Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Luskin on Michigan Education Bill

Somehow I missed this from several days ago. Casey Luskin has a post on the DI blog about the Michigan bill that is rather amusing and highly inaccurate. His rhetorical device of choice these days is the notion of “false fear syndrome”, whereby the ID movement keeps making its strategy more and more vague and then makes fun of those who actually pay attention to the terminology changes and points out the reality behind those changes.

The entire history of ID creationism is one of increasing vagueness. ID is essentially creationism with all of the potentially testable hypotheses taken out. Now that courts have caught that fact, they are moving on to urging the teaching not of ID but of the “controversy” or the “arguments for and against evolution”. Or, in the case of the Michigan bill, merely to urge the fostering of “critical thinking” about evolution. At each step, they use increasingly vague language to cover their tracks. And then when we point out that this is coming from the very same people who were pushing ID yesterday and creationism the day before, they disingenuously claim that we are suffering from “false fear syndrome” and seeing ID boogeymen in perfectly benign legislation.

In the case of the Michigan bill, Luskin says that no one in their right mind could possibly think that a bill that encourages critical analysis of evolution could be a trojan horse to allow the teaching of ID or pro-ID arguments in science classrooms. The relevant portion of the bill reads:

The course content expectations for science shall include using the scientific method to critically evaluate scientific theories and using relevant scientific data to assess the validity of those theories and formulate arguments for and against those theories.

And indeed, this does sound quite benign and even laudable. Who could be against critical evaluation of any idea? Luskin continues:

Clearly this language has nothing to do with intelligent design and would simply bring scientific critique of theories taught in the classroom, and makes absolutely no mention of teaching intelligent design or any form of a “replacement theory” for those currently-taught theories that are being critiqued…Some Darwinist educators apparently felt the best way to protect dogmatism and one-sidedness in science education was to inflame False Fears that Palmer’s bill would bring in the teaching of intelligent design.

But are those fears false? Not at all. I’ll give you several reasons why the accusations that this is a trojan horse to allow local school boards and teachers to teach ID. First, because if you look at the full text of the bill, you’ll notice that the science section is completely different from all the other sections. The bill sets statewide standards in every department in public schools in Michigan. In every other department, the language is very specific, outlining exactly what information must be included in the course. I’ll quote just a couple of them for you:

The course content expectations for mathematics shall focus on the study of measurement, properties, and relationships of quantities and sets, using both numbers and symbols…

The course content expectations for civics shall focus on the constitution of the United States, the constitution of this state, and the history and present form of government of the United States and of this state and its political subdivisions…

The course content expectations for world history and geography shall focus on the development of cultures before 1600, beginning with consideration of the Mesopotamian and Hebrew civilizations. The course shall be designed to acquaint pupils with the historical roots of the Western heritage.

Now compare that to the section on science that I quoted above. Notice the difference? In all the other areas, it spells out exactly what must be included in the classes in order to meet the state standards. But in the science section, it’s not specific at all. It doesn’t say what theories have to be addressed, it doesn’t say what ideas must be included to meet the standards, it only says that “critical evaluation” must be used to “formulate arguments for and against” those theories. This is a very obvious change in both tone and substance and when I read the bill, it jumped out at me.

I immediately got on the phone and began calling my contacts in the state legislature on both sides of the aisle and I asked them why this section sticks out so much and is so different from the rest of the bill. I was told by Republicans that the real goal of the bill was to standardize the curriculum between public schools and charter schools, but that the section on science was indeed put into the bill as a “bone” to induce the IDers to jump on board. And that fact did not go unnoticed. In the very same Detroit Free Press article that Luskin cites, he conveniently left out this statement:

The wording for Palmer’s bill was taken from a bill by Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland. That bill would require a statewide high school curriculum to include a critical evaluation of the theories of evolution and global warming. Palmer’s bill, however, doesn’t mention evolution or intelligent design.

Moolenaar said Palmer’s does not require the teaching of intelligent design, but that such a decision would be up to local school boards.

Notice again how a more specific bill was replaced by a less specific bill. This is part of the ID strategy to give less and less of a target to hit that I mentioned earlier. And notice how even their own proponents admit that this bill will allow local school boards to teach ID. Indeed, how could it not? The bill doesn’t spell out what “arguments against” evolution are to be “formulated”, but where do you suppose teachers and school boards are going to turn for them?

To the ID movement, of course, who are more than happy to provide them with an armload of arguments against evolution, from irreducible complexity to Dembski’s “explanatory filter” to Wells’ book full of dishonest critiques of the “icons of evolution”. The language of the bill clearly tells school boards that they can teach these ID arguments without actually teaching ID itself, and this again is all part of their political strategy. Judge Jones wasn’t fooled by this, however. In his ruling, he addressed this strategy:

Accepting for the sake of argument its proponents’, as well as Defendants’ argument that to introduce ID to students will encourage critical thinking, it still has utterly no place in a science curriculum. Moreover, ID’s backers have sought to a void the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.

