Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Kentucky’s Governor and Evolution

Reed Cartwright has the full text of a letter from Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher to the Kentucky Academy of Sciences. Fletcher is a creationist who has urged local school districts in that state to teach creationism. His argument is patently ridiculous. He actually argues that evolution conflicts with the Declaration of Independence. No, I’m not making that up:

Our nation, however, was founded on self-evident truths. Among these truths are inalienable rights “endowed by their Creator.” From my perspective, it is not a matter of faith, or religion, or theory. It is similar to basic self-evident objective truths that are the basis of knowledge. For example, 2 + 2 = 4. It disappoints and astounds me that the so-called intellectual elite are so concerned about accepting self-evident truths that nearly 90% of the population understands.

Nonsense. Evolution says nothing about a “creator”, nor does belief in a creator have anything to do with whether one accepts evolution. The Declaration doesn’t say “endowed by the Biblical God as his word is interpreted literally by his followers” and it was in fact written and/or edited by at least three men who didn’t care much for the Biblical conception of God at all (Jefferson, Adams and Franklin). Clearly they were using language of sort of a “lowest common denominator” deity. Deists, Unitarians and Christians alike could read what they wanted into a vague term like “Creator”.

Update: I didn’t realize that one of my fellow ScienceBloggers had posted the same letter a couple weeks ago. Scooped again!

Comments

  1. #1 Will
    March 7, 2006

    These are our philosopher kings, yay!

  2. #2 wheatdogg
    March 7, 2006

    Ernie weaved some of these same comments, non sequitur, into his State of the State address in January. I drew up a set of rebuttals to his address, but have not done anything with them. It’s hard to get worked up about State of (Governmental Unit) addresses, since they are basically mostly hot air.

    The legislators ate it up, though. He said all the right things to make his supporters happy with him.

    *Sigh* And I live in Kentucky, too…

  3. #3 mess
    March 8, 2006

    I’ve been reading this blog for about a year now. I do think that it is interesting to see how other states are approaching the eveloution/creation issue. Personally, I live in one of the bluest states there is so it seams like less of an issue here. My feeling that it is less of an issue could also be related to the fact that I have no childern and no desire to have any, so I tend to pay a little less attention high school eductaion issues.

    So what I am wondering is, how big of an issue is this? And is it becoming a bigger issues as time goes by, or are there the same number of nutjobs that there have always been, it is just that they are getting more press recently? This letter from Ernie sounds like the same thing that has been going on for years.

    I guess my basic question is, outside of my blue state with high ratings in science education (Link from a previous post) is are things really getting worse or is there just more coverage of an already existing condition?

    Any perspective would be appreciated.

    BTW – Before anyone comments, yes my spelling is very bad, that is why in my job we have copy editors.

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    March 8, 2006

    mess wrote:

    I guess my basic question is, outside of my blue state with high ratings in science education (Link from a previous post) is are things really getting worse or is there just more coverage of an already existing condition?

    Things are much, much worse. The ID movement is extraordinarily aggressive, well funded and well organized. They have spent the last 10 years engaged in a very successful PR program – no actual science being done, mind you, but a great deal of political maneuvering. If you were to ask the NCSE, the primary organization that tracks and fights the activities of the anti-science crowd, they would no doubt tell you that the number of “flareups” – instances of legislation, local school board activity, etc – has gone up exponentially. The last few years have seen the formation of a dozen or so state organizations to help share that burden, but even with that the NCSE is probably busier now than it has ever been. Their small but dedicated staff works extraordinarily hard to keep up with it all. The Discovery Institute’s budget for such activities dwarfs the NCSE budget, probably by many millions of dollars.

  5. #5 mess
    March 8, 2006

    Thank you Ed for the response. I think that since I want to be complete, I should ask the DI what their sucess rate is. That will also provide some perspecive since a sucess for them is a loss for education. I usually like to get multiple perspectives on issues before forming a conclusion. As I mentioned, it usually dosen’t hit the radar, but then again, I live in Boston.

