Monday, September 26, 2005

The Times on Dover

Last year the School Board in Dover, PA became the first in the nation to require the teaching of ID in public school science classrooms. They were subsequently sued, of course, and the trial begins today. If the judge, a George W. Bush appointee, finds against ID, then ID will quickly go the way of scientific creationism. Still there, but mostly at the level of background noise. On the other hand, if the judge rules in favor of ID, watch for a flood of other school districts to follow suit.

There’s a lot riding on this.

The The New York Times weighs in today with this weak article. It’s the typical dueling quotations, pass no judgments, push the standard story-line article on this subject. Let’s consider a few excerpts:

Sheree Hied, a mother of five who believes that God created the earth and its creatures, was grateful when her school board here voted last year to require high school biology classes to hear about “alternatives” to evolution, including the theory known as intelligent design.

That’s the opening paragraph of the article. It appears beneath a large photograph of the Heid family at the dinner table, heads bowed, saying grace. A little farther down is a photo of two of the plaintiffs, sitting on a sofa, clearly engaged in passionate conversation. Not very subtle.

“It was just our school board making one small decision,” Mrs. Hied said, “but it was just received with such an uproar.”

For Mrs. Hied, a meter reader, and her husband, Michael, an office manager for a local bus and transport company, the Dover school board's argument - that teaching intelligent design is a free-speech issue - has a strong appeal.
“I think we as Americans, regardless of our beliefs, should be able to freely access information, because people fought and died for our freedoms,” Mrs. Hied said over a family dinner last week at their home, where the front door is decorated with a small bell and a plaque proclaiming, “Let Freedom Ring.”

Wow! What started as one small decision of a local school board became, just a few sentences later, something worth invoking the memory of our fallen soldiers over.
Of course, free access to information is not the issue. Rather, the issue is whether we are going to use public school science classrooms to spread the lies and propaganda of an especially narrow form of protestant fundamentalism. Someone should remind Mrs. Heid that our soldiers dies protecting all of our freedoms, including the separation of church and state.

But in a split-level house on the other side of Main Street, at a desk flanked by his university diplomas, Steven Stough was on the Internet late the other night, keeping track of every legal maneuver in the case. Mr. Stough, who teaches life science to seventh graders in a nearby district, is one of the 11 parents suing the Dover district. For him the notion of teaching “alternatives” to evolution is a hoax.

“You can dress up intelligent design and make it look like science, but it just doesn't pass muster,” said Mr. Stough, a Republican whose idea of a fun family vacation is visiting fossil beds and natural history museums. “In science class, you don't say to the students, 'Is there gravity, or do you think we have rubber bands on our feet?'”

Just in case you didn't get it from the photographs, the anti-ID folks are the pointy-headed intellectuals, while the pro-ID folks are the plain-spoken religious simpletons. Got it?

I like Mr. Stough's sentiments, but someone should point out to him that the leadership of the party he supports is four-square opposed to his view of things.

The article goes on in this vein, careful to never say anything of substance. It's a very lazy performance from the Times. Still, there was one more interesting moment:

Mr. Rehm, a father of five and a science teacher who formerly taught in Dover, said the school board had long been pressing science teachers to alter their evolution curriculum, even requiring teachers to watch a videotape about “gaps in evolution theory” during an in-service training day in the spring of 2004.

Now I understand why high school teachers hate in-service days so much! The ignoramuses on the school board, who you can be sure know nothing at all about biology or paleontology, think in-service days are a time to try to indoctrinate teachers with a lot of religious nonsense. Lovely!


At 2:12 PM, Anonymous Dom said...

Let me say that I truly appreciate your blog.

But -- obviously there is a "but" coming -- I really don't understand this animosity towards ID, even though I myself (and I'm not a biologist, but I think I have a fairly well-informed interest in the subject) would never subscribe to anything but a strictly materialistic approach to evolution.

There are two reasons for my confusion.

First, ID has always been debated among biologists. The idea was never a dominant view, but it is accepted by a good many scientists, even field naturalists. Lack was one of them, Robert Wright probably comes close, and there are many ohers. Really what you see is just simple debate among scientists, who probably remain silent on the subject because they don't want to be associate with the religious sector. Let's hope the debate never stops.

Second, the true enemy of Darwinism does not come from religous know-nothings, but from the left. There you will find that Darwin is the first step towards rascism, or fascism, or even sexism. Many have argued that it should not be taught for this reason alone. When Summers at Harvard made an unremarkable comment about the shape of the IQ distribution among men and women, he was censored. E.O. Wilson was often censored at speaking engagements. Summers is not a bilogist, and Wilson is at the edge I suppose. But I think it is strange that there has never been a consistent attack against this viewpoint that comes close to the attack made against the religious sector.

You and others who defend evolution are not really defending evolution at all. You are defending a very bowdlerized version of it -- one in which many observations are ignored or seen as dangerous, and very often Lemarck makes a strong comeback.

