Florida Creationists Want a License to Lie, Egged on by Ben Stein’s Expelled!

Florida Republican creationists, hot of their self-bamboolzement in the recent science standards debate, are now attempting to pass a bill that purports to defend academic freedom in public high schools. Lawmakers are even getting a special (closed to the public!) screening of Intelligent Design agitprop doc Expelled! to help them “consider the issues.”

But just what is the bill in question, and what does it do?

But Umatilla Republican Rep. Alan Hays says he’s not touting Stein’s documentary or his ”academic freedom” bill to destroy evolution. He said the bill is simply drafted to allow teachers and students to discuss, without fear of punishment, ”the full range” of problems and ideas surrounding Darwin’s theory.Neither Hays nor his co-sponsor, Brandon Republican Sen. Ronda Storms, could name any teachers in Florida who have been disciplined for being critical of evolution in the science classroom.

Better known for his ”Win Ben Stein’s Money” game show, Stein made the documentary to document how evolution critics have supposedly run afoul of mainstream science in higher academics.”I want a balanced policy.

I want students taught how to think, not what to think,” Hays says. “There are problems with evolution. Have you ever seen a half-monkey, half human?” (emphasis added)

So they claim there are problems with evolution. Fair enough: science always, always has to be open to hearing the possibility of error (though its highly questionable as to whether high school biology teachers have any expertise relevant to evaluating such things). But this hearing still has to have standards: the claimed problems have to be accurate and based on evidence. Does the bill have a decent set of standards? On the surface it appears to: it claims to be limit its protection to “objectively present[ed] scientific information.” Sounds perfect. I don’t have any problem with such a bill: it simply reinforces what good biology classes always do: the cutting edge of science is always one big contentious debate.

But now look at what Hays lists as an example of an evolutionary “problem” that presumably their bill would put, specially protected by law, in the curricula of public school classrooms: evolution’s supposed failure to deliver evidence of a “half-monkey, half-human.”

Now, anyone who’s taken high school biology should know that nowhere in evolutionary theory is such a creature proposed, predicted, or ever been found to exist. Were such a thing to actually exist, it would either be evidence of sex between a human and a marmoset, or cast doubt on evolution. The reason is that, first of all, “monkey” is a term for two different families of primates, neither of which counts humans as a descendant.

More importantly, evolution does not proceed by there ever being “half” anything. No ancestor of human beings was ever “half” ape: all hominids, including modern humans, are all 100% ape. That’s because ape is a category, and human beings, along with gorilla, chimps, gibbons, and orangutans, are all subgroups within that category. Evolution proceeds by taxonomic budding, not transformation: all new species are variations on a more basic ancestor form, but still more like that progenitor than they are like any other living thing.

So if her claimed “problem” with evolution is flat-out ignorant of what evolution even is, then it really seems like the law, in practice, has no scientific standards whatsoever. So what’s wrong with that then? Isn’t this all about freedom of speech?

No.

If public schools were all just about letting kids and teachers speak freely, there wouldn’t be any distinct classes, subjects, textbooks, tests, or anything else. Everyone would just ramble on off the top of their head, without “fear of punishment” (i.e. grading). But of course, we don’t actually need schools for that sort of thing because citizens are already free to do that anytime they want, with anyone they want. THAT is the right of free speech, and nothing about public schools, aside from their inherent claim on the free time of the students, takes it away.

School, on the other hand, is inherently a place for learning, and as such inevitably a place where the material presented has to live up to some basic academic standards. Merit matters, or else there wouldn’t be any reason for school at all. Thus, if we are going to have science classes, then we’d darn well be enforcing scientific standards of evidence and argument, or else the whole exercise is pointless. People like Hays and Ben Stein are not pushing for free speech (public school teachers are not acting as private citizens in any case, but as agents of the state): they are pushing for the complete abandonment of merit as a guide to what is taught as science and what is not.

Advertisements

12 Responses to Florida Creationists Want a License to Lie, Egged on by Ben Stein’s Expelled!

  1. Stentoner says:

    Merit as a guide. That’s the point of judgment of what is taught in classrooms, included in textbooks. Stein isn’t advocating the complete abandonment as your post states. That would be an unwarranted exaggeration. The subject of deciding the content for pedagogical inclusion is more complicated and hardly a democratic process. It’s farily well hidden from most of the recipients, those attending school. Merit matters, you say, with little explanation of the parameters determining the boundaries of merit…what’s in and what’s out. Is it a matter of allocating limited resources? Is it a kind of popularity contest? All kinds of now ridiculous things have been taught in school…they used to have merit. Like the ether. Or raisin pudding atoms.
    A little discernment and flexibility go a long way. One thing Mr. Stein hits fairly well on the head…there’s too much posturing, fear, and demogoguery involved – on both sides.

