Friday, November 25, 2005


The Lawyer Who Would be a Scientist

Recently, Red State Rabble, listened as attorney John Calvert introduced himself to the adult education class at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Lenexa. Although Calvert has been an attorney throughout his professional life, he nevertheless placed great stress on the geology classes he took as an undergraduate.

Phillip Johnson, the father of intelligent design, likes to paint himself as a man with deep ties to science. A law professor by trade, Johnson took geology classes in college, too. Casey Luskin, a Discovery Institute staff member, is on the same career path. He took earth science classes before taking a law degree.

Is there is something about intelligent design "theorists" -- a deep sense of inadequacy, perhaps -- that compels them to provide their supposed scientific bona fides each time they step to the lectern to undermine science and science education?

Calvert, just now, is up in arms over a class that will be taught by Paul Mirecki, chairman of University of Kansas religious studies department, next semester. The class, “Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies” treats ID not as science, as Calvert, Johnson, and Luskin would have it, but as the mythology it is.

Calvert has been stomping around lately casting doubts about Mirecki’s scientific expertise. He says that teaching intelligent design demands an extensive understanding of evolution and science.

“I think the guy is going to fall all over himself,” Calvert told Sophia Maines of the Lawrence Journal-World. “I would love to go to his class and say, ‘Explain to me how DNA arose in the primordial soup?’”

Ever the skeptic, Red State Rabble can't help wondering how Calvert's long-ago undergraduate geology classes better qualify him to understand evolution and science than a professor of religious studies. Aren't all undergraduates -- lawyers and religious studies professors, alike --required to take at least some introductory science courses?

Calvert's statement, moreover, betrays his own scientific confusion. Neither his legal training, long experience at the bar, nor his geology classes helped him, apparently, to understand that evolution -- what Darwin called descent with modification -- says nothing about how DNA arose in the primordial soup.

It is true that there are a half-dozen interesting hypotheses about how the origin of life might have occurred on our happy little planet. A number of scientific teams are working on the problem, but there is, as of yet, no satisfying scientific explanation that accounts for all the known evidence.

That is why the professional scientists and educators on the Kansas science curriculum committee did not propose teaching life's origins in the state's public schools. Paradoxically, it was the anti-evolution fundamentalists, the intelligent design minority on the committee and the creationist majority on the state school board who demanded that origins be taught.

They want it taught, not because there is persuasive science backing them up, but rather because they see the lack of scientific consensus as a gap. A gap that can be exploited by culture warriors like themselves to promote a literal reading of Genesis. A gap that provides breathing space for their own narrow vision of god.

Although he forgot to get himself licensed to practice law in Kansas, Calvert nevertheless has a lawyer's instinct for how to inject the patriarchal Old Testament god he worships into the science curriculum in the state.

As for science, DNA, evolution, he has no more clue... than, say, a professor of religious studies.


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