Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Dover Part 2, With a Twist

Americans United has filed suit against the El Tajon Unified School District in California over a course there that includes creationism. The twist here is that the school has placed the class in philosophy rather than science and claims to be teaching about both evolution and creationism without advocating either as true. The evidence at this point suggests that is a merely a ruse to get creationism into the school’s curriculum. I don’t have a copy of the AU complaint at this point, but I’m sure I will soon. Until then, here is some information from various other sources. The AU’s press release notes that the original course description clearly showed that this class will advocate creationism:

The “Philosophy of Design” course description, which was given to students and their families in early December, stated that it would “take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological, and Biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin’s philosophy is not rock solid…. Physical and chemical evidence will be presented suggesting the earth is thousands of years old, not billions.”

There have been two syllabi for the course so far. The first syllabus was incredibly blatant in advocating creationism and looks as though it was thrown together on the back fo a cocktail napkin. It includes a list of some 19 creationist videos to be shown and not a single resource on evolution to be used. Perhaps the most amusing thing about the original syllabus is that it includes as a speaker “Francis Krich – evolutionist”. Apparently, someone recommended to the teacher that she ask Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA along with James Watson to speak to the class. Good idea, except for the fact that he’s dead.

Ken Hurst, a geologist from the area, provided a critique of the original syllabus and pretty much shredded the obvious intent of the teacher to teach a course advocating creationism and denigrating evolution. He also notes that he was listed as a speaker to the class when he had not been asked to speak and had not agreed to do so. So on the original list of speakers to the class she had two for evolution, one who hadn’t been asked and the other dead, and three creationist speakers.

The second syllabus tried to sand away some of the obvious rough edges from the original, but it’s still pretty bad. It puts a veneer of balance over the top, but it is still clear that the teacher plans on advocating creationism. For instance, the wording of the first two items under section 3, “Why is this a movement and why is it gaining momentum?” and “Why is it so threatening to society, the educational system, and evolutionists?” clearly is setting up to make the typical argument from IDers that a “growing number of scientists” (never mind that they keep referring to the same few year after year) are supporting ID (never mind also that they never produce an actual theory of ID or any research to support it) and that their movement is “threatening” to some Darwinian orthodoxy that jealously guards its privileged position. That argument is nonsense, of course. The threat is to science education and it comes in the form of an aggressive public relations campaign on the part of ID advocates, not from any actual scientific work they’ve ever done that challenges the validity of evolutionary theory.

Apparently this whole thing has been thrown together very hastily and the teacher, Sharon Lemburg, admits that she’s not qualified to teach it:

But concern has surfaced about the syllabus presented to the Board of Trustees. The instructor of the proposed course, Sharon Lemburg, says she wanted “to tell people about the ideas of Intelligent Design,” but that “Everything happened quickly. I had to have a syllabus overnight. I’m not an expert on this subject.” Lemburg is widely appreciated in the community and by this newspaper as the Lady Falcons’ successful soccer coach. She is certified to teach Geography and Health, with a social science degree. She quickly admits she is not certified to teach science.

I think the evidence is pretty clear that this course is nothing more than a pretense for teaching creationist views in this public school district. There are many more details to examine, of course, and they will all come out at trial. In the meantime, there is a hearing scheduled this week on a motion for a temporary injunction against teaching the course, with a ruling expected next week. Stay tuned for much, much more.