Dispatches from the Creation Wars

A year ago I had a fairly memorable exchange with Dean Esmay on the subject of evolution and creationism. He showed pretty clearly then that A) he doesn’t have the first clue what evolution actually says and B) he has even less understanding of the dangers of creationism in public school science classrooms. So it’s not a surprise that his latest salvo on the subject is so wide of the mark. Dean writes:

The courts did a tremendously stupid and destructive thing back in the 1980s when they banned so-called “creation science.” The impression was made loud and clear to tens of millions of parents and students: scientists are intellectual bullies and cowards, and science teachers are liars who censor arguments that don’t fit their prejudices.

And the fact that the schools continue to teach that the holocaust took place convinces followers of the KKK that history teachers are “liars who censor arguments that don’t fit their prejudices” and that the “Jewish elites” who control the government are “bullies and cowards”. So what? The rightness of a policy or a court ruling is not judged by how the ignorant interpret that policy or ruling. Had the courts ruled any other way, they would have been sanctioning the teaching of religious dogma wrapped in pseudo-scientific language.

You want lies? Look no further than the litany of nonsense found in “creation science”, an alternate universe of ignorance in which the world is 6000 years old and Noah’s flood is responsible for the entire geological record. To teach those things to students is to teach them lies and falsehoods, just as surely as teaching them that the Earth is flat and doesn’t revolve around the sun. The liars are not the teachers, the liars are those who pushed these patently false ideas in to science classrooms in order to prop up their religious dogma. But Dean isn’t done making absurd statements:

There are people right now in Dover, Pennsylvania fighting to ban a completely harmless book called Of Pandas And People from public school science classes, against the express wishes of a majority of the parents. Tap-dance around it all you want, that is an attempt to ban a book from the classroom and censor ideas. You can put all the lipstick you want on this pig, with armwaving generalizations about “separation of church and state,” but the pig won’t get any prettier. It is censorship that is being advocated here, period. It will belong right on the ALA’s Banned books list, alongside The Catcher in the Rye and Huckleberry Finn. If the Stalinist ACLU and the self-proclaimed “defenders of science” have their way, anyhow.

Sorry Dean, but this rhetoric is so over the top as to be completely pointless. No one is attempting to ban books. By your “reasoning” (and I’m using that term lightly), refusing to tell students that they should also consider flat earthism, geocentrism or holocaust denial is also “book banning.” No one is going to ban any books. Everyone is still entirely free to purchase and read any book they wish, including Of Pandas and People. Not allowing schools to teach it or give copies to students is not the same thing as banning it, and no amount of ridiculous rhetoric about the “Stalinist” ACLU is going to make it so.

In this country, crackpots on the fringe of science, from flat earthers to hollow earthers to dowsers and perpetual motion advocates, have an absolute right to publish their ideas and every citizen has an absolute right to read them, talk about them, advocate them and try to convince others of them. But that doesn’t mean they have a “right” to have those views taught in public school science classrooms. And to claim that not giving them access to a science classroom amounts to “book burning” and “Stalinism” is to descend into utter delusion.

Comments

  1. #1 Ginger Yellow
    November 2, 2005

    I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that “creation science”, as a relatively well developed (if completely wrong and inconsistent) explanatory model, had more place in science classes than ID does.

  2. #2 TikiHead
    November 2, 2005

    Amazingly, Mr. Esmay believes that mean old science journal editors are turning away tons of ID article submissions, and that the brave editors that do dare to publish an ID article, are attacked, maybe even killed!! /sarcasm

  3. #3 Hyperion
    November 2, 2005

    Every time I see one of these clowns mention “Stalinism,” I think of Dr. Perakh’s writings on the subject and cringe.

  4. #4 raj
    November 2, 2005

    I did a little rooting around at Esmay’s web site but was unable to find any suggestion that he has any training in science, much less any expertise in science. I actually could not figure out what his claim to fame is–any idiot can put up a web site and he appears to be one who has.

    One interesting thing is that, on his “who is dean” page.” he claims to “own” a wife and a child. http://www.deanesmay.com/archives/000211.html That is a Neanderthal idea.

    As far as I can tell, he is a nut not giving any advertising to.

  5. #5 Dean Esmay
    November 4, 2005

    Heh. It’s fun to watch this: ad hominem first. Ed always starts there–it’s what he’s all about in the end. His ad hominem attacks are always mixed in with carefully out-of-context insinuations to make it seem as if I believe things I don’t.

    I don’t know if Ed does this to other people, but I feel I must assume he does. He doesn’t want a discussion. He wants to hammer anyone who disagrees with him as dangerous, sinister, and stupid all at once.

