Banning intelligent design books

In honor of Banned Book Week, Casey Luskin has posted a series of entries with the idea that Intelligent Design (ID) books are being “banned” in various places across the United States. This is part of his and other ID proponents strategy to play the role of the oppressed to gain acceptance. This follows the stories of people losing their jobs due to a belief in ID as shown in the movie Expelled and the idea that school children are not being allowed to express their “academic freedom.”

In the broadest sense, banning books should never be tolerated. However, there is nothing wrong with not allowing certain books from certain places/ times. For example, sexually explicit materials should not be allowed into the kindergarten classroom. Of course this example is in the extreme, but I think it makes the point.

So should pro-ID books be banned from certain areas? Of course. ID is completely unsupported by any evidence. Any place that deals with facts and reality (such as a science classroom) should discourage the use of this material. Likewise, astrology, homeopathy, and other such pseudoscience should be “banned” from use in a science class. But, should pro-ID books be really banned. Of course not. Just like there is an endless supply of books based on any other pseudoscience, pro-ID books should be available for those that want them.

There is a lot of grey areas in between the two extremes above. What about public school libraries? or what about university campuses? I really believe that this should be left up to the particular library or collection. These types of decisions have to be made all the time on various subjects, and Intelligent Design should not really be any different.

I disagree with Luskin’s assertions that when a librarian decides not to put a pro-ID book in their library that it is censorship. By that logic, every book that has been passed over for any reason could be considered censorship.  It is not censorship, it is judgment.  

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Discovery Institute believes pseudoscientific “strengths and weaknesses” should be taught in Texas

Texas_population_map In a recent post from the Discovery Institute, Casey Luskin writes that "Texas Darwinists Reject the Scientific Method of Analyzing “Strengths and Weaknesses” of Scientific Theories." The post argues that it is fundamentally unscientific to not teach the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution (read: teach the controversy) to students. Luskin’s writing is in regard to the Texas State Board of Education proposal to remove the above language from their academic standards.

As I have written before, terms like "academic freedom" and "strengths and weaknesses" are words that sound innocuous when referring to evolution, but really are a stealth attack on teaching reality. Does it really make sense for the classrooms of elementary and secondary education to critically analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a theory that has withstood 150 years of scientific inquiry by thousand of professional scientists?

So I guess the new bill does not leave any room for flexibility in the students mind about the theory? That is what Casey Luskin and the Discovery Institute imply. Well, here are a few select passages from the proposed standards (emphasis mine):


The student knows evolutionary theory is an explanation for the diversity of life…

[students will] evaluate models according to their limitations in representing biological objects or events.

So, evolutionary theory is AN explanation for the diversity of life; it is not THE explanation for the diversity of life. So students can see that there are other options out there, and they also see that these are models that have limitations.  Seems pretty reasonable to me without requiring the bogus “weaknesses” requirement.

Here is another one from the proposal (originally taken from the National Academy of Sciences):

Scientific explanations are open to testing under different conditions, over time, and by independent scientific researchers. Many theories in science are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially; however, they are subject to continuing refinement as new areas of science emerge or as new technologies enable observations and experiments that were not possible previously.

Yup, the new standards still say that science is subject to change as new information becomes available. Not nearly as dogmatic as we are led to believe.

Still, is there really any harm with leaving a few criticisms of evolution in the lesson plan? Luskin brings up some of the potential problems as illustrated by the NCSE in a recent article. One is that it will "dilute the treatment of evolution." This seems pretty straight forward to me. More time teaching criticisms means less time teaching the theory. The NCSE also says that teaching evolution will "damage and corrupt science textbooks." This is because it would allow board members to reject any textbook simply because it doesn’t substantially address strengths and weaknesses despite it being the best book in every other regard.

But what does Luskin say about these criticisms by the NCSE?

"Such authoritarian statements have no place in science, and they serve to indoctrinate students rather than teach students how to think critically and skeptically—like scientists. "

Ignoring the point that these students are not qualified to really critically analyze evolutionary theory, the question is then, how much evidence is enough that it wouldn’t be considered indoctrination? Would any amount ever be enough for creation/ intelligent design proponents? A scientific theory can never be really proven; it can only be disproven. Evolution has never been disproven and it has had plenty of chances for it to be wrong. Over the 150 years since its inception, it has only increased in validity with increasing evidence.  Teaching reality is not indoctrination.

