Friday, September 30, 2005

The Dissing of Young-Earth Creationism

Writing at the Christian web site Agape Press, Brian Fahling offers these thoughts about how it is evolution, not ID, that most resembles creationism.

It's the usual silliness: Evolutionists are blinded by their atheistic presuppositions. There are terrible flaws in Darwinism. The ID folks start with no presuppositions and are just following the evidence. Blah blah blah.

But this caught my eye:


Creationism is an a priori argument drawn from a particular interpretation of the Genesis account of creation. In the context of a public classroom, that means the God of the Bible is the starting point and assumed ground of life's origin and the origin of the cosmos. Drawing from a literal reading of Genesis, creationists postulate a “young earth” and six 24-hour days of creation. All empirical data are subject to and analyzed within this interpretive grid.

Intelligent design, however, is an a posteriori argument; it is the inference drawn from examination of complex structures in living organisms and the universe. Instead of attributing the design evident in these structures to God, or undirected processes and natural selection, the intelligent design theorist merely posits an intelligent cause behind life and the cosmos. The inference is not held as the only possible explanation, merely, for now, the most plausible.


This is a standard talking-point for the ID crowd. ID is based on science but YEC is not. Since the Supreme Court has effectively ruled that teaching Scientific Creationism is unconstitutional, the ID's are desperate to distance themselves from it.

Sadly, Fahling's distinction is nonsense. YEC's do believe, personally, that the Bible is a legitimate source of evidence about natural history, and that science should be conducted through a thesitic lens. But most ID folks hold precisely the same belief.

On the other hand, the YEC's also claim that their specific assertions about natural history are justified entirely by the best available scientific evidence. It is their claim that one should accept ideas like a young-Earth and global flood not just because the Bible tells you to, but because the evidence points in that direction.

For example, in the book Scientific Creationism, edited by Henry Morris, we find this:


The purpose of Scientific Creationism is, first, to treat all of the more pertinent aspects of the subject of origins and to do this solely on a scientific basis, with no references to the Bible or to religious doctrine. The treatment is positive, rather than negative, showing that the creation model of origins and history may be used to correlate the facts of science at least as effectively as the evolution model.


And Fahling's statement that YEC's simply postulate a young Earth:


As a matter of fact, the creation model does not, in its basic form, require a short time scale. It merely assumes a period of special creation sometime in the past, without necessarily stating when that was. On the other hand, the evolution model does require a long time scale. The creation model is thus free to consider the evidence on its own merits, whereas the evolution model is forced to reject all evidence that favors a short time scale. (Emphasis in original).


The claim made by YEC is that the methods used by scientists to estimate the age of the Earth are fundamentally flawed, and that there are many other lines of evidence that point to a young-Earth. These claims are not correct, but the point here is that they are based on an assessment of the evidence, and not on Scripture.

We should also remember that all of the criticisms of evolution made by ID folk find anticipations in the YEC literature. In particular, YEC's reason from the complexity of organisms to the existence of a designer. There is no distinction between ID and YEC on this count.

It has become commonplace for ID folks to tell the most outrageous lies and hurl the most vicious smears at evolutionists. Now it seems the YEC's are coming in for the same treatment.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Argento on Dover

For a humorous description of the goings-on in Dover, have a look at Mike Argento's essay here.


He got into what some people believe later. Young Earth creationists, for instance, believe our planet is between 6,000 and 10,000 years old, based on analysis of Scripture. Sure, you can believe that, Pennock said. But it ignores the evidence or claims that the evidence was placed there by God to fool us, which, when you think about, is a kind of odd way to describe the deity, as some kind of cosmic prankster.

And that's when Pennock unloaded this: “For all we know, the world may have been created five minutes ago and we've all been implanted with memory chips.”

Whoa.

Dude.

And thus did intelligent design somehow join the wow-have-you-ever-looked-at-your-hand-I-mean-really-looked school of stoner intellectual epistemology.

Later, the trial took a fun turn, if your idea of fun is watching a lawyer badger some woman.