  2. Bad says:

    Stein isn’t advocating the complete abandonment as your post states.

    I disagree. “Half-monkey, half-human” is about as ignorant as it can get.

    The subject of deciding the content for pedagogical inclusion is more complicated and hardly a democratic process.

    Oh really? Because Florida’s state board of ed, which is part of the democratic process, just finished laying out science standards.

    Of course you’re right: what’s good science isn’t a matter of people voting on what they like best. It’s what the evidence actually supports.

    One thing Mr. Stein hits fairly well on the head…there’s too much posturing, fear, and demogoguery involved – on both sides.

    And what’s the evidence for this? Pretty easy claim to make, what are the arguments and evidence to support it? Stein and Co. are being extremely, and knowingly misleading here. Talking about freedom of speech when the issue is what the government is teaching in science class. Claiming that scientists are afraid of a law that merely defends teaching science, when in fact it’s made quite clear that the bill, through the lack of any definition or accountability, is basically a setup.

  3. Jon says:

    Well, if you define merit as something as simple as “amount of research produced”, then clearly intelligent design creationism deserves absolutely no place at the pedagogical table.

    And I think your discussion of the ether and the raisin pudding model of atoms is a bit disingenuous. I may be wrong, but I don’t think either of these things were anything but theoretical considerations by academic researchers. Both were very speculative and had little experimental evidence behind them. The raisin pudding model, for instance, was found to be wrong within a span of a few years–hardly enough time to be transferred into the public school curriculum. The aether concept, while certainly a much more persistent idea, had a variety of flavors, each of which lacked any real evidence.

  4. Benjamin Franklin says:

    This films’ main thesis, that anyone in the science community who believes in God, or is a Darwin dissenter is being “expelled” is false at its core.

    In a New York Times interview, Walter Ruloff (producer of Expelled) said that researchers, who had studied cellular mechanisms, made findings suggestive of an intelligent designer. “But they are afraid to report them”.
    Mr. Ruloff also cited Dr. Francis S. Collins, a geneticist who directs the National Human Genome Research Institute and whose book, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief”, explains how he came to embrace his Christian faith. Mr. Ruloff said that Dr. Collins separates his religious beliefs from his scientific work only because “he is toeing the party line”.

    That’s “just ludicrous,” Dr. Collins said in a telephone interview. While many of his scientific colleagues are not religious and some are “a bit puzzled” by his faith, he said, “they are generally very respectful.” He said that if the problem Mr. Ruloff describes existed, he is certain he would know about it.

    Similarly, Dr. Ken Miller is a professed Christian who wrote “Finding Darwin’s God” (which I suggest you read). Dr. Miller has not been “expelled” in any fashion for his belief in God.

    The movie tries to make the case that “Big Science” is nothing but a huge atheist conspiracy out to silence believers, but only presents a very one-sided look at some Discovery Institute “martyrs”.

    Carolyn Crocker “expelled”? – No.
    Her annual teaching contract was not renewed. Was she “fired” for daring to bring God into research? – No. She was hired to teach Biology, and she decided to ignore the schools’ curriculum and substitute her own curriculum.

    Guillermo Gonzalez “expelled”? – No.
    He was not granted tenure. The film doesn’t bring up the fact that in all his years at ISU he had only brought in only a miniscule amount of grant money. Nor does it bring up the fact that in all his years at ISU he failed to mentor a single student through to their PhD. Nor does it mention that in his career at ISU, his previous excellent record of publication had dropped precipitously.

    Richard von Sternberg “expelled”? – No.
    Sternberg continues to work for NIH in the same capacity. Of course the movie doesn’t bring up his underhanded tactics in getting Meyers work published.

    This movie attempts to influence it’s viewers with dishonesty, half-truths, and by a completely one-sided presentation of the facts.

    If a scientists’ research is not accepted by the scientific community, it isn’t because the scientist either believes or doesn’t believe in God, it is usually because they are producing bad science. Like the idea of Intelligent Design.

  5. Derek says:

    Nice post, Bad.

    Stentoner has a point, there is a lot of posturing in this debate, but not the type s/he thinks. The posturing is on the part of the ID-proponents who are misrepresenting Intelligent Design as a scientific position rather than a philosophical or theological one.

    Stein’s phantom enemy, “Big science” is indeed opposed to ID, but they are opposed because it’s bad science, period. “Big science” is also opposed to the ideas of bodily humours and alchemy.

  6. […] the slightest idea what’s going on here: but as far as I can tell, a robot liked my post on the Florida creationism bill so much that it decided to read it out loud on YouTube in a lilting monotone. Unless you happen to […]

  7. douggeivett says:

    “Benjamin Franklin” has been making the rounds with his post. It appears on my blog, as well: http://www.douggeivett.wordpress.com. A Google search will show that it appears on numerous blogs.

