newspapers are notoriously bad at reporting on science–the only thing they do worse is report about the law–and there are cases where newspapers have unfairly represented religious people (although I think the instances of this are rarer than Hewitt wishes us to believe). But even if the reports of the Dover situation are exaggerations, it does not change the fact that the Dover school board has chosen to teach theology instead of science, in violation of the Constitution, and in service of an attempt to put a government imprimatur on a particular religious view. And it does not mean that those who ridicule magical thinking are reactionary bigots oppressing an innocent Christian minority. Yes, evolutionary biology and ID creationism can get along–by leaving each other alone. Teach creationism in church where it belongs, and biology in school where it belongs, and your warfare shall be accomplished.