Creationism legislation–Tennessee ACLU update

As we discussed previously, Tennessee is doing all it can to violate the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution by pushing an anti-science legislation onto the public school students of the state.  They want teachers to allow discussion of the non-existent “scientific controversy” regarding the origin of life, evolution and climate change.  The only controversy is in the deluded brains of Republican legislators pushing the religious agenda of the fundamentalist Christians.   Continue reading “Creationism legislation–Tennessee ACLU update”

Indiana creationism bill passes Senate–Intelligent Democrats creatively amend it

This is part of a long multi-part series on the Republican state legislatures in the USA pushing religious teaching into public schools in clear violation of the US Constitution’s Establishment Clause. I’ve discussed Indiana here, here and here, so this is a small update with a bit of intelligent design (of the bill) by some Democrats. Indiana Democrats are a feisty group, and the science deniers must be annoyed by them. Continue reading “Indiana creationism bill passes Senate–Intelligent Democrats creatively amend it”

Michigan Charter School Teaching Creationism?

I am not a fan of Charter Schools for reasons that aren’t relevant to postings about skepticism and science.  One of my issues with them is that the appear to be not very well regulated.  In fact, the basic definition of charter school is that they receive public monies and less regulation as long as they produce results (usually higher standardized test scores).  The definition of a charter school, according to the National Education Association (NEA), is:

Charter schools are publicly funded elementary or secondary schools that have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools, in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each charter school’s charter.

NEA believes that charter schools and other nontraditional public school options have the potential to facilitate education reforms and develop new and creative teaching methods that can be replicated in traditional public schools for the benefit of all children. Whether charter schools will fulfill this potential depends on how charter schools are designed and implemented, including the oversight and assistance provided by charter authorizers.

This does not give them carte blanche to violate the constitution of the United States, specifically the Establishment Clause.  A charter school in Michigan, the Byron Center Charter School, had this statement on their website (as recently as last week):

Religion
Byron Center Charter School cannot promote a certain religion, it can however, teach both creation and evolution as a theory, and use the Bible as a historical reference.

Let’s break down that sentence.  Yes, the school cannot promote a certain religion.  Several Supreme Court rulings say they can’t, so it’s good to know they understand the US Constitution.  No, they cannot teach both creation and evolution as a theory, since only evolution is a theory and creation is fairytale based on not one single bit of science.  And to use the Bible as a historical reference?  Well, there are some historical references in it, but they are infrequent, and frankly wrapped into fairytales and myths.  So, that sentence could be cut down to “Byron Center Charter School cannot promote a certain religion.”

Apparently, they have changed their website this week to remove the offensive, unconstitutional statement.  But just because they removed it from their website does not mean that they’re not teaching creationism in clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  I hope that the State of Michigan determines if they’ve been in violation of the law then shut them down.

As the NEA states, “Charter schools should be monitored on a continuing basis and should be subject to modification or closure if children or the public interest is at risk.”  The public interest has been put at risk.

Source:  Michigan Charter School Teaching Creationism? | Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Indiana creationist bill passes committee

Indiana creationist bill passes committee | NCSE.

Midwestern U.S. states are attempting to foist creationist or intelligent design teaching on their public school students, all the while trying to circumvent the Establishment Clause of the Bill of Rights.

Indiana’s Senate Committee on Education and Career Development just reported out of committee by an 8-2 vote their version of a creationist bill.  The vote was strictly on party lines with 8 Republicans voting for it and 2 Democrats against it (Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Indiana Senate 3:1).  Even during the committee discussion, religious leaders spoke out against it and asserting the bill’s unconstitutionality.  I wonder if these Republican politicians understand how much it will cost in tax dollars to defend this bill in Federal Courts.  And lose in Federal Court.

Intelligent design in 2012

Since the start of the new year there seems to have been concerted effort in several midwest US states, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Indiana, to circumvent the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution by pushing creationist religious dogma in public schools (though not universities thankfully).  It’s difficult to understand what the goals of this push might be, since nearly all legal precedent supports the fact that creation science, creationism, intelligent design or whatever new term that will be invented is religious doctrine and cannot be taught in public schools.  Maybe Republican state legislators think the winds are at their back in making social change, or maybe they think the winds are shifting into their face, and so they should get moving before the electorate (which seems to be extraordinarily volatile these days) changes its mind again.