Here is an interesting quote from the post:

Discovery Institute believes that if scientists can dispute the core claims of neo-Darwinism (as these scientists do), then students can learn about those views:

Good, something we can agree on. If and/ or when scientists can actually discover something that disputes the core of evolution, then I would be all in favor for it. However, there would need to be some strongly compelling evidence. So far, there is no evidence, let alone compelling evidence. On the other hand, I have seen plenty of pseudoscientific views that are against evolution.

Don’t forget, evolution could be easily disproven. If a precambrian rabbit was found, that would completely disprove evolution. If we found out that the human gene for cytochrome C was more similar to an amoeba’s cytochrome C than to a chimpanzee, then that would disprove evolution. Every new gene sequence and every new fossil find could potentially disprove evolution, but none have. Until that time, we should teach evolution as it is, and not waste student’s time with pseudoscientific criticism that have no basis in reality.

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Academic freedom: should religous students learn other religions?

The Discovery Institute is all up in arms about an editorial that appeared in American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Today. The writing in question is by Gregory A. Petsko, the president of ASBMB, on the state of evolution denial. He discusses the propaganda film Expelled and the Trojan horse legislative activities given the label “academic freedom.”

One interesting point that Petsko makes is drawing a parallel between having “academic freedom” to teach competing ideas on the evolution of man and on having “academic freedom” in religious institutions. He argues that if teaching competing views is such a good idea when teaching evolution, then it should be helpful for students in religious institutions to learn about other religious ideas, including the idea of no religion.

It has been the mantra of Intelligent Design(ID) proponents that students should be exposed to differing ideas and opinions. They say that his will only improve student’s understanding and critical thinking skills. Based on their logic, you would have thought that they would support such a move in religious schools. The fact that they got so offended by Petsko suggestion implies that they are not really interested in student’s overall education. The Discovery Institute is just interested in pushing ID on students.

I do not think that we should force students at religious schools to learn about other religions no more than I think a evidence-less theory like intelligent design should be forced on kids. The fact is that the ID proponents are cherry picking a few ideas that they want to promote. Nearly every subject in school could be taught in the guise of “academic freedom.” For example, holocaust denial should be brought up as well as the “faked” moon landings. Astrology, alchemy, and numerology would also need to be taught. Such ideas are ridiculous and like ID should be ignored. Students have enough to learn as it is.

Angela Hvitved, in another editorial in ASBMB Today, summarizes what is really at the heart of these “academic freedom” bills:

at best, these bills are unnecessary and do not provide any additional legitimate protection and, at worst, provide cover for introducing intelligent design and other nonscientific topics into the science classroom

They bring up the old argument that there are quite a few scientists who do not accept evolution. It is clear that these scientists are in such a minority that bringing them up is ridiculous. I wonder if they has ever heard of ‘project steve’? This idea shows that there are so many more scientists that accept evolution that the number of scientists with just the name Steve (or Stephanie) will outnumber all the scientists that reject it. Well, the count is now up to 958 (as of September 25th), compared to their 700+. Besides, only a small percentage of these scientists have anything to do with biology.

To end, I am going to quote Petsko’s editorial, where he gives a nice summary of why intelligent design (and creation) should not be given any credence:

The fact that some people believe nonsense does not give that nonsense scientific credibility. A challenge to existing scientific principles must be based on evidence, not on belief, and there isn’t a shred of evidence to support either creationism or intelligent design.

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Top 10 Intelligent Design Tactics

Note:This post is written with respect to Poe’s Law.

Here are the top ten ways that ID proponents can further the cause of elevating Intelligent Design to a level where it is accepted at or above Darwinism.

