Wednesday, November 9, 2005

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It's déjà vu at the Kansas Board of Education

So I see that the Kansas Board of Ed has approved new science standards that, "change the definition of science to allow for non-natural explanations and cast significant doubt on the theory made famous by Charles Darwin," according to Knight-Ridder's David Klepper.

Sounds pretty grim. Amy Sullivan, however, points out that Kansas wasn't the only place where this issue was subject to debate yesterday:

In [Dover, Pennsylvania] voters booted all eight Republican pro-intelligent design school board members who were up for re-election and replaced them with Democrats who oppose the curriculum policy. Dover is not some bastion of liberal politics; it's more like Kansas than parts of Kansas are. If I had to make a prediction, I'd say that's a better indication of where the intelligent design fight is going than the Kansas decision. It's not a court striking down intelligent design, but voters taking matters into their own hands and deciding enough is enough.

Indeed, the Knight-Ridder story goes on to point out:

The vote brings to a close the latest chapter of the evolution saga in Kansas, but it is not likely to end it. A similar story played out in 1999, when the board removed most references to evolution, the origin of the universe or the age of the earth. Voters unseated conservatives in 2000, and a new board, dominated by moderates, changed the standards back.

Moderates hope the same thing will happen next year, and they vow to unseat conservatives in next November's elections. Voters will fill five board seats next year, four of them belonging to conservative incumbents. A handful of candidates have already announced their intention to run.

Ann Althouse has more, particularly on the interrelationship between the litigation and electoral strategies that tend to contain this kind of educational tom-foolery.

UPDATE: Oh, dear, I see that Pat Robertson has opened his mouth on this topic. According to the AP:

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson warned residents of a rural Pennsylvania town Thursday that disaster may strike there because they "voted God out of your city" by ousting school board members who favored teaching intelligent design....

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city," Robertson said on the Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club."....

Later Thursday, Robertson issued a statement saying he was simply trying to point out that "our spiritual actions have consequences."

"God is tolerant and loving, but we can't keep sticking our finger in his eye forever," Robertson said. "If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them."

Wait, I'm confused by that last sentence -- does this mean that Robertson believes that Charles Darwin's ghost is still around?

Anyway, it appears that God ain't pleased with Robertson.

posted by Dan on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM


Proponents of Intelligent Design call it science; opponents call it religion. It seems to me that the problem with ID is that it's neither.

My understanding of ID is that it has identified gaps in scientific knowledge and announced that God fills those gaps. It is patently unscientific to stop scientific inquiry -- which is the only outcome of the adoption of ID.

And ID as religion? It seems to reduce God to the role of tinkerer. There's a gap in the fossil record! The Intelligent Designer made it happen! If you want to believe in God and in science, why not choose a more magestrial deity -- go back to the first cause, the unmoved mover, whatever. Leave Darwin alone.

ID is neither science nor religion -- it's simply an opening for fundamentalist Christians to get a toe in the door. And their agenda would make even IDers cringe.

posted by: Andrew Steele on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

However many years it's been since the Scopes "monkey" trial, it astounds me that people still take the ID/creationist view seriously, much less propose it as a valid scientific answer. The justification they use is laughable -- that some phenomena are so complex they HAVE to have been planned. To early man, the SUN was a pretty heavy concept, so primitive people decided it must be a god in a chariot. Today's I.D. is just as valid -- and just as primitive.

posted by: Dave Dufour on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

Demonizing PhDs and scientists may make good politics, but it makes lousy policy. Intelligent design is a farce, a political tool, a dishonest attempt to inject (for good or ill) religion into the class room. It is refreshing to see members of both parties stand up to this nonsense. If only the White House would follow suit. There used to be a heck of a lot of Republican physicists, but now they are few and far between because of such political expediency.

posted by: Grisha on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

I must confess to getting a little fatigued and frustrated. While I'm encouraged by the Dover vote and anticipate the trial to come out against the ID position, the Kansas design is in many ways more dangerous.

