Friday, July 10, 2009

Luskin's turn

IMO Casey Luskin's latest is short on . . . intellectual honesty. Let's see the organization that is promoting Intelligent Design and attacking Evolution as often as they can puts out an article to 'help' lawyers and teachers understand the arguments. So to be clear, Casey himself, that less-than-a-paragon-of-honesty is going to give a fair and unbiased position paper to help lawyers and teachers? This I gotta see.

Oooooppppps, I can't! The Hamline University Law School website is not open to the public. SO I can't get to the article. Just out of curiosity, I tried a search for 'Luskin' and a search for the title of his article "Does Challenging Darwin Create Constitutional Jeopardy? A Comprehensive Survey of Case Law Regarding the Teaching of Biological Origins" and both came up with nothing. Not really sure if that means anything, but given Casey's history I would be wary of anything that I can only find on a Discovery Institute website.

Before we get started, here is the link supposedly to the Hamline University Law Review. You can back-check me on finding Casey's article. "
Does Challenging Darwin Create Constitutional Jeopardy? A Comprehensive Survey of Case Law Regarding the Teaching of Biological Origins", vol. 32(1):1-64 (Winter, 2009)

In the mean time I will bite the bullet and look at the article as posted on the Center for Science and Culture (The Discovery Institute's Intelligent Design promoters) website.

Damn, the very first line sets up Casey's spin:

"The teaching of biological origins in public schools remains a contentious scientific, cultural, and legal debate"
Cultural debate, certainly! in fact that is the heart of the whole problem, one culture trying to push its belief system on the rest of us and trying to use science to do it. Legal debate? Yes again. The actions of the DI and their supporters have once again drawn us into the legal activities, as evidenced most recently by Dover PA which I am sure will be mentioned in Casey's little missive. However scientific? No! There is no debate over the scientific aspects of the debate. Intelligent design is not science, it has never been science and if the few actual scientists over at the DI don't shut people like Luskin up and get into the lab to do real scientific work, it will never be science. In other words there is no scientific debate.

What I think Casey missed is the political debate that they are also pushing. How many states have tried to implement the DI's 'strengths and weaknesses' tactics? 8? 10? 12? Only Louisiana succumbed. The DI also made a huge play in Texas and actually had representation on the group appointed to 're-review' the science curriculum after the first set of reviewers didn't satisfy, the now ousted school board head, Don McLeroy. They played the political game with Senator Rick Santorum and his frequently mis-represented unfunded and un-implemented part of the "No-Child-Left-Behind act. So does this mean the DI is abandoning the political? No, I don't think so. I just don't think they want attention drawn to it.

How about the whole 'Darwin caused Hitler' debate? I'm not sure that falls under of the above categories? Where does one file a lie? How about the relatively new "Wallace was an ID'er?", I think that would join it. What about the whole 'Persecution complex'? So there is a psychological debate as well.

So in my opinion Casey is focusing this article and rather than being a comprehensive look, it's simply another propaganda piece.

OK, enough for the first line, let's move ahead:
"awareness of the full breadth of case law"
So now Casey is a lawyer? Oh wait, he is! I keep forgetting. I mean he seems to keep trying to pass himself off as a scientist that I forgot where he started. I will be hard pressed to think he will actually cover the 'full breadth', but it will be interesting to see his spin. And here it is:
"Moreover, few have bothered to engage in a careful review of the case law to determine if evolution actually is beyond scrutiny in public schools. "
OK, anyone else have a problem with this? He's building a straw man here. There is nothing beyond scrutiny in schools, certainly nothing that would be mentioned in case law. no one is making this argument, but Casey is going to respond to it?

Let me clear my own thinking on this. So when a school system says Intelligent Design is not science and doesn't belong in the science classroom has turned into placing evolution beyond scrutiny? No, he is mixing apples and oranges here. Let's look at the other more recent tactic, the whole 'strengths and weaknesses' argument. So when a school system says the 'strengths and weaknesses' tactic is not a valid one, this is designed to place evolution beyond scrutiny? No way!

Here is the spin. The whole 'Teach the Controversy" tactic that evolved [pun intended] into the 'strengths and weaknesses' argument had nothing to do with teaching the strengths and weaknesses of current scientific theories. The wording of those arguments were designed to force teachers to literally CREATE weaknesses so they can fulfill the rules. They were designed to open the door for ID, or other religiously motivated alternative. Go back and read up on them yourself. Don't take my word for it. Also look at Casey's other works and see how many actual weaknesses ave they uncovered? Does the word 'NONE' come to mind. They have been attacking evolution for the last 20 years and so far they have uncovered nothing that could be considered a weakness. Oh they like to point to things we don't know, but does that make it a weakness? They also like to point to things outside of evolution and claim them as weaknesses. But actual weaknesses in evolutionary theory? So far they have struck out.

