Ugh…I’m against it

In Wisconsin, a bill has been proposed to ban intelligent design from science courses.

Two Democratic lawmakers introduced a plan Tuesday that would ban public schools from teaching intelligent design as science, saying “pseudo-science” should have no place in the classroom.
The proposal is the first of its kind in the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and comes as a debate over how to teach the origins of human life rages in local school districts.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, acknowledged the measure faced an uphill fight in a Legislature where Republicans control both houses.
The measure would force material included in science curriculums to describe only natural processes. The material also would need to follow the definitions of science adopted by the National Academy of Sciences.

Noooooooo! This isn’t how to do it!

Legislators need to keep their hands off science and science teaching, no matter what side they are taking. Promoting good science is OK; suggesting to school boards that they follow guidelines set by the major scientific ideas is so obvious that it shouldn’t need to be said; picking and choosing and saying which specific ideas ought to be taught and making them part of law is just plain wrong.

This is one case where I’d side with the Republicans. This is too much interference.


  1. #1 Ed Darrell
    February 8, 2006

    You’re right. When I saw that story, I hightailed it to Scienceblogs to be sure you and Ed Brayton knew about it. He’s sorta on the wrong side.

    Wisconsin’s proposal could be a lot worse — as I understand it, it doesn’t specifically say “intelligent design” is banned. But — good heavens! — think about what would have happened had the legislatures gotten into writing what was good and holy about cosmology, say, in 1910, or 1920 . . . or 1960.

    The support of science is good. Write that into the standards. Demand high standards in the science curricula. But don’t say “here be dragons” when we really don’t know. That’s the same error the anti-evolution people make.

  2. #2 Skemono
    February 8, 2006

    The actual legislation has been posted at Dispatches from the Culture Wars:

    SECTION 1. 118.018 of the statutes is created to read:
    118.018 Science instruction. The school board shall ensure that any material presented as science within the school curriculum complies with all of the following:

    (1) The material is testable as a scientific hypothesis and describes only natural processes.

    (2) The material is consistent with any description or definition of science adopted by the National Academy of Sciences.

    I think this is far more reasonable than if they had specifically said “teaching intelligent design is illegal”.

  3. #3 Jeff Hebert
    February 8, 2006

    What I really like about this legislation is that it brings the real fight out in the open — the actual goal of the Dembski/Behe crowd is to change the very definition of science. If that’s their goal, let’s not let them hide behind secret Wedge documents and false smiles, let’s fight it out in the open for all to see.

  4. #4 CS
    February 8, 2006

    Ed Brayton posted the actual text of the bill:

    SECTION 1. 118.018 of the statutes is created to read:

    118.018 Science instruction. The school board shall ensure that any material presented as science within the school curriculum complies with all of the following:

    (1) The material is testable as a scientific hypothesis and describes only natural processes.

    (2) The material is consistent with any description or definition of science adopted by the National Academy of Sciences.

    I support this. It does not single out specific topics, but simply requires material taught as “science” to actually be so under the definition accepted by the scientific community.

    I also do not see this as preventing speaking about historical scientific ideas or pseudoscience (if one wished to address these things), unless teachers treat them as real science. Also, if the ID camp gets its act together and actually comes out with real research and real models with testable predictions, it could potentially be reallowed in the classroom.

  5. #5 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    February 8, 2006

    Based on the actual text of the bill, and not the description in the ens article, I approve of the bill. Intelligent Design is not singled out by name, it jsut doesn’t meet the standards specified, which we all knew already.

  6. #6 David Wilford
    February 8, 2006

    PZ, do you see a difference between such a requirement being a part of a body of state educational standards, versus it being a part of state law?

    I’m a bit conflicted myself about the proposed legislation, in terms of it being a law instead of a model standard, but given how there have been creationists trying to get ID taught in biology classes in Wisconsin I can understand why some may think such legislation is necessary.

  7. #7 Viking
    February 8, 2006

    From Wisconsin Public Radio: After six, Joy Cardin’s guest lawmaker says pseudosciences (SOO-doh-SCI-en-sez) like intelligent design are threatening science education in public schools. She’ll explain why she’s drafting a law she says will protect the integrity of science education. Guest: Terese Berceau, democratic state representative from Madison.
    Listen via RealPlayer:

  8. #8 Troutnut
    February 8, 2006

    I approve, too. If this text of the bill is all there is, it sounds like a fine reinforcement of often-challenged common sense.

    I fervently agree, PZ, that legislators should not rule on which particular scientific findings constitute science. But I don’t see this bill doing that, nor do I see it as a “slippery slope” leading to that.

