Dispatches from the Creation Wars

ID’s Latest Trojan Horse Strategy

As I’ve discussed many times, the ID movement has changed its strategy regarding the policies they are advocating to be adopted by school boards and legislatures. They know that any hint of the phrase “intelligent design” is going to be struck down by the courts, especially in light of the Dover ruling. In fact, they knew this before the Dover ruling ever came down. The big switch really began in Ohio in 2002 in an attempt to make the target too small for our side to attack successfully. Thus, you now have them advocating policies that would not teach ID explicitly.

In one place they may advocate that schools “teach the controversy” over evolution; in another they may advocate that schools teach “the arguments for and against evolution” or “the scientific evidence for and against evolution”; in a third, they may want schools to encourage “critical analysis” or “critical evaluation” of evolution; in a fourth, they may be pushing the idea of teaching “all scientific views about evolution.” All of these phrases mean essentially the same thing – they want the basic arguments that they make against evolution (which is the form that all of their arguments take) taught as valid, they just don’t want them labelled “intelligent design” so as to avoid the scrutiny of the courts.

Another key aspect of their rhetorical strategy is to pretend that their opponents are engaging in crazy conspiracy theories or, to use Casey Luskin’s amusing phrase, suffering from “false fear syndrome”, and seeing the ID boogeyman where it doesn’t exist. They have to say this, of course, whether it’s true or not; to say anything else would give up the game. Thus, we get statements like this from the sponsor of the bill in the Michigan legislature that invokes two of the four variations of the new strategy (“critical analysis” and “arguments for and against”):

Bill sponsor Rep. Brian Palmer, R-Romeo, said he had no intent to insert the intelligent design issue into the bill introduced earlier this week.

“That’s almost humorous. I think some people like to see a bogeyman,” said Palmer, who chairs the House Education Committee.

And we get statements like this from Casey Luskin:

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 let’s look at some of the past statements from ID advocates, particularly those attached to the Discovery Institute where Luskin works, about these phrases and how they do indeed lead the way to the teaching of ID in science classrooms. The first example is what was said in the aftermath of the Santorum amendment. The Santorum amendment, for those who don’t know, was attached to the No Child Left Behind act in the Senate in December 2001. It was a “sense of the Senate” resolution, not binding law, and it was later removed from the text of the bill in the conference committee that reconciled the House and Senate versions of the bill, but the ID movement still tried to use it to maximum effect.

The Santorum amendment was phrased in terms of teaching the “controversy” over evolution and in terms . The final wording declared, “Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.” This is exactly the kind of language that ID opponents point to and say that it inevitably leads to the teaching of ID, whether it does so explicitly by name or not. And while their strategy now is to portray such arguments as loony conspiracy theories seeking out mythical boogeymen, they weren’t always so circumspect. Here’s what John West, director of the DI’s Center for Science and Culture, had to say about the Santorum amendment a month after it was passed:

The reality is that Congress has voiced its support for teaching “the full range of scientific views that exist” about evolution. While that does not include things like biblical creationism, it unquestionably includes scientific criticisms of natural selection and random mutation as the mechanism for evolution as well as scientific alternatives to Darwinism such as intelligent design theory espoused by scientists like biochemist Michael Behe and biologist Jonathan Wells.

The only place they’ve been able to actually pass a policy using one of the phrases above is Ohio, where the state board of education adopted a model lesson plan to teach “critical analysis of evolution” in 2002 (that policy was repealed by that board yesterday). And the DI made the same argument about that policy that they’re now making about the Michigan bill, that our side is so obsessed with anything that bucks the “Darwinian orthodoxy” that we are seeing boogeymen because the policy doesn’t involve teaching ID but only the “full range of scientific views” on evolution. But our argument has been that such a policy will be seen as an open invitation by pro-ID school boards and teachers to teach all of the arguments found in ID, regardless of whether they actually call it that. And in 2002, Stephen Meyer, assistant director of the CSC, agreed:

…the state board should permit, but not require, teachers to tell students about the arguments of scientists, like Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, who advocate the competing theory of intelligent design.

Finally, let’s look at what Sen. Rick Santorum himself said was the intent of his amendment’s “teach the controversy” language. In an article in the Washington Times in March 2002, Santorum said:

This opposition to intelligent design is surprising since there is an increasing body of theoretical and scientific evidence that suggests an alternate theory is possible. Research has shown that the odds that even one small protein molecule has been created by chance is 1 in a billion. Thus, some larger force or intelligence, or what some call agent causation, seems like a viable cause for creating information systems such as the coding of DNA. A number of scientists contend that alternate theories regarding the origins of the human species – including that of a greater intelligence – are possible.

Therefore, intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes…

The new law includes a science education provision where Congress states that “where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist.” If the Education Board of Ohio does not include intelligent design in the new teaching standards, many students will be denied a first-rate science education.

