Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Q Is for Quixotic

For a bit more on David Gibbs III and his tilt at the windmill of evolution, you can find his original memo to the Florida Board of Education about the proposed science standards on evolution in a pdf copy here. Both Florida Citizens for Science and the St. Petersburg Times education blog, The Gradebook, have further posts about Gibbs. But be aware that Gibbs and his law firm claim to be in the process of revising it. Nonetheless, it is an interesting document in its own right.

Mostly, it is comprised of quibbles about language; an attempt to inject doubt (or should I say "wiggle room"?) where there is little or none. It is all so predictable: trying to erect some barrier between "microeveolution" and "the change of one species to another species," the emphasis on the "origin of life" and the exaggerated distinction between "fact" and "theory."

For a student, like myself, of the dishonest machinations of creationists, the memo doesn't get interesting until page 4:

The final category of the Proposed Science Standards that we suggest should be reconsidered is the opening paragraph in the Grades 9 - 2 Standards entitled Evolution and Diversify: A. Evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence. B. Organisms are classified based on their evolutionary history. C. Natural selection is the primary mechanism leading to evolutionary change.

This statement declares matter-of-factly that Evolution is the only basis of an interpretive system for understanding all of life-science. This unscientific conclusory statement, devoid of underlying evidence, moves Florida's science standards outside the realm of traditional science and enters, instead, into the discipline of philosophy as the construct for defining a worldview. A worldview addresses, not only the field of science, but the philosophical purview of how to identify the four components of reality. The problem here is that Florida's science standards now force upon students only one of several potential interpretive worldview systems without providing any philosophical instruction as to how students may evaluate and distinguish between the various worldviews that inform and identify the four components of reality -- god, life, matter and time.

The proposed science standards now leave the field of science and give students only one unexplained construct for defining a worldview. Forcing the student to see all of life philosophically from one undefined and unexplained philosophical worldview -- a worldview that affirms there is no god; that matter is either eternal or has spontaneously appeared from non-matter; that life has spontaneously generated from non-living matter; and that time is but a segment of unmeasurable duration.

Note the sleight-of-hand: the standards are talking about science and how evolution is the fundamental concept within the science of biology. Gibbs and crew, however, are suddenly talking about "an interpretive system" on the same level or above science, having to do with their personal defintion of "reality": "god, life, matter and time." Now, the phrase, "interpretive system," may be taken from some corner of the standards (which I cannot find online now that public comment has been closed), but the point is that they are tying to present the standard's correct report of the current state of science as if it is proposed as a philosophical/theological assertion that precludes all other such beliefs. This conflation is made, if possible, even more clear by a comment reported at The Gradebook. Barbara Weller, one of the Sancho Panzas at Gibbs' firm and the Christian Law Association, is quoted as saying:

When you take that leap and call (Darwin's theory) a fundamental concept … you're moving beyond what science actually knows. This is the only field of science where people are not allowed to propose other ways of looking at things.
That's wrong on several counts. All fields of science have "fundamental concepts" that are, in the absence of any new information to bring them into question, accepted as true. Astronomy accepts as a fundamental concept that the Sun is at the center of the solar system; chemistry and physics accept that matter is made of atoms and medicine accepts that germs cause disease. On the other hand, science stands ready to listen if someone can present real empiric evidence countering one of these fundamental concepts, though it won't be easy. They are "fundamental concepts" in the first place because they have massive amounts of evidence on their side. Recycling long refuted claims from "creation science" or arguments from analogies that were demolished before Paley ever uttered them won’t do the trick.

Nor does science forbid anyone from looking at things in different, nonscientific, ways. What people like Gibbs don't have the right to do, either within science itself or, under our Constitution, in taxpayer supported schools, is to mislabel sectarian-inspired pseudoscience as "science."

I would suggest that a corresponding basic concept in astronomy is that the heavenly bodies are governed by purely materialistic laws. That they are not gods, or controlled by spiritual beings. That they are not, contrary to astrology, bearers of values.
Why ... that would make Intelligent Design Creationism as much science as astrology is ...

That begins to look much like the "different presuppositions" argument of Answers in Genesis -- we all look at the same evidence, but interpret it differently because we start from different presuppositions. That's a theme embodied in the creationism museum in Kentucky.

Henry Morris has also made the same sort of arguments, as in his The Long War Against God where he claims that evolution (in all fields of science) and uniformitarianism are assumed and not supported with evidence.

In fact, the creationists are right. Scientists presuppose that we can learn something about the world and that what we learn is of value. Creationists assume that whatever we know about the world is, ultimately, a lie and only revelation is true. In short, they presuppose that science can't work. The dishonesty is that, despite that, they pretend to do science.
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