    Then there’s of course the flagrant denialism: that you’re doing anything at all different from the people who try to remove Huck Finn from class curriculums because it’s “racist” or The Catcher in the Rye from curriculums because it’s “dirty” and now stuff like creation science because it’s too “dangerous” and might “confuse” the kids rather than encourage them to think.

    But of course what you’re doing is worse than the book banners (I never said “burners” by the way, but never mind Ed, there’s no need for you to try to start being honest now, you never have been in the past after all) because you aren’t bothering to use the normal democratic processes, those dreary dreadful PTA meetings and school board elections–no, you’re happy to have a court deciding the matter by force for you. You’ll stay happy about that until one day a judge you don’t like suddenly makes a decision you don’t like, I suppose.

    Or when you notice suddenly that literally tens of millions of children are being taught that scientists are liars and intellectual bulies and cowards. Then maybe for a brief moment you’ll contemplate the notion that debate would have been better, and that by acting as censors you’ve done far more harm to science’s image than good.

    But no, no, let’s have more of the laughable comparisons to holocaust revisionism and KKK propaganda, as if the creation scientists had ever advocated genocide. It’s a clever bit of amphiboly that, and of course all of it dependent upon the dread “slippery slope,” a fallacy so beloved of Ed he can hardly utter a sentence on this subject without uttering it.

    Then of course come along the chattering commenters who add in more personal invective about me rather than addressing my arguments. Was this “raj” fool, this humorless dolt who thinks I actually believe I own my wife and children, the same one who viciously attacked my wife and quoted her own humorous comments about nuclear weapons out of context last year? Does it matter?

    I’d suggest you should keep better company, Ed, except that it’s obvious you are incapable of finding better company.

    As for my background in science: none that matters much here. Funny, I doubt you’d find that relevant were I on your side, rather than one of those rightly pointing to you as dangerous fools who do more harm than good.

    My latest salvo should give you must more pleasure:

    http://www.deanesmay.com/posts/1131016931.shtml

    As an atheist, a humanist, and a lover of science, I bid you adieu, you nasty, embarassing fools.

  6. #6 Chris Noble
    November 4, 2005

    Could Dean Esmay point out the exact instances of ad hominem attacks that Ed has used here?

    The criticisms that I see are that you do not have a clue about evolution and that you make absurd statements.

    Both of which are supported by evidence and no matter how much you take it personally neither of these are ad hominem attacks.

    When I say that you have no idea what an ad hominem attack is this is not an ad hominem attack.

    Get a clue.

    Chris Noble

  7. #7 raj
    November 4, 2005

    Dean Esmay at November 4, 2005 01:45 AM

    So, you have no training in science, but you purport to pontificate on what should be taught in science class. Interesting.

    BTW, regarding ownership of a wife and child, some of us can actually read what has been written. That’s what you wrote on your “who is dean” page (“I am the proud owner of a dog, three cats, a wife, and a small boy named Jake”), and I took you for your word. I don’t have the slightest idea who you are, or what your educational background is, although I did try to find out a bit about your background by rooting around your web site a bit. I was unable to find anything regarding science. I was unable to find anything, and so I don’t have any reason to pay attention to you.

    As I have indicated on more than a few web sites, any idiot can set up a web site, and more than a few idiots have. I’ll leave it at that.

  8. #8 Raging Bee
    November 4, 2005

    Well, Dean, I notice that you spent a lot of time accusing us evolutionist types of just about every dirty trick under the Sun, but you never actually said anything, or provided any reference, to support any positive factual claims about creationism intelligent design.

    I actually read Ed’s posts, so you can’t fool me into thinking he’s refusing to discuss the substantive issues of evolution vs. intelligent design. He has debunked, or cited articles debunking, just about every substantive claim the ID advocates have made. (If he’s missed anything, please feel free to enlighten us, and we’ll take it into account.) It is you and your faction who are deliberately poisoning the well with feverish accusations, standard bully-boy paranoia, and contrived outrage.

  9. #9 Raging Bee
    November 4, 2005

    Damn, strikethrough doesn’t work here! How can I be witty and ironic under such dreadful conditions?! Oh, the sufferings of the unappreciated artiste…

  10. #10 Red Right Hand
    November 4, 2005

    Sweet plastic Jesus on the dashboard. He stayed up till two in the morning last night to pen that screed?