So here is the evidence that supports the claim that policy statements that require schools to teach the “controversy” or “arguments for and against” or the “full range of scientific views on evolution” will in fact pave the way for local boards and teachers to put ID into the science classrooms: Both the director and associate director of the DI’s Center for Science and Culture admit that such laws would allow the teaching of ID arguments, even if that name is not used. The author of the Santorum amendment says explicitly that his innocuous-sounding desire to teach the “full range of scientific views” explicitly means the teaching of intelligent design. The Dover school board defended its policy of teaching about ID in science classrooms by pointing to language just like this, including the Santorum amendment. One of the supporters of the Michigan bill told a newspaper reporter that while the bill does not mandate the teaching of ID, it would allow local school boards to do so.

In light of all of this evidence, I think it’s obvious that all of their talk about us seeing the ID boogeyman where it doesn’t exist is just so much dishonest rhetoric. The DI knows darn well that such language will lead to the insertion of ID into science classrooms. That’s the only reason they support such langugage. Their goal is to get all of the basic ID arguments – Behe’s irreducible complexity, Dembski’s probability arguments against evolution, Wells’ highly deceitful critiques of evolution, etc – into science classrooms without actually using the ID label. This is calculated strategy on their part, and they simply must pretend that it’s not or they know that the game is up. Thankfully, this ruse didn’t fly with Judge Jones, who noted:

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.

And we must continue to remind policymakers of this aspect of his ruling. Casey Luskin and John West may be trying to paint a picture of a “false fear syndrome” on our part, but they are only succeeding in creating a false claim syndrome on their own part. Their rhetoric is false and they know it’s false, but to admit that would bring down their entire strategy.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike Elzinga
    February 15, 2006

    The ID dolts don’t seem to appreciate the irony that their own “theory” hasn’t withstood the withering blast of scientific criticism. This needs to be constantly held up as evidence that science does exactly what they claim it doesn’t do.

    But it is clear now that they are still trying to wedge their way into the science classroom. They aren’t as terrified of children as they are of scientists.

  2. #2 gregonomic
    February 15, 2006

    These guys must think we’re as retarded as they are. Their trail of lies and deceit was all-too-evident in Dover – do they think it has suddenly disappeared?

    The longer this goes on, the more convinced I become that they don’t really care what is taught in science class, as long as evil atheist evolutionism is diluted or eliminited, somehow.

    Also, although some of them are clearly in it for ideological/theological reasons, how many of them are only in it for the money? And how many times can they re-invent their job titles and still keep getting money from the fundies?

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    February 15, 2006

    If this is the Mike Elzinga that wrote a column in the Kalamazoo Gazette recently about ID, your timing is quite coincidental. My father, who lives in Portage, just sent me that article in the mail today. If so, are you related to Jeff or Dan Elzinga? I went to school with both of them.

  4. #4 VisualFX
    February 15, 2006

    It is interesting to me how these fundies will claim the moral high ground when it come to honesty yet, will lie, cheat, and deceive to further their religious agenda when ever it suits them. They get all riled at being called hypocrites yet, this whole “Teach the Controversy/Teach the arguments for and against evolution/Teach the scientific evidence for and against evolution” thing and the inherent dishonesty that it encompasses proves that they are exactly that — dishonest hypocrites.

    –JK–

  5. #5 Inoculated Mind
    February 15, 2006

    Ed, I’ve noticed a striking similarity between the DI/ID strategy and a certain blood pathogen:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/12/051228175722.htm

    “But the protein cannot protect the parasite from patrolling immune cells, which eventually detect the invader and recruit troops to fight it. So, during a malaria infection, a small percentage of each generation of parasites switches to a different version of PfEMP1 that the body has never seen before. In its new disguise, P. falciparum can invade more red blood cells and cause another wave of fever, headaches, nausea, and chills.”

    As soon as we seem to recognize creationism in its new form, it chooses a new term to describe itself. But what makes the comparison between Malaria and Intelligent Design so apt is that when one version of PfEMP1 is being expressed, expression of the other versions is suppressed.

    “In their new paper, the researchers show that the activation of a var gene promoter is all it takes to trigger both the production that gene’s protein and the epigenetic silencing of the 59 other var genes.”

    This prevents the immune system from detecting two versions of the protein at once. Did you notice how Behe cringed at using the word “create” at the KvD trial? Now they’re going to shy away from saying Intelligent Design to school boards, because they don’t want a connection made between the two. Let’s forget that its still the same people.

  6. #6 Mike Elzinga
    February 15, 2006

    Ed. Yep, I’m the one who wrote that article in the Kalamazoo Gazette.

    I haven’t found out yet if I am related to the Elzingas in Portage. I do genealogy, and have tracked Elzingas way back into Friesland, but I don’t know where we connect.

    I appreciate all the good work you are doing against this assault on science.

  7. #7 natural cynic
    February 15, 2006

    Casey Luskin and John West may be trying to paint a picture of a “false fear syndrome”

    In response to all the evidence, the appearance of paranoia seems to be justified.

  8. #8 RBH
    February 15, 2006

    A phrase that seemed to resonate in Ohio wa one I used in remarks to the Ohio State BOE in January. I said the effect of the State Board’s “critical analysis” lesson plan and benchmark was to set a “Dover trap” for every school district in the state. The State Board wasn’t in danger of being sued, but some little district in Vinton County or Holmes County or Coshocton County was going to take that policy to mean that it’s OK to teach creationism, and they were going to get nailed. Dover, PA, is facing a legal bill reportedly in excess of $1 mil. What Ohio school district can afford that kind of money?

