Monday, May 02, 2005

A Not-So-Old-Fashioned Monkey Trial

An update of sorts on something I wrote about awhile back. From the AP via the Kansas City Star: No witnesses for evolution; legal challenge seen

TOPEKA, Kan. - Evolution supporters will present no witnesses and won't debate the theory's merits during hearings before a State Board of Education subcommittee, their attorney said Monday.

The attorney, Pedro Irigonegaray, also predicted that the board will face litigation if it revises the state's science testing standards to include elements of intelligent design, which he claims some members of the board are trying to do.

He is working with a coalition of science and education groups that have boycotted the hearings.

"We determined that it would be inappropriate to debate an issue such as evolution with individuals who are merely bringing to table a supernatural answer," Irigonegaray said during an interview.

But John Calvert, a retired Lake Quivira attorney organizing the case for intelligent design advocates and evolution critics, called Irigonegaray's tactics "silly" and "all bluff."

Calvert also said following intelligent design advocates' proposals is the only way to avoid a legal challenge.

"Pedro doesn't have a case. He knows he doesn't have a case, so he's not putting one on," said Calvert, who helped found the Intelligent Design Network. "His client is on trial and he's not going to have him testify because he can't afford to put his client in the dock."

Intelligent design said some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent cause. Evolution says species change over time, and that's how different species can emerge from common ancestors, including man and apes.

Though the state board has sought to avoid comparisons with the 1925 "Monkey Trial" of a Dayton, Tenn., teacher convicted of illegally teaching evolution,
[ed. fat chance] the hearings will in some ways resemble a trial, with witnesses being questioned. A three-member board subcommittee will preside, and six days of hearings are set to begin Thursday in Topeka.

How cowardly (or petulant) does it make you look to not even bother to show up and answer questions? So what if the crowd is hostile to you? Furthermore, the impulse to simply boycott the meeting and have a judge impose your preference through the courts is nothing short of tyrannical.

People have the hardest time understanding my position on these types of things. Yes, I believe in evolution. Yes, I do think that Intelligent Design is worth discussing, although probably not in a high school classroom. No, I do not have a problem with school districts deciding not to teach evolution if it is simply too controversial in that locale. No, I do not think there is any room in public schools for creationism. Yes, I do think the desire to shove evolution down the throats of people who do not want it is elitest and tyrannical in its inspiration.

Somehow these set of opinions allowed someone in the Left2Right comment section to lable me as a creationist, a view at once ill informed and stupid, but sadly typical.

The present situation in Kansas is being botched terribly by the evolution supporters. They are not going to be able to settle this question by using the tactics they are opting for. All they can do is sow the ground for continuing battles in the future, which certainly won't help Kansas high schoolers. But I suppose the need to impose your will on all the dumb hill-billies is more important.

(I know, I know....Kansas doesn't have any hills.)


Jonathan C said...

Wow, I really expected to be on the other side of you on this one, but I actually agree with you on almost all of your points! Of course that could be because, as someone who believes in both Evolution and Creation (i.e. God Created the Earth over the course of 6 billion years, and He used Evolution to do it), I find myself on the opposite side of this issue with just about everyone.

You state both that you don't have a problem with school districts opting out of teaching Evolution, but you also state that Creationism has no place in public schools. Does this mean that the origins of life should not be touched at all in districts where Evolution is too touchy of a subject? I could see that. I just wonder what would happen when students want to start a discussion about it. I fondly remember being a high-school student, and one of my favorite classroom activities at the time was engaging in controversial discussion.

Also, do you think that leaving Evolution out of the curriculum would put students going on to universities as life-sciences majors at a disadvantage? Secular colleges almost universally adopt Evolution as the definitive Theory. It seems that students would benefit from being exposed to the Theory, even if it is not specifically endorsed by the teacher.

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

Obviously if there were to be student initiated discussion, that would be different from being a stated part of the curriculum. School district may (or may not) want to have guidelines for how teachers deal with such discussions. But in practice it could be little different than dealing with other controversial topics, like abortion or whatever.

"Does this mean that the origins of life should not be touched at all in districts where Evolution is too touchy of a subject? I could see that."

Yes, I do think in some parts of the country it would come to that. And, yes, I cannot think why anyone should have a problem with that.

I would also support not teaching origin of life issues at all, but still teaching evolution in "the distribution of genes in a species" mode. (Of course this would smack of compromise and neither side seems all too keen on that approach.)

There exists a kind of conceit about education that one of the educators jobs is to disabuse students of the beliefs they came into school holding. I find little to say in favor of the notion. It smacks of elitism; it feels patrician; it is positively demeaning to students (and their parents); and it can in no sense be called "democratic." I believe evolution to be true, but I am uneasy about these attempts to strongarm those who disagree with it for religious reasons. I wish more people felt uneasy about these attempts.

Just because you think someone's intellectual position is dumb (and I do think creationism is incurably dumb), that doesn't make their position inherently unconstitutional.

Jonathan C said...

I'd argue that it is a teacher's responsibility to challenge the assumptions students carry into school. I agree that dictating that what students believe on religious issues (and this is definitely a religious issue, not a scientific one at the ID folks would have us believe) is indeed highly elitist. However, how are we doing our children a service by sheltering them from a very real and ongoing debate that they will eventually be exposed to anyway?

In any case, I've written a post on this myself. Check it out and let me know what you think.

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

"I'd argue that it is a teacher's responsibility to challenge the assumptions students carry into school."

College student, absolutely. Children? That becomes more troublesome. Obviously you cant have public school teachers belittling Mormons or Amish children.