Luskin and the New Mexico creationists

Dave Thomas has written an op-ed opposing a bill in New Mexico that would promote Intelligent Design creationism in the classroom under the guise of academic freedom. This is a standard ID game; carefully word the bills so that they refer vaguely to some evidence that doesn’t exist, so that they can pretend they are asking for equal time for the same category of scientific story when it is actually a case of promoting the guesswork, handwaving, and religiously-motivated biases of the creationists to have equivalent status with the evidence of scientists.

Casey Luskin is on the job, though, and he tears into Thomas’s op-ed … or rather, he tears it into little pieces and rearranges the words until he’s got a pastiche he can criticize. It’s a shameful performance that puts the dishonesty of the Discovery Institute on display.

First, here’s the section where Luskin quotes Thomas.

So what does Dave Thomas have to worry about? Thomas thus exposes his true reasons for opposing the bill: He laments that “the driving purpose” behind the bill “would have permitted and encouraged teachers to present so-called weaknesses of evolution science in biology classes” and asserts that we shouldn’t “encourage students to ‘reach their own conclusions.’” Dogmatic Darwinists like Dave Thomas apparently find it very scary that students might not reach his preferred “conclusion” if they are taught the full range of the scientific evidence about Neo-Darwinism. So he’s forced to oppose a bill that sanctions the teaching of science, and science only, in the science classroom.

Wow, that certainly sounds mean of Thomas, as if his arguments are all based on denying students their right to think independently. The weird thing, though, is that if you actually read Thomas’s op-ed and look for the words Luskin quoted,you find them in a very different context.

The carefully crafted “academic freedom” measures made no specific mention of intelligent design. But it was clearly the driving purpose behind these, which would have permitted and encouraged teachers to present so-called weaknesses of evolution science in biology classes.

The measures would have also have given students the “right and freedom to reach their own conclusions about biological origins.”

We don’t encourage students to “reach their own conclusions” on how to add fractions. Why should we suddenly do so with the biosciences?

Hmm. So Luskin says Thomas objects to the driving purpose of the bill, which is to teach the weaknesses of evolution; but if you read Thomas’s actual words, the driving purpose to which he objects is that it’s all about teaching intelligent design. That’s a sloppy distortion. It just tells me that Luskin didn’t read very carefully; it also suggests that perhaps he thinks “weakness of evolution” is equivalent to “intelligent design”.

The quote about encouraging students to reach their own conclusions has been woefully truncated, too; the comparison with adding fractions is the significant point, and Luskin left off the part that would have made him look like a wishy washy relativist. There are a lot of facts in biology, and scientists who are masters of a large proportion of them have come to the conclusion that they support evolutionary theory. We’re supposed to expect that kids who learn a few very basic ideas about biology are then going to come up with valid interpretations that contradict the scientists’? If the creationists idea of teaching the evidence is to mangle it as badly as Luskin has done this op-ed, I wouldn’t trust them.

There’s another point that Luskin throws in at the end, his denial that religion has anything to do with the ID movement.

Thomas is so desperate at this point that he attacks the religious beliefs and religious motives of various proponents of the bill. He says that the “creationists” are getting “sneakier,” but in reality it’s the Darwinists who are getting more desperate in their attempts to oppose legitimate bills which would allow the teaching of science which challenges neo-Darwinism.

It wasn’t a measure of desperation, it was a statement of the facts…a rather thorough and overwhelming presentation of the motivations of the backers of this bill. Here they are:

While supporters insisted that “this is about science, not religion,” Williams [sponsor of the House bill] was much more honest. At a hearing Jan. 29 in the House Judiciary Committee on the memorial, Williams declared: “What we evolved from we will never figure out. There are many people who are absolutely convinced God did all of this, and if you have the faith I have, God did it all.”

In public, they will claim intelligent design is not creationism, but only “science.” But on the Jan. 13, 2005, “Family News In Focus,” James Dobson’s radio news program, Renick [president of the New Mexico Intelligent Design Network] revealed his agenda: “If there’s no transcendent designer or creator, such as the God of Genesis, well then, that’s going to say a whole lot about what this life is about and what it means.”

Yet, the webmaster for the foundation [New Mexico Science Foundation] is Mark Burton, a high-ranking member of the Creation Science Fellowship of New Mexico, a creationist organization committed to biblical inerrancy, Noah’s flood and a 6,000-year-old Earth.

There’s the evidence. Do you think you can reach a conclusion?