    That the State Board had the DI’s weasel wording in its standards was in fact a “Dover trap”, and I commend the phrase to Michigan’s attention.

  9. #9 Jack Krebs
    February 15, 2006

    And see my post at the Panda’s Thumb showing clearly that, despite Luskin’s and other’s disavowal, the Kansas state BOE clearly links “teaching the strengths and weaknesses of evolution” with teaching ID.

  10. #10 Jack Krebs
    February 15, 2006
  11. #11 Richard Wein
    February 16, 2006

    Thanks for the link to Meyer’s “Teaching the Controversy” article. The following passage is quite revealing in the light of the DI’s frequent denials that it is in favour of mandating the teaching of ID.

    “(1) First, I suggested–speaking as an advocate of the theory of intelligent design–that Ohio not require students to know the scientific evidence and arguments for the theory of intelligent design, at least not yet.” [emphasis added]

  12. #12 mark
    February 16, 2006

    Judge Jones had it exactly right–”lying for Jesus” is an abominable hypocrisy. The Creationists want “teach the controversy” in order to expose students to the lies, factual errors, and egregious misrepresentations long used by their ilk.

  13. #13 Steve Reuland
    February 16, 2006

    Another key aspect of their rhetorical strategy is to pretend that their opponents are engaging in crazy conspiracy theories or, to use Casey Luskin’s amusing phrase, suffering from “false fear syndrome”, and seeing the ID boogeyman where it doesn’t exist.

    Luskin would have us believe that the DI is fighting tooth and toenail to get bills and resolutions passed that wouldn’t do anything at all. Sure, whatever you say guy.

  14. #14 Chris Thorpe
    February 16, 2006

    On a positive note, here in Manhattan, KS, the local school board unanimously approved a resolution brought forward by more than 200 KSU faculty that rejects the recently altered definition of science issued by the state school board, and adopts the traditional definition of science as the standard for science instruction. Very strong (and eloquent) turnout of concerned scientists and students helped carry the day.

  15. #15 Ed Darrell
    February 16, 2006

    In policy meetings, before legislatures and school boards, it is important to emphasize that “teaching the controversy” is pedagogically flawed.

    In teaching, it is best to teach the key ideas, and get the students fully familiar with them, before casting ideas into conflict, or doubt, or testing. In short, the kids must know evolution through and through before it would be any good to teach any controversy.

    To the extent “teaching the controversy” takes away time from teaching the facts first, it is confusing to students, and leads to poor achievement.

    Teach the facts first. Teach the facts second. Teach any controversy last.

  16. #16 shepherdmoon
    February 16, 2006

    Excellent comments. A couple of observations:

    1. This line appears to be missing text:

    The Santorum amendment was phrased in terms of teaching the “controversy” over evolution and in terms .

    2. From the examples described it sounds as if ID proponents are backing away from insisting that ID is science. If they were sticking to their guns, ID proponents would not claim that this or that “language has nothing to do with intelligent design.” Instead they would file more lawsuits and bring their science to court to prove their case. If, however, ID proponents continue their attempts to rename or re-spin the creationist essence of their movement instead of saying, “Yes, the language does have to do with intelligent design, because intelligent design is science, and here’s why…,” anti-creationist lawyers should begin a trail of these statements for future reference.

    3. It’s interesting to note that the “controversy” described in the Santorum amendment is not about scientific controversy, really. Evolution generates controversy in science classrooms and on school boards because of religious opposition to it. As I understand it, there is plenty of scientific controversy *among* evolutionary biologists, but none of those controversies is about whether evolution happens. So it’s a curious terminological equivocation to try to sneak in creationists’ religious opposition to evolution as just another valid scientific objection.

  17. #17 Mike Elzinga
    February 16, 2006

    There is another strategy being employed by the ID advocates, and that is to be in a position where, if they are sued and lose, taxpayers pick up the tab. They get a lot of leverage with little risk to their own finances.

  18. #18 Yeshooroon
    February 17, 2006

    “There is another strategy being employed by the ID advocates, and that is to be in a position where, if they are sued and lose, taxpayers pick up the tab. They get a lot of leverage with little risk to their own finances.”

    I thought it was the ACLU charging the fees to the taxpayer. This is a result of a law is it not? Or does the ACLU have to charge the Dover citizens?

  19. #19 Abdul Muhib
    February 17, 2006

    Your posting resonates with me. I’m leaving my school because I’m the biology teacher there, but they recently mandated the teaching of intelligent design along with evolution. It’s a private school, so they can do that. But I just heard our new graduate profile. They had general things, and then strangely, a specific mention that “theories of the development of man” would be taught. When I saw that, one problem I had was it’s sexism, which I pointed out to the powers that be. But naive me, I didn’t realize the other part of it. I had it confirmed verbally, by that phrase, they meant *all* the theories- and they see Intelligent Design as one of those theories. Camel’s nose in the tent.

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