The Loom

Advances in Deception

If you’d like an example of the latest rhetorical tricks being used by antievolutionists, you can’t do better than this press release issued today from the Discovery Institute. The Minnesota legistlature has to choose between two drafts of state science standards written by a committee. A minority of the committee wrote the second draft, which requires that "weaknesses" of evolution be taught. The Discovery Institute (a well-funded cryptocreationist outfit) is trying to mess with biology class, as it has in states across the country.

DI would like to convince us that science is like politics–that there is a middle ground, surrounded on either side by the radical fringe. And DI would also like you to believe that they occupy that middle ground. Seth Cooper of DI tells us that legislators have the chance to let students learn about evolution "fully and fairly," rather than being "held hostage to the demands of extremes on either side of the debate."

So, on one side, we have those who would "like religious views to be presented in biology class," and on the other hand we have people who recognize that evolution is as well established a scientific theory as the germ theory of disease or the theory of quantum physics. In the middle, we have the Discovery Institute, which supports requiring "students to be able to distinguish between changes existing within species (microevolution) and the emergence of new species and changes above the species level (macroevolution)."

Let’s look at this bogus spectrum again. I wonder who exactly wants religion taught in biology classes. Is the Discovery Institute selling out other creationists? Of course not. The oldtime "Creation Scientists" of yore never claimed to teach religion in biology class. They had "scientific" proof that a flood created all geological features a few thousand years ago and had no need to open their bible. For them, biology class simply provided an account of the world that they could feel comfortable with. If the Discovery Institute really is so set against the demands of this extreme, then they should work as hard against Young Earth Creationists as they do against science standards. I see no evidence of this. In fact, Young Earth creationists have been happily embraced as fellows at the Discovery Institute.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have the other "extreme" that accepts evolution as a well-established but dynamic part of biology. Let’s see who we’ve got here. Dozens of leading organizations of scientists. The authors of thousands of papers published in peer-reviewed journals. When scientists involved in the Human Genome Project offer insights into how a common ancestor gave rise to fruit flies, vinegar worms, and ourselves, apparently they are giving themselves away as extremists.

Then comes an outright lie.

"Cooper added that the minority report followed guidance from Education Commissioner Cheri Yecke, who had encouraged the standards committee to look to guidelines set down by Congress in the Conference Report of the No Child Left Behind Act. Congress urged states to present ‘the full range of scientific views" on controversial topics "such as biological evolution.’

"Last fall, Commissioner Yecke received a letter from Congress stressing that this guidance in the No Child Left Behind Act Conference Report was the official position of Congress on science education. The letter was signed by Minnesota Congressman John Kline and Congressman John Boehner, chairman of the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee."

You would never guess from this passage that the wording about evolution was cut out of the act before it became a bill. It is not Congress’s official position.

Finally, the press release ends by urging Minnesota to "teach the controversy." The Discovery Institute would like to pretend that their specious claims are actually part of a scientific controversy. If that were true, then you’d expect them publishing new findings in Cell or The Journal of Biochemistry, and being invited to give talks at major scientific venues like the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology. Instead, they whine with their bogus claims of censorship. Having been unable to make a dent in the scientific arena, they create a political controversy, through which they hope to get from high schools what they can’t get from real science: credibility.

Pharyngula is a good place to see how things develop in Minnesota (Its author is a Univeristy of Minnesota biologist). I hope that they can marshall the same spirited grass-roots opposition to this nonsense that has emerged in other states like Texas and Ohio and Kansas.

Update 8PM: PZ Meyers reports on Pharyngula that the first day of committee hearings today on the science standards featured a Young Earth creationist blaming evolution for venereal disease. I await a press release from the forces of moderation at the Discovery Institute, attacking this extremist. And wait, and wait, and wait….

Comments

  1. #1 Jim Norton
    January 24, 2004

    Thanks for another great post. It sounds a lot like the debate over global warming and other issues, with people trying to turn it into a political debate, rather than a scientific one.

  2. #2 Steve
    January 25, 2004

    As usual, science is on one side, conservatives are on the other side. How many hundred years ago did this begin? You’d think they’d get tired of being wrong.

  3. #3 Ian Smith
    January 28, 2004

    Religious people pf ALL “faiths” need to stop being coddled. This is real life and their infantile beliefs need to be moved from the catagory of sacred to being openly ridiculed. The strife and retarded mental/emotional development caused by this ongoing cycle of brain washing/indoctrnation has to stop. Of course we’re surrounded by them like in invasion of the body snatchers. Must show no rational though or you’ll be derided as a bigot.

    – insert Homer Simpson primal scream here-

  4. #4 alkali
    January 28, 2004

    What’s the problem? Of course evolution is responsible for venereal disease.

    (Oh, wait, you mean … never mind.)

  5. #5 steve
    February 3, 2004

    what i mostly liked about this article was the irony. quite brilliant really that any issue of challenges to evolution are not addressed but are dismissed with mere rhetoric.

    ###applause###

  6. #6 David
    February 4, 2004

    I agree with Steve. Let’s dismiss rather than discuss. Ad hominem is the easiest path and suggests the weakness of one’s own argument.

  7. #7 Mike
    February 5, 2004

    The theory of evolution was debated, and settled, in the 1800s, principally by T. H. Huxley. Wasn’t anybody paying attention?

    Evidently not some school districts who decided to replace the naughty word “evolution” with “gradual change over time”. Whatever.

  8. #8 Mandy
    February 8, 2004

    By definition, a theory can never be proven only disproven. Therefore, arguablly, the theory of evolution is just as much a religion as any other. Theories are valuable tools and extremely usefull for the advancement of science.
    But in an educational institute the emphasis should be placed on the idea that they are THEORIES and NOT facts. By forcing students to accept theories as truths instead of presenting material as a theory and letting students come to a conclusion on their own, we are doing the youth of this country a great disservice.

  9. #9 Carl Zimmer
    February 8, 2004

    Mandy is expressing a common misconception about the nature of science. See, for example, http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/misconceps/IIAjusttheory.shtml

    By this reasoning, medical schools should simply present the idea that pathogens cause infection diseases as the theory of germ disease, for fear of “forcing” students to accept a well-supported theory. No one has ever seen a germ cause a disease, after all.

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