Jun 03 2011

Creationist Politicians

Tennessee is currently debating one of the latest creationist bills – House Bill 368, introduced by representative Bill Dunn. The essence of the bill is this:

Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.

Basically – it’s a “strengths and weaknesses” bill. This is the latest strategy for sneaking creationism into the public schools through the back door. They failed to ban evolution. They failed to force in creationism through “equal time” laws. They failed to sneak in intelligent design (creationism in disguise). So now they are working on two closely related strategies: academic freedom and strengths and weaknesses. They are very clever, but the purpose is exactly the same – water down the teaching of evolution and sneak in as much creationist propaganda as possible.

The language of the bill first sets the stage by saying that evolutionary theory is “controversial.” Of course, it’s only culturally controversial because of creationist denialism. It is not controversial within the scientific community, the overwhelming majority of whom accept evolution as a scientific fact. Then the bill goes on to say that the purpose is just to teach kids (wait, turn down your irony meters) – “critical thinking.”

Taken at face value, other than incorrectly naming evolution as a “controversial” theory, most of the text of the bill appears very innocuous. That is deliberate. Without context, one would wonder what the point of the bill is. It seems to take a long time to state the obvious, something that should be taking place in science classes already – students should learn enough information about scientific theories so they can think about them critically. We don’t need a law to state something so obvious.

The point of the bill is to create a shield for teachers who want to teach pseudoscientific creationist objections to evolution.

Ironically, one of the bill’s defenders makes that obvious, undercutting the stealthy aspect of the bill. State Rep. Jeremy Faison, in response to a letter to the editor which, among other things, criticized statements Faison said at a recent assembly on the bill, tipped the creationists’ hand. Faison writes:

I represent East Tennessee. Most of us believe in God. Most of us believe in creation. Most of us stand behind teachers who want to give honest answers to honest questions.

The gentleman from Oak Ridge purposefully misconstrued my words while choosing to ignore mountains of evidence that scream intelligent design.

What does being a creationist have to do with supporting teacher – unless your talking about creationist teachers wanting to teach creationism. By “honest” he means “anti-evolution creationist propaganda.”

Faison also mentions the “mountain of evidence” that supports intelligent design (also giving away the widely known secret that intelligent design is just warmed-over creationism) – but he does not provide any reference or even a vague notion of what this evidence might be. There is, in fact, no evidence to support ID, which is little more than a god-of-the-gaps logical fallacy.

Faison also makes reference to being misconstrued. But here again he is just being coy, in an intellectually dishonest manner typical of creationists. He writes:

I stood up on the House floor to defend this bill, and have been misquoted by the letter writer from Oak Ridge. I want readers to know exactly what I said. (You can verify this at the General Assembly website: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us. Search for HB 368 video and fast forward to 3:10:42.) I said, “Evolution between one species to another has never been proven.”

But I know evolution within species happens daily. Nobody disputes that. It seems the writer was playing “word games” by sneaking in different meanings to how I used the word evolution. Personally, I whole-heartedly embrace the Genesis 1 account. Evolution from one species to another is a theory — one that, for me, requires blind faith to believe in. Contrary to the writer’s statements, the battle of evolution versus creation is still very much alive today.

These are all standard creationist howlers. Faison is making the “micro vs macro” evolution distinction – not a real scientific distinction. He might also be surprised to find that the definition of “species” is quite fuzzy, further making such distinctions unscientific. He is trying to get indignant because someone interpreted his statement as meaning that there is no evidence for “evolution” – which is a fair interpretation. Carving out a tiny exception for microevolution “within species” is just typical denialist nonsense, as if it hides their massive denial of evolutionary science.

Here is a good link to evidence for “macro” evolution. If Faison (or anyone else) is going to continue to make public statements about the state of the evidence for evolution, I highly recommend he familiarize himself with the arguments on this site, or something similar.

In essence, creationists use their own ignorance of the evidence for evolution to argue that there is no evidence. They further argue that evolution is controversial because they say it is – therefore it should be treated as controversial in public schools, which means allowing in made up pseudoscientific counter-arguments.

Our society would be best served if we allow the scientific community, people who have spent their lives studying the science and actually know something about the state of the evidence, to determine what the science is and therefore what is appropriate to teach in science classes.

Politicians, as Faison nicely demonstrated, are ideologues – not scientists.

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