    Furthermore, it seems the bill applies to “material presented as science within the school curriculum.” That wording would allow the presentation of pseudoscience as pseudoscience for comparison.

  9. #9 Inoculated Mind
    February 8, 2006

    I find it incredible that Dembski is offering a cash award to the first teacher to break this law when it in place, suggesting (through a link to the Alliance Defence Fund) that it is an issue of freedom of speech. Apparently, he didn’t read the text of the bill either.

    I think that this bill would divert attention to the real issue, that ID is a set of untestable ideas founded in religion, and that they have to change the definition of science to get it in the curriculum. That’s the public discussion that I want to hear.

  10. #10 Jeff Hebert
    February 8, 2006

    Don Colberson said:

    … I would hope that serious institutions would police their own offerings …

    Unfortunately that hope has been shown to die a-borning, with state after state introducing legislation specifically designed to contravent what the scientists base their science on. It’s time to fight the war that’s being waged rather than pining for a peaceful past that’s long since gone.

  11. #11 rrt
    February 8, 2006

    I dunno either. At first I agreed with the “vehemently opposed” camp until reading those excerpts from the bill. But I’m still uncomfortable with government legislating about what can be taught as science. Moreover, the law does specify the NAS as a standard…that might be risky. How do we qualify who we choose as a standard, and insulate it from politics?

  12. #12 Nate
    February 8, 2006

    I find attempts to legislate good science, even with the best intentions, to be almost as bad.

    I disagree. I support the legislation of excluding pseudoscience from science classrooms, the reason being that while “scientific review” obviously means nothing to a “science teacher” teaching ID, the law would still protect the children from their idiocy…much like “equality” meant nothing to Jim Crow states, but the Supreme Court decision banning segregation made them comply with the ideal anyway.

    I’m not a scientist, and I do fully understand why you as a community would want to maintain as much independence from legislation as possible. However, the bill does defer to the NAS. I find it perfectly appropriate that the government should legislate to force their own institutions (i.e. public schools) to follow a standard, and I believe the NAS is an appropriate standard for science classes to follow.

  13. #13 Eric Wallace
    February 8, 2006

    Like PZ, I’m sorta reluctant to support this bill. I can’t disagree with its contents, but I think the larger context has to be considered. Passing a law like this can make it appear as if an idea–the definition of science–is just another partisan issue.

    It’s like that infamous law defining Pi. Of course I can’t support a law defining Pi to be 3, but neither would I support one defining Pi to be 3.14159… Because it isn’t a law that makes Pi what it is!

    Laws can be fought, and they can be changed. It’s easier to organize a fight if you can label your enemies as partisan legislators and “activist” judges than if you are fighting against reason. That’s probably why Dembski thinks this is good for him.

  14. #14 Great White Wonder
    February 8, 2006

    So what are they calling this bill?

    I propose: the “Honesty in Science Education” bill.

    Let the Discovery Institute fight it.

    Bring it on, please.

    And PZ — please think seriously about reconsidering and/or retracting your public rejection. There is nothing wrong with legislating education standards if the standards are properly written. Feel free to propose alternatives, as I did, but this sort of approach is EXACTLY what we’ve been needing to do for a long time: give the fundies a fat slap their faces (to coin a phrase).

  15. #15 Anonymous
    February 8, 2006


    “Passing a law like this can make it appear as if an idea–the definition of science–is just another partisan issue.”

    Gee, Eric, you’re about ten years too late if you’re worrying about this perception.

  16. #16 Great White Wonder
    February 8, 2006


    Maybe it’s time to reexamine the idea of publicly PROVIDED (as opposed to FUNDED) education?

    What do you mean “maybe it’s time”? The idea of dismantling public schools and replacing them with a voucher-based program is debated all the time throughout the country and has been for quite a while.

    I’m not sure why the Wisconsin law suddenly makes this issue suddenly more pressing in your mind. Is the issue of teaching facts about biology and science so controversial that the only “solution” is to throw the baby out with the bathwater and let the free market decide?

    I think that’s sort of a pathetic cop-out but a lot of self-identifying libertarian-types are prone to such behavior.

  17. #17 PaulC
    February 8, 2006

    And, sure, if somebody wanted to teach non-religiously based bad science (e.g. phlogiston theory) then that would be permitted under the constitution. I don’t recommend a bill for that either; we just have to require a certain level of competence from the people setting the approved school curriculum. If that requirement fails (which it often does) then it’s bad news, but a legislative prohibition is not the appropriate fix.

  18. #18 Great White Wonder
    February 8, 2006


    Passing a bill to prohibit the teaching of ID suggests that we think it could under some circumstances be permitted under the constitution.