  1. Teach the controversy – Contrary to what Darwinists say, there are still gaps in the theory of evolution.  These areas that have not been fully explored create gaps in the theory and are perfect for intelligent design to fill.  Don’t mention the fact that these gaps are getting smaller and smaller with each new experiment.
  2. Ignore evidence – When a new study supporting evolution comes out, simply ignore this new evidence.  If you never talk about it, people might not know it exists!  Also, pretend old lines of evidence don’t exist either.  A good example would be if someone asks about transitional fossils.  Don’t acknowledge the myriad of examples, just say that there aren’t any.
  3. Spin evidence – Whether or not new evidence supports evolution, it should be considered as evidence of design.  Although ignoring evidence is still preferable.
  4. Evolution is just a theory – Remind people that Darwin’s theory of evolution is just that: a theory.  Since it is just a theory, then it has not been proven 100%.  Do not mention that it is a strong theory that has withstood 150 years of scrutiny.
  5. Science is a religion – Tell people that science requires as much faith as religion.  Scientists don’t question, they just blindly trust what other Darwinists are saying.
  6. The designer is not necessarily God – If intelligent design is ever to be taught in schools, it has to be distanced from religion.  Tell people you don’t know who is the “Designer.”  Say it could be God, but could also be aliens or someone else entirely.  Do not mention how nearly every organization promoting ID is full of Christians.
  7. Confusing people with math – People have a hard time with large numbers.  Simply say that the odds of life beginning on earth by itself are something like 1 in 100 trillion.  Don’t worry about there being absolutely no basis for these numbers.
  8. Academic freedom – Take advantage of the politically correct times in which we live.  Everybody loves freedom! Disguising your motives to teach intelligent design as science under the sign of freedom.  They wouldn’t want to deny you any freedom would they?
  9. Promote analogies – With analogies, one can convey an idea or convince another person without having any real evidence.  Plus you can twist any analogy to look like it supports any conclusion you want.  For example, you can say that the eye looks exactly like a camera even though the eye has a blind spot and the detectors are located underneath layers of cells.
  10. Do not generate hypotheses – If you make a hypothesis, then that will open the door to actual experiments being done.  This is undesirable due to the odds of success being so low.  Stick with using the above propagandist techniques.

If i have missed any techniques that should be added to the list, please let me know.  If you need to learn more about Poe’s law, find out here.

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Science’s big problem is not anit-religious prejudice

In a recent post entitled “Gutsy Article on Science Students Still Avoids Problem of Anti-Religious Prejudice,” Bruce Chapman writes about how he thinks that religious students are being persecuted in higher education science classes:

That problem is the contemporary hostility that many committed Christian young people, and perhaps other religious youth, encounter in the sciences these days.  Even those who have not experienced it become alert to it and, in turn, may be discouraged.

Of course they are being alerted to it, or at least the idea that it is happening.  Ben Stein’s propaganda piece “Expelled” is undoubtedly to blame, as well as groups like the Discovery Institute.

Chapman cannot site even one study that shows his point, therefore he has no proof that this is happening.  He doesn’t even know if this supposed prejudice effects a students career choice.  I personally don’t think it does.  My boss is religious, my lab mate is very religious, I worked with a guy who went onto divinity school after getting his masters, and there is a full professor at my university who is a preacher.  Is this a representative sample of higher education?  I think so, but I don’t go around asking people their religious views.  It does not have relevance to my work and it is none of my business.

Chapman goes on to say:

If it is known that they do not accept Darwinian accounts of the rise and development of life, or even the development of universe before life arose on Earth, students know that they could be graded down in some classes

He thinks these things are expressions of religious freedom.  In reality, they are denials of scientific concepts and facts.  They are necessary for the understanding of how the universe works.  Could it be that students who don’t believe in evolution or who believe in an earth that is only 6000 years old are not critical thinkers who don’t belong in science?  I think so.

Towards the end, Chapman brings his post around to the conclusion that his perceived anti-religious prejudice is hurting the progress of science and stopping people from going into science.  If Chapman being a proponent of intelligent design doesn’t make him a hypocrite, I don’t know what does.  Intelligent design is an antiscience.  It distorts or ignores the real science that is out there and replaces it with terrible pseudoscientific ideas.

It is not really hard to see why American science is in a downward spiral.  Scientists are often if not always depicted as asocial nerds that never leave their lab.  Actually, it has gotten worse recently where Ben Stein basically said that scientists are all evil.  Add onto that the low pay for most scientists, the ever increasing budget cuts (in the US at least), and the fact that you have to wait until your 30s to get a real job, and its no wonder nobody wants to be a scientist.