Creation science attempts to use science to validate the Genesis story of creation while simultaneously endeavoring to invalidate all the general scientific theories, facts, and paradigms that support the natural history of the universe including evolution, abiogenesis, cosmology, and astrophysics.  Intelligent design (ID) is a slightly different flavor of creationism which states that features of the natural world, whether living things or physical processes, are best explained by an intelligent designer.  In other words, the central mechanism of evolution is not explained by natural selection and genetic drift, but by a designer.  ID also attempts to state that it is a scientific theory based on evidence, rather than a religious dogma based on no evidence.

Neither can be regarded as real science because they fail to meet even the most basic elements of science and the scientific method.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the scientific method is: “a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”  It’s the “modification of the hypothesis” that separates real science from pseudosciences like creation science and ID.  In other words, if we could falsify the central premise of either so-called theory, would the proponents modify their hypothesis?  That would mean that there is no supernatural being that created or designed the universe, which they are mostly unwilling to do.

On the other hand, real science is open minded about the itself.  It is willing to change its hypotheses and theories, to evolve (couldn’t resist) to new data points.  That is precisely why science is not a religion, but is, in fact, an essential philosophy to understand the natural world.  It is based on evidence, on analysis of that evidence, and, if necessary, modification of theories based on the evidence.  Scientists consider evolution to be a fact based the wealth of evidence supporting it.  The theory of evolution is one of the basic principles of biology (along with genetics, homeostasis, and cell theory), but if there were data that essentially disproved evolution, then science would modify the theory.  There is an old joke that if someone found a rabbit fossil in precambrian rocks, science would probably have to reevaluate and rewrite the theory of evolution.  However, most real scientists would be skeptical and wonder 1) if it really were a fossil, 2) if it were really a rabbit, 3) if it really was a precambrian rock layer, and 4) if it isn’t a hoax perpetrated by someone with an anti-science agenda.

But what is really problematic is that ID itself attempts to promote itself as a scientific theory where the designer is not the Judeo-Christian god.  The Discovery Institute, a Seattle based think-tank, is the primary proponent of ID.  They state that intelligent design is:

Intelligent design refers to a scientific research program as well as a community of scientists, philosophers and other scholars who seek evidence of design in nature. The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. Through the study and analysis of a system’s components, a design theorist is able to determine whether various natural structures are the product of chance, natural law, intelligent design, or some combination thereof. Such research is conducted by observing the types of information produced when intelligent agents act. Scientists then seek to find objects which have those same types of informational properties which we commonly know come from intelligence. Intelligent design has applied these scientific methods to detect design in irreducibly complex biological structures, the complex and specified information content in DNA, the life-sustaining physical architecture of the universe, and the geologically rapid origin of biological diversity in the fossil record during the Cambrian explosion approximately 530 million years ago. 

Setting aside the fact that their so-called science doesn’t meet the basics of what constitutes real science (or the fact that they generally accept the age of life on earth), they go to great lengths to avoid naming the designer.  However, it has been determined that, despite the best efforts of the intelligent design movement, the designer represents the Judeo-Christian god.  Many have concluded that intelligent design is pseudoscience rather than just bad science.

Furthermore, the ID proponents use the so-called “wedge strategy”, a plan sponsored by the Discovery Institute, to further their political goals. The strategy was established in a Discovery Institute manifesto known as the Wedge Document, which describes “a broad social, political, and academic agenda whose ultimate goal is to defeat materialism, naturalism, evolution, and reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”  In other words, it’s just religious dogma couched in scientific words that have little meaning.

Intelligent design and creation science are not only dangerous to scientific teaching, which is critical to the future of our country.  To continue to be leaders in medicine, research, new technologies, and whatever results from them, the country needs to have students with strong foundation in the sciences.  These anti-science legislators are almost anti-American (to play the “who’s more patriotic” card).  And if you take the long-term view (a rare skill indeed in our politicians), lack of science training could be a huge economic issue (still playing that patriotism card).

This current push for creationist teachings is still centered in one part of the country in just a few states.  Even if its reach is limited, let’s hope it can be crushed out before it gets too much traction in other Republican dominated state legislatures.

Update from Missouri | NCSE

Update from Missouri | NCSE.

The chief sponsor of this bill says the “jury is still out on evolution.”  Uh, what jury is that?  The one in Kitzmiller v. Dover, where a Federal Judge ruled that Intelligent Design is not science?  Or the scientific community that say’s evolution is basically a fact?  Or that intelligent design was “designed” to circumvent the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

In case anyone forgot, that clause states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

So, Intelligent Design is a religious doctrine.  The State of Missouri (well, at least some do) want to have that religious doctrine taught in public schools (run and funded by the State of Missouri).  Sounds like they might have a legal challenge ahead.