    Gosh, well, I happen to think that teaching ID is permitted under the Constitution, just not in public schools under the guise of “science” or as a religious idea that is more valid than any other religious idea (e.g., the religious idea that black people and white people shouldn’t intermarry).

    So what is your problem with the bill?

    It sounds to me like those opposed to the bill are afraid of being “perceived” in a certain way.

    My advice: stop being chicken shits.

    We’ve seen what happens when the Discovery Institute and the fundies are allowed to frame the issues again and again and again. It’s not healthy for science education.

    So get with the program and stop the fucking whining.

    I don’t recommend a bill for that either; we just have to require a certain level of competence from the people setting the approved school curriculum.

    Whose “we” Paul? How are these levels determined? How are they articulated? How are they enforced?

    If that requirement fails (which it often does) then it’s bad news, but a legislative prohibition is not the appropriate fix.

    What is, Paul? If representative democracratic solutions are out of the equation, then what do you propose?

  19. #19 Steve Sutton
    February 8, 2006

    “We want to establish that ID is a religious view, that the constitution prohibits the use of public funds to promote a particular religious view, and that therefore it is unconstitutional to teach ID in a public school science class.”

    We already have. 😉

  20. #20 Great White Wonder
    February 8, 2006

    However, teaching bad science is perfectly legal and constitutional, so when IDiots learn to cover their tracks better (they keep trying, but tentacles of god keep poking out) we’ll be out of legal remedies. I know ends don’t justify the means, but in this case I think the means are appropriate and the ends are critical for science education.

    I second this with the reservation that my own proposed legislation is superior.

    And I repeat myself: if such legislation allegedly precludes high schoolers from being taught string theory, so what?

    And if such legislation leads to Discovery Institute losers attempting to argue that contemporary evolutionary biology is pseudoscience, so what? They already do that anyway. And they lose. With this legislation, the road will be that much rockier for the ID peddlers.

    Plus, it serves merely to drive into the ground the stake set by Kitzmiller.

    POLITICS PEOPLE. The fundy theocrats are on the ground. Now it’s time to kick them in the head with the iron-toed boot. Don’t run home to mommy until the referee blows the whistle, okay?

  21. #21 Colin Danby
    February 8, 2006

    I would really prefer to do this by persuading people about what’s good about scientific knowledge — even if that means occasionally losing a battle — than by legislating like this. This kind of legislative management is a bad precedent, and puts local teachers under even more pressure. Look, for example, at the “standards” for science teaching that were I think discussed here some months back, many of which are vacuous, but which nonetheless force individual teachers to do all kinds of silly things to show compliance. You can’t manage the classroom from the legislature.

  22. #22 Keith Douglas
    February 8, 2006

    Personally, I would want legislation to contain a sort of pointer to some consultation process where appropriate experts are consulted. This unfortunately has the problem of expertise in general – how do you recognize an expert when you are ignorant yourself? Anyway, it does beat “hard coding” the current state of science (or any other subject) into the law as well as avoids avoid ossifying any particular means or approach to teaching it, which would be just as bad.

  23. #23 Sastra
    February 8, 2006

    It’s not unconstitutional to teach pseudoscience, but it’s certainly not a good idea. My first thought on reading this bill wasn’t its application to Intelligent Design, but its application to such things as Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, bioenergy, homeopathy, Feng Shui, mind reading, spoon bending, vitalism, ghosts, pet psychics, etc.

    If you look at the statistics, belief in these forms of pseudoscience is almost as high as belief in Creationism — and it’s a lot harder to connect them directly to religion. Plus, level of education doesn’t seem to correlate with skepticism here: even intelligent people put a lot of weight on sincere testimonials and tend to think there is good, solid science supporting this stuff. The common assumption is that there’s a controversy. Close-minded materialist scientists are ignoring the evidence. Sounds familiar.

    So what happens if a public high school decides to teach homeopathy as an “alternative” view of chemistry, or “chi” as one way of doing physics? My guess is that this isn’t unlikely. Legitimate nursing schools have already been invaded by odd forms of alt med and the media gets huge ratings when they promote psychic powers as true fact.

    I don’t know. Perhaps the public schools need some kind of legal rein on unscientific nonsense taught as science in general. No need to single out creationism.