Do remember Bill Buckingham, the fellow who pushed the Dover school board to adopt a pro-ID policy. He made statements like those of Williams and Renick, too, and the judge was clearly able to see that the “driving purpose” behind that effort was the advancement of a religiously-motivated doctrine, intelligent design creationism, that had been cobbled together to circumvent rulings that showed creationism to be a religious idea. I see that Buckingham’s ideological and intellectual peers are hard at work in New Mexico.


  1. Paul says

    I agree with Joe Renick, “Renick [president of the New Mexico Intelligent Design Network] revealed his agenda: “If there’s no transcendent designer or creator…”

    See Casey, we can do it too!

  2. dorid says

    I can’t get to fired up about this. I did get a bit of a chuckle though. One of the things that’s interesting about New Mexico is that it’s so liberal. That of course means that we have all sorts of people believing all sorts of things, but that while the schools are “open minded” about them, they don’t endorse them in the classroom.

    I’m not too worried about what my kids are learning in the science classroom here (although I DO keep and eye on it). I was much more worried in So Cal.

    Much more interesting is the whole war of words that goes on over this, and all the legislation introduced in places it hasn’t got a CHANCE of passing in.

  3. says

    …Luskin left off the part that would have made him look like a wishy washy relativist.

    I just love that part.

    Look like? That seems to imply that he isn’t really.

  4. Dave says

    “If there’s no transcendent designer or creator, such as the God of Genesis, well then, that’s going to say a whole lot about what this life is about and what it means.”

    I gotta agree with Renick on that point.

    Maybe fewer wars?


  5. MarkP says

    We’re supposed to expect that kids who learn a few very basic ideas about biology are then going to come up with valid interpretations that contradict the scientists’?

    Indeed. Every time I hear these yahoos talk about letting kids make up their own minds, I want to ask them if they think we should have a student teach the class. Why not replace all of our teachers with students? Let’s replace the PhD researchers with students too. After all, students know as much about biology as the teachers and scientists right? Oh, they don’t? Of course not, that’s why they are in school in the first place, and why their views shouldn’t be driving the curriculum.

    The whole subject is a red herring anyway, because all a teacher can demand is that the student demonstrate his mastery of the subject on exams. No teacher can force a student to believe the material, just ask any of my government teachers. So this is just as vacuous a claim as claiming that prayer was taken out of schools, and not coincidentally, made by the same people.

  6. says

    It wasn’t a measure of desperation, it was a statement of the facts…a rather thorough and overwhelming presentation of the motivations of the backers of this bill.

    Of course, that was one of the most interesting parts of the backlash against Jones after Dover. Even our dear Miss Coulter tried to have it both ways, as in “ID isn’t about religion, but the decision was another example of how Godless the activist judges are.” (paraphrased.)

  7. steve fisher says

    Does anyone know of a case in modern history in which any group, in any field of science, had to resort to legislation in order to get their theory taught in public schools. Relativity? Quantum mechanics? Big Bang theory? Plate tectonics? The endosymbiont theory? Cold fusion? Astrology?
    Don’t these people realize that anyone who could find any evidence that refuted the theory of evolution would be instantly catapulted to fame, and that text books would immediatly be rewritten?

  8. says

    Casey has become a caricature of the worst of creationist “thinking”. On ISCID he has a review of Sean B. Carroll’s “The Making of the Fittest”. He’s already been caught making up stuff about the book, and we’re still waiting to learn where an alleged quotation came from.

  9. James George says

    The central question about creationism is what one believes about the Bible as a source of factual, scientific information. If you believe it is, then you must also accept that observations of the physical/biological world do not reflect “reality” – i.e. That the rules that govern the universe are, in essence, unknowable and can only be found in the Bible. As a devout Christian, I have never understood this view. I think the Bible is a set of holy documents, but I accept it a source of information about the divine, not evolution or quantum mechanics. Science, in my view, is the study of How He Did It, and as such must consist of verifiable, reproducible data. As both a scientist and a Christian, I am insulted that creationists insist that we must accept such a simplistic, clearly-at-odds-with-facts view. To try and force the issue with legislation shows how divorced from reality these people are. Legislation will not change the truth or the laws of the universe. Those who ignore the facts do so at their own peril.

  10. juan arturo says

    Please excuse my lack of knowledge in the subjects being discussed…I apologize in advance if my observation seems foolish.
    It’s just that I have neither read, nor heard, a creationist or ID’er explain why a omnipotent being would *need* to create anything so complicated as the human body…why not just a ‘form’, let’s say, without all that silly extra stuff…like organs, bones, muscles, ligaments, etc.? If you can create anything you want, why bother with all that extra junk?
    I realize this is the opposite of the creationist arguement, but from even a simple commonsense angle it would appear, at least to me, that *only* evolution could cause such exquisite, and complicated diversity.