  11. #11 Ed Brayton
    November 4, 2005

    The only place I disagree with you guys is in attacking Dean’s lack of a background in science. I have no background in science either, but I also pontificate regularly about it. I have, however, spent a good portion of the last 20 years in fairly intensive study of the issue and I’m happy to rely on the strength of my arguments and the validity of my positions in lieu of credentials. If Dean’s claims about science were credible, his lack of formal training would be irrelevant. So it’s fair game to attack the irrationality of his position, not his lack of training.

  12. #12 Jeff Hebert
    November 4, 2005

    First, I want to compliment commentor Elizabeth Reid (http://www.deanesmay.com/posts/1131016931.shtml#47520) on Dean’s site. She’s doing a great job of arguing the “science” side of the debate, and I don’t have anything to add to her spot-on posts.

    But the the science talk (interesting and important as it is) is clouding another point that I see Dean making (and which I have heard from a lot of different ID proponents, including my Young Earth Creationist boss), which is that school boards should be allowed to teach whatever they want without interference from “outsiders”. Though the flashpoint is ID/Evolution/Creationism, I assume the argument is equally applicable to math, chemistry, English literature, foreign languages, etc. So I’d be curious what Ed, Dean, and their various commentors have to say about that specific issue:

    Should local school boards have the right to set their curriculum, and if so, how absolute is that right? If you wish to argue that it is not an absolute right, what outside bodies should have the right to modify local curricula, and what are valid criteria for doing so?

    Let me throw out a few non-evolution examples to get the ball rolling.

    1. Mormons believe that America was settled by Jews shortly after Christ’s death and that a thriving, continent-wide civilazation flourished here. If a local school board in a Mormon district wishes to teach that in history class, is that acceptable?
    2. If a local school board in Lafayette Parish in Louisiana wants to teach their students the Cajun
      dialect in French class and present it as actual Parisian French, is that acceptable?
    3. If a local school board in a large metropolitan borough that is predominantly Muslim wants to teach in their sociology class that the West is an evil Satanist tool that must be overthrown, is that acceptable?

    If your answer to any of those is no, such an attempt would NOT be acceptable, why or why not? What body should have the right to deny the local school board such an attempt? What are valid reasons for doing so?

    I look forward to reading the discussion (or the deafening silence if no one else finds this an interesting way to look at the issue!).

  13. #13 Ed Brayton
    November 4, 2005

    Jeff-

    I think you bring up an interesting aspect of this argument, and I think it points up another problem with Dean’s argument. I referred to this in my reply to Dean in a new post a few minutes ago when responding to his charge that I’m using the courts to “bully” local school boards. The examples you bring up are good ones, and one could add many more. And if any of them came to pass, you would quickly find out – if he’s sane – that Dean’s objection to using the courts would quickly disappear and he would be arguing that there must be limits on what a local school board can choose to teach and that those limits are enforcable by the courts.

    It’s the same problem we have with the anti-judicial rhetoric from the right. They scream of “judicial activism” and “judicial tyranny” whenever a court overrules a law they agree with. But pass a law they disagree with and they run right into court, as they’ve done to try and strike down the California stem cell referendum and medical marijuana law and the Oregon assisted suicide law – and all of those laws were passed by direct popular referendum. So what we have here is rhetoric that they apply inconsistently.

  14. #14 Jillian
    November 4, 2005

    Or, considering that I believe Dean bills himself as a “libertarian”, perhaps he’d find this more to his liking.

    I have written a book called “Why Libertarians are Pee-Drinking Zombie Monsters Who Crave Human Flesh”. In it, I explain how it has come to be that the Libertarian movement has become a front for pee-drinking zombies who want to enslave our children and use them for their perversve necrophiliac, cannibalistic, pee-drinking rituals.

    I would be content to have “Of Pandas and People” used in biology classes, if Dean would consent to have my text used in political science classes.

    It’s important that you realize that many people agree with my position on libertarians, and all we’re asking for is equal time in the classroom. I’m just saying we should teach both sides of the controversy. I have no objection to students being taught John Stuart Mill; they just need to know about the zombie thing, too.

  15. #15 Raging Bee
    November 4, 2005

    Jeff: school boards do not have rights; they have obligations to pass on their society’s values to the next generation, and to ensure that kids are taught what they need to know in order to function as responsible adults in a free society, and to live their lives to the fullest in that context. With that in mind, here are my answers to your questions:

    “Mormons believe that America was settled by Jews shortly after Christ’s death and that a thriving, continent-wide civilazation flourished here. If a local school board in a Mormon district wishes to teach that in history class, is that acceptable?”

    Not if the available facts and evidence fail to support that contention, in which case teaching it as “history” would be teaching lies.