You knew it was going to be fun when Richard Thompson, another of the lawyers for the school district, referred to “a bit of street wisdom” while questioning Julie Ann Smith, one of the plaintiffs in the case and the mother of two.

Thompson, a white guy in a dark blue suit on the descending side of middle age, is all about the street, homey.

The street wisdom was “don't believe everything you read in the newspapers.”

Word, Home-Slice.

And yet, that wasn't the most entertaining aspect of Wednesday's proceedings.

That came when Robert Muise, the third member of the school district's legal team, rose to object when plaintiff Beth Eveland began to testify about a letter to the editor she had written.

“Hearsay,” he intoned.

In general legal terms, hearsay is essentially a witness testifying to something they learned from a third party, and, except for some exceptions, is not permitted in court since the person repeating the words has no idea whether they are true because they were obtained third-hand. (And some people say this column has no educational content.)

In this case, Muise was objecting to Eveland testifying about her own words.

Judge John E. Jones III, the federal jurist hearing the case, looked at Muise, bearing an expression that he couldn't really believe what he just heard.

The judge asked Muise, “Who wrote the letter?”

Muise said, “She did,” and sat down.

As they say on the street, the judge punked him.

Saletan on ID

Lithwick's Slate colleague, William Saletan, has also weighed in with a recent piece about ID.

Saletan's last foray into this subject was this awful piece of dreck from four monhs ago. At that time he was lecturing scientists about how ID was different from creationism, and that ID folks were making a big concession by playing on science's turf. He argued that ID's agreed that theories need to be testable and weighed against the evidence.

I skewered that essay in this blog entry. I wrote:


Saletan goes on in this vein, trying to persuade us that the latest crop of ID folks are so much more modest than their fundamentalist brethren. He analyzes in scrupulous detial the changes in the standards that the ID's are trying to implement and compares them to the changes the young-Earthers tried to make six years ago. That this modesty is a sham born out of political necessity has apparently eluded him.


In his latest missive, Saletan seems to have come around to this view. He writes:


Four months ago, when evolution and “intelligent design” (ID) squared off in Kansas, I defended ID as a more evolved version of creationism. ID posits that complex systems in nature must have been designed by an intelligent agent. The crucial step forward is ID's concession that “observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building”—not scriptural authority—define science. Having acknowledged that standard, advocates of ID must now demonstrate how hypotheses based on it can be tested by experiment or observation. Otherwise, ID isn't science.

This week, ID is on trial again in Pennsylvania. And so far, its proponents aren't taking the experimental test they accepted in Kansas. They're ducking it.


Saletan makes some other decent points, most notably in regards to Michael Behe's absurd suggestion that ID could be tested by taking a colony of bacteria and “challengin” them to evolve a flagellum. Saletan writes:


Behe is right that such an experiment, by showing that random mutation and natural selection can produce the flagellum, would disprove the claim that they can't. He calls the latter claim—that Darwinism fails to produce the flagellum—the “flip side” of his claim that the flagellum required intelligent design. But the Darwinism-fails claim isn't just the “flip side” of the design-is-necessary claim. It's the whole thing. The theory that's being tested in the experiment is Darwinism. If Darwinism succeeds, ID would be disproved, but only to the extent that ID consists of saying Darwinism would fail. And to that extent, ID isn't an explanatory theory in its own right. It's just a restatement of the first half of the Dover School Board's policy: a discussion of gaps in Darwinism.


Saletan's growth in this area is sufficiently impressive that I won't nitpick the many small details Saletan gets wrong.

Lithwick on ID

Over at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick offers these worthy sentiments:


My modest proposal would be that, instead of using intelligent design merely to fill in the gaps and inconsistencies of our most intractable scientific puzzles, we roll back what we've already learned about science and plug God into the equation at the outset. Kind of cut out those annoying scientific middlemen. That apple didn't fall onto Sir Isaac Newton's head because of gravity. It was God. God didn't want Newton to study science, and he doesn't want us to, either. And I, for one, am relieved. As Galileo famously said, and Teen Talk Barbie famously paraphrased: “Science is hard.”


