The Questionable Authority

From the archives – the following article was originally posted on my old blog back in August of 2005. For reasons that will become clear shortly, I’ve been reposting this series of stories over here. There’s one more after this, and I’ll have that up over here later today.

Someone named Emma kindly provided a couple of links to PDF files relevant to the California creationist lawsuit. One of the links is to a propaganda piece written by the Association of Christian Schools International, which is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. The second link is to a copy of the actual complaint that has been filed in the case.

The ACSI propaganda flyer is an interesting read, but I’m not going to take the time to criticise it at present. Instead, I’m going to begin by looking at the complaint, which should contain the real meat of the suit. The complaint is over one hundred pages in length, and I have found material that I’d like to comment on very early in the complaint. Since both my time and my tolerance for this type of thing are limited, it will probably take several posts over several days for me to wade through everything.

The text of the complaint begins on page two:

Plaintiffs state this complaint against defendants, for viewpoint discrimination and content discrimination by defendants toward Christian school instruction and texts, which violates the constitutional rights of Christian schools and students to freedom of speech, freedom from viewpoint discrimination, freedom of religion and association, freedom from arbitrary governmental discretion, equal protection of the laws, and freedom from hostility toward religion. This court has jurisdiction of this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as this action is brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as 28 U.S.C. § 2201.

Let’s look at the beginning of that again:

Plaintiffs state this complaint against defendants, for viewpoint discrimination and content discrimination by defendants toward Christian school instruction and texts,

“Content discrimination”. What a wonderful phrase. It makes it sound like there is somehow something wrong with evaluating the worth of courses based on the material that is being taught. I wonder what comes after this. The next step doesn’t even need to be from one of these creationist groups. Instead, it could be a homeopath suing a state medical board for a license on the grounds that the state board exams constitute an unfair “content discrimination” favoring conventional medicine over the spiritual doctrines of homeopathy. After that, let’s go ahead and license the bloodletters and spiritual healers.

Let’s get one thing straight right from the start. The University of California absolutely discriminated against the content contained in those textbooks, and that is a good thing. It means that they decided to actually make sure that classes claiming to teach, for example, biology actually teach biology. Based on what I’ve seen of the Bob Jones “biology” curriculum, the Christian School courses in question do not teach Biology. They certainly, and by their own admission, do not put science first. Call me crazy, call me biased, call me anti-Christian if you want, but I think that the main book used in a science class should put science first. I’m just strange like that.

M. T. is a rising senior, suing through parent T. TAYLOR, whose SAT I scores and, on information and belief, SAT Reasoning Test scores would otherwise qualify for admission, but (i) who is discriminated against and excluded from University of California and California State University institutions because some courses at Calvary Christian School are disqualified from approval as a-g curriculum because of the Christian viewpoint added to standard subject matter presentation in those courses and their texts,

That’s a very interesting perspective. It’s not one that has much of a basis in reality, but it’s interesting nonetheless. While I cannot speak to the situation with any of the other questioned courses, the problem with the biology text is that it does not, in fact, teach the “standard subject matter presentation”. Further, the “Christian viewpoint” is not an addition to the text, it is the main focus of the text. If you scan down my earlier post again, you will find this quote from the Bob Jones University Press textbook:

The people who prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second…If…at any point God’s Word is not put first, the authors apologize.

Although the authors should, perhaps, be complimented for their forthrightness, a science textbook that puts a particular interpretation of Christianity before the science does not exactly constitute “standard subject matter” with a dash of Christianity added for flavor. It is, instead, apologetics trying to hide in a lab coat.

You will also find this:

God created humans and all of the other kinds of organisms with the ability to reproduce after their own kind (Gen. 1:12, 21, 25, 28); therefore, humans reproduce humans, oak trees reproduce oak trees, and cats reproduce cats. The idea of all life forms descending from a common ancestor cell that originated from non-living chemicals is absurd.

“Evolution is absurd” is hardly “standard subject matter” for a secondary school biology textbook. Nor, for that matter, are in-line references to bible verses.

As I have said before, and will undoubtedly say again, Colleges and Universities have the right to set criteria for incoming students. They also have, or should have, the right to examine the curricula, grading systems, textbooks, and other components of required courses in order to ensure that they in fact meet the criteria. If institutions of higher learning do not have this right, then they might as well not have admission criteria, as there will be no way to enforce them.

If the schools in question want to keep teaching biology the way that they have been, then that is their right. It is their private school, and they can take the actions that they see fit when it comes to setting up their classes. But actions have consequences, and one of the consequences is that colleges might not accept these courses as constituting adequate preparation. If parents decide not to enroll their children in a school that does not adequately prepare its students for higher education, and the school financially suffers as a result, that, too, is a consequence.

The plaintiffs in this suit are not asking to be protected from discrimination; they are asking to have their cake and eat it too. They want the religious freedom to teach whatever they want, but then they want to be protected from the consequences of not having taught what colleges want their students to know. Unfortunately for them, the right to escape the unpleasant consequences of your actions is not a civil right.

Comments

  1. #1 Jamey Kohn
    August 30, 2007

    Perhaps the University of California is being to conservative. Why not create a new degree — something like — Bachelors of Theological Science — that could incorporate fundamentalists. It doesn’t have to be a duel curriculum, but it would allow for students who have a segregated background. Someone who has a BTS would not have studied creationism at the U of California — but they would have certainly paid the $20,000 per year to a public school.

    Granted, a publicly funded school may want to have the word “theology” anywhere in its books, but they would be able to market themselves to a potential student population that may only otherwise be able to go private. Besides, once these repressed teenagers get to a big school, all bets are off.