In some way it's more acceptable to misunderstand the nature of science because of ignorance (willful or otherwise) than to recognize that your position is in such opposition to what science is that you feel that the very definition of science must be changed.

posted by: zevatron on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

err, sorry: "the Kansas ID decision"

posted by: zevatron on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

Dave, vis-a-vis Scopes, the (small, perhaps) bright spot is that at least now it's the Creationists who are on the outside trying to get back in. In Scopes, IIRC, teaching evolution at all was illegal. So back then Creationism was the standard and evolution was fighting to get in. Now the situation is reversed. It's progress, though not as much as one might have hoped for.

posted by: Marc on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

"Demonizing PhDs and scientists may make good politics ..."

Yeesh, when did that become good politics? That it might is what bothers me more than anything about the otherwise relatively benign controversy over ID.

posted by: trotsky on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]


"Demonizing PhDs and scientists may make good politics ..."

That's called the lifeblood of the Republican party...

posted by: RL on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

I want to point out the idea behind ID, that God set in motion the process of evolution and perhaps guides it, is one that many moderate Christians share.

ID itself belongs in a philosophy 101 class, not in biology 101.

posted by: Publius on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

A few years ago the school board in Merrimack , NH installed an anti evolution curriculum. They were defeated for relection at the next opportunity.

posted by: VBM on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

Who cares if a biology teacher has to explain ID for 15 minutes? 80% will then explain all its weakenesses as compared to real scientific thought.

This is more about a significant minority not wanting religion discussed at all. Well, screw them.

posted by: Chad on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

I think the ultimate solution to this will be the conservative Christians pulling their children out of public schools, either to parochial schools or home schooling. This protect the children from everything ranging from heresey to condoms for 14 year-olds.

This will make both sides happy except.....

It will be harder to pass school levies when many parents feel emnity toward the public schools.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

I've always thought this was one of those issues that ought to be decided at the local level. It wouldn't kill ninth-graders to consider objections to evolution -- the controversy might even mitigate what for most of them is the ineffable boredom of ninth-grade biology classes. Moreover a school district that leaves its graduates terminally confused or ignorant about evolution most likely has many other things wrong with it as well, problems that excluding discussion of intelligent design won't fix.

On the other hand....Christian faith rests on belief in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Intelligent design doesn't even mention that (neither, for that matter, do public displays of the Ten Commandments). So, from the standpoint of religion, what earthly good does it do to introduce a very watered-down version of the ideas behind the Genesis creation account into the public school curriculum? I find myself wondering if there isn't a bit of self-indulgence behind the advocacy of intelligent design in the schools, in the sense that some evangelicals think it desirable to display their political muscle in school politics and have chosen this issue primarily for that purpose. Ought they not rather to make greater efforts to ensure that young people who go to church emerge better grounded in sound Christian theology? I don't think it is wrong to infer from Acts and the Epistles that faith in God through Jesus Christ takes precedence over one's ideas about creation and evolution, or that there is no Scriptural sanction supporting the idea that belief in intelligent design is by itself of any value at all.

posted by: Zathras on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]


You display the classic misunderstanding of science as a discipline in your response. If there is an alternative theory to evolution "then it would kill ninth graders to hear objectives to evolution"- agreed.

But ID is NOT a scientific theory, by definition. It is a criticism, based on no facts, that would be no more valuable, scientifically, than teaching "Zathras did it, not evolution." We wouldn't teach the latter in science class, nor should we the former. It isn't science. Its faith.

Feel free to teach it- but not in science class.

posted by: RL on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

Here here RL! Nails it on the head! (No disrespect to Zathras intended)

posted by: jprime314 on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

RL, well said. ID is excellent philosophy, horrible science. Here is why it is poisonous from an educational perspective:
Science is a process that relies on certain rules and definitions to make it work cohesively. What ID does is corresive to that process. It challenges well established theories, which is generally good, but it does so in an incidious way. It claims that where there are gaps and inconsistancies in the theory, the entire theory must be false. This dismisses all of the years of data and theory that _is_ consistent in the face of whatever temporary obstacles havent been accounted for yet. If you took that mentality to its logical conclusion, most of modern life would come crumbling down. Quantum physics has major gaps and holes in our understanding of it, but that doesnt stop our computers from working. Relativity breaks down under certain circumstances that we have no answer to yet, but we can still fly a rocket and land it on a comet.
Challenges to the prevailing theories are supposed to be good things. They almost invariably end up making the theory stronger or evolving it into a new theory that is generally consistant with the old one. Einstein surplanted Newton, but he certainly didnt invalidate everything Newton said.
Make no mistake, at its heart ID is looking for a foot in the door to bring Evolution crashing down, branch and bough. Its simply dangerous to science to start taking the parts we dont understand and using them to undermine the parts we do, particularly when the so call replacement is untestable. Its especially bad to let our next generation of scientists start to think along those lines. Thats why ID is dangerous, thats why it belongs in its proper sphere of philosophy. If this tactic works against evolution, every branch of science is equally at risk, because (believe me) every branch has strange gaps that it hasnt explained yet (we still dont have a understanding of friction for instance, Intelligent Stopping?)

