Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Creationism-lite takes major hit

Just because the newspapers say so doesn’t make it so. Let’s look at the headlines regarding the recent ruling by a US judge over intelligent design or creationism-lite as I prefer to call it.

Here are a few of the headlines that need some correcting:

“Judge rules against teaching ‘intelligent design’” Chicago Tribune.

“Teaching of ‘Intelligent Design” is outlawed” The Telegraph.

First, it is legal to teach anything you want just not in state schools. Private schools can teach it. Parents can teach it. Sunday Schools can teach it. But government funded schools can’t teach it. The issue was not whether it is legal to believe this silly idea. It is legal. That is not debatable.

What is at issue is whether the teaching of this in a government school is a violation of separation of church and state. And it is. And in this case the judge laid out precisely why this is not science but religion.

Judge John Jones made a very thorough ruling. He covered the history of the case, the nature of science, and why creationism-lite is really a theological belief not a scientific one. He pointed to issues not widely reported by the press. For instance school board members lied about the origins of the bill and for the funding of the textbooks that were added to the schools to teach creationism. Jones wrote a stinging sentence: “It is ironic that several of these individuals [school board members], who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the I.D. policy.”

One of the board members, all of whom were booted out of office by the voters in the last election, William Buckingham was mentioned by Jones. He said Buckingham lied in court about how he raised funds in his church to buy creationist textbooks for the school. Buckingham’s response was a childish “if the judge called me a liar, then he’s a liar.” That’s from the “so’s your old man” school of logic. Buckingham said that Jones ought to be ashamed of himself and then denied that their is any such thing as separation of church and state. To be more precise he is saying their ought to be no separation of church of state.

He also argued that a supernatural explanation like Intelligent Design is not science because science is limited to the natural.

But John West of the Discovery Institute complains that this was “an attempt by an activist federal judge to stop the spread of a scientific idea and even to prevent criticism of Darwinian evolution through government-imposed censorship rather than open debate.”

Not only is the judge a Republican, appointed to the bench by Bush, but a church goer as well. One of the board members of the Discovery Institute had to differ with his own group saying in an email: “I also read the judge’s decision (most of it at least). He’s not a ‘judicial activist.’”

Jones said that the proponents of Intelligent Design admitted that they had to change the definition of science in order to include supernatural arguments. This is what the fundamentalists did when they took control of the Kansas Board of Education. They deleted references to the “natural” in the definition to specifically argue that theology was now science. Not only that but the authors of the ID textbook that was used had originally used the word creationism in their text. They only changed it to “intelligent design” when the Supreme Court ruled that ‘creationism” violated separation of church and state.

West’s critique is just one falsehood heaped on top of another. His creationism is not taken to be a scientific idea by any scientific body in the world. And the ruling does nothing to prevent criticism of Darwinism which is a scientific theory and one that is criticized within scientific confines all the time. That is the nature of science. West must win some sort of award for having some many falsehoods in so short a space.

Nor is this censorship. Censorship is when the government prevents one from promoting an idea or thought through your own means or through means freely provided to you by others. Not having access to tax money and state schools for your ideas is not censorship.

And conservatives don’t use this argument when it comes to government funding of “obscene” art. When art projects are not funded the conservatives opposing those projects applaud and point out that no one has a right to government funding thus the denial of such funds is not censorship. But deny the American Taliban access to government funding to promote their ideas in government schools to an involuntary audience and they suddenly start whining like some Leftist denied funds for his art exhibit. Conservatives are hypocrites.

None of the ruling should be a surprise. The Supreme Court already ruled that creationism is a theological concept and that it’s teaching in government schools violates separation of church and state. Jones really just applied the law as it already stands. The difference was that the religionists decided to try a new strategy by putting their God-talk in scientific drag. But putting on a dress doesn’t make one a woman and calling creationism by any other name doesn’t change what it is. Jones said it was nothing but “creationism relabelled.”

The attorney who worked for the fundies on the school board complained that the judge ruled on the scientific merits of creationism. But after doing so he did admit, when questioned, that he himself had asked the judge to do just that. But said it was forced on him by his opponents in court.

It is likely that this ruling will stand for sometime. The people who can appeal would be the School Board. But all the creationists in this normally Republican town were thrown out of office in the last election and replaced by Democrats. They aren’t likely to appeal. And the decision covers the entire gamut of issues so it would be hard to undermine it because of its thoroughness.

Judge Jones was one of the best chances the Christian Right had of sneaking theology into science classes. So his ruling was a major blow to the American Taliban. You can see why conservatives are becoming opponents of the Constitution, which Bush called, “just a god-damned piece of paper.”


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