Judge Jones wasn’t fooled by this strategy of teaching ID arguments without mentioning ID. We aren’t fooled by it. ID supporters in the legislaure have admitted that this is the goal. Yet Luskin, apparently with a straight face, attributes this all to “false fear syndrome”. I would suggest that Casey is suffering from real fear syndrome – the real and genuine fear that their political strategy will be transparently obvious to both proponents and critics alike, as it is in this case. Thus the need to say “pay no attention to that ID advocate behind the curtain”.

Comments

  1. #1 afarensis
    February 14, 2006

    I find it interesting that a lot of these bills also have language directed at global warming. Are there any links between ID groups and global warming skeptics?

  2. #2 J-Dog
    February 14, 2006

    Ed – Thank you for your usual excellent fisking. I am constantly amazed and amused by Lusken’s version of reality. He HAS to know he’s lying, yet continues to pump out drivel and dreck for the DI. Does he need the DI check that bad? Can’t he find an honest job? Or does Lying For Jebus pay so well that he can ignore the cesspool he works in and stilll sleep at night?

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    February 14, 2006

    afarensis wrote:

    I find it interesting that a lot of these bills also have language directed at global warming. Are there any links between ID groups and global warming skeptics?

    Not really direct links, but I think the link comes in the minds of the conservative politicians who are opposed to both evolution and global warming. I’m sure it’s purely coincidental that the two scientific theories they want to encourage “critical thinking” on just happen to be the two theories they reject. No one ever complains that the germ theory of disease is “taught as fact” by “dogmatic Pasteurists”. No one ever demands that students study the arguments for and against the theory of relativity. And this is exactly why their arguments are disingenuous. Their goal is not to encourage critical thinking, their goal is to sow doubt about ideas they don’t like.

  4. #4 Dave S.
    February 14, 2006

    Ed writes:

    No one ever complains that the germ theory of disease is “taught as fact” by “dogmatic Pasteurists”.

    The AIDS deniers come pretty close.

  5. #5 Osteo
    February 14, 2006

    “No one ever complains that the germ theory of disease is “taught as fact” by “dogmatic Pasteurists”.”

    No one except, say, Bill Maher, and a large portion of the Anti-vaccine, alt-med contingent. They suffer from a form of denial very comparible to creationists/IDists. Anti-vaccine proponents and their ilk often speak of diseases as coming from an “aggragate toxicity” rather than from bacteria or viruses. They are, in effect, specifically rejecting the Germ Theory of Disease. They even have their own historical myths that mirror, eerily, the “Darwin recanted on his death bed” nonsense. In the anti-vax case, Darwin and Lady Hope are replaced by Pasteur and Beauchamp. Some relevant links from your fellow scienceblogger, Orac:

    http://oracknows.blogspot.com/2005/03/is-bill-maher-really-that-ignorant_07.html http://oracknows.blogspot.com/2005/03/is-bill-maher-really-that-ignorant.html
  6. #6 CanuckRob
    February 14, 2006

    Could the link between global warming and ID be that, since IDers are clearly reheated creationists, global warming would imply that the designer/god/bigdaddy is not all pwerful and that mere man can screw up the world? Or could it be that global warming is part of the end times and that to “interfere” in it would just piss god et al off?

  7. #7 afarensis
    February 14, 2006

    The Missouri bill, although not mentioning global warming directly, had some language that made me think of global warming. Strikes me as more than coincidence that some of the newer bills are taking shots at both, I wonder if there is a “master copy” floating around out there. I also wonder if this isn’t an attempt to make the tent bigger by reaching out to contrarians of all stripes…

  8. #8 countlurkula
    February 14, 2006

    Re: global warming

    There is a lot of anti-environmental propaganda circulating in churches. Try googling “Dominion Theology” and you will get an eye-full. The line is, in it’s most extreme form, that God told us we could exploit the earth in Genesis, therefore if you tell us that we shouldn’t for any reason, then you’re an idolator (earth worshiper). It’s a big stretch to get that from the Bible, but they’re sure trying, and people who don’t know any better are believing.

    A relative of mine joined a weird evangelical church in central Mich. I visited once, picked up from their table of literature a newsletter that was published jointly by several churches in the area. The front page lead article, I kid you not, was about how environmentalists favor genocide. To buttress this claim it quoted from an environmental group’s web site that had merely tried to show that the earth couldn’t handle anywhere near the current population if everybody consumed at the Western rate.

    Un. be. lievable. This church was also against Harry Potter, Pokemon, modern psychology, seemingly anything mainstream and secular.

