10 January 2006

Spinning creationism back into the classroom

It didn't take long for the Discovery Institute to try to call "Darwinists" intolerant for attempting to keep religious advocacy out of the schools. Casey Luskin discusses, over at the Discovery Institute's Media Complaints Division, the lawsuit that Americans United for the Separation of Church and State just filed against a California school. (Ed Brayton discusses this suit in depth over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.)

According to Casey, because the course is listed as a philosophy class, objecting to it, "represents the true heart of these Darwinists: they don't care about keeping religion out of the science classroom, their goal is to censor any non-evolutionary views in ANY venue regardless of whether or not it is religion or science!!" This misrepresents the actual situation.

The title of the course is "Philosophy of Design," but even Casey admits that there are some problems with that title:
"The course is misnamed--it actually advocates for young earth creationism and teaches out of the Bible. Such a course would have been more aptly titled something like "Philosophy of Origins" -- but not "Philosophy of design" because intelligent design has nothing to do with young earth creationism or Biblical views."
Strangely, though, after admitting that the course doesn't meet the DI's party line on definition of Intelligent Design, he goes on to castigate "Darwinists" for trying to exclude ID from schools:
Rev. Barry Lynn, who leads Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, apparently doesn't want ID even in a philosophy course, because it's too dangerous for young minds to learn about regardless of the venue.
Consistency is clearly not a hobgoblin of Casey's mind, regardless of its size. As Casey admits, this is a class that advocates for Young Earth Creationism and which teaches out of the Bible. Casey says that those positions aren't related to Intelligent Design, so why on earth would he think that objecting to a course that does such things is the same as objecting to a class on Intelligent Design?

Near the end of his diatribe, Casey poses a question, "What objection could one possibly have to having students learn about material some people consider religious in a philosophy course?" Casey clearly thinks that this question has a clear answer:
The answer is simple: Darwinists aren't interested in keeping non-evolutionary views just out of the science classroom, they want non-evolutionary views out of students minds completely. If anyone ever doubted the full measure of Darwinist dogmatism, this lawsuit should dispell those doubts.
Casey's answer is indeed clearly stated and simple. It is also wrong.

First, let's be clear about one thing: this is not a class that is having students "learn about material that some people consider religious." As Casey admits, this is a class that "advocates for young-earth creationism and teaches out of the Bible. [emphasis mine]" Advocating for something is not the same as teaching about it.

Second, the young-earth creationist position is not "material that some people consider religious." It is a religious position. You need look no further than the various statements of faith that the different young-earth groups support to see that.

Casey tries to squirm around the separation of church and state issue with a couple of quotes, neither of which actually applies in this case. In the first, he quotes a passage from a Supreme Court decision: "education is not complete without a study of comparative religion." I actually agree with that, but unless Casey can somehow manage to explain how a class that "advocates for young-earth creationism and teaches out of the Bible," is comparative religion. In the second, he quotes Barry Lynn, the head of Americans United: "when it comes to matters of religion and philosophy, they can be discussed objectively in public schools, but not in biology class." Here, again, Casey needs to show how this course manages to be "objective".

Objecting to having young-earth creationism taught in a public schools isn't a sign of dogmatism about "Darwinism," or about evolution, or about anything to do with science. This is about keeping the state from sponsoring any specific set of religious views at the expense of others. If that's dogmatism, than I guess this is an area where I get dogmatic.


Adam Omelianchuk said...

As a subject of philosophy, banning ID, and YEC, for that matter is viewpoint discrimination. The idea of abstinence is viewpoint mostly held by religious people on the subject of sexuality. Should that be banned from health classrooms altogether too? Moreover, some schools around the country have courses including yoga--something that has ties to Eastern Spirituality. At what point does the 1st amendment protect freedom of speech?

Lifewish said...

Would I be right in summarising the general position as:

1) If you do it with your own time, money and authority, we've got no problem
2) If you try to teach unscientific concepts in a government-bankrolled/supported science class, we've got a problem
3) If you try to advocate given religious positions in a government-bankrolled/supported class, we've got a problem

I'm under the impression that no-one would have a serious problem if they either:
a) taught ID in their own time, with their own cash and authority, or
b) taught ID in the proper venue and without advocacy

Is this accurate?

Adam Omelianchuk said...


I think you are right for the most part, but good philosophy classes don't "advocate" anything. If one is going to learn about Aristotle one is going to learn about ID in at least an indirect way. If one takes a Humanities class one will learn about Moses and other religious figures and what they taught. Learning about religion isn't illegal.

I think a "philosophy of origins" class would be a great elective under social studies headings. You could survey the beliefs of Dawkins and Dennett as well as Kenyon to Dembski. You could mention YEC. You could study things like the Dover Opinion. You could examine compatiblistic thinkers like Ken Miller and survey the philosophy of science according to Michael Ruse.

I think students would love it and learn a lot. Teaching something isn't the same as advocating it.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I think it's going to be quite hard to legally distinguish teaching a religious doctrine, and teaching (very poorly) *about* a religious doctrine.

This is clearly just an excuse to preach a particularly delusional form of evangelical Christianity, but proving that is going to be difficult. I don't think there are many laws against doing a bad job of teaching, and the argument will be that's what's involved here. It strains credulity to consider that the teachers are *that* incompetent, but incompetency isn't illegal. (Unfortunately.)

Anonymous said...

"Proving" that this venture is pushing religion will be easier than it looks. The two versions of the syllabus make it plain that the course is all about advocacy. There is nothing comparative about it. Look at the guest speakers (those who agreed to appear), the videos chosen, and the syllabus itself. It reads like a summer tent revival run by Elmer Gantry. The idiots cannot help themselves. Given the truth of their ambitions, they will always voice their real intentions with great clarity regardless of how they package it for outsiders. The genealogy is always there.

