RE: an article on the creationist's plea "teach the controversy"

From: Michael Glassman (
Date: Mon Oct 11 2004 - 09:11:11 PDT

I am actually of two minds in this, and I think it has to do with
recognizing all the different issues involved in the development of the
debate to this point. One of the really important battles was the
separation of science from religion in education. This was especially
important concerning the advent of Darwinism. We should never forget
that religion wanted to control the growing education movement in both
England and the United States in the late nineteenth century.
Scientists fought back hard making the argument that what is taught in
education must be totally separate from religion, and perhaps the
primary vehicle they developed was mainstream science - that there is a
thing called scientific proof that outweighs religious arguments, and if
we don't accept this we can never progress as a society (notice I used
the word progress and not advance). This was easier for some
disciplines than it was for others. For instance it was relatively easy
for the physical sciences and mathematics to make this argument, less so
for biological sciences, even less so for developmental sciences (such
as evolution and geology), and most difficult for what we now call the
social sciences. Yet the field of battle was always that the
disciplines claimed they could offer some form of agreed upon scientific
methodology leading to consensus. I think a lot of bad things were done
in the name of this argument, no doubt about it - such as there is only
one methodology (that the most powerful people in the field determine
and judge) and that this is the only direction towards consensus - so
that as already mentioned science soon took on some religious overtone.
At the same time religion was pushed out of education based on this


In our current atmosphere religion is attempting to make a comeback, and
ID is in many ways at the forefront of this drive. I have made the
argument in a couple of places that mainstream Darwinism really doesn't
make a lot of sense in a number of areas, and there is no doubt that
quite a few people (so called scientists) accept this more as religious
belief than rational (broadly defined) explanation, not even allowing
minimal dissent. But I think that is because what we have allowed our
field to become. Rebels are filtered out of scientific communities and
the few that are left are shunted to the margins where too often they
are set against each other. But I also worry about abandoning the
original argument, that religion can be held at bay in education because
there is a possibility for rational scientific discourse that can come
to some consensus that is beyond anything religion can offer us in
setting our society on a progressive course.





From: Steve Gabosch []
Sent: Monday, October 11, 2004 8:01 AM
Subject: Re: an article on the creationist's plea "teach the


Your post on Intelligent Design and your critique of the mainstream
Darwinian response to it is great, Jay. I liked the Evan Ratliff
article because it did an effective job of outlining the ID-believers
"teach the controversy" strategy, but I too noticed that the arguments
Ratliff outlined as being advanced by the pro-evolutionary theory
supporters were unsatisfactory.

Taking a closer look at the Ratliff article, he cites numerous arguments
that pro-evolutionists, each in their own way, sometimes use against
teaching Intelligent Design beliefs in public school biology today.
Here is an outline (my interpretation, of course) of these arguments
mentioned by Ratliff.

a. public opinion has spoken in favor of evolutionism, so creationism
should be ignored
1. the lessons of the Scopes trial in 1925, and the Louisiana ruling by
the Supreme Court 15 years ago settled it: evolution won - end of
b. the scientific community has spoken, there is no debate
2. ID belief principles have been dismissed by the scientific community
3. there is nothing to debate between evolutionary theory and
creationist theory such as the belief if ID
4. just as some people teaching that the holocaust did not happen does
not mean this should be taught in history, the creationist teaching that
evolution did not happen should not be taught in biology
5. a representative debate between ID-believers and science would be
two IDers vs 10,000 pro-evolution scientists
c. ID beliefs hurt children and society when taught in schools, so
discussion of it there should be banned
8. these ID-inspired lesson plans injure children
9. wasting public school time on bogus criticisms of evolution is
detrimental in our time (for example, GMO, stem cell research)
d. ID belief propaganda tactics are dishonest, so ID should be shunned
10. IDers are providing examples designed to undermine evolution and
promote creation in their curriculum proposals
11. the ID people use out of context, selective quotes
12. ID believers use incomplete summaries of research and muddled
e. ID belief is not science
6. ID is just creationism in a lab coat
7. ID explains nothing, it just claims God made everything
8. ID is not a science because it makes no predictions
f. theory of evolution is valid and answers all of ID's objections
13. Darwinism can explain complexity
14. debates over the mechanism of evolution (natural selection, etc.)
are not a rejection of evolution, any more than Einstein's advances over
Newton were a rejection of physics

Each of these arguments has some truth - some are quite good - and some
have important flaws. Here are a few comments with my thoughts,
building on some of Jay's.

a. public opinion has spoken in favor of evolutionism, so creationism
should be ignored
Indeed, it is true that important sections of the public have spoken,
but the flaw in this view is this: many more sections have not. The
larger public still needs to be won over to evolutionary theory. At
this time, the public is confused and not well informed about the
question of evolution theory versus creationist belief.

b. the scientific community has spoken, there is no debate
This is one of the central points Jay emphasizes - the undemocratic idea
that the "scientific community" (the academically and/or professionally
credentialed) should have the final say in what is considered
"scientifically" true and therefore should decide what should be taught
as "science" in the classroom.

c. ID beliefs hurt children and society when taught in schools, so
discussion of it there should be banned
This style of argument is inherently flawed; while certainly
impassioned, is no better when used by one side or the other.