  24. #24 Flex
    February 8, 2006

    To haliaeetus,

    There is already national and state level legislation in place which require certain standards to be met. You should be able to find them easily enough through your state’s department of education website.
    Michigan has a fairly nice site which provides a chart listing both the state school aid acts as well as the federal acts which require adherance.
    The stick which makes the local school district adhere to those standards is having funding withheld. The decision to withhold funding comes from the state department of education or in some cases the state treasurer. (Part of MCL 388.1617a)
    I’m certainly not an expert in school financing, but I doubt that the stick is used very often. There are a number of forms available on the Michigan website for corrective action plans, which implies to me that the department of education will prefer to work with the district to improve the education rather than beat them with the loss of funds to comply.
    The point is, the stick for maintaining state standards is already at the state level legislative level, is part of state law. Many of the standards are also at state level, and some of the do include some very specific guidlines on what should be taught to meet the state standards. For example, the Ensuring Early Childhood Literacy policy, or Revision of the Mi Curriculum Framework.
    Most of these policies are from the Michigan department of Education. However, these policies can be overwritten by legislation by the Michigan legislature. Or added to, for example according to the MCL, all teachers are required to take an oath to support the constitution of the United States and the constitution of the state of Michigan. This is a legislative act (MCL 388.401-388.402) passed in 1935 and has never been repealed.
    Whether you think it is appropriate for a legislature to set educational standard or not, they have done so in the past and they will in the future.
    We know that the creationist have already realized it, and have continually attempted to create legislation which would trump even rational state department of education standards. I see no problem with fighting back, and the text of the proposed legislation seems loose enough to allow even the discussion of theories.
    After all, while the law would be on the books for enforcement of the guidelines when necessary, it will not be used until a complaint is filed. I don’t think any complaints would be filed about a discussion of string theory, but it may well be against a teacher who claimed that creationism is science.

    I’d take that risk.

    My $0.02.


  25. #25 hemlok
    February 8, 2006

    Gotta disagree with you on this one, PZ. To pass legislation that a public school science program limit it’s curriculum to what is actually considered “Science” by mainstream “Scientists” seems to me to offer no risk of harm or limit, and yet prevents idiots from teaching whatever they choose to believe AS science. Also prevents the greatest risk to real science education, the old “hey, the MAJORITY believes it, we need to teach what the majority believes” line of non-reasoning…


  26. #26 Great White Wonder
    February 8, 2006


    I disagree. I think it’s wrong for the state to start legislating just which scientific ideas are or are not allowed to be discussed in the classroom.

    As a blanket matter? Why?

    I think it serves no useful purpose for the sciences either, as there have been and will continue to be times when something deemed scientifically invalid (Wegner’s theory of continental drift for instance) turns out to have merit.

    Before the consensus of professional scientists thought Wegner’s idea had merit, would it be “wrong” to keep the idea out of public school science classrooms? If so, why would it be wrong?

    we don’t make state legislators the arbitors of what constitutes science.

    Not even if the state legislators are merely saying that what constitutes science is what the overwhelming consensus of professional scientists say is science?

    Why the fuck not?

    Sure, they may defer to the NAS right now, but any law can be changed

    That doesn’t help your argument, David.

  27. #27 Great White Wonder
    February 8, 2006


    To pass legislation that a public school science program limit it’s curriculum to what is actually considered “Science” by mainstream “Scientists” seems to me to offer no risk of harm or limit, and yet prevents idiots from teaching whatever they choose to believe AS science. Also prevents the greatest risk to real science education, the old “hey, the MAJORITY believes it, we need to teach what the majority believes” line of non-reasoning…

    Worth repeating. Can anyone rebut the logic of Mikey’s comment? I’m still waiting.

    Before answering, please consider that *if* the consensus of US scientists decides that science includes supernatural crap, all of our “Constitutional” arguments are pure shit and it doesn’t really matter what the Wisconsin statute says, does it?

    I urge the Chicken Littles running around here (including PZ) to wrap their heads around this fact.

    We need more legislators like the brave legislators in Wisconsin and less diaper-crapping by alleged science supporters who run in fear whenever rightwing nutcases like Dembski shout “You’ll be sorrryyyy!!!”

  28. #28 Flex
    February 9, 2006

    As I mentioned earlier, legislatures currently do, and will in the future, direct public education guidelines.

    It doesn’t really matter if you agree morally to the practice or not, legislating standards does and will continue to occur.

    If that is the prime reason to object to this proposed bill, be aware that other groups of people do not have any moral repugnance to enact legislation dictating what is to be taught, not just standards.

    Further, let’s say this bill passes and a teacher inadvertantly or deliberately violates the act? How does anyone know? A student, teacher or parent in that school system would have to report it to someone. This would be the administrators, local board, or possibly the state department of education.