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

"(we still dont have a understanding of friction for instance, Intelligent Stopping?)"

we still dont have a _full_ understanding rather

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

I too am surprised at the Zanthras post. The claim that ID is not a Christianity-based movement is very doubtful to say the least. Evolution is only challenged by the ID folks because it is a branch of science that DIRECTLY contradicts the Christian doctrine of how the World was created. (Of course the "big bang" theory is another one of objectionable theories, but while evolutionary thought is pretty much established, things are much less settled in the world of physics.)

ID does not mention Jesus and does not make overt religious references because it's "evolved" in about three iterations as a tool to attack evolution without ostensibly violating separation of Church and State in this country. ID is the gentler form of creationsism which was banned from teaching in public schools by the Supreme Court in 1987. Remember, creationsits used to rally around a book claiming that Genesis was exactly how things happened, and quoting evidence to back up the 'scientific' theory while ignoring evidence to the contrary (don't recall the book name at this time).

Why then in other secular countries where Christianty is a predominant religion, (and Jews are supposed to believe in Genesis, too) there is not such a furor? I think this article in the Economist, chronicling the Dover trial, has a good point, which I hope many other believers recognize:

To illustrate the difference between scientific and religious “levels of understanding”, Mr Haught asked a simple question. What causes a kettle to boil? One could answer, he said, that it is the rapid vibration of water molecules. Or that it is because one has asked one's spouse to switch on the stove. Or that it is “because I want a cup of tea.” None of these explanations conflicts with the others. In the same way, belief in evolution is compatible with religious faith: an omnipotent God could have created a universe in which life subsequently evolved.

It makes no sense, argued the professor, to confuse the study of molecular movements by bringing in the “I want tea” explanation. That, he argued, is what the proponents of intelligent design are trying to do when they seek to air their theory—which he called “appalling theology”—in science classes.

Read the whole thing. The article makes another excellent point that with so many evangelical Christians and many school districts, there are bound to be cases like this, where science is thrown out the window by a local school board. The fact that ID folks fail miserably for the most part gives me a lot of hope.

posted by: Ivan B Zhabin on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

I will say that from a legal point of view, I dont know that teaching ID necessarily violates the Constitution. If a local schoolboard decides to teach ID as science but in a way harmonious with the First Amendment i will opose it politically with my last breath, but I wouldnt want a court interfering just because they can.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

Interesting that "conservatives" are being replaced by "moderates". It appears "conservatives" are actually being replaced by liberals. But then, I don't usually meet liberals who self-identify as liberals. They call themselves "moderates", even though their policy preferences are very, very liberal. It seems only Commie call themselves liberals these days.

posted by: Bonhomme Richard on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]


100% correct. The best place to compare
"ID" and evolution discussions would be in
a Rhetoric or Argumentation class.

Dissecting IDer's "analysis" would help
students understand how seemingly meaningful
statements contain, in point of fact, no
validity what so ever.

Many of those exact same techniques are
used by extremists on both ends of the
politcal spectrum to "prove" their

posted by: Ted on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

Sigh. I just heard Pat Robertson on the radio proclaiming that the people of York shouldn't expect God's help should disaster befall their city, since they have kicked him out.

I'd happily ignore such crackpots, if they didnt' have enough audience to keep themselves rich and on the air.

posted by: trostky on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city," Mr Robertson said on The 700 Club.

"God is tolerant and loving, but we can't keep sticking our finger in His eye forever," Mr Robertson said.

"If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them."

