Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Apocalypse Now

Has anyone seen four guys on horseback riding by?

It has to be a sign of something when I almost agree with Casey Luskin. The Discovery Institute's chief gofer is out in the electronic pages of its Whine and Jeez blog, making yet another complaint about ID not getting' no respect. This time, under the probability quirk that guarantees that even blind pigs get the occasional acorn, Luskin actually has something approaching a valid complaint.

His kvetch this trip is about the recent law review article, entitled "Evolution and the Holy Ghost of Scopes: Can Science Lose the Next Round?" by Stephen A. Newman, a law professor at New York Law School, that appeared in the Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion. You can download the article at the Social Science Research Network's site, a fact that Luskin inexplicably omitted.

Luskin all but ignores the bulk of the article, focusing instead on a few paragraphs about the attempt by ID supporters, back in 2000, to get Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe and Darwin on Trial by Philip Johnson into a Minnesota public high school library. After considerable effort, the attempt was blocked. Specifically, Luskin complains:
[W]e're not talking about making Darwin's Black Box or Darwin on Trial part of the required curriculum. We're simply talking about donating books to a library so students can have access to information about a controversial scientific and social issue over how life began.
Well, that's not quite how the librarians tell the tale, which can be found in their article, "Monkey Business: The intelligent design war has come to the school library," in the School Library Journal.

According to the article, the district had a policy concerning gifts of books to school libraries that required that all donations intended for instructional use must meet three selection criteria:

1) They must support the curriculum;
2) They must receive favorable reviews from professional journals; and
3) They must be age-appropriate.
Needless to say, the books were found by the librarians to have failed those tests. What is confusing in the librarians' tale is that they say:

At the time, we didn’t realize that the motive behind the parent’s book donations was to include intelligent design in the science curriculum.
If that was the case, just what does "instructional use" mean and why are the above standards being applied? Why couldn't the books be accepted with the understanding that they would not be used for instruction or otherwise be part of the curriculum?

Luskin's citation to the Supreme Court case of Board of Educ. v. Pico (more commonly known as the Island Trees case) is not particularly helpful (since that case resulted in seven different opinions) other than as a basic statement that school board control of school libraries is not totally unfettered.

I am more concerned with good educational policy anyway, rather than whatever right IDeologists may have to force the books onto school property. Perhaps I am over-optimistic but I don't think either book is beyond an intelligent high school student's understanding. And the rest of the criteria don't seem relevant if the books aren't being used in science classes. Bad ideas are rampant and, in any case, mostly in the eye of the beholder. Do I get to keep postmodernism out of high school libraries because it is obvious (to me) nonsense? Young adults can hardly be protected from such things and it's not really the duty of public schools to make the attempt. Schools can rightly exclude ID from science classes or properly categorize ID as a religious concept while teaching it in a comparative religion, civics or even philosophy of science course. But banning ID from a library betrays the very point of having one, it seems to me.

That much said, Luskin could not resist the temptation to make a fool of himself. First of all he actually grouses about the National Academy of Sciences' statement about ID by noting that its "biologist membership, keep in mind, is ~95% atheists and agnostics." Of course, the only reason that would be in the least relevant is if ID is a religious concept that atheists and agnostics might be "biased" against. But don't forget, folks! ID is all about the science and doesn't have anything to do with God or religion, nosiree!

The other inanity Luskin perpetrates is his dismissal of the rest of Professor Newman's article as "water-cooler speculation" about how the changes in the Supreme Court might affect future cases. The DI has every reason to hope that no one, least of all the faithful, reads the article because it is a well researched history of creationist attempts to circumvent the Constitution that leaves little doubt that ID is just the latest ploy in that long battle.

Instead of engaging in "water-cooler speculation," Professor Newman carefully analyzes past cases to make a professional assessment of likely influences on the present Court. Of particular use is a detailed inspection of the underpinnings of Justice Scalia's dissent in Edwards v. Aguillard, its weaknesses and faults, that may help dissuade other Justices, particularly Justice Kennedy, the most likely "swing vote" in any such case, from adopting Scalia's plan to gut the Establishment clause.

Doubtless it was the "careful analysis" that led Luskin, totally unfamiliar with the concept as all IDeologists are, to fail to appreciate the Professor's article.

For anyone who wants to better understand where we are in the fight to preserve science education in this country and what direction we are likely heading, Professor Newman's article is highly recommended.
While I loathe the ID proponenets continuous (deliberate?) misuse/contempt for/lack of understanding of science, banning books that are not supposed to be part of the science curriculum because they are non-science is wrong. The "fight" is about keeping ID out of science classes, not out of school as such.
Sometime, sooner or later, everyone has to learn that not everything that comes in a book is worth the dead trees ... and other people can only help you so far with that concept. Who knows, if some kid wanders into the library to pick up ID dreck, s/he may wind up staying to find the good stuff.
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