"Professing to be wise they became fools" (Romans 1:22)

Michael Mayo at the Sun-Sentinel exposes the real issues behind the opposition to the new Florida Science standards

“Evolution is just another one of Satan’s lies to get people to believe there is no God,” Laura Lopez, a mother of three from West Palm Beach who opposes the proposed new standards, told my colleague Marc Freeman.

As a Christian and a scientist, I find the continued ignorance portrayed by fellow Christians to be painful. How can it be that they have been led so astray that they are willing to undermine Christian faith with their foolish words?

I have quoted from “The Literal Meaning of Genesis” by St Augustine (A.D. 354-430) before

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.

When Christians make foolish comments about issues of science and fact, the repercussions extend beyond the issue of science and affect how non-Christians perceive the Christian faith. Calling it an issue of academic freedom merely serves to hide the underlying ignorance and foolishness.

As Christians we can either allow ourselves to be willing tools or accept our responsibilities.

And yet we see well meaning Christians denigrating evolutionary theory by “playing on lay notions of “theory” (See for instance “Evolution toward Neutrality: Evolution Disclaimers, Establishment Jurisprudence Confusions, and a Proposal of Untainted Fruits of a Poisonous Tree “ by Asma T. Uddin in bepress Legal Series, Paper 1260, 2006)

In his opening statement in Kitzmiller, plaintiffs’ attorney Rothschild stated it as follows

Intelligent design is not identical in every respect to the creation science previously addressed by the Supreme Court in Edwards and other courts, but in all essential aspects, it is the same. Intelligent design really is a perfect example of evolution. Throughout this century, religious opponents of evolution, concerned that evolution contradicts a literal reading of the Bible and promotes cultural decay, have employed varying tactics to denigrate or eliminate the theory of evolution in the minds of young students.

They have tried forbidding the teaching of evolution, promoting creationism or creation science as an alternative to evolution, and singling out evolution for special criticism. Each of those tactics have been found unconstitutional by courts. Confronted with that inhospitable legal environment, creationists have adapted to create intelligent design, creationism with the words “God” and “Bible” left out.

They have promoted a book, Of Pandas and People, that invokes a master intellect that shapes clay into living form and then says, we’re not referring to anyone in particular. This clever tactical repackaging of creationism does not warrant different treatment under the Constitution.

The intelligent design movement has argued and we expect you will hear defendants argue in this courtroom that intelligent design has improved on creationism by developing a scientific argument for design. Defendants’ own experts call it science in its infancy, and if this is true, there is no educational purpose in test-driving it with high school students.

But intelligent design is not science in its infancy, it’s not science at all. You will hear from Kenneth Miller, a biologist; Kevin Padian, a paleontologist; Robert Pennock, a scientific philosopher; and Brian Alters, an expert on teaching science. They will testify about how science is practiced and taught, why evolution is overwhelmingly accepted as a scientific theory, and why intelligent design has no validity as a scientific concept.

and Judge Jones in his ruling elaborated

The purpose inquiry involves consideration of the ID Policy’s language, “enlightened by its context and contemporaneous legislative history[,]” including, in this case, the broader context of historical and ongoing religiously driven attempts to advance creationism while denigrating evolution.20 Selman, 390 F. Supp. 2d at 1300; Edwards, 482 U.S. at 590-92, 594-95 (in addition to “[t]he plain meaning of the [enactment’s] words, enlightened by their context and the contemporaneous legislative history,” Supreme Court also looks for legislative purposes in “the historical context of the [enactment], and the specific sequence of events leading to [its] passage”);

Similarly, the judge in Selman v. Cobb County ruled that:

To the contrary, evolution is the dominant scientific theory of origin accepted by the majority of scientists. While evolution is subject to criticism, particularly with respect to the mechanism by which it occurred, this Sticker misleads students regarding the significance and value of evolution in the scientific community for the benefit of the religious alternatives. By denigrating evolution, the School Board appears to be endorsing the well-known prevailing alternative theory, creationism or variations thereof, even though the Sticker does not specifically reference any alternative theories.

Most recently, the Florida Board of Education is considering adding the same ‘denigrating’ language to their science curriculum to appease a small but vocal group of confused Christians. Unable to argue in favor of scientific theories supporting their religious worldviews, they instead follow the lead of the Discovery Institute, to argue the teachings of the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. Historically and from a legislative and judicial perspective, this argument amounts to little more than a poorly hidden attempt to denigrate evolutionary theory and has little to do with issues of academic freedom or scientific accuracy.

Historically, creationists have attempted various approaches to introduce their religious viewpoints into the science curriculum. In Scopes, the approach was to introduce statutes prohibiting the teaching of evolutionary theory. While the courts initially accepted the clearly religiously motivated statute as constitutional, it was eventually struck down. Undeterred, creationists continued with a variation on the theme and proposed the “balanced treatment” approach which was eventually struck down in Edwards v Aguillard. Faced with yet another defeat, the creationists continued to introduce ‘evolution disclaimers’ to denigrate evolutionary theory, allowing for the possibility of Biblical Creation. Invariably, one does not have to dig deep, to get to the real motives behind such proposals. Parents, religious people, school boards and legislators are often unable to hide their real motives which invariably point to a religiously motivated foundation. Intelligent Design, which initially arose out of hopes that a scientific theory of Biblical Creation could be formulated in a neutral fashion, failed to deliver and instead returned to the well tested position of ‘fair and balanced treatment’, a position which had been found to be unconstitutional. Despite attempts to argue that Intelligent Design provides secular purposes, the courts have found that such purposes must be genuine and not a sham (Freiler 185 F.3d (“the avowed purposes must be sincere and not a sham”)).