Not the most original sentiments, but entirely correct. To practicing scientists it is obvious that there is no practical difference between saying, “A designer with unfathomable power did this,” and “We have no idea how this was done.” ID contributes nothing to science.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Sartwell on Dover

Crispin Sartwell, a political science professor at Dickinson College, has this interesting, but puzzling, op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times. Sartwell writes:


I DON'T BELIEVE that the universe was intelligently designed. I don't think that “intelligent design” is a scientific theory: It appeals to the supernatural and cannot be empirically tested. I think its proponents have religious motivations for trying to insert it into the curriculum.

But I also believe it should be taught in high school biology classes.


Sartwell is building up to the idea that ID should be taught as an historical curiosity, like alchemy or astrology. It should be taught as part of a broader project to present Darwin in his proper historical context.

I think that's a fine idea, and I know of nobody on my side of this who disagrees with. But that's not what the fight is about. The question is whether ID should be presented as a respectable scientific theory. The reason it should not be presented that away is that all of its major scientific assertions are demonstrably false.

Sartwell goes on to say:


To understand what the Dover school board was trying to accomplish, consider how you would feel if your children, in the course of a compulsory education, were taught doctrines that contradicted your most cherished beliefs — that blandly invalidated your worldview without discussion. Think about being heavily taxed to destroy your own belief system. That's how the people in this community feel.


Well said. This is the one point that gives me pause in thinking about this issue. While I find the beliefs of Christian evangelicals to be completely irrational, the fact remains that they are deeply held. So, yes, I can imagine how it feels to be forced to pay for an education that you belive puts your child's very soul in jeopardy.

However, the reason I am not more sympathetic to this view is that I don't belive the sympathy is reciprocated. Sartwell is being very high-minded and ecumenical here, but the religious zealots on the other side do not share his even-handedness. Consider the issue of having “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Do you think for one second that the School Board majority that voted in favor of ID ever worries about telling atheist children that belief in God and loyalty to their country go hand in hand? Of course they don't. Quite the opposite.

Many libertarians argue that the whole idea of public education is doomed to failure because of this problem. Everything is potentially offensive to someone, after all. They argue that all education should be private, so that people pay for the education they want. But surely it's not as bad as all that. Society has a stake in ensuring that all of its citizens have a basic education in the major disciplines, especially science. And surely at some point we're allowed to say, “Believe what you want in private, but your views will not be accorded respect in the schools.” No one worries about the sensibilities of the bigoted parents when Martin Luther King is presented sympathetically in social studies class.

The bottom line is that telling high school students that ID has any scientific legitmacy is tantamount to lying to them. If you are going to teach biology then teach the real thing. You teach the basics of evolution, what it is and why scientists have so much confidence in it, without fanfare, and then you move on to the next topic.

Anyway, it's certainly a difficult question and Sartwell is right to bring it up.

Sartwell continues:


The clash between evolution and intelligent design is not a clash between two rival scientific theories. It is the latest moment in the most profound intellectual dilemma of the West: the disagreement between reason and faith, Athens and Jerusalem, science and Scripture.


Again, well said. But if ID is not a scientific theory, then why should it be presented in science classes?


Neither reason nor faith can establish itself as the exclusively desirable strategy for generating beliefs. If the question is who has the science, the answer is obvious: Charles Darwin. In fact, as far as the use of reason goes, intelligent design has been as completely destroyed as any view ever has been: The great British philosopher David Hume achieved its utter devastation in “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion” in the 18th century. Its current proponents have done nothing substantial to advance the argument.

But Hume was the first to admit that all of his arguments left faith untouched.


That first sentence is far too ecumenical for my taste (reason may not be the exclusively desirable strategy for generating beliefs, but it's a whole lot more reliable than faith). That last sentence is weird as well. Of course no logical argument can touch faith. Being impervious to logic is what faith is all about. But the part in between is excellent!

Sartwell continues:


Science classes typically make use of history and social context in order to, among other things, display the importance of science to human development and to make students understand science as a compelling human concern. For example, there is no reason, in an astronomy course, not to talk about the fact that Galileo was persecuted by the Catholic Church. If you don't put Galileo's theories in the context of the philosophical, religious and scientific beliefs of his era, and discuss Galileo's effects on the generations that followed, you cannot understand his achievement at all.