  2. #2 Larry Fafarman
    September 1, 2007

    From what I have heard of the BJU biology textbooks, they are very much like regular biology textbooks except for a 15-page section on creationism. The BJU textbooks even have short sections on evolution. UC has not claimed that students who used these textbooks are not prepared to study biology at the college level. See –
    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/2007/05/dover-aint-over-iii-update-on-fundies-v.html

  3. #3 Mary
    September 2, 2007

    Larry,

    It appears you are suffering from amnesia. We were debating that very point a year ago on Thoughts From Kansas, and Albatrossity actually purchased the text in question and posted a lengthy–and quite damning–review. It’s message #240 at http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2006/08/is_a_science_textbook_adequate.php

    It was very clear that the disputed text had a great deal more wrong with it than just the addition of fifteen pages on creationism, and that the “short section on evolution” is a presentation of long-disproved creationist canards. The book does not teach the facts and concepts of biology as generally accepted by working biological scientists, such as those UC hires for its biology departments. It is therefore inadequate preparation for freshman biology, and UC was quite justified in judging a course based on it as inadequate preparation for college-level biology courses at UC.

    I don’t think that Behe is going to be able to convince the judge otherwise, based on his lame assertion that that a textbook meets an educational standard if it mentions a term or concept, even if the material presented about that concept is flat out wrong.

  4. #4 Larry Fafarman
    September 3, 2007

    We’ve been over this many times before –

    (1) It appears that the UC’s big gripe with the biology texts is the texts’ viewpoint on evolution theory. UC has not claimed that the textbooks do not correctly present the core material.

    (2) A knowledge of evolution theory is not needed in most areas of biology — maybe just in cladistic taxonomy, which hasn’t really replaced Linnaean taxonomy and IMO is not likely to — particularly outside of paleontology — because of a lack of stability. Nonetheless, one reporter said that the textbooks (she didn’t say if she was talking about the BJU texts or the A Beka texts) present evolution theory “straightforwardly.”

    (3) Biologists can use the concepts of evolution theory even while believing that all or part of it is untrue.

    I refer you to the above link to my blog for more information.

  5. #5 Mike Dunford
    September 3, 2007

    1: Evolution is core material for any introductory biology course.

    2: The Bob Jones textbook (a two-volume work that I’m presently resting my feet on) has many more problems than just having a section on creationism.

  6. #6 kc
    September 3, 2007

    “(3) Biologists can use the concepts of evolution theory even while believing that all or part of it is untrue.”

    How would a scientist “use” (I assume you mean as part of the pursuit of their profession) “concepts … that all or part of [are] untrue”? You clearly have no concept of science.

  7. #7 Larry Fafarman
    September 3, 2007

    Mike Dunford said,

    1: Evolution is core material for any introductory biology course.

    I totally disagree. Most biologists admit that they don’t use evolution theory in their work. Evolution theory is really very mickey-mouse — all it tells us is that random mutations occur (duh) and that fitter organisms are more likely to survive than less fit organisms (duh again).

    2: The Bob Jones textbook (a two-volume work that I’m presently resting my feet on) has many more problems than just having a section on creationism.

    Whatever those other “problems” may be, UC did not make a big stink about them.

    Evolution theory is just a small part of high school biology courses — it is ridiculous to deny credit because of a dispute over evolution theory.

    kc said,

    “(3) Biologists can use the concepts of evolution theory even while believing that all or part of it is untrue.”
    How would a scientist “use” (I assume you mean as part of the pursuit of their profession) “concepts … that all or part of [are] untrue”?

    I mean exactly what I say — they don’t have to believe it to use it. For example, a biologist working in cladistic taxonomy can use evolution theory without believing it. Also, very few students become biologists.

  8. #8 Larry Fafarman
    September 4, 2007

    Mike Dunford said,

    2: The Bob Jones textbook (a two-volume work that I’m presently resting my feet on) has many more problems than just having a section on creationism.

    I thought you said in your last post that you didn’t order copies of the books. So how could you be resting your feet on them?

  9. #9 kc
    September 5, 2007

    “I mean exactly what I say — they don’t have to believe it to use it. For example, a biologist working in cladistic taxonomy can use evolution theory without believing it. Also, very few students become biologists.”

    I don’t doubt that you mean exactly what you say, but speaking as a biologist, I find it hard to imagine how a scientist could “use” any scientific concept without having assessed the evidence for it, except in the sense of applying it in a rote fashion (…and find me a professional cladistic taxonomist who doesn’t believe in evolution). If you’re saying that someone can “do” science without understanding it, this is of course true in a very limited sense – one could probably wire a house without understanding electricity, with an appropriate manual, but that doesn’t make one an electrician.

    If your argument is that the content of high school biology training is irrelevant because most college students don’t become biologists, this is a different argument, but equally problematic. Why worry about the content of high school history courses if you’re not going to become an historian? Geography courses if you’re never going to leave your state? Math courses if you’re going to be a theologian?

    The bottom line is that it is worthwhile for standards to be applied to preparation for students entering college or university, to be decided by the university. If you want to argue that appropriate biological preparation is not required (for a particular program – say Spanish Literature), that’s fine, but if biology is required, it needs to be real biology, not “pretend” biology – if you’re not sure which is which, ask a real biologist.

  10. #10 al??veri?
    January 5, 2008

    How would a scientist “use” (I assume you mean as part of the pursuit of their profession) “concepts … that all or part of [are] untrue”? You clearly have no concept of science.

  11. #11 zets
    January 7, 2008

    The book does not teach the facts and concepts of biology as generally accepted by working biological scientists, such as those UC hires for its biology departments