creationists in Dover, Pennsylvania

This isn’t completely new news — I’ve been following the story for a few days (weeks?). The Dover, Pennsylvania, school board was taken over by anti-evolution Christians who wish to teach “intelligent design.”

But in reading another story [in, 12/13] about the situation, I started to get annoyed & ranty.

  • School boards are political entities, elected to represent views and give general guidance about how the school district should be run. They really have no business determining curriculum.

  • The article cites a Gallup poll finding that 45% of Americans believe God created people in their present form within the last 10,000 years. This might suggest extreme ignorance on the part of the American people. And, yeah, it does. But the problem is that it’s not new ignorance — it’s just a different dogma. Whatever the numbers were 10, 20, 40 years ago, the American people were just as ignorant — it’s just that they were reciting by rote a different belief. For a variety of reasons, the au courant belief is in “creationism.” Americans clearly never really understood the science or they wouldn’t have been so susceptible to the bizarre bill of goods the anti-evolution Christians are trying to sell them.

    So what’s the problem, if people are still just as ignorant, and they’re just ignorantly mouthing different things now? The problem is that what they’re ignorantly mouthing now no longer corresponds with reality. Which means that the ignorance is obvious. This makes us look bad, and it gives the nutjobs some facade of momentum.

  • Many reporters mischaracterize the conflict, as of course, do many people just trying to understand it. They present it as: Christians want to put alternative design in the classroom, and scientists say alternative design is wrong.

    Here are some problems with this:

    • One, “Christians” as a whole do not wish to do this. Evolution is not any more in conflict with the doctrines of Christianity than a host of other scientific understandings (the world is round and rotates around the sun). So it’s more accurate to not present this as Christians-versus-Scientists. Instead, describe them as “Christians who believe in intelligent design”.

    • Scientists don’t say intelligent design is wrong. They say there is no evidence for it. This is crucial, because there can be many, many theories (in the lay sense of the term) that explain any observable fact. But we don’t present all the possible theories. We present only those that have some weight of the evidence. Intelligent design has no positive evidence suggesting it. It is based solely on critiques of particular findings or methodologies in science (and on one larger critique, addressed below). But there’s no particular evidence for it. If we actually made a good faith attempt at the ID advocates’ version of “balanced”, we would have to discuss, first, the positive evidence theories of the origins of life (there’s only one: evolution) and then all the “theories” (lay version) that don’t mesh (thousands of religious and non-religious origin stories including so-called intelligent design and and other creation stories; anything that has a different story than evolution, even though, unlike all other science classes, these “theories” have no positive evidence to support them).

    • ID’s larger critique is that the system is just too complex to have come about by chance. Basically this boils down to ID advocates not understanding the theory of evolution. Because, of course, evolution is not about chance; it’s about the operation of certain principles of nature.