    I see nothing in the bill suggesting additional penalties for violating the act. So the administration, local board, or state would have to review the teaching materials and determine if the act was violated, and if the violation puts their state funding in jeapardy. If after review they feel that their funding might be cut due to a teacher’s lesson plan, they will ask the teacher to change the lesson plan. A teacher who refuses to change their lesson plan will likely be stoped teaching science.

    Notice that this legislation will not require teachers to be fired, it only requires them to teach science as it is generally understood by scientists. The legislature is deferring to the experts, not claiming expertise themselves. Isn’t that one of things the experts have been upset about?

    Notice that the legislation does not require a lesson plan review, or any oversight at all. The only application of this law is if a complaint is made. Like most laws, it doesn’t change the physical properties of the world. A speed limit law does not prevent people from speeding, it allows the state to legally fine people who are caught speeding. This proposed peice of legislation wouldn’t even be as powerful as a law against speeding. Being caught teaching non-science in a science class will initiate an investigation, not a fine.

    The thing this bill does best is to give teachers, school boards, and school administrators something to point to if a parent demands equal time for creationism in a science course. The teachers, school boards, and administrators can say, “I’m sorry Mr. Dembski, state law prohibits us from teaching ID in our science class. We could loose our state funding. Maybe you should consider a private school.”

    The more I think about it, the better I think the idea is.


  29. #29 Joe G
    February 9, 2006

    Why are origins important? Because if life did not arise from non-living matter via unintelligent, blind/ undirected processes there would be no reason to infer its subsequent diversification arose solely due via those type of processes.

    And guess what? There isn’t any data/ evidence that demonstrates life can arise from non-living matter via unintelligent, blind/ undirected processes.

    It should also be noted that “evolution” isn’t being debated by IDists. It is the mechanism that is being debated.

    If design is what humans do then design is natural. Also there are other animals that design. Ever hear of beavers?

    To see why ID is scientific please visit:

  30. #30 Flex
    February 9, 2006


    There isn’t any data to demonstrate that life arose from a process guided by a sapient being either.

    Many ID arguments arise from increduality. This is, in my opinion, an unintended result of the success of the scientific method. It has become inconceivable to many people that so much complexity could arise without being guided by something sapient. This has to be a fairly recent development. Early in the Enlightenment people experianced phenomena which didn’t have the complete causal chain worked out. Some people probably accepted that complex things are unexplained, if they thought about it at all. Others maintained that a deity must be causing the phenomena. Some people decided that the complexity of the phenomena is not an indication of a guiding intelligence, but of discoverable processes without a guiding intellience.

    Do the people who insist on intelligent design think that a deity is causing the stoichiometric reactions in chemistry? Getting a flammable gas from dripping an acid on sea shells must have appeared miraculous. Chemistry is so complex that it must have been designed by a sapient being.

    But investigators discovered, through empirical enquiry, a compilation of compounds which react with other compounds was developed. Then this list was examined and ordered. Finally the periodic table emerged. An intelligence was no longer required to guide and explain the complexity of chemical reactions.

    The processes which provide us with the ability to live, breath, reproduce and even think are much more complex than simple inorganic chemistry. But the lesson is the same, complexity does not require a guiding intelligence to explain it.

    Finally, as has been repeatedly pointed out on this site, ID is not science if for no other reason than it does not allow testing of it. Modern science has developed far beyond the early idea that repeated observations can explain something. You can observe complexity all you want, and you can make the claim that this complexity required intelligence to create this complexity. That does not make it science. You can even develop models that attempt to explain this complexity through the application of an intelligent designer. The Flying Spaghetti Monster is such a model. So are the models developed by most religions (I can’t think of an exception, but one may exist). But those models are not science. They may be good models to live your life by, but they are not science.

    Obviously your milage will vary.


  31. #31 rrt
    February 9, 2006

    “Why is that? Because someone can’t answer a question without pooping his diaper?

    I’m not convinced.”

    Anonymous: I’m not sure I understand this comment. I’m not sure I WANT to understand it, either.

    My original comment was a stab at what some other posters have since stated more eloquenty than I: I don’t think I want state legislatures defining science. Neither do I like the fact that this will feed the creationist persecution complex…i.e., “They can’t defeat us in the laboratory, so they’re passing laws instead!” I am aware that this law does not specifically call out ID, but I certainly don’t expect that to stop the creationists, and neither do I expect the general public, their target audience, to make that distinction.

  32. #32 PaulC
    February 9, 2006


    I don’t get it. What are you whining about?

    I’m not whining about anything. Note that I’ve responded to your comments without casting them in any pejorative way. I’m frankly a little puzzled about why you feel the need to personalize this disagreement.