There is every reason, in giving a basic characterization of scientific method, to contrast it to medieval alchemy or astrology and so on. Whatever science may be, it is also a series of developments in human history; otherwise it cannot be understood and need not be.

The theory of evolution is a scientific development, but it is also a profound transformation of the way we understand ourselves. You cannot grasp Darwin's achievement without understanding what people believed before Darwin and how they have responded to his theories The alternative views are intrinsic to the meaning of the science, and the science is intrinsic to the question of what sorts of things we human beings are.


Great stuff! I agree with every word of it. But there's one more paragraph to come, and that's where things get confusing:


Taking 30 seconds to read an innocuous statement indicating that we are not unanimous is inadequate to present the genuine and profound debate about these matters. But it's a start. And if my kids come home asking the questions such a statement raises, I will regard that as a victory for their education in the sciences.


Huh? How does that follow from anything he said previously?

Didn't he just get through saying that ID should be presented as an historical curiosity, like alchemy and astrology? Didn't he just explain, in terms as strong as what I usually say at this blog, that ID is not science and has no merit?

Why does he now support a statement that contradicts all of that? The Dover School Board isn't telling kids that ID is an outdated historical curiosity. They are saying that it's a live scientific option.

And it is not the children of enlightened, well-educated parents like Sartwell who need to be instructed in the value of respecting disagreements and learning about all sides of an issue. It is the children of fundamentalist parents, the ones who tell their kids that dissent from their views means an eternity in Hell who need a lesson in open-mindedness. Many of these kids get one shot at hearing the real thing in science. To water it down at the request of society's most scientifically ignorant people would be a shame, to say the least.

But This is About Science, Right?

From today's New York Times:


Science teachers at the high school in Dover repeatedly resisted the school board's efforts to force them to teach creationism on equal footing with evolution in biology class, according to a former teacher who is among those challenging the board in a landmark trial.

The conflict in Dover grew so heated that in public meetings board members called opponents “atheists,” threatened to fire the science teachers and invoked Jesus' crucifixion as a reason to change the curriculum, two witnesses testified on Tuesday.


And later:


“We are not teaching intelligent design,” Mr. Bonsell said. “I've said that a million times and the news media just doesn't get it. I challenge everybody to read the statement and show me what was religious in the statement.”

But Aralene Callahan, a former board member, testified that Mr. Bonsell, the chairman of the curriculum committee, said at a school board retreat in 2003 that he did not believe in evolution and wanted “50-50” treatment in biology class for creationism and evolution.

The board wanted the science teachers to use a textbook that promotes intelligent design, “Of Pandas and People,” but the teachers balked at that too, Mr. Rehm said.

For about a year, Mrs. Callahan said, the school board refused to order new biology textbooks. Mrs. Callahan said that when she protested the delay at a meeting, another board member, Bill Buckingham, responded that the biology textbook was “laced with Darwinism.”


Golly! Throwing around the A word. That is heated.

A few posts back I was asked by a commenter why I get so angry with ID proponents. This article provides a good explanation of why I react that way.

Introducing ID into science classes is purely a device for using the public schools to promote religious propaganda. Everyone knows that. In their unguarded moments, the Dover School Board makes that explicit. The lawyers on both sides of the case know it, all of the witnesses know it, the judge knows it. Every blogger commenting on this case, from either side, knows it.

The legal issue being adjudicated here is whether the crazy people have managed to be sufficiently dishonest about their religious motivations. That is all. Have they buried their brain-dead religious twaddle under enough balderdash to sneak past a constitutional challenge?

The only mystery I see is this: How did a school district that managed to elect an anti-science majority to their school board manage to attract such a stellar group of science teachers?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Flightplan

Update: If you haven't seen the movie, beware of the comments. There are some small spoilers.


Wow! What a great movie! Jodie Foster is terrific and the plot is far more plausible than is typical for movies of this genre. Incredibly suspenseful. It's the best airplane movie since Airplane! Go see it immediately.

