Dispatches from the Creation Wars

ID Legislation in Michigan

We’ve got a sudden rash of ID activity here in Michigan. The MCFS board got word yesterday that the House Education Committee in Michigan was going to hold a hearing this morning on HB 5251, a bill that would require the teaching of all the major ID arguments in public school science classes. We had thought this bill was dead in light of HB 5606, which was signed into law in April. But the pro-ID language had been taken out of that bill, so the sponsors of 5251 have revived it. The language of the bill is as follows:

10) Not later than August 1, 2006, the state board shall revise the recommended model core academic curriculum content standards in science to ensure that pupils will be able to do all of the following:

(a) Use the scientific method to critically evaluate scientific theories including, but not limited to, the theories of global warming and evolution.

(b) Use relevant scientific data to assess the validity of those theories and to formulate arguments for or against those theories.


We hastily arranged to have several members of our board at the hearing to testify against the bill. The way it works in such hearings in Michigan is that you have to show up before the meeting and fill out a card asking to testify, telling them who you are and what group you represent. The committee chair then goes through the cards during the hearing and calls people up. Committee chairman in the Michigan house are essentially all-powerful. If they choose, they can only allow one side to testify and not the other. They can give an hour to one side and 5 minutes to the other. And they can schedule a hearing on a bill with only a 24 hour public notice. Thus, the reason we didn’t find out about the meeting until yesterday. Several interesting things happened at the hearing.

First, it was obvious that the other side had far more than 24 hours notice to prepare to testify. They brought in a professor from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to testify on behalf of the bill and he read from a prepared speech, so clearly this was set up well in advance. This professor’s testimony, however, was quite telling. After Rep. Moolenaar, the bill’s chief sponsor, declared in no uncertain terms that the bill had nothing whatsoever to do with intelligent design, the professor’s speech was a laundry list of ID arguments – irreducibile complexity, specified complexity, peppered moths, and so forth. The two main sources he cited were Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box, and Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial. And then after taking all of the material of his testimony from the ID movement, he himself claimed that this had nothing to do with ID.

When ID advocates say, “we don’t want to teach ID, we just want to teach the arguments against evolution”, they are saying nothing meaningful at all. All ID is at this point is a set of arguments against evolution. There is no ID model or theory of the natural history of life on earth, there is only a set of arguments against evolution, with the illogical conclusion that if evolution can’t explain something, God must have done it. This is a “god of the gaps” argument, an argument that has failed time and time again and is, as Michael Ruse likes to say, a science stopper. This bill is nothing more than an attempt to get ID arguments into classrooms without calling it ID, to avoid judicial scrutiny. But as the ruling in the Dover trial last year showed, this strategy does not avoid being unconstitutional:

“ID’s backers have sought to avoid 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 (intelligent design movement) is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.”

MCFS board member Frank Ravitch was allowed to testify and he informed the committee that, just like in Dover, this policy would be deemed unconstitutional by the courts. The other board members were not called to testify. No vote was taken on the bill at this hearing, and we are hoping that more testimony will be heard next week at their regular committee meeting so that we can finish giving them our perspective on the bill. In addition to MCFS, other groups opposed to the bill include the ACLU, the Michigan Science Teacher’s Association and the Michigan Department of Education. Stay tuned for further developments.

Comments

  1. #1 Gerard Harbison
    June 7, 2006

    Ed:

    who was the Professor from Green Bay?

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    June 7, 2006

    I don’t know his name, unfortunately. I believe he was a biochemist.

  3. #3 Treban
    June 7, 2006

    With all the problems Michigan has right now, the economy that was instramental in my own exodus, for example, the voters in MI should get pretty damned riled that their representatives are wasting time on bullshit like this. Especialy as it will likely cost the taxpayers in legal fees if it actualy passes.