d. ID belief propaganda tactics are dishonest, so ID should be shunned
The methods of argumentation used by the ID belief enthusiasts are
indeed dishonest - especially when they pose their beliefs as a kind of
science and a form of inquiry. They certainly do promote misinformation
to create uncertainty. But these tactics must be exposed and ways of
seeing through them must be taught in order to isolate and defeat them.
The ability to do so is an essential feature of critical thought, which,
as Jay emphasizes, is one of the essential things that should be
developed in all schooling. Perhaps the analysis of ID belief
"education" methods should actually be taught in public school science
as the opposite of scientific methodology - as an example of

e. ID belief is not science, so it should not be discussed in public
Indeed, ID belief is not science, it is faith, and therefore does not
belong in biology class in the strict sense. But the conclusion is
flawed. Comparative and critical discussion about belief systems and
ideologies does belong in school. Science on the ideological level is
just another belief system - but it is also something more. Science is
also a method of (gradually, and in a zig-zagging, back-and-forth kind
of progressive historical motion) creatively trying to understand and
control nature and society - (Jay and others may not agree with this
concept of herky-jerky progress, I am not sure) - and this method and
effort is what makes science different from any other belief system. It
is also a system of theory and practice with the power and danger of
modern industry and agriculture (partially) in its hands (at least as an
object of analysis - the capitalist class generally owns and controls
these entities, of course). ID belief has no place in the specific
theories and practices of science because it makes no attempt at being
scientific in any sense - and this is essential to explain. In fact,
ID-belief is a thoroughly anti-scientific ideology, and should be openly
discussed as such. So I think it should be discussed, but not as a kind
of science - it should be discussed as a form of anti-science.

f. the theory of evolution is valid and answers all of ID's objections
The flaw in this is another point Jay emphasizes - many accepted aspects
of the theory of evolution are becoming out of date and out of synch
with new information and better theoretical frameworks. The place of
the mechanism of natural selection in evolution is particularly in need
of revision. As Joy points out, non-linear complex system theory and
other lines of inquiry in complexity science are opening up new ways of
understanding how biological change over time works that take us well
beyond the constraints of the gradualist methodology Darwin offered in
his theory of natural selection.

A final comment and appreciation about Jay's post, in addition to its
questioning of the philosophical foundations of Western (bourgeois)
science, is his mention of the Bruno Latour piece. A little googling
reveals Jay is referring to chapter 7 (and other chapters) of Latour's
1999 book _Pandora's Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies_,
which draws in part from Plato's Dialogue Gorgias. These are now two
readings I look forward to.

Thank for a great post, Jay.

~ Steve

10/10/2004 Jay Lemke wrote:

I've come across "Intelligent Design" before, but I generally don't
respond well to the political counter-argument that science education
should be about teaching what mainstream scientists have decided is "the
scientific view". That's just what I don't like about religious
education, or for that matter, traditional teaching about correct
interpretations of literature.

All education needs to be about teaching critical thinking. All the more
so when the odds against any challenge to dominant ideas and ideologies
grow greater and greater with greater and greater concentrations of
wealth and power on a global scale. The Ratliff article forwarded to us
mentions, near the end, that Ohio's fields are filled with GMO corn --
which is banned in Europe, perhaps partly to restrict US imports, but
also partly because GMO (genetically modified) agriculture is so
profitable that there has been less than sufficient scrutiny of its
possible ecological side-effects. The same scientists who claim to
dictate the school curriculum are very likely to be the ones teaching us
that what's profitable is also safe (as, of course, tobacco smoke was
scientifically safe for many years, and asbestos, and the "Green
Revolution" seeds, and nuclear reactors, and much much else).

Of course Intelligent Design is just another political disguise for
ultra-conservative, religious fundamentalist power-mongering,
demagoguery, and fund-raising in the US. A near-cousin to gay-baiting,
anti-flouridation, phonics-based literacy teaching, anti-abortion, etc.
etc. -- regardless of the actual merits of any position on the issues
themselves, pro or con.

But the counter-arguments are just as flawed, just as political, just as
anti-democratic, and just as inimical to genuine education.

For an interesting version of the argument that the Western
philosophical-scientific-rationalist tradition is profoundly
anti-democratic, see Latour's "The Settlement of Socrates and
Callicles". (BTW, this argument does present some difficulties I think
for Marxist rationalism as well.)

On the particular issue, the orthodox Darwinians are actually in rather
of a difficult situation. As noted in one legitimate research paper
mentioned in the article and cite by the ID side, there are in fact some
very serious flaws in Darwinian evolutionary theory, and they happen to
exactly center on the evolution of highly complex adaptive structures.
The argument, very simply, is that natural selection operating on random
mutations is not the sole or in many cases the primary explanation for
these structures, but rather they arise because of interactions among
material structures during development that are not totally controlled
by the genes alone, but also by the basic laws of physics and chemistry.
Essentially this is an alternative theory that says that Darwinian
paradigms are incomplete and in some cases seriously so, and that our
new understanding of nonlinear complex system theory, combined with
information theory, offers a better explanation, or at least the promise
of one. But nobody is teaching anything about complexity science in the
school curriculum (though the NSF has tried to interest a lot of us in
writing such a curriculum). We are teaching 19th century science for the
most part, with a few 20th century facts thrown in. This is true not
just in biology but in all of science. We are preparing students for the
world of 1950, not the world of 2050.

So the ID people are in part right about evolution being itself taught
on faith, and contrary to the best science of today. They are of course
totally wrong that just because Darwin doesn't tell the whole story,
that the logical alternative is alien design or divine creation. There
are other, better logical alternatives (though I really don't think we
can rule out alien design, and why should we?). But no one is teaching
those alternatives either. And worst of all no one wants to teach kids
that science is about controversy and disagreement, that many scientific
theories later turn out to be wrong, and that the heart of science is a
healthy skepticism toward current explanations and a creative, critical
effort to think along new lines.

But then it might be harder to get people to buy GMO corn.


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