Roger Ebert agrees with me here:


How can a little girl simply disappear from an airplane at 37,000 feet? By asking this question and not cheating on the answer, “Flightplan” delivers a frightening thriller with an airtight plot. It's like a classic Locked Room Murder, in which the killer could not possibly enter or leave, but the victim is nevertheless dead. Such mysteries always have solutions, and so does “Flightplan,” but not one you will easily anticipate. After the movie is over and you are on your way home, some questions may occur to you, but the film proceeds with implacable logic after establishing that the little girl does not seem to be on board.


Stephanie Zacharek, of Salon, offers a different view:


The performance suits the movie too well: “Flightplan” is an exercise in edgy tedium, and even though it's only 90 minutes or so, it seems to last longer than an actual transatlantic flight. If you bring an eye mask and a few sleeping pills, you should get through it OK. A magazine or book wouldn't hurt, either. It'll be over before you know it.


Well, what can you expect from Zacharek? She liked the pathetic Fantastic Four but didn't like the magnificent Batman Begins, for heaven's sake.

Klein and Marple on Math Education

While you're over at the Los Angeles Times website, you can check out this op-ed from yesterday's edition. The article is by David Klein and Jennifer Marple, an education professor and high school math teacher respectively. The subject is math education in the Los Angeles Unified School District:


What accounts for the low achievement in middle and high school mathematics in the district? A standard explanation is lack of funds. Certainly more money could — if spent wisely — improve education in the LAUSD, but unfortunately the district uses scarce resources in ways that undermine student achievement.

Take professional development. The district requires math teachers to attend in-service meetings to learn more math and better ways to teach it. No one would quarrel with those goals, but the quality of professional development programs is often so poor that they are likely to cause more harm than good.

LAUSD teachers and math coaches are wrongly instructed not to use time-tested, standard methods of arithmetic. High school teachers are steered away from conventional and powerful techniques in algebra and directed to use unreliable “guess and check” methods and physical objects instead. Even elementary school teachers are discouraged from following their high-quality state-approved math books and from teaching the best methods of calculation, the standard algorithms of arithmetic.

Confirming our own observations, the head of one of the stronger LAUSD high school math departments lamented: “The mandatory 40-hour algebra training was worthless. We had to teach the trainers how to do algebra … the people in charge of making final decisions on math [in the LAUSD] don't know math!”

Too often, the math that teachers are taught at district training sessions is just plain wrong. For instance, middle school teachers are erroneously taught that fraction division is repeated subtraction. This makes sense only for special examples such as 3/4 divided by 1/4 . In this case, 3/4 may be decreased by 1/4 a total of three times, until nothing is left, and the quotient is indeed 3. Understanding division as repeated subtraction, however, is nonsensical for a problem like 1/4 divided by 2/3 because 2/3 cannot be subtracted from 1/4 even once. No wonder students have trouble with fractions in high school.


All of this matches well with my own experiences.

Barash on ID Dogmatism

David Barash, a psychology professor at the University of Washington, has this interesting op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times. The article is about “Brahean Blunders,” the reference being to 16th century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. Though undoubtedly a major figure in the history of astronomy (for the then unprecednted accuracy of his star charts), Brahe is also remembered for his stubborn refusal to accept the heliocentric model of the universe.

Part of Barash's article deals with evolution and ID:


I suspect that a Brahean Blunder lies at the core of the widespread refusal (at least in the United States) to accept an evolutionary origin for the human species, even among people who acknowledge the reality of natural selection.

Thus, current promoters of “intelligent design” generally accept the power and primacy of natural selection to generate small-scale evolutionary change. (The evolution of antibiotic resistance among bacteria, for example, is beyond dispute.) Ditto for the biochemical and genetic similarity of closely related species. But when it comes to their fundamental belief system, advocates of intelligent design aren't really very intelligent at all. Or rather, like Brahe, they have checked their intellects at the door, clinging desperately to the illusion that human beings are so special that only a benevolent god could have produced them and, therefore, the material world — like Brahe's sun and its five planets — must revolve around them.