Ed Darrell said...

The problem with the course in California is that it's pure, unadulterated creationism, taught with a view to converting people to creationism.

As a Christian I have problems with such a course. My Christian kids shouldn't be assaulted in their views by creationism offered as fact, even and especially in a philosophy course.

As a lawyer, I observe that such a course is a violation of the California Constitution, the California education code, and the First Amendment.

Now, if Mr. Luskin wishes to defend the course, he should defend it on its own grounds. Why should Christians have to have courses that assault their beliefs such as this one, under any guise? What makes this district in California special so that they get to advocate sectarian views while no other district in America does?

Ed Darrell said...

Yoga courses in schools are restricted to the physical exercise aspects. Breathing exercises and stretching exercises are not religion.

This is a key difference. There is much research to back the health claims of these yoga practices. They improve cardiac health, they improve vascular health. These are good, secular purposes that require zero entanglement with religion.

Unless, of course, Adam wishes to argue that his sect is opposed to good health; in that case we will point out that good health is STILL a good, secular purpose, and stupid views are not made sacrsanct by calling them religion.

Anonymous said...

(I'm Anonymous #2)
I think your idea of a course on philosophy of origins is an interesting one, but I have two concerns. First, I think it would be a mistake to restrict "origins" just to evolution of life (which is the disingenuous position of the DI folks). Rather it should as well include the origin of the whole enchilada: the physical universe, discussion of which would have to include scientific theories such as the Big Bang and a sampling of the creation stories of various religions to do it justice. Second, assuming we're still talking about secondary school education, where will we find teachers with the requisite credentials to deal with these challenging topics in a intellectually honest way? Many many high schools can't even find teachers qualified to teach core science courses now. I've had some experience in teaching a college course somewhat along these lines that dealt, in two semesters. with evolution of the universe, life, and intelligence, where we had the benefit of being able to draw on faculty experts in several different fields. Finding HS teachers with the breadth and sophistication to deal honestly with "origins", even at a much more elementary level, is highly problematic, IMHO. For example, I deny that you can deal with the scientific issues of any of these questions without using some (very) basic concepts from physics, chemistry, and biology. The DI people would like to believe that you can, but that's fraudulent.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I have to agree with the ID people here, as much as I hate to do it.

I took an ELECTIVE philosohpy course in 12th grade. We discussed all kinds of religions and philosophies, metaphysical and ethical.

The ID philosophy would have fit right in there.

It wouldn't take long to discuss because there's really not much to ID, but it could be put in there with teleology, and it would fit nicely.

ID belongs nowhere near a science class or being taught as science, but if students want to take an ELECTIVE course where ID is discussed, the what the hell is the problem?

Adam Omelianchuk said...


I think your concerns are well founded, but I think the same things apply to Poly Sci classes too. Rarely do you find a teacher who is competent to actually teach the subject without bias rather than being a campaigner for whatever political party s/he represents. Subjects that are controversial always have this problem, but I don't think that disqualifies them from being barred from classroom.

As far as content goes you could show a video from the DI (gasp!) one day and the next show the one by Ken Miller (Collapse of ID). You could have them take a look at the Dover opinion and some text from Dembski's Design Revolution. Or you could compare and contrast Pennock and Johnson's writings on the subject of Methodological Naturalism. Keep in mind these are just off the top of my head, but I think all of us who are passionate about this topic have found the "secular purpose" of critical thinking beneficial.

But I think the main concern over all of this is religion. People are afraid of it and don't want to talk about it. However, it obviously is a major concern and I don't think it would be improper to candidly say the courts have found ID and DI agenda to be inherently religious. Teachers could talk about that too.

This is where I think the idea of "teach the controversy" COULD genuinely be applied, meaning not so much to evolution, but to ID. Every high schooler knows its there and wants to talk/learn about it.

Oh and I am totally opposed to good health. :)

Dr Zen said...

Anonymous said: "ID belongs nowhere near a science class or being taught as science, but if students want to take an ELECTIVE course where ID is discussed, the what the hell is the problem?"

"Discussed" is different from "advocated". Intelligent design is of very minor importance in philosophy: just an offshoot of creationism, which is philosophically rather uninteresting. Why? Because ID is intended to be a dead end for inquiry. "God did it" is a full stop, not a question mark.

Adam, there's a huge difference between saying to a kid "abstinence is an approach some favour. Those who favour it include..." and "you should abstain from sex..." Pretending otherwise is dishonest. In philosophy, you teach kids "this is what Aristotle said about how to live the good life", not "this is how to live the good life".

Anonymous said...

I'm a different anonymous. I woujld like to pick up where Dr. Zen left off. In my teaching of AP history I end up spending a lot of time explaining and distinguishing classical economics, Marxism, Leninism, and various other schools of thought right up to the present. I show their ideas and evidence, explain how they presuade some people, and look at their effects on society. That's teaching about a subject. Looks a little different from what is proposed in the course we're talking about. Golly, we even end up talking about oppostion to evolution in the same way. So far no one is threatening a lawsuit, but of course I am not preaching a creed. The closest I come to that is pointing out that one side has science and the other has only faith, but I am prepared to defend that as an objective assessment.

Kinder Gentler Little Man said...

Clearly, the material content for a genuine philosophy class on these issues is rich. ID'iots would make terrible criminals. They continue to leave fingerprints, DNA samples, and the weapon behind. They don't know how to leave the scene clean.