  33. #33 PaulC
    February 9, 2006


    But no! The chicken littles are afraid that the bad old conservative Republicans are going to snatch the moment away and turn this all into a debacle for science supporters, just like Bill Dembski said!!!!

    I’m not “afraid” of anything. I just think that this particular law is counterproductive. I’m quite confident that a series of court battles will soon make it clear that ID is not permitted in public school science class without the need for additional laws. In the unlikely event that something else happens, we still can add such laws as a fallback.

    Actually, such a law would serve the purpose of preventing public schools from teaching non-religious pseudoscience such as phlogiston theory or cold fusion. That’s fine in theory, but in practice, the only people who seem to want to inject bad science in the schools are motivated by religion, so once again I do not see the compelling purpose of such a law.

    In short, I would support such a law if I thought it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that ID is going to be banned from public schools anyway. I think this is very curioius kind of “afraid.”

  34. #34 Great White Wonder
    February 9, 2006


    Neither do I like the fact that this will feed the creationist persecution complex…i.e., “They can’t defeat us in the laboratory, so they’re passing laws instead!”

    Oh no!!!!! We’re feeding their complex!!!! Stand back everyone!!!!! The fundies are going to ERUPT!!!!!!

    WAAaaaaahhhh!!!! Mommy!!!!!!!

  35. #35 Great White Wonder
    February 9, 2006


    I am aware that this law does not specifically call out ID, but I certainly don’t expect that to stop the creationists

    What do you mean “stop the creationists”? There is only one way to stop them and, trust me, you ain’t up to the task.

  36. #36 Torbjorn Larsson
    February 9, 2006

    “Why are origins important? Because if life did not arise from non-living matter via unintelligent, blind/ undirected processes there would be no reason to infer its subsequent diversification arose solely due via those type of processes.”

    This is a bungled attempt to argue from incredulity. Parsing:
    1. Remove negatives and superfluous: ‘Because if life did arise from non-living matter via blind processes there would be reason to infer its diversification arose solely via those processes.’

    2. Substitute with processes we observe: ‘Because if life did arise from non-living matter via evolutionary processes there would be reason to infer its diversification arose solely via those processes.’

    Evolutionary processes are simplified random variation (blind) and natural selection (directed to remove worst randoms, not towards global goal). You didn’t correct your categories to what’s observed, so that is what we just did.

    3. Invert to make logical sense in science based on those observations of nature (last part observed and verified): ‘Because if life diversification arose via evolutionary processes there would be reason to infer it did arise from non-living matter solely via those processes.’

    4. Again insert what we observe: ‘Because life diversification arises via evolutionary processes there is reason to infer it did arise from non-living matter solely via those processes.’

    See! That wasn’t too difficult, just insert observational evidence instead of misdirected philosophy.

    Since we observe evolution regardless of origins, and that is what’s discussed, origins is unneccessary to explain. The correct logic from observations again shows this.

    Now read Flex comment on incredulity et cetera.

    “If design is what humans do then design is natural.”
    No, since we are discussing intentional creative cultural (“intelligent”) design.

    “Also there are other animals that design.”
    These are not designs but constructions from evolved behaviours, except if you mean artifacts by apes and human ancestors, which is of the above cultural kind.

  37. #37 Flex
    February 9, 2006


    There is a contingent of folks who believe that the worst thing you can do is make a rightwinger angry.

    I believe that this is where we part company. I don’t see any evidence in this thread that justifies this statement. People are not saying we shouldn’t make rightwingers angry, they are saying that government shouldn’t be involved in setting standards for teaching science. The reasons given appear fairly nebulous to me, but condensing them down it reads, at least to me, like a distrust of government. Not rightwinger government or liberal government, but government in general.

    This message of distrusting government has been drilled into us for as long as I can remember. We see it in the same movies and television which tell us to distrust science. The drum of smaller and less intrusive government has been beating for years. But this misses the point of government. Government in a democratic society is the servant of it’s citizens. We, the citizens, can control government.

    As our servant, government provides services far more effectively and to a broader base of citizens than private industry will ever do. And having society, through their government, provide these services improves the profits of private business.

    Remember, it is the government which ensures clean water, sewage treatment, electricity, roads, universal education, the park system, etc. These are services which we all benefit from. At times, certainly, the government has violated the trust we have put into it. There are also improvements that could be made in all the areas I listed.

    There are government requirements that many people don’t like too. Zoning regulations, taxes, easements, are all part of the same contract that we have made with the rest of American society that allows us, the citizens, to have the freedoms we have granted ourselves.