    I think by in large this postering by the legislature is likely to backfire on them in a big way. In my expeirience the people of MI have no use for this kind of bullshit and are likely to let their reps know about it. Just like I suspect the anti-family, anti gay marriage resolution at the federal level is going to do more harm than good – so will this.

  4. #4 Seraph
    June 7, 2006

    I never cease to be amazed that the self-appointed defenders of public morality are so eager to use such underhanded tactics. The ends justify the means, I suppose (a fine position for the Defenders of Public Morality).

    Doesn’t the alleged source of their morality condemn hypocrisy more than just about anything else?

  5. #5 Sam Lewis
    June 7, 2006

    Moolenaar is my rep. I think not only will I have to send him a letter asking him why the science teachers in Michigan aren’t qualified to teach science properly, I’ll have to show up for a few campaign stops when he’s up for re-election. Does anyone have any suggestions on how best to deal with him in that kind of situation?

    Every elected official in the state keeps saying that in order for the economy to grow in Michigan, we must bring in the hi tech jobs. Moolenaar and his ilk want to drag us back into the 19th century.

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    June 7, 2006

    Sam Lewis wrote:

    Moolenaar is my rep. I think not only will I have to send him a letter asking him why the science teachers in Michigan aren’t qualified to teach science properly, I’ll have to show up for a few campaign stops when he’s up for re-election. Does anyone have any suggestions on how best to deal with him in that kind of situation?

    Moolenaar is the main sponsor of the bill, so the chances of him changing his mind on this one are probably slim and none. But if enough people call and email his office to convince him that it’s a political liability, he might at least decide it’s not prudent to pursue it further. But I don’t know what the makeup of his district is politically.

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    June 7, 2006

    By the way, my information was incorrect. The pro-ID professor was Ralph Seelke, a microbiologist, and he teaches at UW-Superior, not UW-Green Bay. You can see his homepage here.

  8. #8 Troy Britain
    June 7, 2006

    From Seelke’s site: I also have an ongoing interest in Christian apologetics, which sometimes overlaps my professional career. I am convinced that Christianity is not only true, but that it is perhaps the only way of viewing the world that allows you to have both meaning and rationality in life.

    Oh no, this has nothing to do with religion, it only about science…

    Right and I have a slightly used bridge in New York that I can sell you at a discount.

  9. #9 Sam Lewis
    June 7, 2006

    My goal isn’t to try and change his mind (I know better than to waste my time on that). I want to see the pinhead out of office. Midland is a little conservative, but it’s also fairly well educated (Dow and Dow-Corning are headquartered here). If I can make it clear to people at his campaign stops that he hasn’t got brain one in his head, maybe I can help get him booted. Michigan’s got enough problems without people like him running the show.

  10. #10 tacitus
    June 8, 2006

    Nothing to do with Intelligent Design, eh?

    Ralph Seelke, a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin at Superior, said, like many of the biology professors interviewed, that the topics in a college science course are usually narrow enough that talk about origins is irrelevant. Seelke, a proponent of intelligent design, said he “has no compunction in using the ‘D-word’” when I talk about a certain process.” But Seelke said he recognizes that ideas about ultimate origins “are opinions,” and that he thinks “it is appropriate to identify that this is my opinion, if the opinion differs from others.”

    The head of Seelke’s department would not comment, but Seelke, who noted that he has tenure, said he has never felt pressured as to how to run his classroom. He does, though, think “it’s hilarious that our department has gone on record supporting the [American Association for the Advancement of Science] view on intelligent design, that it shouldn’t be taught. That’s highly against the spirit of science. We don’t vote on theories. They essentially either arise because of the weight of evidence or fall.”

    Failla, like the majority of scientists interviewed, including many of those who believe intelligent design is correct, said that it’s hard to even pinpoint the controversy because ideas about creators are simply untestable and beyond science. “I’m just a dumb scientist,” Failla said. “I don’t understand these things. They’re opinions.”

    http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2005/10/07/id

  11. #11 tacitus
    June 8, 2006

    Seelke’s testimony at the Kansas Evolution Hearings:

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/kansas/kangaroo2.html

    Apparently he’s a fan:

    Well, one of the things I’m doing now is one of the–one of my other heroes is Michael Behe. And Behe said that if you have multiple independent events that have to take place you will simply not be able to observe evolution.

