Friday, February 01, 2013

STEM the Science Deniers – Part II

The Creation Deniers

A little girl asked her father: “How did the human race appear?” The father answered, “God made Adam and Eve; they had children; and so was all mankind made.” Two days later the girl asked her mother the same question. The mother answered, “Many years ago there were monkeys from which the human race evolved.” The confused girl returned to her father and said, “Dad, how is it possible that you told me the human race was created by God, and Mom said they developed from monkeys?” The father answered, “Well, Dear, it is very simple. I told you about my side of the family, and your mother told you about hers.” Which one is the science denier? Here’s the definition:

In Wikipedia, science denialism has been defined as “the rejection of basic concepts that are undisputed and well-supported parts of the scientific consensus on a topic in favor of ideas that are both radical and controversial. It has been proposed that the various forms of denialism have the common feature of the rejection of overwhelming evidence and the generation of a controversy through attempts to deny that a consensus exists.” Denialism is also sometimes pictured as “anti-intellectualism.”

There are a number of topics that Science Deniers like to dispute: the link relating HIV to AIDS; the Big Bang Theory; immunization by vaccine; genetically modified foods. But two of the current favorites are climate change, and evolution, both of which will be covered in this series. A common example of the latter is creationism and its dispute with the Darwinian evolutionary theory.

Here is how Wikipedia describes the issue: “Creationism is the religious belief that life, the Earth, and the universe are the creation of a supernatural being. Today, the American Scientific Affiliation recognizes that there are different opinions among creationists on the method of creation, while acknowledging unity on the Abrahamic belief that God “created the universe.” Since the 1920s, literalist creationism in America has contested scientific theories, such as that of evolution, which derive from natural observations of the universe and life. Literalist creationists believe that evolution cannot adequately account for the history, diversity, and complexity of life on Earth. Fundamentalist creationists of the Christian faith usually base their belief on a literal reading of the Genesis creation narrative. Other religions have different deity-led creation myths, while different members of individual faiths vary in their acceptance of scientific findings.”

A third type of creationism, Theistic Evolution reconciles theistic religious beliefs with scientific findings on the age of the Earth and the process of evolution. It includes a range of beliefs, including views described as evolutionary creationism and some forms of old earth creationism, all of which embrace the findings of modern science and uphold classical religious teachings about God and creation.

How do literalist and fundamentalist creationists justify their non-scientific beliefs? Wikipedia answers in this fashion: “When scientific research produces empirical evidence and theoretical conclusions which contradict a literalist creationist interpretation of scripture, young earth creationists often reject the conclusions of the research or its underlying scientific theories or its methodology. The rejection of scientific findings has sparked political and theological controversy.”

Intelligent Design

From the mid-1990s, intelligent design (another phrase for creationism) proponents were supported by the Discovery Institute, which, together with its Center for Science and Culture, planned and funded the “intelligent design movement.” A major goal of the Institute was to introduce Intelligent Design into school systems as a required subject to compete with the teachings of evolution.

The fact that this would require that scientific facts be superseded by supernatural explanations of scientifically proven observed phenomena was of no concern. It promotes the existence of a “designer” who essentially has the power that God would have, but deliberately refrains from using that word. Its overall goal is to “defeat [the] materialist worldview” represented by the theory of evolution in favor of “a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” Its intention is to cast creationism as a scientific concept. All the leading proponents of intelligent design are associated with the Discovery Institute and believe the designer to be the Christian deity.

Intelligent design is viewed as a pseudoscience by the scientific community, because it lacks empirical support, offers no tenable hypotheses, and aims to describe natural history in terms of scientifically untestable supernatural causes. Scientific acceptance of Intelligent Design would require redefining science to allow supernatural explanations of observed phenomena, an approach its proponents describe as theistic realism or theistic science.

The Courts Decide

In order to inculcate creationism into young minds, the Institute advocated inclusion of intelligent design in public school biology curricula, leading to the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial, where U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled that intelligent design is not science, that it “cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents,” and that the school district's promotion of it therefore violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Not satisfied, proponents of Creationism took the case further, and Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987) was a legal case about the teaching of creationism that was heard by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1987. The Court 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. It 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.”

Interestingly, and compellingly, support of Aguillard, 72 Nobel prize-winning scientists, 17 state academies of science, and seven other scientific organizations filed amicus briefs which described creation science as being composed of religious tenets.

They Don’t Give Up

To avoid the ramifications of this decision, and continue its effort to interject some form of Intelligent Design into the school systems, other tactics are now being promulgated by the Discovery Institute. Prominent Institute campaigns have been to “Teach the Controversy,” and to allow “Critical Analysis of Evolution.” Other campaigns have claimed that intelligent design advocates have been discriminated against, and thus that Academic Freedom bills are needed to protect academics’ and teachers’ ability to criticize evolution, and that there is a link from evolution to ideologies such as Nazism and eugenics. These three claims are all publicized in the pro-ID movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Other campaigns have included petitions, most notably A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism.

In other words, the science deniers will not give up. For example, in 2012 states like Indiana, Oklahoma, Alabama, New Hampshire and Missouri attempted to pass anti-evolution legislation, mostly through parliamentary issues, but also in an up and down vote in New Hampshire.

Newly formed state legislatures are planning their 2013 legislative programs. Despite the results of the recent presidential election, with so many more obviously anti-science legislators in more conservative states, additional emphasis can be expected on evolution-denying legislation. Similar legislation has already been proposed this year in Montana, and is being seriously considered once again in Indiana. With many legislatures tilting right and “prayer” caucuses becoming favorite issues, church-state separation may be in trouble in the coming year.

With most state legislatures starting their annual sessions this month, here is a look at some of the top threats to church-state separation expected in 2013, including school voucher bills, creationism ploys, “conscience” exemptions, anti-shariah legislation and so-called “religious freedom” and “prayer” caucuses.

Since I started this article with a joke, allow me to end with one that covers an important but contentious part of the evolutionary process.

One day in the Garden of Eden, Eve calls out to God.

“Lord, I have a problem!” “What's the problem, Eve?”

“Lord, I know you created me and all of this beautiful garden and all of these amazing animals and that hilarious comedic snake, but I'm just not happy.”

“Why is that, Eve?” came the reply from above. “Lord, I am lonely, and I'm sick to death of apples.”

“Well Eve, in that case, I have a solution. I shall create a man for you.”

“What's a man, Lord?” “Man will be a flawed creature, with many wretched traits. He'll lie, cheat, and be vainglorious; all in all, he'll give you a hard time.

But... he'll be bigger, stronger, and will like to hunt and kill things. He will look silly when he's aroused, but since you've been complaining, I'll make him in such a way that he will satisfy your physical needs.

He will be witless and will revel in childish things like fighting and kicking a ball about. He won't be too smart, so he'll also need your advice to think properly.”

“Sounds wonderful!” says Eve, “but what's the catch, Lord?”

“Well... you can have him on one condition.”

“What's that, Lord?” “As I said, he'll be proud, arrogant, and self-admiring... So you'll have to let him believe that I made him first. Just remember, it's our little secret... You know, woman to woman.”

Next month: Global Warming Deniers.