    Although I don’t know it for a fact, I wouldn’t be too surprised if they were against evolution as well.

  9. #9 countlurkula
    February 14, 2006

    Whoops. A better google search would be “dominion theology environmentalism” or “dominion theology global warming”. Articles on dominion theology don’t necessarily mention attitudes towards the environment.

  10. #10 Ed Darrell
    February 14, 2006

    Luskin apparently knows very little about pedagogy, and the Republicans in the Michigan legislature seem to be anti-education as well. How can I tell?

    To teach any idea to be analyzed critically, the idea itself must be specified and taught, first. This is basic learning stuff, basic pedagogy. If they want to criticize evolution, evolution must be taught first.

    Teach the facts first.

    If they wanted to teach critical analysis of science, they’d have to teach science first — and that’s what they’re trying to avoid.

    Next time we get these clowns in court, let’s hit them on bad pedagogy, too. We’ll get all the teaching experts in to point out that they’re going about teaching the criticism exactly wrong. It’s just one more indication that they don’t really care about the kids at all, but instead care only about scoring political points.

  11. #11 spyder
    February 14, 2006

    At some point one starts to get furious with these liars and hypocrits. They claim a righteous moral position, harmonious with their religious faith, and then proceed to lie, cheat, deceive, condemn, and other immoral and unethical behaviors to achieve their agenda. Is it not lost on the very believers themselves, or are we living in a time when the dominionist/ reconstructionist goals outweigh the need to act morally and righteously in pursuing them??

  12. #12 countlurkula
    February 14, 2006

    Is it not lost on the very believers themselves, or are we living in a time when the dominionist/ reconstructionist goals outweigh the need to act morally and righteously in pursuing them??

    It seems as though loyalty and conformity are the prime virtues in the front lines of the “culture wars.” Not sure where love of God and neighbor fits in there.

    Vaguely on the same topic: I remember a guy at a restaurant at the next dinner table some years ago, in our area (Tennessee). I swear he was trying to convince the others in his conversation that lesbianism was tantamount to genocide — Because of all the babies in future generations that would not be born.

    There must be some strange preaching going on behind our backs.

  13. #13 386sx
    February 14, 2006

    No one except, say, Bill Maher, and a large portion of the Anti-vaccine, alt-med contingent.

    Yep it’s true folks. Here’s a transcript from the Larry King show a couple of months ago. Apparently Mr. Maher isn’t into that fancy schmancy “western medicine” stuff.

  14. #14 RPM
    February 14, 2006

    It’s kinda sad the the anti-evolution camp has hijacked that terminology. One major limitation in science education is that the students are taught an encyclopedia of facts rather than the scientific method. I would love to see the scientific method emphasized in middle school and high school science courses, but not in the same way that the ID camp envisions it. We should not manipulate science in order to point out the weaknesses in well established theories. We should teach the students how the encyclopedia of knowledge that they must learn was determined via scientific investigation.

  15. #15 ZacharySmith
    February 14, 2006

    It makes sense to me that the same people who buy into Dominion Theology would also buy into creationism/ID, or at least to have significant overlap between the two groups. Could it be that the Big Guns behind the DI (Ahamson and his ilk) are also into Dominion Theology?

  16. #16 Ed Darrell
    February 14, 2006

    No, the Bible doesn’t say humans should “exploit” the Earth. In those two charges from God, once to Adam and once to Noah, the charge is to be stewards of the Earth, to have “dominion” (in the KJV) over the Earth.

    “Dominion” doesn’t mean “exploit.” In fact, in KJV English, it specifically prohibits the right to “waste” land, to clear cut, or to do anything else that either damages the natural productivity of the land or poses a nuisance to any neighbor (or anyone else proximate).

    Dominion theology types are as bad as IDists — they do their utmost to cover up what “dominion” really entails.

  17. #17 dan7000
    February 14, 2006

    Maybe this trend is a good thing.

    What are we really worried about with ID/creationsism? I’m worried two things: public schools indoctrinating my kids into a religion I don’t share, and science curriculums losing rigor.
    As ID/creationist arguments get watered down, it seems like they get further from indoctrination of religion. And at the same time, they seem to get closer to interesting philosophical arguments about what science really is all about — something that’s totally relevant to a high school science class.

    Personally, I don’t care if it’s the same people, or if their real goals are still the same (indoctrination). As long as their actual approach no longer poses a danger that I care about — isn’t that a good trend??

  18. #18 tacitus
    February 14, 2006

    If anything, there is more resistance to accepting that global warming is a man-made problem than there is to teaching evolution. The more rational (as in non-fundamentalist) right-wingers are quite happy to agree that evolution happened but, for various reasons are dead set against accepting global warming as a problem of our own making.

