Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Louisiana Parish Sets Dover Trap

Ouachita Parish, a northern county in Louisiana, has bought into the DI’s “strengths and weaknesses” position and, as a result, set up a Dover trap for their local school districts to fall into. Here’s a description of the policy:

The policy states that the district “understands that the teaching of some scientific subjects such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning, can cause controversy and that some teachers may be unsure of the district’s expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects.”

To that end, it says, “teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.”

It sounds not only inoccuous, but very reasonable. The reality, of course, is that this is the old ID win in a new skin. All it really means to encourage teachers to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” is that they encourage teachers to use all of the arguments made by the ID movement, just don’t label them as such. The big secret, the single fact that exposes this sham, is that ID is nothing but arguments against evolution.

ID is nothing more than a set of arguments pointing out alleged weaknesses in evolutionary theory. The fact that those weaknesses are almost invariably either highly distorted or exaggerated, and in some cases outright false, is one serious problem; the fact that each and every one of them, without exception, is taken directly from creationist literature is, from a legal standpoint, an even bigger problem.

The history of anti-evolutionism in the US is unmistakablly clear. What it shows is an ever-evolving movement that continually changes names and strategies but continues to make the same arguments. The hope, of course, is that everyone will be fooled by the change in label and not notice that the substative positions are exactly the same. Judge Jones in the Dover case saw this for precisely what it is, a dishonest public relations effort masquerading as science.

Even before the Dover case took place, the ID movement had already begun to shift its rhetorical strategy from advocating the teaching of ID to teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” or the “arguments for and against” evolution. This is a rhetorical strategy only because, as I noted above, to advocate the teaching of ID can only mean advocating the teaching of the various arguments concerning the weaknesses of evolution made by the ID movement. Judge Jones wrote:

“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 IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.”

What the Ouachita Parish policy does is invite teachers and school districts to start using ID material in their science classrooms. The moment they do so, lawsuits will be filed. And just like in Dover, it won’t be difficult to trace the history of the arguments and the movement and show that it is nothing more than old fashioned creationism with a fancy new label attached to it in the hope that no one will notice. But Federal judges are a lot harder to fool than local school board officials and county supervisors.


  1. #1 m
    December 4, 2006

    I think universities really ought to make it known that they will not accept science courses from schools that engage in anti-science teaching.

  2. #2 Tim Johns
    December 4, 2006

    biological evolution
    the chemical origins of life
    global warming
    human cloning

    Was this list lifted directly from an RNC talking points brochure? It seems less like the Discovery Institute than like a white house press briefing.

  3. #3 kehrsam
    December 4, 2006

    Why is human cloning likely to cause controversy as a scientific topic? As a social topic perhaps, but isn’t this akin to saying that physics is controversial because there are people opposed to nuclear war? As a clone myself, I object that there is no controversy here.

  4. #4 chris
    December 4, 2006

    I think the controversy is in where Episode II should be placed in the pantheon. It’s better than Ep III, but how does it compare to I, or VI for that matter. It is a very significant issue that teachers should be free to discuss openly with their students.

  5. #5 mark
    December 4, 2006

    Last September, Dover, Pennsylvania, schools were all set to teach human cloning (or so some people, still excited about intelligent design, seemed to think). From the York Dispatch:

    School board president Bernadette Reinking said school officials met with parents and heard their concerns; some parents were confused by the language in the curriculum and thought human cloning was being taught in classes.

  6. #6 ZacharySmith
    December 4, 2006

    Strange how the only “contoversial” subjects targeted for comparing strengths & weaknesses are those that the religious right doesn’t like.

    If they were really interested in “critical analysis” they would explore flat earth “theory” and Holocaust denial. Hey, even our understanding of Gravity is incomplete – why not teach alternatives to Newtonian law or Relativity?

    And one point that seems to always escape the IDiots is that evolutionary theory is put to the test every day…. every time a new fossil is dug up out of the ground, or a biochemical pathway is determined.

  7. #7 Jeff Knapp
    December 4, 2006

    In an ideal world, teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” would not be a bad thing – so long as they were being taught accurately showing how science presents a strong argument and how the religious position is weak. In fact, I think it would be a really good idea to contrast Evolution through Natural Selection with Intelligent Design Creationism as examples of real science and pseudo-science. You could use this contrast to illustrate how science really works; the difference between a genuine scientific theory and a non-scienctific one. Unfortunately, that is not what they are talking about when they speak of “strengths and weaknesses.”

  8. #8 AndyS
    December 4, 2006

    How much did the Dover trial cost the Dover school district? How much will this nonsense in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, end up costing their school districts?

    BTW great review of the Dover trial, Ed, in http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/05-12-20.html

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    December 4, 2006

    The Dover trial ended up costing the Dover Area School District $1,000,011 (a $1 million settlement on the legal fees, plus $1 for damages to each of the 11 plaintiffs). The total legal bill for the defense was actually around $2.5 million, but they obviously settled for much less. Pepper Hamilton, the law firm that took the case, was reimbursed for their direct expenses in the case but did not charge a single billable hour. Given that they had 3 partners, 2 associates and numerous paralegals, administrative assistants and others working on the case, that was incredibly generous of them.

  10. #10 AndyS
    December 5, 2006

    Pepper Hamilton certainly has a marvelous sense of civic duty and social responsibility. Good for them.

  11. #11 W. Kevin Vicklund
    December 5, 2006

    In the midst of his usual insane babbling, Larry Fafarman pointed out a minor fact correction: the Parish is the local school district. Strike out “districts” and pluralize “school” and the correction is made.

    Blind squirrels and acorns…

  12. #12 PhysioProf
    December 10, 2006

    “Pepper Hamilton certainly has a marvelous sense of civic duty and social responsibility. Good for them.”

    Yes, it is very good. In fact, the vast majority of large law firms devote a substantial fraction of their annual professional effort to pro bono cases. I am aware of at least two New York City firms that each have a senior partner who handles nothing but their respective pro bono dockets.

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