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Dec 29 2013

None of this namby-pamby “Intelligent Design” stuff here

Jack Wellman, at the Christian Crier blog, wants creationism taught in the public schools. And to his credit, he doesn’t try and hide behind a facade of pseudo-scientific “intelligent design” either. He wants creationism, plain and simple.

Should creationism be taught alongside evolution? Is it fair to give students only one theory to believe? Is it legal to do so in the public schools?

The obvious answers to the above are no, yes, and no, in that order. Schools exist to teach kids about reality, of which there is only one, and given limited time and resources it’s entirely fair and reasonable to give kids the scientific understanding that best explains the real world. The science classroom is not a public forum devoted to providing different religions free marketing for competing ideologies.

But Mr. Wellman would contest that observation, and offers us what he calls “Five Crucial Reasons to Teach Creationism in Public Schools.”

Reason number one, according to Mr. Wellman, is that “There are No Criticisms of Evolution,” by which he means that science teachers fail to treat spurious and unscientific objections as though they were as scientifically valid as the volumes of research and evidential data supporting evolution. He wants science teachers to teach kids that a “theory” is just an unsupported guess, instead of teaching them the correct scientific definition. He also wants science teachers to undermine science by pretending that science cannot know anything unless it can be reproduced in the laboratory. And of course, he wants to suppress all presentation of any recently-observed examples of evolution and speciation.

Indeed, it seems that Mr. Wellman’s objectives go beyond trying to undermine evolution. He wants to sabotage science itself in order to create an educational environment friendlier to religious dogmas. That, to my mind, is a substantial argument for why we don’t want this kind of curriculum imposed on science students. Education should train students to do science right, not train them to suppress the evidence and sabotage its methodologies.

Reason number two, according to Wellman, is “Critical Thinking Skills.” It’s not clear from the text what he thinks critical thinking is, but he seems to associate it with arbitrarily rejecting information you don’t want to believe.

These educators are like dictators who essentially spout “It’s my way or the highway.”  Since educational leadership want students to think “outside the box” in the other disciplines, why aren’t they allowed to do so regarding the theory of evolution.  They say that they want the students to use their minds to solve problems, analyze issues, to critique thesis’s, but how can a student do this if they are taught that the theory of evolution has no alternatives.

It’s like those overbearing, tyrannical math teachers who refuse to accept alternative answers to the question “How much is 2+2?”, right? All this emphasis on getting answers that are actually correct and verifiable—it’s so authoritarian. Why can’t we just teach them that the Bible is the only right answer? Don’t we want kids to learn critical thinking?

For example, evolution does not address the question of where did the universe come from.  How did the universe come into existence?  How did life arise since we know for a fact that life cannot arise spontaneously?  The theory of evolution is like coming into a movie that is half way through to the end.  What happened before life got here?  How was non-living, inorganic matter able to come to life?  The theory of evolution only deals with the fact that life had already existed and that life forms evolve into new species.

Um, yes, that’s correct: evolution is about biological life forms evolving via reproduction over time, and is not about cosmology or abiogenesis. A bit of genuine critical thinking might lead us to observe that cosmology and abiogenesis are not relevant to the biological mechanisms that comprise evolution and evolutionary science. Apparently Wellman’s version of “critical thinking” seems to consist of thinking up accusations, no matter how irrelevant and spurious, to be used against evolution. But that’s not critical thinking, that’s just denial.

Wellman’s reason number 3 is “Give Parents What They Want.” Right. Parents want their kids to get straight A’s, so just give everybody an A. Oh, that’s not education? Neither is reducing science class to the lowest common denominator of what the parents want. The law of gravity is not determined by a majority vote on how fast people would like to fall down. Science needs to be based on what reality says, not on what public opinion says. And science education needs to be based on science. If science were limited to following public opinion all the time, we’d still be responding to epidemics by burning witches instead of developing medicines.

Reason number 4 is similar: “Freedom of Speech.” He seems a bit confused, though, regarding what this has to do with teaching evolution. He states, “I believe that students should have the option of stating their own beliefs and base them upon what findings they gain in their education.” I imagine, then, that he’ll be delighted to discover that students already have that option. Teachers, on the other hand, are not entitled to freedom of speech in the classroom. They are expected to provide an accurate education, and not just tell kids whatever they like without regard for whether or not it’s true or on topic.

Wellman also notes that academic freedom is what brought the theory of evolution to the classroom in the first place, but fails to notice that this was because evolution does a much better job than its predecessor, which was creationism. He also fails to notice that academic freedom means researchers being free to follow the evidence wherever it might lead, and free to share their findings with other researchers. He seems to think that academic freedom means science teachers using their classrooms to sell their religious beliefs to other people’s kids, under the guise of “free expression.”

Wellman’s last and least reason is “Evolution is Bad Science.” As proof, he cites the fact that evolutionists believe in the possibility of beneficial mutations.

One example is that mutations are a good thing.  I heard about a dairy farmer who had a dairy cow that gave birth to a calf with two heads.  That is a mutation.  The problem was that the calf died since it was sending different signals to its digestive system and survived for only a few days.   If you had asked the dairy farmer if that mutation was an advantage, he would have said no because the calf died.  I have never seen or heard of a mutation where it helped the specie propagate or survive and become a better organism.

