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.


  1. #1 MAJeff
    January 10, 2006

    I don’t know where this teacher got her “social science” degree, but she got a crappy education in sociology.

    Were she to take an honest sociological look at the “philosophy” of ID, she would have to start with the basic proposition from the soc. of knowledge that ideas are produced and sponsored by social actors. The first question should then be, which social actors are putting forth the “theory of ID,” and in which social fields are they embedded? Had she received any decent sociological training, she’d be certainly notice that this “controversy” is completely the result of political actors trying to create an issue. A scientific controversy? Not so much.

    I feel bad for her students. She obviously picked up no analytical tools in her education, and certainly isn’t going to be able to pass anything of worth on to them.

  2. #2 Grumpy
    January 10, 2006

    Even the halfway compromise for ID — teach it, but not in science class — doesn’t cut it. Because ID is bogus all-around. It can’t be in science class, because its science claims are ludicrous. It can’t be taught in philosophy because, again, there’s nothing to it except a collection of ludicrous scientific claims.

    Teleology is a legitimate philosophical topic, but any legitimate investigation would expose the fraud of the ID movement. Which is why there is no way for IDers to sincerely teach it in public schools.

  3. #3 Ed Darrell
    January 10, 2006

    I think it’s important for us to note, with accuracy, that intelligent design is favored by only a vanishingly small group of non-biology-practicing scientists, and that the group has not grown in years. Other ways to describe the group might include “tiny band of outlying scientists,” “extremely small handful of maverick, sometime scientists,” etc.

  4. #4 ~rhinoceros
    January 10, 2006

    The situation is a bit different but in my cultural anthropology class I decided to cover it. Since it is cultural anthropology the coverage is short and limited to one chapter on biological anthropology.

    This is the basic “lesson plan” (it’s a college course so I don’t have to file lesson plans):

    1. Students read Dine (Navajo) and Genesis (literal Hebrew translation) Creation myths:

    2. Class discussion on myths

    3. Class lecture (includes some background cultural information on Dine and Hopi)on the myths including some discussion/critique of Levi Strauss and structural interpretation of myths:

    4. Cultural tensions created by challenges to literal myth understandings:

    5. Why a scientific explanation might be threatening to both some Dine and some conservative Christians:

    5. Discussion of Scientific method:

    6. Short review of basic Creation Science

    7. Short review of ID

    8. Why the discussion is appropriate for cultural anthropology

    9. Why it does not fit into high school science

    10. Why biological anthropologists reject Creation Science/ID

    11. Overview of Darwin’s five theories

    12. Brief overview of Neo-Darwinism

    13. Biological classification of Humans

    14. Evidence on physical evolution including both physiological and tool evolution (five species covered-A afarensis, H. Habilis, H. Erectus H. NT, H. Sapiens:

    15. Multi-regionalism vs. Recent African Origins

    16. Review

    17. Personal reflections- Dobzhansky: God creates through evolution

    Students are given additional resources should they wish to explore debate.

    Comments/queries/criticisms welcome.

  5. #5 Mr_Christopher
    January 10, 2006

    Ken Hurst did an excellent job of dissecting the proposed IDC course outline. That is the sort of informative John Q Public needs to read in order to understand where the conflict lies.

    Too bad no one other than a bunch of people already familiar with evolution and the whole IDC nonsese will ever read it.

    John Q Public does not read science blogs and the Discovery Institute manipulates and lies to John Q Public. Their blog is carried on Google News, virtually NO legitimate science blog shows up on Google News. How is John Q Public going to learn this stuff?

    John Q Public needs to read Ken’s assessment of this IDC course but how is he even going to find out about it? I doubt the New York Times reads this blog.

    Who is going to introduce Ken’s work to John Q Public and the media?

  6. #6 Bruce Beckman
    January 11, 2006

    The El Tejon Unified School District covers the towns of Frazier Park, Lebec and several other small communities. Most people would recognize the area as a gas stop along interstate 5 leading north from Los Angeles over the Tehachapi Mountains. The high school in question, Frazier Mountain High School is actually located in Los Angeles County and is nowhere near Fresno unlike the claim in the recent AP report.

    The local weekly newspaper has a web page devoted to the issue. It can be found at http://www.mountainenterprise.com/IntellDesign-stories/index.html

    The school district sits squarely on top of the San Andreas Fault in a section that produced the largest earthquake in California?s recorded history (the Great Fort Tejon Earthquake of 1857). With this in mind and remembering Pat Robertson?s warning to the residents of Dover, we might caution the residents of El Tejon School District against any rash actions.

    P.S. Ed, I like the new digs.