  12. #12 J-Dog
    June 8, 2006

    It is worth pointing out with all the fine university’s in MI, Moolenaar had to go to WI to get an ID professor. Something might be made of this, as is seems like good sound-bite material. Short and sweet, capable of being remembered by the masses. For example,
    “Moolenaar says Michiganders aren’t good enough”,
    “Moolenaar says cheeseheads are better.”
    “Vote for Moolenaar if you hate Michigan too”.

    What a dorkhead, and the ID loon he located should be bustable on the stand, almost Behe-like! Good luck Ed!

  13. #13 W. Kevin Vicklund
    June 8, 2006

    Hey Ed, I’m from Michigan. Any way to join MCFS? The website seems somewhat lacking, currently.

  14. #14 Ed Brayton
    June 8, 2006

    Hi Kevin. Our webpage is in transition, actually; I’ve got a whole new page ready to go up soon. If you’ll email me, I’ll add you to our membership list myself. Thanks for your interest.

  15. #15 W. Kevin Vicklund
    June 8, 2006

    Sorry, Ed, I’m not finding your email. What is it?

  16. #16 Ed Brayton
    June 8, 2006

    It’s under the “contact” button at the top of the page: ebrayton@crystalauto.com

  17. #17 Kalium
    June 8, 2006

    Bill itself can be found here. It seems to have a disturbing number of cosponsors, 19. That’s a big chunk of the House that’s already signed on to it. I’ll have to see about contacting my Rep on the issue.

    Oh yeah, I should introduce myself. I’m a regular reader, and from Michigan myself (Battle Creek area). Currently a student at the University of Michigan, and I’m interested in MCFS.

  18. #18 Ed Brayton
    June 8, 2006

    The sponsors also include a large portion of the education committee, which means it’s almost certain to be moved on to the full house. At that point, it’s up to the Speaker as to whether it gets brought up for a vote. My cautious prediction at this point is that it won’t, primarily because the session ends in 3 weeks and they’re wrapping up necessary business. I doubt Duroche wants this controversy coming up at the end of the term and distracting attention from the education overhaul they just passed.

  19. #19 Dave Puskala
    June 9, 2006

    I am familiar with Prof. Seelke. He was cited by the Grantsburg, WI school board to support their “teach the controversy” presentation to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards convention. He was among several educators that, “…have contacted our school district and offered their expertise”. http://www.wasb.org/convention/conv2006/pdf/science_questions.pdf

    The two other PhD’s were listed in the document both had testified in favor of including ID in the Minnesota science standards. Also listed was one of our favorite groups – the Discovery Institute.

    Seelke’s UWS web contains a disclaimer indicating that the contents of the page are not endorsed by UWS. It would have been interesting to have him explain that disclaimer during his testimony.

    I had some success going after a state senator being interviewed on the radio. She was arguing that the way evolution was being taught was a problem. I asked her that if she was so concerned about evolution, could she give me the correct definition of the theory of evolution. She made several attempts mentioning “dogs changing into cats” or “molecules to man”. I told her, “No, that is not correct.”

    By this time, the host became a bit annoyed with me. He asked me if I knew the definition and what was the point of my question. I said that, “Evolution was any change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next.” I added that I would expect any legislator introducing legislation to solve a problem would at least understand what it was she was addressing.

    She was appearing on a Christian radio station, so I don’t know that I converted anyone. However, won of the local columnists heard it and wrote about it. The point is that these legislators don’t know much about evolution or science. If you can ask them something that can’t be answered by the DI talking points, they are often helpless. Even the true believers knew that she didn’t know her stuff.