Checkmate, scientists! You may have actual evidence of beneficial mutations, like the nylon-eating bacteria for example, but I have an actual anecdote about one bad mutation, plus my own personal ignorance, and so that proves that evolution is bad science. Oh, and transitional fossils, and the Cambrian Explosion and yadda yadda yadda.

Wellman’s conclusion is that creationism should be taught, not just alongside of evolution, but instead of it.

To reject God as Creator is to imply that God did not create except by random chance or blind occurrences by way of evolution or that there is no Creator at all which denies reality (Rom 1:20’ Psalm 19:1).  Creationism should be taught but it should begin at home.  Those who claim that God used evolution to complete His creation are robbing God of glory and God will not ever share His glory with another (Isaiah 42:8).

Alternately, you could say that God’s reputation takes a bigger hit whenever creationists like Mr. Wellman point out His failure to come up with a design as ingenious and elegant and innovative as Darwin’s. That, I think, might be the biggest burr under the creationist saddle. Here’s their Almighty, All-Wise Creator God, and yet His design for creation is static and decaying, capable of only malignant and harmful variations, and along comes a seminary dropout to show God how powerful and creative and intelligent His design could have been. And all the creationists can do in rebuttal is to point out all the deficiencies, real or imagined, in God’s Biblical creation! Sucks, don’t it?

All in all, I’d say Mr. Wellman does a sterling job of demonstrating exactly why creationism has absolutely no place in the science classroom. It is a form of religious proselytism that is perniciously poisonous to scientific understanding and to genuine critical thinking, besides being factually incorrect. Its one redeeming feature is the implicit blasphemy of attributing such incompetence to the Biblical Creator, but even that’s not a good reason to teach it in science class.

20 comments

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  1. 1
    thebookofdave

    These educators are like dictators who essentially spout “It’s my way or the highway.”

    The sense of envy in his rant is thick enough to spread. He sure chose an appropriate blog title, though it can be tweaked to be more descriptive of his rhetoric.

    Christian Crybaby: Oh, ye are about to get an earful

    1. 1.1
      Rain

      “Christian Crybaby” perfectly describes it thank you very much. In fact it perfectly describes Intelligent Design too. IMO this blog post would be more accurately titled “Lots of this namby-pamby ‘Intelligent Design’ stuff here”.

      1. Rain

        What’s with the “moderation” bull crap. Withdraw my comment please.

      2. Deacon Duncan

        Hi, Rain, sorry about the inconvenience. Unfortunately I operate under a fairly constant deluge of comment spam, and I don’t have time to manage it all, so as a bit of a throttle I’ve turned on the WordPress feature that requires you to have at least one approved comment before you can submit directly. You’ll be able to comment unrestricted from now on.

  2. 2
    raven

    The enemy of fundie xianity isn’t evolution, biology, or science.

    It’s reality itself.

    So good luck with fighting a War on Reality. Reality doesn’t care one bit what you believe.

  3. 3
    Shakatany Lee

    Wonderful. Let’s teach our children nonsense which will help them compete in the future against people from other countries who are taught pure science. What? It won’t help? That’s ok we’ll remain in our religious shell as America turns into an ignorant third-world country and other countries surge ahead of us in science and technology which is where money is to be made. These creationists are traitors seeking to sabotage the future of America.

  4. 4
    Eamon Knight

    Geez, for some reason I thought Patheos had slightly higher standards than that (of course, the only Christian blog I read over there is Slacktivist, so my sample is skewed). But that Crier post is just oft-heard, bottom-of-the-barrel, Ken Ham level stupid. On the plus side, he also has a post recommending that Christians consider signing up for ObamaCare, even if he does use it as lead-in to an embarrassingly cheesy altar call.

  5. 5
    mikespeir

    This is so cute it’s painful. Before, Christians were all, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). “Now, it’s, “Teach the controvery!”

    Don’t kid yourself. Their goal isn’t to have the controversy taught. Their goal is a toe in the door so that eventually they can go back to Galatians 1:8!

  6. 6
    robertbaden

    Isn’t a double headed animal more likely to be a developmental error than any sort of mutation?

  7. 7
    Nepenthe

    Shh robert, don’t confuse the poor man any more than he already is.

    Speaking of two-headed animals, reptile collectors find two-headed herps especially valuable. And no, they do not necessarily get along. Especially at dinner-time.

  8. 8
    Nick Gotts

    “There are No Criticisms of Evolution” – Jack Wellman

    Well I have some criticisms of evolution! It’s provided me with this fragile, squishy, jerry-built body, likely to last considerably less than a century and subject to all sorts of faults and breakdowns in the meantime. Not only that, it’s produced a slew of viruses, bacteria, protists, fungi and nematodes which, at any opportunity, treat said body as soup, main course and dessert without so much as a by-your-leave. And with all that, I have to count myself as exceptionally lucky in comparison to the vast majority of organisms, which barely get started before something else eats them! Let’s get an intelligent designer in to make some drastic improvements a.s.a.p., I say!