    “If a local school board in Lafayette Parish in Louisiana wants to teach their students the Cajun
    dialect in French class and present it as actual Parisian French, is that acceptable?”

    No, because saying that Parisians speak Cajun French would be a lie.

    “If a local school board in a large metropolitan borough that is predominantly Muslim wants to teach in their sociology class that the West is an evil Satanist tool that must be overthrown, is that acceptable?”

    No, because that is completely contrary to the laws and values our government and society are sworn to uphold, and because said values are considered “good” by the overwhelming majority of Americans. If Muslim parents don’t want their kids raised according to US values, then they shouldn’t be in the US in the first place.

  16. #16 spyder
    November 4, 2005

    “as if the creation scientists had ever advocated genocide.”

    Of all of the strange phrases Dean used in his comment above, and there were many that were pretty out there given what he himself has written in attacking others, i find this one particularly intriguing. Would it be hermeneutically sound to assume that “creation scientists”–and not those more properly affiliated with ID–believe in such fundamentalist and evangelical doctrines as: the last judgement, rapture, the end days, and so forth. Surely these beliefs are laden with the advocacy of genocide and mass murder of whole populations of non-believers; over the last millenia alone genocide has been the instrument of the mother church, and various ‘evolved’ and ‘mutated’ sects, in establishing itself across the planet.

  17. #17 spyder
    November 4, 2005

    one quick comment to raging bee– you wrote:
    “If Muslim parents don’t want their kids raised according to US values, then they shouldn’t be in the US in the first place.”
    I really hope you didn’t mean all that you said in this sentence; in that part of the core of US values is the freedom to raise your children believing, not in the US but, in the very freedom to believe as you choose. In each of your examples as rebuttals to Jeff’s questions we must hold that principle, that these sorts of doctrinal beliefs are free to be taught in private and parochial schools, and yes even in public school facilities (after hours if said use is not restricted to only one single faith or sect).

    Further, a Mormon etiology for the populations of american indians could also be taught in public schools if it was so taught in course work that discussed and compared a variety of faiths’ creation and cosmogonic myths and philosophies. This applies to the Muslim faith as well.

    Ironically the example of the Cajun versus French (two very different languages–ask a Walloon?) is one that could more readily have been applied to Spanish being taught in public schools in the US. Depending upon in what region you live in the US different Spanish dialects are used as the base for teaching Spanish–from Mexican/Central American in the Southwest, to more properly Castillian in the mid-west and so forth. Spain itself embraces two dominant languages–Castillian and Catalan. but i digress too much, sorry

  18. #18 JY
    November 4, 2005

    Raging Bee:

    I don’t think that your answer satisfactorily answers Jeff’s question — basically, who has the right to override the decisions of local officials, and why (under what circumstances) can they do it. You’ve (sort of) answered the why part: decisions can be overridden if the decisions require the teaching of ‘lies’ to children. But that just changes the question: who gets to make the final call as to what is a lie?

    You say “No, because [teaching extreme Islamic anti-Western views in sociology] is completely contrary to the laws and values our government and society are sworn to uphold”. But that’s the essence of the issue: it isn’t completely contrary to the views of the “government” and “society” of the local borough. Why and when does broader society get to override a local society’s values, as expressed through government?

    Based on my understanding of constitutional I think that the answers to Jeff’s 3 are pretty straightforward:

    The Mormon view of history: it should be barred as a violation of the establishment clause. The only real purpose for the inclusion of this alternate history would be to advance sectarian (Mormon) interests, which is prohibited by the 1st amendment. The Federal courts would have the power to make this determination.

    The Cajun view of French language: it could not be barred at the Federal level, although state officials would have every right, as far as I know, to bar it simply on the grounds that it is bad educational policy. I don’t know the laws of Louisiana, but most states aren’t mini-Federalist republics with state-constititionally guaranteed powers reserved to local governments.

    The Muslim view of the West: it could not be taught, especially as described, on establishment clause grounds, and the Federal courts would have the power to bar it.

    Now that’s just how I think all these cases would be resolved based on current Constitutional law, not how they should be decided. The only change that I could see as reasonable (though not necessarily optimal) would be to give Congress broader powers to set school policy; to effectively have central school board that creates a uniform curriculum. This simply shifts power from state governments to central government, which may or may not be a good thing. In the case of school curriculum, one would think it would be generally unnecessary. Ultimately, for most questions of school curricula, legislatures have to the responsibility to make sure that only accurate information and useful skills are taught to children (in the public schools), and the courts have the responsibility to ensure that the legislature doesn’t abuse their powers by attempting to advance sectarian interests. It shouldn’t be the courts responsibility to make general decisions about what constitutes good educational policy.

