Todd Wood is a professor at Bryan College, in Dayton, TN. Dayton, you’ll recall, was the home of the Scopes trial, and Bryan College was named after Scopes’s prosecutor, William Jennings Bryan, and was founded in part to carry on Bryan’s anti-evolution crusade. Wood himself is a prominent young earth creationist, a leader in the creationist answer to phylogenetics (baraminology), and director of Bryan’s Center for Origins Research. Which is to say, he’s a creationist’s creationist.
And he’s against the Tennessee monkey bill.
Last month, he wrote to Governor Haslam, asking him to oppose the bill. He’s pulled down the letter from his blog, but for posterity and clarity, here’s what he said:
Dear Governor Haslam:
My name is Todd Charles Wood, and I am a biology professor at Bryan College in Dayton, TN. You might recognize Bryan College as the Christian school named for William Jennings Bryan and founded in the wake of the Scopes Trial. (Please note that the opinions expressed in this letter are my own and do not represent the opinions of Bryan College.)
I recently noted that the Tennessee state senate passed SB0893, the so-called “Monkey Bill” (ironically on William Jennings Bryan’s birthday of all days). I am sure that you’ve already received quite a number of heated letters and phone calls about this bill. As you certainly know, critics of the bill view it as a thinly-veiled attempt to inject creationism into the public science classrooms.
Because of my religious convictions, I am a committed creationist, but unlike many creationists, I have grown quite weary of the creation-evolution propaganda war. I believe this bill is an ideal example of what’s wrong with the creation-evolution war. For example, since the bill clearly states that religious discussions are not protected, it could not be used to permit “some Sunday school teachers to hijack biology class by proxy,” as the editorial in the March 21 edition of the Tennesseean suggested. On the other hand, my own reading of the bill indicates that it provides no protection that teachers don’t already have. Teachers are already well within their rights to discuss any scientific evidence that pertains to the prescribed curriculum and to encourage critical thinking about it. Many already do. Any teacher trying to bring creationist arguments into a public science classroom will run afoul of legal precedent. Judge Jones’s decision in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District found that the anti-evolution arguments of Intelligent Design are a form of religiously-motivated creationism. The controversy surrounding the other issues mentioned by SB0893 (human cloning and climate change) are also permissible subjects to discuss in science classes already, and therefore do not need any additional protection. Thus, if critics are correct that this is an attempt to inject creationism into Tennessee science classes, the language is so vague and watered-down that it would be incapable of performing that task.
Legally then, it seems that this bill is simply unnecessary. It does not directly challenge Kitzmiller v. Dover, and it does not offer any protection that does not already exist. Because the bill is useless, I ask you to veto it. Please do not allow Tennessee to become a pawn in the creation-evolution propaganda war.
Todd Charles Wood
Wood later explained that he withdrew the post because he was concerned that the blog post “doesn’t meet my own quality standards,” and because a colleague indicated unspecified legal naivete. Since I assume he actually mailed a copy of the letter as well, and it’s thus part of the public record, I think it’s worth preserving.
Also worth preserving are the lengths creationists went to in trying to press Wood to withdraw his opposition. According to his blog today:
I took my letter to the governor down less than 24 hours after I put it up, and a few days later, a staff member at the college passed along a letter from John West of the Discovery Institute trying to drum up some resistance on the Bryan campus to my opinion. As far as I know, his efforts had zero effect on campus, since I didn’t hear from any other person on campus about it. In his letter, West described me as “one cranky self-described ‘creationist’ who seems to get his facts from Panda’s Thumb.” Then in a recent blog post, Casey Luskin (also of the Discovery Institute) described the governor’s ambivalence about the bill (which mirrored my own) as the result of being “duped by the Darwin lobby.” It’s comments like these that affirm my own refusal to identify with the “intelligent design movement.” To address serious misgivings about the Discovery Institute’s legal strategies with personal insults is disgusting. Governor Haslam and I both have brains of our own, and we can think for ourselves.
What’s particularly entertaining about this is in promoting a bill which purports to advance academic freedom, the Discovery Institute chose to assault the academic freedom of a fellow creationist. The Disco. ‘tute truly seems dedicated to redefining irony at every opportunity.
Wood closes by offering an assessment of the current state of ID that I think is widely shared among many of ID’s early supporters, and in some sense by many of its opponents:
You know, when ID was picking up steam in the nineties, I was really excited. I thought that this sort of research program could be incredibly fruitful and helpful. Maybe I misunderstood its beginnings, but somewhere along the line, the movement seems to have lost its way. It went from an interesting research program to a populist anti-evolution campaign that often recycles arguments directly from vintage creationism. Maybe that’s my naïveté shining through again, but I really don’t think that ID was intended to be just a disguised form of creationism to circumvent court rulings against religion in science classrooms.
Not that ID’s opponents ever thought it was a genuine challenge to modern evolutionary biology – that was always PR fluff. But for a while it seemed like they might actually break some new philosophical ground, and perhaps generate something that, while wrong, would at least be intellectually stimulating. But, as Wood puts it so eloquently, they’ve never really gotten beyond being “a populist anti-evolution campaign that often [or, indeed, exclusively -JR] recycles arguments directly from vintage creationism.” There’s nothing new or interesting here anymore.
The monkey bill is an interesting legal innovation, and the consequences for classrooms in Tennessee may yet be dire. But the ID movement was never built on a promise of legal innovation, and as they themselves declared: “Without solid scholarship, research and argument, the project would be just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade.” And that’s all they have left.
you seem to have abandoned scholarship and the intellectual community, and instead embraced apologetics and political persuasion. …
…you desperately need to get out of your freakish little gated community and talk to people who know that the initiation of cancer is indeed fueled to a large extent by driver mutations, and that genome sizes are indeed a hard problem for design theorists to tackle. When you have Wells whispering to you in one ear, and the bizarre perspectives of Richard Sternberg echoing in your mind, you have a huge problem: you’re out of touch with real science, with real biology, with the ideas that you have to engage …
Your Discovery Institute is a horrific mistake, an epic intellectual tragedy that is degrading the minds of those who consume its products and bringing dishonor to you and to the church. It is for good reason that Casey Luskin is held in such extreme contempt by your movement’s critics, and there’s something truly sick about the pattern of attacks that your operatives launched in the weeks after the Biola event. It’s clear that you have a cadre of attack dogs that do this work for you, and some of them seem unconstrained by standards of integrity. I can’t state this strongly enough: the Discovery Institute is a dangerous cancer on the Christian intellect, both because of its unyielding commitment to dishonesty and because of its creepy mission to undermine science itself. I’d like to see you do better, but I have no such hope for your institute. It needs to be destroyed, and I will do what I can to bring that about.
When creationists and evolution’s defenders can agree about the perfidy of the Discovery Institute, I think it’s time for some serious self-reflection in Seattle.