Well said.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Post Shows the Way

In contrast to the lazy, worthless article from the Times, The Washington Post put some effort into its own article on the subject. They mention the Dover trial only as an afterthought. Instead, most of the article focuses on the fact that every breakthrough in biology in recent years has been entirely supportive of evolution:


When scientists announced last month they had determined the exact order of all 3 billion bits of genetic code that go into making a chimpanzee, it was no surprise that the sequence was more than 96 percent identical to the human genome. Charles Darwin had deduced more than a century ago that chimps were among humans' closest cousins.

But decoding chimpanzees' DNA allowed scientists to do more than just refine their estimates of how similar humans and chimps are. It let them put the very theory of evolution to some tough new tests.

If Darwin was right, for example, then scientists should be able to perform a neat trick. Using a mathematical formula that emerges from evolutionary theory, they should be able to predict the number of harmful mutations in chimpanzee DNA by knowing the number of mutations in a different species' DNA and the two animals' population sizes.

“That's a very specific prediction,” said Eric Lander, a geneticist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., and a leader in the chimp project.

Sure enough, when Lander and his colleagues tallied the harmful mutations in the chimp genome, the number fit perfectly into the range that evolutionary theory had predicted.

Their analysis was just the latest of many in such disparate fields as genetics, biochemistry, geology and paleontology that in recent years have added new credence to the central tenet of evolutionary theory: That a smidgeon of cells 3.5 billion years ago could -- through mechanisms no more extraordinary than random mutation and natural selection -- give rise to the astonishing tapestry of biological diversity that today thrives on Earth.

Evolution's repeated power to predict the unexpected goes a long way toward explaining why so many scientists and others are practically apoplectic over the recent decision by a Pennsylvania school board to treat evolution as an unproven hypothesis, on par with “alternative” explanations such as Intelligent Design (ID), the proposition that life as we know it could not have arisen without the helping hand of some mysterious intelligent force.


Sorry about the long excerpt, but I was enjoying that so much I couldn’t bear to cut it off. The rest of the article goes on in this vein, placing the trial in its proper scientific context. This really is a battle between science on one side, and irrational religious dogma on the other.

Almost no space is given to the Discovery Institute folks, and the charges they make are quickly answered:


Asked to provide examples of non-obvious, testable predictions made by the theory of Intelligent Design, John West, an associate director of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based ID think tank, offered one: In 1998, he said, an ID theorist, reckoning that an intelligent designer would not fill animals' genomes with DNA that had no use, predicted that much of the “junk” DNA in animals' genomes -- long seen as the detritus of evolutionary processes -- will someday be found to have a function.

(In fact, some “junk” DNA has indeed been found to be functional in recent years, though more than 90 percent of human DNA still appears to be the flotsam of biological history.) In any case, West said, it is up to Darwinists to prove ID wrong.

“Chance and necessity don't seem to be good candidates for explaining the appearance of higher-order complexity, so the best explanation is an intelligent cause,” West said.


The point the authors make, about the overwhelming majority of non-coding DNA having no known function, is a good one, but there’s a lot more to say as well. Non-coding DNA provides evidence for evolution in ways that have nothing to do with whether some function can be found for it. Have a look at this article for a detailed treatment of the subject.

The broader point, however, is that West is full of it. The only way ID predicts that “junk” DNA should have a function is if the designer is held up to some standards of efficiency and optimality. And I seem to recall that ID specifically disavows that idea:


Applied to biology, intelligent design maintains that a designing intelligence is required to account for the complex, information-rich structures in living systems. At the same time, it refuses to speculate about the nature of that designing intelligence. Whereas optimal design demands a perfectionistic designer who has to get everything just right, intelligent design fits our ordinary experience of design, which is conditioned by the needs of a situation, requires negotiation and tradeoffs, and therefore always falls short of some idealized global optimum.


That’s William Dembski, from pages 58-59 of his book The Design Revolution. So West is simply wrong about what ID predicts.

Incidentally, Dembski’s quote merits further analysis on its own. For example, any designer who has to worry about trade-offs based on the needs of the situation is plainly not omnipotent. If we take Dembski at his word, then the designer of ID is plainly not the Christian God.

