Friday, October 21, 2005

Far From 1920's Fundamentalists

Michael Powell has another article evaluating the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. The title gives the gist- "No Easy Victory Ensues in Legal Battle Over Evolution" with the sub-title "Intelligent Design Theorists Far From 1920s Fundamentalists."

It contains this acknowledgement:

The small band of scientists who publicly support intelligent design are able debaters, and, as became clear when Behe took the stand, they do not sound remotely like William Jennings Bryan, the lawyer who eight decades ago in Tennessee invoked biblical authority to decry evolution.

Behe began by rattling off the names of prominent scientists, many of whom are not advocates of intelligent design, who questioned key aspects of evolutionary theory and noted that there is scant evidence for large mutational leaps. Then he read aloud from a paper written by an evolutionary biologist, whose theorizing was peppered with "maybe" and "might have" and "probably."

The article also notes:

It has been hailed as another Scopes "Monkey Trial," in which the forces of science would again vanquish those who would inject religion into the science classroom. But as the trial in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg reached a midpoint this week, victory has proven elusive.

What appears clear from this article is that even the mainstream media are beginning to see that as responsible journalists, they can no longer discuss every public debate or hearing or trial in terms of the social dynamics of the Scopes trial, or the mythology of Inherit the Wind. This trial and most of the current debates are miles different from that trial in so many ways. Powell does not mention the biggest difference: it is the pro-Darwin lobbyists who are trying to suppress and censor free inquiry, subvert a free marketplace of ideas and ban a book. The ID folks just want kids to hear all the relevant facts and arguments. In the Dover case, we are only talking about students hearing a one minute invitation to do additional, optional personal study on their own, outside of regular classroom time.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Eugenie Scott's Strategy: To Convert Baptist Kids into Episcopalians in Science Class?

It is difficult to say what is the most offensive, inappropriate and unconstitutional aspect of Eugenie Scott's strategy guide for trying to convert public school kids from the conservative Christian theology they grew up with into some other theological perspective that is more compatible with her version of macroevolutionary theory. (Scott is the Executive Director of the NCSE, and Lobbyist #1 for the Darwin Only people.) Here is her account of what an unnamed public school teacher did, and her encouragement to other teachers to go and do likewise:
[O]ne teacher presented students with a short quiz wherein they were asked, "Which statement was made by the Pope?" or "which statement was made by an Episcopal Bishop?" and given an "a, b, c" multiple choice selection. All the statements from theologians, of course, stressed the compatibility of theology with the science of evolution. This generated discussion about what evolution was versus what students thought it was. By making the students aware of the diversity of opinion towards evolution extant in Christian theology, the teacher helped them understand that they didn't have to make a choice between evolution and religious faith.

The none too subtle message to kids is unavoidable: here are the theological positions that are approved by the teacher, and by extension, the school. If you want to be a smart kid and good scientist, and you have a different theological perspective, you had better think about changing it. In fact, your grade may depend on it. Just try to imagine how the classroom discussion might play out if a teacher in the mold of Professor P.Z. Myers is teaching the class.

Scott is adamant about one thing- only the theology of Grade A Darwin Certified theologians is allowed: "All the statements from theologians, of course, stressed the compatibility of theology with the science of evolution." Her reference to "diversity" is a joke; only Darwin-friendly perspectives are permitted. And note that true diversity- like telling kids about scientists who doubt Darwinian theory and presenting the scientific evidence that causes those doubts- is also to be avoided. There is no mention of teaching kids critical thinking skills about the science involved. There is also no mention of informing kids about the a priori philosophical commitments and worldviews of both sides (see also here).

Her final sentence makes it all too clear: Johnny, you don't have to "make a choice between evolution and religious faith." Just switch to a different religious faith! You can even stay a Christian- just switch denominations! Remember what the "Episcopal Bishop" said? It is so easy these days to be a good Episcopalian and buy into Darwinism hook, line and sinker. Hey, I might even write you a good recommendation if you do.

Where can you find Eugenie Scott's strategy guide? Why on a web site funded in part by the US Government, of course. If you go to this link, you find the following footer:

This site was created by the University of California Museum of Paleontology with support provided by the National Science Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Follow the link Dealing with Roadblocks & Misconceptions, and then the link Dealing with Antievolutionism. Et voila! The juicy stuff is on page 2. Establishment of religion in three easy steps, brought to you by the National Science Foundation. Or should it be called the National Foundation for Science and Government Approved Theology?