  9. 9
    Voice Sanity

    > Well I have some criticisms of evolution!

    Me too. Read up on this little darling: Cymothoa exigua

    The stuff of nightmares. Can ID explain this?

  10. 10
    Ike Arumba

    Only if we can teach Evolution in his church.

    1. 10.1
      Marcus Ranum

      We could, you know? There are a lot of amateur sunday school teachers and whatnot – if we weren’t busy actually having lives and whatnot, we could give them a taste of their own medicine by infiltrating their church groups and sunday schools…

      It’s the downside of playing fair: the cheater/sneak always has an advantage.

  11. 11
    G

    What to do about this:

    Demand the teaching of other “alternative theories:” Marxism in economics classes, anarchism in American government classes, and of course atheism in classes about religious texts as literature.

    With enough such demands, school boards will be swamped out and get fed up. But what they won’t be able to do is use the “alternative theories” rationale without triggering equal protection lawsuits.

    The goal here is to remove the “alternative theories” rationale entirely from public discourse, by tying it to Marxism and anarchism. The more rationalizations we can remove, the more the religious right is limited to naked religious claims, that the courts have already rejected firmly.

    1. 11.1
      Deacon Duncan

      On the other hand, what if the real goal here is to bury schools under so many contradictory alternatives that students end up learning nothing? Since atheism correlates well with effective education, religion’s best strategy might be to simply prevent education from happening in the first place.

      1. Marcus Ranum

        I don’t think that’s a good strategy at all (which does not necessarily mean the faithful won’t adopt it) since offering multiple absurd theories will tend to make students’ eyes glaze over and they’ll realize that they are all nonsense. It may retard students’ learning about evolution (hello, future WAL-MART greeters!) but that will not necessarily translate to more believers in any particular cult.

  12. 12
    geoffreyhowe

    Only kind of related, but the idea occurred to me earlier today, and I wanted to hear what people think about it.

    Basically, the idea is Creationism is more scientific than Intelligent Design. Now, ID usually gets the reputation of being creationism in a lab coat, and that’s certainly fair, but creationism has much more of the spirit of science, whereas ID has nothing but a white coat, that doubles as their own straight jacket.

    You see, ID doesn’t make any testable claims. At all. They posit ‘some designer’ but since they don’t specify any details, this designer could take any form and design in any fashion. They can’t suggest any designer because they all believe the designer is their own particular god. But the second they actually propose that their god is the designer, they are creationists, by definition. So in order to keep their lab coat on, they have to never actually come out and say who the designer is.

    For it’s many, many faults, ‘Creation Science’ at least went down swinging. Many men of god set out to learn more about gods creation, nobly searching for knowledge and natural theology. But as they made testable claims, they dared to enter the ring. Every claim of creationism shattered was another blow to the face. Creationism had to be wheeled out of the arena on life support.

    But at least creationism tried. The Discovery Institute is happy to keep talking about how badass they are, bragging about how they could kick your ass, but when you actually enter the ring and tell them to step up, they ignore the challenge and keep preening. All talk. No show. They risk nothing, and because they risk nothing, they gain nothing. They won’t tell you what their designer is, what his powers and limitations are, or what his motives might have been. There’s just SOME designer. Who may or may not have created everything through naturalistic means.

    Creationism may be bad science, but at least it subjected itself to scientific scrutiny. The pre-Darwin scientists said “Here is what I should expect to find because of my religious beliefs”. And they never found it, time and time again. The Discovery Institute knows that. They know that the moment they declare their allegiance by naming a designer, they’ll be in the exact same position that creationism was in, and will get the beating of their life.

    And so, knowing that victory is hopeless, but unwilling to join the winning side, they avoid real conflict and settle for what attention they can get by merely grandstanding. They’ll never do any actual science, because, in their heart of hearts, they know what the answer will be. Unlike the creation-believing scientists of a bygone era, they don’t have the faith, the courage of their convictions, to actually put their beliefs to the test.

    1. 12.1
      Deacon Duncan

      There’s a lot of merit in what you say, and I think original creationism is what gave rise to theistic evolution. As you say, the original creationists had the courage of their convictions, and weren’t afraid to put their assumptions to the test. Where those assumptions proved false, they took a step back and re-thought their assumptions until they’d arrived at theistic evolution (which is still superstitious, but at least it relegates God to some unspecified, intangible contribution rather than making Him “scientific” in any sense).

      Creationism since then has lost its original courage and replaced it with bluster and denial. Modern creationism doesn’t even make claims any more, it just runs around trying to spread FUD regarding evolution. In that sense, creationism and ID are the conjoined twins of superstitious cosmology. So I think there’s a lot of truth in your observations, but they apply more to earlier creationism than what we have today.

  13. 13
    Marcus Ranum

    Is it fair to give students only one theory to believe?

    I have a theory, too, which is that the universe is a booger that came from a great big dog’s nose. I have evidence supporting this – the dog – and I demand equal time with christian theology and “evolution”! It’s going to make classes pretty interesting; I know a guy who believes the universe is ejaculate from the divine and it’s pretty racy stuff.

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