We also shouldn’t let West’s final comment pass unnoticed. Biologists have shown time and again that natural selection acting on random variations provides an adequate explanation for biological complexity. On top of that, scientists show every day that nature still holds a lot of secrets we need to learn.

By contrast, we have a very good idea of what intelligence is capable of. Human beings possess the highest known level of intelligence, but we are not remotely capable of doing the things ID requires of its designer. This is what West describes as the more plausible explanation.

And he has the nerve to say that “Darwinists” have to prove ID wrong?

The Times on Dover

Last year the School Board in Dover, PA became the first in the nation to require the teaching of ID in public school science classrooms. They were subsequently sued, of course, and the trial begins today. If the judge, a George W. Bush appointee, finds against ID, then ID will quickly go the way of scientific creationism. Still there, but mostly at the level of background noise. On the other hand, if the judge rules in favor of ID, watch for a flood of other school districts to follow suit.

There’s a lot riding on this.

The The New York Times weighs in today with this weak article. It’s the typical dueling quotations, pass no judgments, push the standard story-line article on this subject. Let’s consider a few excerpts:


Sheree Hied, a mother of five who believes that God created the earth and its creatures, was grateful when her school board here voted last year to require high school biology classes to hear about “alternatives” to evolution, including the theory known as intelligent design.


That’s the opening paragraph of the article. It appears beneath a large photograph of the Heid family at the dinner table, heads bowed, saying grace. A little farther down is a photo of two of the plaintiffs, sitting on a sofa, clearly engaged in passionate conversation. Not very subtle.


“It was just our school board making one small decision,” Mrs. Hied said, “but it was just received with such an uproar.”

For Mrs. Hied, a meter reader, and her husband, Michael, an office manager for a local bus and transport company, the Dover school board's argument - that teaching intelligent design is a free-speech issue - has a strong appeal.
“I think we as Americans, regardless of our beliefs, should be able to freely access information, because people fought and died for our freedoms,” Mrs. Hied said over a family dinner last week at their home, where the front door is decorated with a small bell and a plaque proclaiming, “Let Freedom Ring.”


Wow! What started as one small decision of a local school board became, just a few sentences later, something worth invoking the memory of our fallen soldiers over.
Of course, free access to information is not the issue. Rather, the issue is whether we are going to use public school science classrooms to spread the lies and propaganda of an especially narrow form of protestant fundamentalism. Someone should remind Mrs. Heid that our soldiers dies protecting all of our freedoms, including the separation of church and state.


But in a split-level house on the other side of Main Street, at a desk flanked by his university diplomas, Steven Stough was on the Internet late the other night, keeping track of every legal maneuver in the case. Mr. Stough, who teaches life science to seventh graders in a nearby district, is one of the 11 parents suing the Dover district. For him the notion of teaching “alternatives” to evolution is a hoax.

“You can dress up intelligent design and make it look like science, but it just doesn't pass muster,” said Mr. Stough, a Republican whose idea of a fun family vacation is visiting fossil beds and natural history museums. “In science class, you don't say to the students, 'Is there gravity, or do you think we have rubber bands on our feet?'”


Just in case you didn't get it from the photographs, the anti-ID folks are the pointy-headed intellectuals, while the pro-ID folks are the plain-spoken religious simpletons. Got it?

I like Mr. Stough's sentiments, but someone should point out to him that the leadership of the party he supports is four-square opposed to his view of things.

The article goes on in this vein, careful to never say anything of substance. It's a very lazy performance from the Times. Still, there was one more interesting moment:


Mr. Rehm, a father of five and a science teacher who formerly taught in Dover, said the school board had long been pressing science teachers to alter their evolution curriculum, even requiring teachers to watch a videotape about “gaps in evolution theory” during an in-service training day in the spring of 2004.


Now I understand why high school teachers hate in-service days so much! The ignoramuses on the school board, who you can be sure know nothing at all about biology or paleontology, think in-service days are a time to try to indoctrinate teachers with a lot of religious nonsense. Lovely!