    I don’t fully trust the government, and there are government actions which I think are idiotic. There are public servants who seem to think they are the masters. But to think that the tool of government shouldn’t be used because of the various mistakes the government has made, simply allows those people who are making those mistakes to continue to use the tool.


  38. #38 rrt
    February 9, 2006


    I ask you nicely to stop. You acted as though you didn’t understand Paul C’s objection, but I think you and I both know what he’s talking about:

    “Oh no!!!!! We’re feeding their complex!!!! Stand back everyone!!!!! The fundies are going to ERUPT!!!!!!

    WAAaaaaahhhh!!!! Mommy!!!!!!!”

    I never spoke to you directly at all, and yet still you come at me with that attitude? Nice.

    I would like to point out that your idea that this is an accomodation to conservatives/creationists/fundies is, at least in my case, wrong. The heart of my objection to this bill is, as stated, the concept of government defining science vs. the scientific community. I have no interest whatsoever in refraining from punching our opponents in the mouth when necessary, and I’ll thank you for not claiming otherwise. I’m not a Tom-Tomorrow-satirized liberal.

    I object to the possibility of this law making us look bad because I consider that a genuine risk with the general public. I don’t care one bit how mad the wingnuts get, however much they gibber, I care about Joe Sixpack sitting on the sidelines watching the fight. Historically, we’ve been able to make the argument that scientific fact cannot be established by legislation or majority opinion, and have happily pointed out that it’s our opponents who have consistently tried those tactics. Yet now I’m supposed to consider using them?

    I recognize there are differing opinions on these things, and I’m certainly happy to consider and discuss them civilly. I’d appreciate the same courtesy.

  39. #39 Ed Darrell
    February 9, 2006

    GWW, or anyone else: What is superior about the definition of science offered by the Wisconsin bill over the common law definitions? Please explain how this supports keeping the politicos’ paws off of science standards.

  40. #40 Great White Wonder
    February 9, 2006

    David W.

    Critic asks why lawmakers are telling teachers how to teach

    If I were a “critic” of an honest science education for our kids, I’d ask the same thing.

    If I were a “critic” of creationism peddlers and their strategy for injecting creationism into schools, I’d ask a different question.

    Figure it out, David. Good luck.

  41. #41 Great White Wonder
    February 9, 2006

    I can’t answer for GWW, but as I see it, it allows a teacher, administrator, school board, or other parents to point to the law and say “No, we will not teach your unscientific idea in science class.”

    And it’s a bit more clear than the Constitution, ain’t it? And a bit less wordy than Judge Jones decision.

    Even a newspaper reporter could understand it.

  42. #42 PZ Myers
    February 9, 2006

    I’m still against it, on principle. I don’t have any objections to the gist of the requirements of the law, but I still think it is a poor law that violates the general idea of how we should teach science.

    Imagine a law that says, “2 + 2 is hereby declared to equal 4, and teachers may not teach anything else.” I’d agree with it; 2+2 does equal 4. If there were packs of idiots roaming the state insisting that schools teach 2+2=5, I’d even sympathize with the role of the law to counter stupidity. I still would oppose it, though: I don’t want my students learning the ‘correct’ answer because the law says it is so.

    Remember, science is about the process, not the conclusion. This law gets the conclusion right, but arrives at it via the wrong process.

  43. #43 Great White Wonder
    February 9, 2006


    Evolution bill survives by a vote – Critic asks why lawmakers are telling teachers how to teach

    A very good question.

    Fyi, the bill in Utah bears so little resemblance to the bill in Wisconsin it’s shameful for David to pretend otherwise.

    The Utah bill tells teachers to teach creationist garbage as science. The Wisconsin bill tells science teachers to teach science and not creationist bullshit.

    What is so difficult to understand about that?

    Again, our friend David is reciting the argument we expect to hear from the creationists in Wisconsin. And I’ve rebutted the argument. Does David care? Nope. He’s still clinging to mommy’s apron. Save us! Save us! The Wisconsin lawmakers are sabatoging the movement!

    Get a grip, David. And stop reciting creationist scripts, okay?

  44. #44 Flex
    February 9, 2006

    Dr. Myers,

    I still would oppose it, though: I don’t want my students learning the ‘correct’ answer because the law says it is so.

    Boy, do I sympathize with this sentiment.

    However, this law is better than most in that it defers to the scientists themselves for answers.