Louisiana academic freedom legislation roundup

The Evolution News and Views blog from the Discovery Institute has put out a series of posts bragging about the success of academic freedom legislation. They seem to think that this is some big win for the side of ID (and irrationality).  Well, they are right. The newest strategy of ID proponents seems to attack evolutionary theory by pointing out its supposed flaws and weaknesses. ID of course can then swoop on in and become the alternate “theory”. This is exactly what these bills aim to accomplish which can be found here.

One of the provisions of the bill is that it should not be

construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.

This is exactly the reason these bills have been called stealth pro-ID bills. ID is not science; it is religion. However, it does masquerade as science allowing it to be taught in schools as science, which is why it is so dangerous. Furthermore, just because the bill says that it is not meant to be for any particular religion, or subset of religion, doesn’t mean that the teachers themselves won’t take advantage to spread their particular brand. I can remember several teachers in school who ignored the standard curriculum and textbook in favor of their own material.

Getting back to the construed language, here is what Sen. Ben Nevers, who introduced the bill, said when discussing why he proposed the bill:

They (The Louisiana Family Forum) believe that scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin’s theory. This would allow the discussion of scientific facts,” Nevers said. “I feel the students should know there are weaknesses and strengths in both scientific arguments.

As we all know, creationism is a religious doctrine.  Therefore, the that shalt not construe language is simply BS.

The bill aims to allow teachers to use alternative materials as teaching aids when discussing controversial subjects, including evolution. I am not really too sure what other science subjects are controversial, but I can make a few guesses though. Geology: the determination of the age of various fossils, including transition fossils. Astronomy: the red-shifted spectra of stars and galaxies that show the universe is ~13.7 billion years old. But why stop at science? History: the holocaust, crusades, slavery, etc. All of these subjects could be deemed controversial.

I find it odd that this type of bill, chiefly aimed against evolution, would be proposed in the face of more and more evidence arising for evolution. Within the last two years, we have seen the discovery of a key transition fossil (Tiktaalik), the observation of phenotypic changes in isolated lizard populations, and most recently, the spontaneous ability to metabolize a new carbon source in E. coli. At the same time, no real evidence has been produced in favor of ID/creation or evidence against evolution. This sort of absurdity is like if there was a murder investigation ongoing and new pieces of evidence had been appearing everyday to point to a particular person, but the detectives decide to focus on a person that has no motive and no evidence against them.

This bill, and others like it are dangerous because they have the possibility of removing any real academic standards. Education should be limited to the facts and not subject to interpretation or by any religious views.

Academic Freedom does not mean freedom from reality

From the May 16, 2008 entry entitled “Evolution Academic Freedom Bill Submitted in South Carolina is Sixth this Year“.

Casey Luskin reminds us that there are currently six proposed “academic freedom” bills in the United States.  As you are probably aware, the new technique used by creationists/IDers is to attack evolutionary theory by using the guise of “academic freedom.”  It is a decent technique because who doesn’t like freedom?  A link to the new bill can be found here.

One of the provisions really caught my eye:

D)Public school educators must be supported in finding effective ways to present controversial science curriculum and must be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review the scientific strengths and weaknesses of theories of biological and chemical evolution in an objective manner.

The only reason that evolution is “controversial” is because of groups like the Discovery Institute trying to push their religion into science.  Within the scientific community (the people that study science daily) there is no controversy.  What is worse is that the educators must be “supported” in finding ways to undermine evolutionary theory.  Does supported = forced?

Casey ends with quote from Senator Fair:

“The very nature of science is to ask questions and to go where the evidence leads.” If the evidence is on the side of evolution, then the NCSE has nothing to fear from this bill.

The evidence is on the side of evolution.  However, young minds are easily persuaded by a teacher that doesn’t fully understand the preponderance evidence for evolution or one who is going to bring their denialism into the classroom.  The fear of the bill comes from the ability of teachers to indoctrinate students into nonscientific thinking and lead to a noncritical view of the world.