  19. #19 Raging Bee
    November 4, 2005

    I was not trying to say WHO had authority to make this or that decision; only what my decision would be. On teh question of who, I echo the last few of JY’s sentences: state legislatures should guide the making of curricula, and the courts should interpret the laws and the Constitution.

    Spyder: what part of the sentence you quoted do you hope I didn’t mean?

  20. #20 Ed Brayton
    November 4, 2005

    I don’t think state legislatures should be all that involved either. In Michigan, we have an elected state board of education. That state board appoints a state superintendant of schools who heads the department of education. The DOE appoints committees made up of experts in each particular field to write the curriculum guidelines for those subjects. That seems like a good system to me. When the legislature gets involved, it is likely to be solely to advance their political interests by pandering to the most ignorant segments of the population.

  21. #21 spyder
    November 4, 2005

    Spyder: what part of the sentence you quoted do you hope I didn’t mean?

    The implication that US values include the notion that if someone chooses to teach their children to believe in certain ways that they shouldn’t be in this country. The First Amendment protects our rights to “raise our children” in whatever way we choose, including that the US is an evil empire and needs to be destoryed if that is the case. In suggesting that if someone raises their children that way they don’t belong here doesn’t seem to be part of the values we wish to instill.

  22. #22 spyder
    November 4, 2005

    Ed, does the Michigan state legislature approve the curriculum standards and frameworks that the DOE comes up with??

    That is how it works in CA where i served on a number of curriculum development committees, as the state level, the county level, and the district level. In CA the state adopts standards and frameworks through a multi-year process (average is around 3 years for committee work, DOE reviews, public input, legislative review, and legislative adoption). Then the counties review the new standards/frameworks and are legally entitled to develop curricula that meets them which goes to the districts. Districts have the option of using the county approved plans or creating their own modified ones that must still meet the state standards etc.

  23. #23 JY
    November 4, 2005

    With respect to elected board of educations versus legislatures, I would, provisionally, class the SBOE as a sort of very limited legislature. It certainly makes sense to set up walls between various functions of government such that political gamesmanship in one area doesn’t impact another, and creating separate elective offices to represent the public in various domains can be a way of creating such walls, but it’s not a panacea (case in point, the Kansas SBOE). It can also be taken to extremes (like having dog-catcher as an elected office).

    I say ‘provisionally’ because I don’t see a bright -line split between the powers of the executive and the legislature with respect to school policy. The legislature creates policy and the executive implements, but it’s futile to attempt to determine whether the policy is ’13 years of high quality education for all children’ and the implementation is the specifics (this much math, that much science, etc.), or the policy includes the specifics, and the implementation is just making sure the schools run smoothly. But ultimately, some group of voters have the power to decide who decides what gets taught in school. The issue is which voters? The ones who live near the school in question, the ones who live in the same county, the same state, or the same country?

    I don’t know if there’s a good answer to that general question. If the national government came up with a horrible curriculum, I’d want my state to have the power to ignore it. But that’s because, on the subject of education, I’ve got much more faith in the people of Massachusetts that I’ve got in the broader population of the USA. But if I lived in Mississippi, my opinion would be different.

  24. #24 JY
    November 4, 2005

    Spyder said

    The First Amendment protects our rights to “raise our children” in whatever way we choose, including that the US is an evil empire and needs to be destoryed if that is the case. In suggesting that if someone raises their children that way they don’t belong here doesn’t seem to be part of the values we wish to instill.

    I agree that the implication that people should be kicked out of the USA for being anti-patriots is counter to American ideals, but teaching certain ideals, such as respect for free speech, the democratic process, freedom of religion, and so forth, has the necessary effect of making people who don’t hold those ideals seem less than great Americans, and, IMHO, that’s a good thing, and certainly should be a legitimate aim of public education. What I mean is, I think it’s legitimate for schools to discuss things like democracy, and say that democracy is good because it gives people their legitimate say in public policy; or to discuss the first amendment, and say that it is a good thing because it promotes tolerance, open discussion of policy, etc. It’s a legitimate secular interest to promote broad support of the general institutions of liberal democracy, and if that has the effect of undermining the extremist teachings of some parents, that’s a pleasant side effect.

  25. #25 Ed Brayton
    November 4, 2005

    spyder wrote:

    Ed, does the Michigan state legislature approve the curriculum standards and frameworks that the DOE comes up with??

    To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. I’ll have to ask one of my fellow board members, who is on the committee for science standards.