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    January 11, 2006


    I think the outline you gave sounds much more appropriate. I’m one of those folks who really does think that such a class could be taught without triggering an establishment clause violation, but the class in El Tejon is clearly not it. The appropriate course would be a comparative religion course or a comparative mythology course, or perhaps a history course that looked at such issues from that perspective. But it would have to be taught by someone without an axe to grind and with some qualifications, and it would have to be put together carefully. This clearly is not that course.

  8. #8 Ginger Yellow
    January 11, 2006

    “Darwin’s philosophy is not rock solid”

    It’s a good thing Darwin wasn’t a philosopher, then.

  9. #9 Jason Spaceman
    January 11, 2006

    I don’t have a copy of the AU complaint at this point, but I’m sure I will soon.

    The AU’s complaint. (14 pages, Adobe Acrobat required).

    Also, the AU’s press release concerning the lawsuit.

  10. #10 Stoffel
    January 11, 2006

    MAJeff: In CA at least, the social science credential in high school education has nothing to do with sociology. It basically encompasses history, civics, and high school economics.

    Were I to trust the teacher (*cough*), I’d be encouraged by her inclusion of the “Evolution” program by PBS. That’s about the best series I’ve ever seen on the subject that would be palatable to high-schoolers. Of course, she’s already hinted she can’t include the whole thing (600 whole minutes! my golly, can’t go through all that.)

  11. #11 Dave S.
    January 11, 2006

    I’d love to be a fly on the wall if and when she teaches her class on the “Law of Entrophy”. 🙂

  12. #12 MAJeff
    January 11, 2006

    Stoffel: In a post about this over at Pharyngula, PZ Meyers notes that she had a concentration in sociology. This fool’s professors should be ashamed.

  13. #13 DJNelson
    January 11, 2006

    Perhaps someone in close proximity to the location in Cal. can see the opportunity to “help” Ms. Lemburg prepare for her course. Following MAJeff’s comment above, perhaps a qualified teacher/sociologist should offer to assist her develop a REAL course outline, maybe even with the same title, to show how ID doesn’t meet the test of either philosophy nor sociology. In other words, instead of (too easily) criticizing the course that was thrown together at the last minute, give her some help while also helping ourselves.

  14. #14 beervolcano
    January 11, 2006

    I was going to side with the ID people as much as I hate to do that, because I thought that ID would be included as a topic in a broader philosohpy class, but now that I’ve read the syllabus, I can see why the plantiffs even have a case.

    What is Intelligent Design? @ 5 days

    Why is it a movement?

    Why is it gaining momentum?

    Why is it so threatening to society?

    Video: Unlocking the Mysteries of Life

    Is it based on science?

    Is it based on what we know?

    What evidence does it bring and is the evidence measureable data?

    These questions are obviously rigged to advocate ID. Yeah, why is it gaining momentum? Or is it?

    But I really like the last questions, at least i would like them if they are answered honestly, and not based on the experience of a high school kid.

    The last question is the key. I’d be surprised and pissed off if they tilted that answer toward the affirmative.

    Yeah, before I found out what the course was going to teach, I thought people were going overboard, but now that I’ve read the syllabus, I see people’s point.

  15. #15 scienceguy
    January 11, 2006

    Many non-truths have been taught about Darwinism for many years. Whatever the motives of the creationists at least they have forced the non-truths of Darwinism to be corrected.

  16. #16 scienceguy
    January 11, 2006

    Many non-truths have been taught about Darwinism for many years. Whatever the motives of the creationists at least they have forced the non-truths of Darwinism to be corrected.

  17. #17 charles
    January 11, 2006

    I learned about ID in philosophy class, and I thought that it was a useful and fair learning experience. I was NOT however, taught that it was somehow a replacement for evolution or about any of the fabricated and exagerated claims that evolution has weaknesses that ID can supplement. The book we followed (see contents at http://www.newtexts.com/newtexts/book.cfm?book_id=1971 ) taught me the Argument from Design, which I don’t think is much different from the present day ID argument. I agree that this California case is not the same, and it should be exposed for what it really is: an attempt to push a particular religious idea.

    The funny part is that it was a 1000 level course. An intro to philosophy. I baffles me that these so called academics are unable learn at this level.

  18. #18 AlanDownunder
    January 12, 2006

    From the Complaint filed for the Plaintiffs (p.5):

    29. On January 1, 2006, New Year’s day, the Board of Trustees called a special
    meeting. Notice to the public was provided only one day earlier. The only item on the public agenda was the “Consideration of Intercession Curriculum Courses at Frazier Mountain High School.”

    I guess that would be divine intercession with respect to the inter-session curriculum.

New comments have been disabled.