    Frankly the level of debate from the right of the political spectrum hasn’t risen much above things like “We got 3 feet of snow yesterday? How can there be global warming?” (I kid you not).

    I’m not sure it’s really a religious issue though. It’s political–a combination of the pro-business lobby fighting against sensible efforts to curb pollution and those who simply see global warming as something being formented by the “whacko-lefist environmentalists”.

    In the long run, this deliberate ridiculing of the warnings given about global warming could be much more damaging to the USA than the threat of ID (not that the anti-science themes in both are unconnected).

    When you have people like Rush Limbaugh lying to the public about there being no loss of the northern polar ice cap then I really don’t hold out much hope that things will change until it’s too late. Only then, I fear, will we see how Bush’s grand plan of inventing our way out of this crisis comes to naught.

  19. #19 tacitus
    February 14, 2006

    What are we really worried about with ID/creationsism? I’m worried two things: public schools indoctrinating my kids into a religion I don’t share, and science curriculums losing rigor.

    The problem is that this “watering down” is just a front. Their hope is that once they get the watered down science standards past the legislatures and the school boards and reach into the local schools, the teaching of ID will metastasize and be much harder to stamp out.

    Their end game hasn’t changed, it’s still to overturn the foundations of science as taught and practised in this country. Never forget that. All that’s changed is the length of time they are prepared to wait for it to happen. Having been thwarted by their more overt efforts so far, they are learning to be much more patient.

    And we should never forget that IDists have made a conscious choice to bully their way into the school system. There is no reason why they can’t invest heavily in new ID research programs at some of the many ID-friendly colleges around the country. The money is there–the Templeton Foundation was doing their best to throw cash at them.

  20. #20 Ed Brayton
    February 14, 2006

    dan7000:

    The danger is not just the teaching of religion, it’s also the teaching of bad science. Do you want your kids being taught the kind of nonsense that is in Icons of Evolution as long as the teacher doesn’t mention religion? I certainly don’t. Secondly, this bill opens the door to the teaching of ID under the guise of “arguments against evolution”.

  21. #21 Doctor_Gonzo
    February 14, 2006

    The language of these ID bills will continue to morph over time – getting more and more vague – until something sticks somewhere. The best we can hope for is that what sticks will be so vague as to be essentially useless to the movement.

    I’d say the language in the Michigan bill is sufficiently vague in that way. As a matter of state law, it does not explicitly authorize the teaching of ID. The local school boards (or an individual school) will need to implement the language in an unconstitutional manner, i.e. using it justfication for promoting ID, before it can be successfully challenged. It will be the local policy, however, that will be constitutionally tested, not the State law.

    Now that I’m thinking about it, vagueness at the state level might be somewhat of a boon considering the great number of individual localities that would have the opportunity to exploit it. It’s one thing to bring an establishment clause lawsuit in one jurisdiction at a time. It’s quite another to sue five or ten (or more) all at once.

  22. #22 Gerry L
    February 15, 2006

    I’ve decided that “critically analyze” is ID-speak for copy&paste. I spend a lot of time reading letters to the editor from around the country on this subject. It’s very rare to find a pro-ID letter with an original thought — or even an original way of expressing an argument.

    BTW, for Darwin Day I attended a program at Willamette University in Salem, OR. There was a panel of local public school science teachers. It was really heartening to see how much passion they have for their subject and the creativity they use to lead their students to “getting it!”

  23. #23 Steve Reuland
    February 15, 2006

    In the case of the Michigan bill, Luskin says that no one in their right mind could possibly think that a bill that encourages critical analysis of evolution could be a trojan horse to allow the teaching of ID or pro-ID arguments in science classrooms.

    I would have thought that no one in their right mind could possibly think that the Santorum Language of the NCLB Act could be a trojan horse to allow the teaching of ID, especially given that it wasn’t even a part of the law. But no sooner had the ink dried than the IDists went on cross-country trips to argue in front of legislatures and school boards that the law required them to introduce ID concepts in classrooms.

    I’m afraid it’s a little late in the game for them to pretend as if innocuous-sounding language won’t be used to encourage and/or defend the teaching of ID in public school classes. They’ve been pulling this stunt since the ID movement’s very inception.

  24. #24 Northern neighbour
    February 16, 2006

    It seems to me that requiring critical analysis, by whatever exact terminology, of any scientific theory, is asking too much of a high school student. It is known, for instance, that the theory of gravity is incomplete at the intersection with quantum mechanics, but you need to be well up toward degree level physics to actually understand the questions, much less meaningfully criticize existing theory.

    The “arguments for and against evolution” are very much like the arguments for and against gravity; there are none. There are, in both cases, open questions about mechanisms at the margin, but none that are simple enough to reasonably include in a high school curriculum. Thus, the DI demand is not just unscientific; it would make the curriculum impossibly difficult.

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