Monday, January 26, 2009

"Exploring Evolution" or The Evolution "Of Pandas and People"

Hopefully you remember the textbook at the center of the Dover Trial, "Of Pandas and People". It's the one where the 'evolution' from Creationism to intelligent Design showed the very obvious link between the two. Well it's been re-written and it's now called "Exploring Evolution". I had heard of it's new title quite a while ago and I have been dreading it ever since. The main reason for my dread is that the title itself shows a level of dishonesty. I mean do you expect it to actually explore the topic of Evolution? I know I am being very pessimistic here, but nothing that has come out of the Discovery Institute has made me the slightest bit optimistic about their 'work'.

Now I haven't seen the text myself, so I realize I am repeating other posts about it, but so far my pessimism might have been overly conservative. Both the NCSE and John Lynch's blog "Stranger Fruit" have posted parts of a review by Brian D. Metscher, University of Vienna, who described it as

"159 glossy pages of color-illustrated creationist nostalgia," adding, "All the old favorites are here — fossils saying no, all the Icons, flightless Ubx flies, irreducible flagella, even that irritating homology-is-circular thing. There are no new arguments, no improved understanding of evolution, just a remastered scrapbook of the old ideas patched together in a high-gloss package pre-adapted to survive the post-Dover legal environment. The whole effort would be merely pathetic if it did not actually represent a serious and insidious threat to education."
I do think I want to stress his last line: "serious and insidious threat to education." Stephen C. Meyer has been presenting this text as 'supplementary' materials for the 'Academic Freedom' bills being pushed in a few states. He's also one of the 6 members of an Advisory Board that presented to the Texas State Board of Ed last week.

I think Dr. Metscher hit my feelings on the nose with:
"everything about this book is designed to avoid the legal obstacles that have impeded previous anti-evolution efforts. Foremost is the meticulous omission of all red-flag words and any direct statements of the nonscientific conclusions it proffers. And it is surely no coincidence that this book came out just as a number of states began passing legislation allowing supplemental materials for teaching the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolutionary science."
This does nothing more than show the continuing evolution of anti-evolutionists. It is exactly what "Of Pandas and People" became following the Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987) case which ruled that a Louisiana law requiring that creation science be taught in public schools whenever evolution was taught was unconstitutional and 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."
"Of Pandas and People" changed immediately after that ruling it became an Intelligent Design text. From Judge Jones Dover ruling:
"By comparing the pre and post Edwards drafts of Pandas, three astonishing points emerge: (1) the definition for creation science in early drafts is identical to the definition of ID; (2) cognates of the word creation (creationism and creationist), which appeared approximately 150 times, were deliberately and systematically replaced with the phrase ID; and (3) the changes occurred shortly after the Supreme Court held that creation science is religious and cannot be taught in public school science classes in Edwards. This word substitution is telling, significant, and reveals that a purposeful change of words was effected without any corresponding change in content."
John Timmer's assessment of Explore Evolution:
"anyone using this as a source of information about science in the classroom will leave their students with a picture of modern biology that is essentially unrelated to the way that science is actually practiced within the biological science community."
This text is nothing more than another evolution after defeat after defeat in the courtroom. It offers nothing new and at its heart is nothing more than a lie. It's very title promises to explore evolution and it apparently does not live up to it.

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