  11. melior says

    It also seems he left out the part about students being allowed to “reach their own conclusions” by threatening them with eternal suffering.

    Kids might give a different answer to questions about fractions, too, if you pitch it to them that way.

  12. natural cynic says

    It just tells me that Luskin didn’t read very carefully

    Au contraire, it takes some skill at reading comprehension to quote mine so well. Give the devil his due.

  13. Just Al says

    You gotta love some of the quotes from people trying to speak in support: “There are many people who are absolutely convinced God did all of this, and if you have the faith I have, God did it all.”

    He opens with yet another appeal to educate children based on popularity of ideas, which I thought was already taken care of by their peers (“Hey, tattoos make you sexy!”)

    But the next part gets kind of confusing. Is he saying that a fact (“god did it all”) is based on whether you have faith? Or that many people believe not only that god did it, but in addition, god did it?

    Or did he leave out the, “you too would believe” portion between his faith and the assertion that god did it? Isn’t that recursive, since it’s the definition of faith, which also specifically excludes evidence?

    Either way, it seems ID’s worst enemy is indeed itself, since they lack the brains to see when they’re sawing their own legs off by resorting to childish requoting tactics. They appear to want to count on their supporters not only being morons, but rabid enough not to care that they’re supporting weasels. While the Republican party is a great place to go trolling for people like this, even some of them are getting embarrassed.

    And of course, the other great place to find such people is within religion, except that they can’t admit they are pushing religion, except that they can’t get supporters unless they mention religion… You know, I don’t think even a sand wedge is gonna help.

  14. Kagehi says

    Well Juan, its because God wanted something just like himself, just as badly designed, just as prone to ulcers, cancer, indigestion, sweating, etc. Oh wait…. lol

    Seriously, **we** try to make robots that look human, walk like humans, etc. Those all have the same inherent flaws we do, by nature of how they are designed. We also, when we want them to be stable and robust, design them to look **nothing** like us. So, I am not real clear why the frack saying that God made man like himself is a statement of anything other than the flaws and defects of that god. I agree completely that it doesn’t make any damn sense from the perspective of making something “in his image”, without saying some seriously bad things about the original (or just his skills).

    However, creationists don’t think like that. To them, its perfectly reasonable for some “god” to make us in his image, and still have us be a complete disaster, with uncounted flaws and serious design defects. They see it as the pinnicle of success. If I believed it made any sense at all, it would be the equivalent of using paper mache to reproduce a completely working, full scale, model of the Sears tower. The idea is just absurd on its face, never mind making the “god” involved look like a two year old who eats paste.

  15. says

    There was similar legislation introduced here in CO a couple of times, the latest being last year. I was much more worried about it passing here than I am about it passing in NM. The legislation failed here spectacularly both times, by the way. There are a lot of intelligent, thoughtful scientific minds down there; I think they’ll see through this. I hope.

  16. Keanus says

    Efforts like this, that is to pass a law to push an irrational goal, remind me of the effort in the Indiana state legislature a century ago to mandate that the value of π should be three. Those yahoos were the antecedents of Casey Luskin and company. They can’t cope with a gray and fuzzy world, transcendental numbers, and the other seemingly messy aspects of reality.The world must be black and white. What a dull place it would be, if it were.

  17. tacitus says

    Trying to get creationists to stay in the ID “big tent” and behave themselves is as easy as herding cats.

  18. Ed says

    Just to limit the flames, I think ID is a crock, and isn’t scientific at all. And I don’t know if this hasn’t already been discussed elsewhere ad nauseum.

    Wouldn’t we want ID taught in schools? If taught accurately, wouldn’t most students understand that ID is a philosophy that has no real value in scientific study and research. Instead of having kids hear about ID and creationism from extremely biased churches and bible studies, wouldn’t we be doing the population a greater service by examining ID critically and fairly on it’s own merits, thus teaching kids that as a science, ID has no standing?

    An entire science course teaching ID would basically be a one hour lecture about all the “failings” of evolution, then the remainder of the school year would be spent showing evidence, papers, research, and books that address each of those failures.

  19. says

    And you stumble on the problem, Ed, without realizing it: “If taught accurately…”

    That’s a mighty big “if.”

  20. Jeffery Keown says

    Oops… Retraction… ADHD and strong opinions do not mix. The mined quote is still there.