I hope you can respond without a lot of rancor. Let me say again that I care nothing for this viewpoint (ID), but a) it is not a dismissable viewpoint, and b) there is a lot more to worry about.


At 3:27 PM, Blogger Jason said...


I'm glad you appreciate the blog.

Let me take your points in order. First, Robert Wright is not an ID proponent in any way, shape or form. He argues for some notion of directionality in evolution and believes that it's reasonable to talk about evolution having a goal, but as for evolution itself he's a tried and true Neo-Darwinian.

And if by Lack you mean the British ornithologist David Lack, then he was likewise not an ID proponent (he dies in 1973). He was a theistic evolutionsit, which is a very different thing. (Just listen to the ID folks talk about theistic evolutionists if you don't believe me!)

Your second point, I'm afraid, is not correct. There are a handful of far left academics who take the view you described. They have always been a small minority however, and have nowadays virtually disappeared from view. They have zero power and zero influence, and as far as I know nobody of that persuasion has tried to use the tools of government to promote their viewpoint. For now, though, I will simply note that every school board dispute has been instigated at the behest of religious conservatives. It is Republican politicians, not Democrats, who are courting the creationist vote. So I think you should reconsider the argument you're making here.

Summers was not censored, he was merely criticized strongly for some ill reasoned remarks. Wilson was certainly the victim of some very bad treatment, but he likewise was not censored. He had little trouble getting his views out. Wilson was not at the edge, he's about as prominent a biologist as you'll find.

There have been many attacks on the far left view you're describing. Paul Gross and Norman Levitt wrote Higher Superstition to deal with it. There was also Alan Sokal's famous hoax, and the book it spawned. There have also been many book length treatments defending sociobiology, which relates to Wilson's treatment. So I don't think you have been looking very hard for withering critiques of the far left's anti science views. The only reason you don't see even more of that is the total lack of power and influence from that sector.

Give an example of an observation I'm ignoring or see as dangerous.

Finally, let me point out that there are two different notions of ID. One is the bare hypothesis that there is a God who did something. That is not the view that provokes all the anger.

The people I attack at this blog are offering specific scientific criticisms of evolution and make certain claims about having evidence for design. These criticisms and claims are totally wrong. But even that is not what provokes the anger.

What provokes the anger is the blatantly dishonest picture of modern science offered by people from outfits like the Discovery Institute. They routinely quote people out of context, distort the work of real scientists, and accuse scientists of fraud and dishonesty. That makes me angry. I'm weird that way.

They are also manifestly dishonest about their religious motivations, which are lurking just below the surface for anyone willing to do a little digging.

Anyway, hope that helps clear up my views on the matter.

At 6:02 PM, Anonymous Dom said...

Thanks, Jason, for a truly helpful response. I don't want to use your blog as a messaging service, but let me make a few points.

I guess I never understood the difference between ID, theistic evolution, and directionality. I object to all three and for the same reasons: They don't seem to explain anything. As you pointed out in your more recent post, the genome project could not have come from ID, but it could not have come from any of the others, either.

I did mean David Lack; I forgot his first name. And I don't know what in the world I was thinking of when I said that Wilson is at the edge of biology. Thanks for catching me on that foolishness.

I think Summers was censored -- you won't find him making that remark again, and I don't see that it was an ill-reasoned remark either. Maybe wrong, but there is good data behind it.

Does the left have any influence? Here's what I'm afraid of: In Philadelphia, and elsewhere, I watched while religious nuts tried to get "Wizard of OZ" out of schools. They failed. But "Huckleberry Finn" can't be found at any grade level, and it's removal was never even discussed. Something like that may happen again. The public schools will soon teach a theory of evolution that is Lemarckian at best; Darwin will be dismissed as a product of imperial England and a tool of capitalism. And all of this will happen without any discussion, by people who have no influence.

Hope I'm wrong. Anyway, really great blog.


PS. I know a student at Penn who told me that "E = MC**2" is a male equation, because it emphasizes "E", which is testosterone driven. He was serious.

At 8:31 AM, Blogger M.C. said...

The public schools will soon teach a theory of evolution that is Lemarckian at best; Darwin will be dismissed as a product of imperial England and a tool of capitalism. And all of this will happen without any discussion, by people who have no influence"

But Darwin was a Lamarkian.

What exactly is wrong with Lamarkian inheritance, other than the fact that it cannot be explained in terms of the failed reductionist materialist model of the universe?

At 3:54 PM, Anonymous Kevin said...

M.C. ... snigger...failed reduction.....what?

laugh...oh now we have a real scientist with us!

At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Lewis Armstrong said...

Creation of the World and universe by God is unquestionable. Evolution lost creditabilty with it being determined that so many of the findings of ancient men where nothing but a hoax. See creation sites at

At 12:38 PM, Blogger mescane said...

I agree with you the way you view the issue. I remember Jack London once said everything positive has a negative side; everything negative has positive side. It is also interesting to see different viewpoints & learn useful things in the discussion. penis enlargement


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