    To continue your mathematical metaphor, the bill does not say that 2+2 does not equal 5, or that 2+2=4, but that we shouldn’t give 2+2=5 equal time in the classroom. And if Princess Ida from Gilbert and Sulivan’s play of the same name suggests that:

    “In Mathematics, Woman leads the way;
    The narrow-minded pedant still believes
    That two and two make four! Why, we can prove,
    We women – household drudges as we are-
    That two and two make five – or three – or seven;
    Or five and twenty, if the case demands!”
    Gilbert and Sullivan, Princess Ida Act II.

    rather than the legislature getting involved, the question is refered to the mathemeticians.

    Finally, and I envy you for it, you are in an academic enviroment. Understanding why 2+2=4 is part of your profession. I would love to deal with people who question why 2+2=4 on a regular basis, and are able to explain to other people why 2+2 really does equal 4.

    For a lot of people though, unfortunately, this questioning trait is not a part of their lives. If you wonder why religion is so prevalent in a modern society, this is the root reason. Most people accept what they are taught as true and never question it. This is also generally true of political party affiliation.

    Why do people continually question the morality of atheists? Because they are told that their own morality comes from their religion. They don’t question it, but they can’t understand moral atheists.

    This is not to say that I think the average person is an idiot. On the contrary, I think the average person can fully understand pretty much any ideas they want to. Getting them to want to is a bit of a trick.

    The creationist crowd will use the tool of popular government to attempt to legislate knowledge. I am myself very reluctant to let any legislative body dictate testable knowledge. However, if this means we are going to stop ourselves from using the powerful tool of government legislation to prevent the creationist crowd from creating laws requiring the teaching of creationist ideas, we are in for a long, expensive battle that we may not win.

    And now that I’ve had a few beers, let me end with another lovely line from Princess Ida:

    “For the Maiden fair, whom the monkey crav’d,
    Was a radiant Being,
    With brain far-seeing-
    While Darwinian Man, though well-behav’d,
    At best is only a monkey shav’d!”



  45. #45 Tom Powell
    February 10, 2006

    David, I appreciate your comments but disagree.
    Firstly, the only way to recapture a Dem majority is to actually stand up and make noise, and point out the folly of your opposition. That is how you win elections. When you are outnumbered is exactly the time to fight your hardest. A head-in-the-sand approach will get you nowhere. If you think that by being quiet they will ignore you, you’re mistaken.

    Besides, the hard-right Republicans in the Assembly are already painting themselves as creationists. A bill likes this flushes them out. Debi Towns, the Republcan chair of the Education Committee has already said that she will not give the bill a hearing. How do you think her constituents might feel about that? Do you think that might appear on her opponent’s literature next time?

    Secondly, the war against ID was not won in Dover. We won the battle, but have a long way to go. Legal precedents are not laws. Unlike laws, judicial rulings can be ignored or overturned by the next judge down the line. Besides, the school board spent about a million dollars on legal fees. That’s a million bucks out of the school district budget, and the kid’s education. To rely solely on the court system to solve this problem would be prohibitvely costly and inefficient.

  46. #46 Great White Wonder
    February 10, 2006


    Thanks for writing!

    Like David, I grew up in Wisconsin and attended a fine public school in a community dominated by working class Catholics. I discovered the existence of creationist garbage when I found myself in the chemistry teachers’ lounge of my school and found back issues of the Skeptical Inquirer on the shelf. The rest is history.

    David Wilford’s “arguments” (which amount to little more than the sound of a child wetting his bed) have been addressed numerous times in the thread above. I wish we lived in the imaginary world of David Wilford where “mortal blows” to religious fundamentalism are delivered by Federal Courts. Sadly, we do not live in that imaginary world.

    Instead, we live in a world populated by humans with imaginations who can not resist playing games with words. Take David Wilford, for example. He refers to a bill which defines what “true science” is — a bill that exists only in David Wilford’s mind. The Wisconsin bill does not purport do define what “true science” is or isn’t; it merely excludes from public school science classes the teaching of subjects which the overwhelming majority of scientists agree are either not science or are debunked baloney.

    Is David Wilford really afraid that this bill will result in some sort of “silencing” of “legitimate” science education in Wisconsin’s public school? I am still waiting to hear from David Wilford what appropriate scientific subject is going to be “prohibited” from teaching in public school science classes.

    As for PZ Myers’ objections, he first shot from the hip, then muttered a quickly and easily refuted second tier argument which he hasn’t returned to resuscitate (good luck with that, PZ).

    I wish Wisconsin the best of luck in getting this bill — or a modified bill which fulfills the purpose of this bill — passed. Wisconsin is home to a great many scientists, as well as a great many religious people who are sick and tired of seeing their faith dragged into science class as if it’s merely a newly discovered subatomic particle with a halo bolted on.

  47. #47 roger
    February 17, 2006

    “I wish”, not “If wish”

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