Keep on Pat. I hope the lines between the fundies and the GOP continued to get blurred. Just for amusement sake. It's hilarious material.

posted by: No von Mises on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

Am I the only person sick of hearing that ID belongs in philosophy class, as though this is a solution that should make both sides happy? The fact is, it won't make both sides happy. Any competent philosopher (or philosophy teacher) will point out that we have no good reason to look for immaterial or non-natural explanations when we already have perfectly good, natural, material explanations readily available (evolution, for instance). She might concede that, yes, evolution is a theory (of course!!!), but go on to explain that it's an extremely robust theory that can account for a helluva lot of what we know about the world, pointing out that the epistemic paradigm where *facts* merit certainty and everything else (theories, e.g.) is a matter of faith ("belief in evolution is an act of faith, just like belief in God," or so they claim) is just flat-out wrong. Scientists don't simply compile facts for a living. They theorize, and in doing so they are emphatically not pursuing matters of faith.

And all this before we even get around to smashing Paley's watch!

posted by: james on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

"Any competent philosopher (or philosophy teacher) will point out that we have no good reason to look for immaterial or non-natural explanations when we already have perfectly good, natural, material explanations readily available (evolution, for instance)."

Its fine to point that out, but that is hardly the end of the discussion. First, there are all kinds of vibrant philosophies dealing in mysticism, Buddhism for example. Why believe the world is an illusion when all evidence of the senses points to it being very real?

Secondly, there are places where there are _not_ perfectly good explanations and likely never can be. When you look at the beginning of the universe, there remains wild debate by physicists over exactly what the big bang was, and how it could happen. IE, why is there something rather than nothing. That is perhaps the oldest philosophical question known to man and it seems unlikely that science alone can ever answer it. ID is a philosophical theory that addresses it, and I might add one that a great many of the great physicists embraced at least personally (I recommend the book Quantum Questions by Ken Wilber which includes the personal writings of Einstein, Schroedinger, Eddington and others on the subject). Not biblical creationism mind you, but certainly a deistic view of the universe.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]


I don't know that I disagree with any of the points you make, though I don't know that they apply to the specific point I was trying to make. I admit that this may be partly my fault. I had intended to limit my comment to ID concerning evolution, but I see now that the Paley's watch throw-away comment doesn't quite fit in with that. I wasn't trying to make an argument against theism or an argument for science-as-the-answer-to-everything, just to point out that ID regarding evolution is one area in which philosphers will have to defer to scientists; if scientists can explain the phenomena (speciation, very specifically), there's no reason for philosophers to run the other direction, or to encourage others to do so. Granted, science does not always have a good explanation, and this area may be open to philosophical speculation. But how speciation occurs is not one of those areas.

As for mysticism and Buddhism, I suppose these would count as philosophy insofar as they rest on argument (and I have have seen arguments put together for accepting certain Buddists beliefs regarding the self), but they seem to leave philosophy where argument ends. Exactly what philosophy is is controversial, but if mysticism is philosophy, it is far from a paradigm example of the discipline.

I'm confused by the question following your first point. If it's meant to point out that mysticism or Buddhism asks us to accept beliefs without a good reason (counter to "all the evidence of the senses"), then it's probably not philosophy, but religion. I can't figure out any other reading that could be construed as supporting your point.

Lastly, a quirk about your reading recommendation: Why should we give the word of physicists special weight in a field that is, by their own admission, not their specialty? Their views may be interesting, but if physics can't shed light on the problem, how can we expect phycisists to do any better?

posted by: james on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

Just to clarify, I don't think ID should be kept out of philosophy class. It just won't get the pass that many people think it will, and so won't be a good compromise. Philosophical treatment of ID, concerning evolution at least, will involve arguments that ID proponents would rather avoid.

posted by: james on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

Pat Robertson has given us another reason to rethink the ID issue. If we don't allow it, God will bring disaster.

posted by: j on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

Ivan writes: " it is a branch of science that DIRECTLY contradicts the Christian doctrine of how the World was created."

No, it only contradicts a particular Christian doctrine, which insists the inherently contradictory Biblical account of creation is somehow literally true.

Or, to put it another way, it's favored by Christians who believe in a God too stupid to have mastered literary techniques taught to elementary school students.

posted by: Jon H on 11.09.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

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