  6. #6 wheatdogg
    March 8, 2006

    I unearthed my critique of Ernie’s State of the State remarks, which were basically the same as the letter to which you refer. It appears the letter is boilerplate, as someone at The Panda’s Thumb says he got the same letter.

    Anyway, my critique is at my site, http://www.wheatdogg.com. I welcome comments.

  7. #7 Sastra
    March 8, 2006

    Although the comments in this letter are being applied to evolution, they also bothered me in a different way. Evolution does not imply or equate to atheism. Right. That’s a good point, and it should be stressed.

    But look at what the thrust of the argument is saying about atheism. The existence of God is a “self-evident” truth and without God and belief in God the principles of freedom and justice make no sense and have no authority. Proper citizenship in our country requires the same sorts of religious beliefs as legitimate membership in your church. That’s what all good Americans know to be true.

    As an atheist, I find this appalling. It’s one thing to state that someone else’s views on religion are mistaken. That’s fair enough. But it’s another thing to go on and insist that these beliefs actually go against universally acknowledged “self-evident” truths. If that second one is the case, then the so-called beliefs are only apparent beliefs. The only honest position is that God’s existence is obvious. The atheist is simply perverse, and their viewpoint deserves no respect or attention whatsoever. Someone who denies that 2 + 2 makes 4 is outside of reasonable discourse. And so it turns out they are not and cannot be a good American.

    This is religious bigotry of a particularly nasty kind. It’s an argument that says “there is no argument. You agree with me, and lie about it.” It seems to go beyond marginalization.

  8. #8 Mike Heath
    March 8, 2006

    Ed – Jefferson used “Creator” in the deist sense, not as a lowest common denominator sense, making the KY Gov’s statement even more ridiculous. In fact, in the first draft of the DI, Jefferson derisively stated “the Christian king of Great Britain” when naming King George III”.

    Franklin, part of the DI drafting committee convinced the young Jefferson to remove the term “Christian king” most likely to maximize support for the document with their fellow Americans already nervous about revolting against a god-ordained monarch. This may have also caused early Americans to interpret “Creator” within their own paradigm, to our discomfort ever since. However the DI drafting committee clearly meant for Creator to mean a deistic God and not a Christian God.

    Alan Dershowitz has a nice discussion in a book he published several years ago about the drafting of the DI, “America Declares Independence”.

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    March 8, 2006

    Mike-

    I don’t think we’re really in disagreement here. Jefferson’s conception of the Creator clearly was distinct from the Christian conception, but the committee was also aware that the term “Creator” was one that would appeal both to Christians, who did after all make up the majority of the signers, and those who are more accurately called theistic rationalists, among whom were many of the more prominent leaders (Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson and Madison, at least).

  10. #10 ctw
    March 9, 2006

    ” … basic self-evident objective truths that are the basis of knowledge. For example, 2 + 2 = 4″

    It appears that this statement (or variations thereon) has become a litmus test for “basic self-evident” ignorance.

    governor fletcher seems to be unaware of the various pew polls showing that large fractions of the US “population understands” “basic truths” that are demonstrably wrong. the scope of his ignorance apparently includes the reasons underlying the founders’ apprehensions re non-representative democracy. of course, he is yet another example of the increasingly unfulfilled hopes of the FFs that representatives would be more than just animated polling machines.

  11. #11 Matthew
    March 10, 2006

    He has very little chance of getting re-elected and this is nothing more than an attempt to regain popularity, so I wouldn’t worry too much about this. Since he’s been in office he’s been in a hiring scandal that has made him extremely unpopular. And he’s the first republican governor in several decades anyways. In addition he’s had recent life-threatening health problems so I’m not sure if he’ll even decide to run again given his health and slim chance at victory. This is just an attempt to appeal at the lowest level, and frankly it doesn’t seem to be working, because he’s brought up this subject twice, before at the state of the state speech and it hasn’t caught on, at all, in the press. Kentucky probably is creationist as personal beliefs but I don’t think people care enough to get activist about it.