  8. Hungry Yeti Doll says:

    It is interesting that a thesis would be built upon straw men. If Ben Stein’s movie is false, if it does not represent things the way they really are, then it should be repudiated. The thing about free speech is you are allowed to say wrong things. But it seems that a comparison is drawn between the validity of Stein’s documentary and the validity of the Intelligent Design argument.
    Apparently, no one writing on this blog has ever heard of hyperbole. Granted, “half-monkey, half-human,” is a gross misrepresentation of the teachings of Darwinism. But people often ridicule that which they dismiss as untrue. Would the objection have even been raised if the Representative had mentioned the absence of a “missing link” instead of a “half-monkey, half-human.”
    And what if Hays’ bill did have standards to hold to? This commentator is not convinced that there would not be some symmantic hair that this blog would split simply to discredit ID.
    But the real issue here has not been even discussed. The question that has not been answered is if there ARE any problems with Evolution, or whether Intelligent Design has any merit. And while Bad has done much to point the finger and show that people like Stein and Hays are guilty of not showing sufficient evidence, or of only showing half of the truth, has he not also done the same for ID. Hasn’t he simply dismissed out of hand, without actually looking at the evidence.

  9. Rebel Dreams says:

    Hungry Yeti Doll:

    I would say that Bad has done what he usually does, which is argue from what is being presented; “Expelled” does not make the case *for* ID, it simply tried to make broad-brush attacks against some supposed “enemy” (i.e. “Big Science”).

    The reason Bad (and many, many, many others) dismiss ID is because there is *no* evidence for it. Every point in Behe’s book (the one that started it all) has now been thoroughly repudiated. Every new “example” of ID published is also repudiated, and ID has been revealed time and again to be a hollow, theistic sham rather than a theory at all; in fact, it’s not even an hypothesis.

    This is more of a social-commentary blog than a science blog, and his comments on ID and “Expelled” are in the social arena rather than the sicentific one. Not to say Bad isn’t able to do such work; he most certainly is, but I would suggest looking at http://pigeonshess.wordpress.com for a more scientific discourse, amongst many many others.

  10. Bad says:

    Yeti: You speak of straw men, but fail to point to any, and then offer up some examples of the fallacy yourself. For instance, I most certainly have spent time repudiating it, and I never questioned Stein’s right to speak or help make a movie expressing his and others’ views. Nor have I argued that if Expelled makes terrible arguments (it does) that this finishes off the validity of ID as science (something we’re perfectly capable of arguing for regardless of the movie)

    Apparently, no one writing on this blog has ever heard of hyperbole. Granted, “half-monkey, half-human,” is a gross misrepresentation of the teachings of Darwinism.

    Hyperbole is exaggeration, not being flat out wrong. And there is no evidence at all that Hays even knew it was nonsense when he said it. He was trying to give an example of a “problem” with evolution, and failed.

    Would the objection have even been raised if the Representative had mentioned the absence of a “missing link” instead of a “half-monkey, half-human.”

    Uh, yeah. Because the way creationists reference “a missing link” is as much a misunderstanding of how evolution works, and as bogus a “problem” for evolution, as the “lack” of half-human half-apes.

    And what if Hays’ bill did have standards to hold to? This commentator is not convinced that there would not be some symmantic hair that this blog would split simply to discredit ID.

    I don’t need to split hairs to discredit ID. I can do it quite directly.

    The question that has not been answered is if there ARE any problems with Evolution,

    The very ethic of science means that there are always problems and ongoing questions with any explanation, no matter how comprehensive it is. However, just because there are unanswered questions does not magically legitimate EVERYTHING that someone insists really is a problem. Sometimes the claimed problems are b-o-g-u-s.

    or whether Intelligent Design has any merit.

    Can’t say that I agree that it does, no. Question answered?

    And while Bad has done much to point the finger and show that people like Stein and Hays are guilty of not showing sufficient evidence, or of only showing half of the truth, has he not also done the same for ID. Hasn’t he simply dismissed out of hand, without actually looking at the evidence.

    Read more than just one blog post here, and you’ll find me addressing many of the specific arguments made for ID head on. And plenty of other great bloggers and scientists have addressed all these claims many, many, many times.

  11. Rebel Dreams says:

    Bad: Just want to apologize if I misrepresented your blog here; I know you do take scientific issue with ID in many posts, but my take was that your blog was more “social commentary” than pure-science (although as I said, you have the wherewithall to dissect the issue scientifically as well). And as *you* said, there are many, many, many “pure science” blogs that undertake a far finer parsing and dissection of ID and other “woo” issues, for those who want it.

  12. Bad says:

    I don’t really have any specific subject matter: science and social commentary are both on the menu. But I didn’t think you misrepresented anything either, no worries!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: