Thursday, September 22, 2005


The Misinformation Train

Casey Luskin complains on the Discovery Institute's Evolution News and Views blog that the "Darwinist Misinformation Train is Still Chugging Strong." Luskin writes that while there are ID proponents who have talked about the designer as being God...
... Darwinists always fail to inform the public of the many (if not an overwhelming majority of) instances where ID proponents make it excruciatingly clear that the designer cannot be identified by ID theory. Darwinists are thus still misrepresenting ID theory to the public because they make statements indicating that ID theory universally identifies the designer as God.

Isn't it possible, though, that the tactics employed by intelligent design advocates lead critics to believe, legitimately, that they are hiding their real beliefs about the identity of the designer from the public.

A case in point is being played out in Dover, Pennsylvania. A group of parents there are suing the school board for ordering that a statement be read in high school biology classes that says, in part,
"... Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence... Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, "Of Pandas and People," is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves."

A key issue in the Dover case, to be heard in federal court beginning Sept. 26, will be to decide what, exactly, was the school board's intent when it mandated reading the statement.

Determining intent became central to creationist and intelligent design challenges to teaching evolution in public schools following the 1987 Supreme Court decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578. In that case, the Court ruled that a Louisiana law requiring that creation science be taught every time evolution was taught was unconstitutional, because the law was designed to advance a particular religion.

However, the court also held that "teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction."

So, what was the Dover board's intent? Was it secular or religious?

Some insight into how the court may view the board's intent may be gained by looking at a ruling handed down last January by Judge Clarence Cooper in a case involving the Cobb County school district in Georgia. Judge Cooper ordered the removal of evolution disclaimer stickers from textbooks there writing:
... the Sticker sends a message to those who oppose evolution for religious reasons that they are favored members of the political community, while the Sticker sends a message to those who believe in evolution that they are political outsiders.

... the distinction of evolution as a theory rather than a fact is the distinction that religiously motivated individuals have specifically asked school boards to make in the most recent anti-evolution movement, and that was exactly what parents in Cobb County did in this case. By adopting this specific language, even if at the direction of counsel, the County School Board appears to have sided with these religiously motivated individuals.

... the Sticker has already sent a message that the School Board agrees with the beliefs of Christian fundamentalists and creationists. The School Board has effectively improperly entangled itself with religion by appearing to take a position. Therefore, the Sticker must be removed from all of the textbooks into which it has been placed.

We are dealing with a textbook disclaimer sticker in Cobb County, and a verbal disclaimer in Dover, but the substance of both is nearly identical -- even down to the willfully perverse "it's only a theory" argument.

The school board -- represented by the Tomas More Law Center, which describes its mission as defending the religious rights of Christians -- claims its intent in ordering the statement read was entirely secular.

Even so, The York Dispatch quoted one board member, William Buckingham, as saying, ''Nearly 2,000 years ago, someone died on the cross for us. Shouldn't we have the courage to stand up for him?''

The tape recording of that board meeting has been destroyed -- in line with district policy, we're told -- and tape recordings of subsequent board meetings, while they have been preserved, have been withheld from the public.

Attorneys for the board have demanded, and the judge in the case has ordered, two reporters Heidi Bernhard-Bubb, a freelance writer for The York Dispatch, and Joseph Maldonado, a freelance writer for the York Daily Record, to testify about what they saw and heard at school board meetings.

Arguing that others heard the board members make such comments, the two newspapers have appealed the judges decision. The reporters have said they stand by the accuracy of their articles, and have decided that, if necessary, they will be held in contempt of court rather than testify.

The suppression of the tapes raises an interesting question. We are often told that "Darwinists" want to suppress the beliefs of intelligent design activists, such as those held by Discovery Institute's Casey Luskin, by keeping them out of science classrooms. But, when it comes to suppressing just exactly who they really believe The Designer is, nobody can beat intelligent design actvists.

The fact is, supporters of real science have legitimate reasons to question the sincerity of intelligent design activists. Court rulings give the intelligent design activists a strong motivation to conceal their intent from the rest of us. In fact, the intelligent design movement came into being shortly after the Aguillard decision. Internal documents -- such as the Discovery Institute Wedge Document -- give added support to the view that the public pronouncements of the intelligent design movement are out of sync with their private intentions. Further, it has been noted that when intelligent design activists believe they are speaking only to groups of committed supporters, they tend to sing out of a different hymn book than when they are speaking in public.

It is the obfuscation and suppression of information by intelligent design supporters that casts doubt among reasonable people about their real intentions. The misinformation train left the station from Seattle. Next stop, Dover.


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