Here is the other fun part of his straw man. How many laws are going to be specific enough on school curriculum to address any specific subject point, like Evolution? None! Gee so Casey sets out to prove that case law doesn't support evolution being unassailable, and lo and behold, he can't find any. The other reason he won't is because there is no subject that cannot be examined in class. But it has to be a scientifically viable and valid examination to be part of the science curriculum. The whole strengths and weaknesses was not scientifically valid or viable. it was a despicable underhanded tactic. Much like the whole 'Academic Freedom' tactic Casey uses on occasion. I have blogged before about how little academic freedom was involved in
"Academic Freedom" Day?, More on "Academic Freedom", and The American Council on Education's position on Academic Freedom to name a few.

Casey breaks his latest whine up into three areas: (1) Cases upholding the right to teach about evolution; (2) Cases rejecting the teaching of alternatives to evolution; and (3) Cases rejecting disclaimers regarding the teaching of evolution.

The first one doesn't bother me. I really don't care what Casey thinks. Yes, there have been a number of cases concerning the teaching of evolution, but the cases were not about teaching evolution, but about who gets to decide what gets tauhgt. The cases, such as Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) invalidated an Arkansas statute that prohibited the teaching of evolution in the public schools.

The cases that meet Casey's second criteria escapes me right this second because I know of no case that prevents the teaching of alternatives. I do know of cases where the teaching of teaching RELIGIOUS alternatives is prohibited.
  • Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) ruled that a Louisiana law requiring that creation science be taught in public schools along with evolution was unconstitutional, because the law was specifically intended to advance a particular religion
  • McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education (1982) ruled that the Arkansas "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act" (Act 590) was unconstitutional because it violated the Establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution
  • Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al.(2005) ruled that intelligent design is a form of creationism, and that the school board policy thus violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
In fact most school systems encourage the examination of actual scientific alternatives. Which is why Casey and his less-than-stalwart buddies over at the Discovery Institute spend so much time (and money) trying to convince people Intelligent Design is science. If only they would spend more time (and money) on actual science and not on marketing they might get somewhere.

As for his third criteria, Cases rejecting disclaimers regarding the teaching of evolution, this one also throws me. The problem is not a disclaimer, the problem is the purpose of the disclaimer. The purpose is not the support a quality education, but to cast doubt in the teaching of certain specific theories, such as Evolution. Why does one theory need a disclaimer, such as the one central to the Dover case? Here is is as a reminder:
The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part. Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.
Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People is available for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.
As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments.
The judge ruled that this disclaimer was nothing more than an effort to cast doubt on a well supported scientific theory, evolution, and open the door for the introduction of a religious-based alternative, Intelligent Design.

Casey casts Daniel v. Waters (1975) as one of those cases against making disclaimers. But this case would fit more into his second criteria than his third. The case ruled that a Tennessee's law regarding the teaching of "equal time" of evolution and creationism in public school science classes because it violated the Establishment clause of the US Constitution. I think he overstates the role of a 'disclaimer' in this case. The case wasn't about the disclaimer, but about the attempt force equal time with a religious alternative. The disclaimer wasn't as central to the case as it was in the Dover case.

The Selman v. Cobb County School District (2005) was more about the disclaimer, but the disclaimer wasn't the issue, it was that the disclaimer stating that
"Evolution is a theory, not a fact, concerning the origin of living things."
By employing colloquial definitions of "theory" and "fact", the sticker cast doubt on the scientific consensus regarding evolutionary theory. This was the first case that specifically address the difference between the colloquial definition of 'Theory' and 'Fact' and their within science. I blogged about that one as well (Arguments I - Theory). The problem wasn't any disclaimer, but an invalid disclaimer. There is a scientific consensus on the validity of the Theory of Evolution.

All in all this article does little to advance Intelligent Design as a science. it also just goes to show what kind of spin a lawyer can put on the results of a case. Nothing really new, just longer and more drawn out. Bottom line is any teacher, lawyer, or educator that need an understanding of the legal ramifications of introducing religious-based alternatives to current scientific theories better consult with an unbiased party before proceeding down a path advocated by any member of the Discovery Institute, especially Casey here..

Casey is just as good a lawyer as he is a biologist, public relations, and public speaker -- mores the pity. I think his best work was standing outside the Dover PA courtroom and handing out Intelligent Design literature.

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