In reference to the title of this post, I do not mean to suggest that Eugenie Scott necessarily intends to convert children to a specific faith or denomination. She states that "it would be inappropriate for a teacher to encourage students towards or against any religious view." However, her actual recommendations for promoting macroevolutionary theory in science class could easily have the side effect of kids feeling pressured to change their theology and reconsider their denominations and churches. And she seems to disregard, or be oblivious to, this likely consequence.

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I have no objection to teaching evolution in public schools. On the contrary, we should be teaching more. Just teach it fairly and accurately, and give the kids all the relevant information, evidence and arguments. And don't push any particular theology.

Pandas and People and Howard Stern

Now that the ACLU has gotten into the book banning business, I have become more interested in the topic. The Washington Post has a column about a controversy over a reading list for an eighth grade English class. I am generally against banning books, but I think that there are good arguments that books for kids should be age appropriate and have academic merit.

As a contrast, which is more worthy of objection, Of Pandas and People for high school kids (see link above or here) or Private Parts by Howard Stern for eighth graders? How about Sex by Madonna, The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein, or Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen, which are all on the list? While we are discussing the quality of our science education, what about these choices for a quality English education? You can review the entire list here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Michael Behe's Testimony - Update

The Discovery Institute blog has a further update on his testimony and cross-examination.

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Washinton Post writer Michael Powell has this article dated October 18, which contains this:

"The appearance of design in aspects of biology is overwhelming," Behe told the court. "Intelligent design is based on observed, empirical, physical evidence from nature."

. . .

Behe took pains Monday to note that a number of prominent scientists, many of whom are not advocates of intelligent design, have questioned aspects of Darwinian theory. Most criticism concentrates on Darwin's theory of natural selection and variation: Some scientists say that although there is ample evidence of small, evolutionary changes, there is less proof of the grand leaps needed to progress from one-celled life to modern man.

. . . "If Darwinian theory is so fruitless at explaining the very foundation of life . . . one can reasonably wonder if there is some other explanation," Behe said.

I wonder if the ACLU knew that they would be giving so much free publicity to the intelligent design movement, and help it clear up many of the misconceptions that its opponents have tried to propagate?

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The Discovery Institute blog has more information on his testimony, but is taking forever to load.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Interview With Michael Behe

Excerpts of an interview with Michael Behe are here.

Of note:

On how his views changed after reading "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis" by Michael Denton:

"It took me aback because I realized then that my acceptance of Darwinian evolution was not based on knowledge that I myself had but rather (on) taking people's say so. ... I looked for an explanation of how the blood clotting system may have arisen and was astounded to find that there were no papers that did anything except kind of raise their hands and say things like, 'Isn't it great how natural selection has provided us with this system?' And now that I was no longer taking Darwin's theory as a given but was looking for evidence to support it, such assurances no longer did the trick. And so at that point I became very skeptical of Darwin's theory and started to think to myself that I was believing in this less because the evidence demanded it than for sociological reasons, (because) my teacher said so and everybody else believed it."

On being an academic who backs ID:

"It's dangerous to your career to be identified as an ID proponent. I had tenure when I wrote my book. But if you don't have tenure - if you're a graduate student or a post-doc or an assistant professor - my strong advice is to keep your thoughts to yourself. You're just asking for big trouble if you go public."

The whole piece is worth reading- especially his comparison of intelligent design theory to the big bang theory.

Further Report on Behe's Testimony

The Post has this article on Michael Behe's actual testimony today, which includes:
Behe, who was expected to remain on the stand throughout the day Monday, compared the outcry over intelligent design to the early criticism of the big-bang theory some 70 years ago. "Many people thought it had philosophical and even theological implications that they did not like," he said.

Pofile of Michael Behe

The Washington Post has a profile of Michael Behe dated yesterday. You can guess the tone of it by the fact that the first sentence claims that he has been "ridiculed as a quack by the scientific establishment." Behe personally? His whole body of research? I think not.

It does include this quote:
"The fact that most biology texts act more as cheerleaders for Darwin's theory rather than trying to develop the critical faculties of their students shows the need, I think, for such statements," Behe said.
And it notes:
Behe said he was a believer in Darwin when he joined Lehigh in 1985, but became a skeptic after reading Michael Denton's book "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis."

At least they hint at the fact that he doubts Darwinian theory because of the science.

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For other posts that discussed Behe, go here and here.

Another Post article on the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, with a picture of Behe, is here.