  21. BillCinSD says

    I like their IDea of letting the students decide. A good test case would be in their religious study time. They should bring in someone to show how many contradictions there are in the Bible and discuss other material that contradicts the bible. once this has been done then evaluating the issue for school can be performed.

    one interesting fact from Bob Altemeyer’s book “The Authoritarians” (available for free online)is that many Christian fundamentalists do not know that much about the Bible in total because most only read standard passages and what their pastor tells them to.

  22. dieselrain says

    It is so comical how Christians don’t heed the words in their own Bible: “…render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
    —Jesus. The public school is definitely a thing of Caesar (i.e., government) and therefore is not the place for the things that are God’s (creation science, ID theory). Likewise, the church is a thing of God and having the things of “Caesar” in the sanctuary (U.S. flag and State flag) would seem to be a violation of Jesus’s admonitions. Am I wrong?

  23. John Phillips says

    Why is it that when they say that the students should be allowed to make up their own minds re: evolution they won’t allow the same freedom when it comes to religion. Fine, teach ID and creationism, but do it in a comparative religions class where you teach honestly about all the world’s religions and philosophies and then let them make up their own minds. Of course, they won’t allow this, as they know full well that in that scenario, not only will the majority of students see through their attempts at brainwashing vis a vis creationism and ID but are also likely to question belief in any religion.

    Of course, the operative word above is honestly, and surprise, surprise, many religious folk, especially the more extreme wings, seem to have a great deal of difficulty with honesty. Especially when the opposite is necessary for promoting their viewpoint, as their tactics here and Dover demonstrated. I always thought that the commandment admonished one not to bear false witness full stop, rather than not to bear false witness except when it promotes religious belief. But hey, what do I as an atheist know about the ethical subtleties of the religious extremist.

  24. says


    I basically agree with your main point, but ID does not have the status required to make it into any curriculum, other than as a footnote on an overall unit on natural philosophy.

  25. David Abraham says

    We have long interpreted the Constitution’s Free Exercise clause as a reason for giving religious organizations, like Scientology and the Church of Me First, freedom from taxation. It is about time that we revisited this issue and determine that giving religion a free ride is in violation of the First Amendment, as it privileges religion.

  26. Rooney says

    Fine, teach ID and creationism, but do it in a comparative religions class

    Creationism should be taught in religion class. ID should be taught in political science class. It is not a philosophy so much as a campaign.

  27. Kyle says

    If ID is taught in schools, so should the Flying Speghetti Monster. Why? Scientifically, they both have equal credibility.

  28. Corey says

    If students are to make up their own minds among a plethora of beliefs about how the world works, then why shouldn’t they also be taught the Hindu Earth-sits-on-an-elephant-which-sits-on-a-turtle theory as well, except in Earth Science class? It’s ridiculous, there are millions of conflicting fringe theories in every scientific discipline, “science” itself is the process of eliminating these theories and replacing them with ones that WORK.

    That’s the bottom line, after all. The reason evolutionary science should be taught and ID should not, is that evolutionary science reliably, repeatedly, and demonstrably allows you to predict the behavior of nature in the past, present, and future. It is a model that WORKS. ID should not be taught, regardless of whether it is religious in nature, because it simply doesn’t work to explain or predict anything in nature. Does evolutionary science or ID more accurately predict the development of disease-resistance in bacteria? Which does a better job of explaining the variances in Mitochondrial DNA and the Founder Effect?

  29. says

    It’s so nice to be a norwegian Master student of Neuroscience while I read about these strange debates in the US about creationism and ID. Although we have some religious fundamentalists here in Norway, they tend to keep their babbeling out of the school systems’ science classes, and are content as long as we teach religious ideas in religion classes.

    My supervisor has told me she is religious, but is scientific in her approach to what we’re working with; the structure and function of nervous system related to the sense of smell in moths. As to how things originated and what caused evolutionary processes to happen, she is just as curious as me.

    I really hope you people fight off these religious nutheads, because – as to my experience at conferences and such – american scientists come up with bright knowledge and solid science, and it’s a shame you people should have to use time and effort to discuss these creationist-related matters that so clearly are out of the scope of contemporary science.

    Whatever you do, don’t loose the fight, or it will creep across the atlantic ocean and seriously contaminate european scientific communitys too! :)

  30. John Krehbiel says

    Isn’t it odd that the same people who don’t want to let adults decide with whom to have sex want their kids to be “free” to decide “for themselves” what the nature of the world is?

    Gee, did the kids really just come up with this idea on their own? You mean nobody told them, they just figured out a six day young Earth creation story all by their little lonesomes?