From a historical perspective, Intelligent Design Creationism is clearly linked to a religious rather than a secular purpose, as was so well demonstrated in Kitzmiller by Barbara Forrest whose testimony was so devastating that the defense council attempted to have her testimony ruled inadmissable.

The recent developments in Florida and the reactions from Intelligent Design Creationists shows how their efforts have obviously backfired when the board accepted a ‘compromise’ and added ‘theory of’ in front of evolution. Indeed, evolution is and remains the foundation of biology and now the ID movement is faced with that which they so desperately tried to avoid, showing that ID is a competing theory to the mainstream theory of evolution, a task for which it is ill equipped.

It’s now clear that the Discovery Institute was counting on Fred Cutting to further their case in Florida:

Some time ago, Mr. Cutting inquired with us for information about solid evolution education, and we were happy to supply it, along with input on his draft Minority Report. Mr. Cutting has submitted an excellent proposal, which we hope will be considered seriously by members of the Florida State Board of Education.

It seems that the Florida State Board of Education did not consider the alternative proposal to be ‘excellent’, well aware of the history and motivations of the Intelligent Design Creationism.

And while it is clear that the addition of the term ‘theory’ was motivated not by science but by religious concerns, it is also clear that the compromise is considered yet another defeat for Intelligent Design Creationism.

On the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science cintelligent design proponentist Casey Luskin complains that “Florida State Board Tricked into Meaningless “Compromise” to Retain Dogmatism and call Evolution “Scientific Theory””.

But tricked by whom? Certainly not the scientists who proposed the wording of the new standards, and certainly not the scientists who spoke out in favor of the new standards. Somehow the DI insists that this is an issue of ‘academic freedom’ for teachers while ignoring the far more important rights of students to a solid science education. Teachers have a responsibility towards their students to present the best science which means that they should be discouraged from confusing science with their religious beliefs.

Worse however is the conflation of the fact of evolution and the theory of evolution by Casey Lusking

Florida’s biology classrooms will follow the dogmatism of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which recently published a booklet, Science, Evolution, and Creationism, similarly proclaiming that “[t]here is no scientific controversy about the basic facts of evolution” because “no new evidence is likely to alter” it. Contrary to what the NAS and the Florida Science Standards assert, there are fundamental questions among scientists about Darwinian evolution.

Note how the statement by the NAS is about the fact of evolution, a fact which even ID Creationists seem to accept although they argue, without much evidence, that the mechanisms involved should include the supernatural. To counter the NAS’s observation that evolution is by any and all standards a fact, Casey Luskin confuses this with the mechanisms of evolution which include but are not limited to Darwinian evolution. Yes, there are some questions amongst scientists as to the relative importance of Darwinian selection versus other mechanisms but few doubt the reality of Darwinian selection as observed in so many aspects of biology.

Such confusion between the fact of evolution, which as explained by the NAS, is supported by data from many different sources, and the theory of evolution which provides an explanatory framework for said observations. Until ID Creationists can familiarize themselves which these important distinctions, they will continue to argue a strawman argument, feeding the fears and ignorance of those who do not understand the difference between science and religion.

Luskin end with a complaint

No wonder Darwinists confidently declare there is no debate over evolution: they shut down such debate and prevent it from taking place.

But ID is ill equipped for any debate over evolution as expressed by ID proponents themselves

For instance, Young Earth Creationist and Discovery Institute Fellow Paul Nelson observed

Paul Nelson wrote:

Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don’t have such a theory now, and that’s a real problem. Without a theory it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now we’ve got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as “irreducible complexity” and “specified complexity” - but as yet no general theory of biological design.

Source: Touchstone Magazine interview, Date: July/August 2004

Or Philip “Father of ID” Johnson who lamented

Philip Johnson wrote:

I also don’t think that there is really a theory of intelligent design at the present time to propose as a comparable alternative to the Darwinian theory, which is, whatever errors it might contain, a fully worked out scheme. There is no intelligent design theory that’s comparable. Working out a positive theory is the job of the scientific people that we have affiliated with the movement. Some of them are quite convinced that it’s doable, but that’s for them to prove…No product is ready for competition in the educational world.

Source: Michelangelo D’Agostino In the matter of Berkeley v. Berkeley Berkeley Science Review, Issue 10, 2006

these comments mirror the observation by Bruce Gordon who wrote:

Bruce Gordon wrote:

Design theory has had considerable difficulty gaining a hearing in academic contexts, as evidenced most recently by the the Polanyi Center affair at Baylor University. One of the principle reasons for this resistance and controversy is not far to seek: design-theoretic research has been hijacked as part of a larger cultural and political movement. In particular, the theory has been prematurely drawn into discussions of public science education where it has no business making an appearance without broad recognition from the scientific community that it is making a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of the natural world.

Source: Bruce Gordon Intelligent Design Movement Struggles with Identity Crisis Research News & Opportunities in Science and Theology. January 2001, p. 9

No wonder that the Discovery Institute’s Intelligent Design Creationists are worried.