January 11, 2006

Creationism in California - Lawsuit and revised syllabus

Many reading this are probably already aware that the ID intersession class in Lebec, CA has prompted a lawsuit from Americans United for Separation of Church and State. A few quotes from their news release,
“Americans United, representing parents of Frazier High students, sent a Jan. 4 letter to Superintendent John Wight and school board members advising them that teaching a particular religious viewpoint in a public school class violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
After school officials refused to discontinue the course, Americans United today asked the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, Fresno Division, for a temporary restraining order to end the class. The Hurst v. Newman lawsuit is being filed on behalf of 11 parents of students in the school district.”
Some may recognize the name Hurst here. Ken Hurst is a scientist from JPL who has worked with the Frazier Mountain HS robotics program. He also took the time to evaluate Lemburg’s original syllabus, paying special attention to the sources of guest speakers and instruction videos. Nearly all came from creationist and fundamentalist organizations.

Of course the DI is apoplectic over this lawsuit. The following comments come from the CSC blog,

“This is a philosophy class where it's implicit that this material isn't being endorsed by the district as science. What objection could one possibly have to having students learn about material some people consider religious in a philosophy course? The answer is simple: Darwinists aren't interested in keeping non-evolutionary views just out of the science classroom, they want non-evolutionary views out of students minds completely. If anyone ever doubted the full measure of Darwinist dogmatism, this lawsuit should dispell those doubts”

Given these obvious facts,
  • It is an elective
  • It is not being presented by the district as science
  • Despite the title, it is not a philosophy class
  • The instructor is not qualified to teach philosophy or critical thinking
  • The course offers pseudo-science to students
  • The course syllabus and instructional materials recycle ID boilerplate
I find myself wondering if they may have a point (yes, it almost stuck in my throat). The course is pure ID hogwash, but it’s not being presented in science class. Is this the kind of forum many defenders of biological evolution have stated would be considered acceptable for ID?

Perhaps the best way to frame an answer to that question is to examine Lemburg’s revised syllabus (see my comments on the original syllabus here) for further information as to intent and content.

December 29, 2005

Syllabus for Philosophy of Design

Teacher: Sharon Lemburg

Class Title: "Philosophy of Design" - Ideas, beliefs, and theories about the origin of life.

Objective: Philosophy is a class about ideas and theories. It is about beliefs. It is addressing the question, what do you think and why. It is about a search for wisdom and truth. This class will discuss various views on the origin of life, in order to gain a better and broader understanding of the views that are held by society. This class is not meant to guide you into a certain belief, but to allow you to search, become aware of the differences, and gain a better understanding of world views on origins.
Despite the subtitle, it is still apparent that this course is slanted toward a perspective on origins that will make use of popular "design" rhetoric. And despite the somewhat shaky definition of philosophy, it is still worth noting that Lemburg possesses no experience or education that would qualify her to teach this course.

Getting deeper into this syllabus should enable us to evaluate her claim that the course will teach about views of origins rather than teach a favored origins mythology.
Outline of Course Topics: Each heading gives a general idea of the topics that will be discussed either by lecture, video, internet, or guest speaker.

1. What is Philosophy?
o How does philosophy influence individual lives?
o What disciplines does philosophy cross over into or influence?
o How does philosophy affect religious beliefs or science?
This seem unobjectionable to me so far, in as much as I am not a trained philosopher.
2. What is the Theory of Evolution/Darwinism?
o What is the history of evolutionary theory?
o What is evolution and how does it work?
o What is the evidence for evolution?
o What are the misconceptions?
Here we begin to see the creationist bias creep in. Considering Lemburg's qualifications for teaching this course, her original syllabus, and the lists of videos she considers instructional one can be forgiven for wondering if her "misconceptions" might merely be a recitiation of familiar creationist canards such as complaints about fossil dating and the laws of thermodynamics.
3. What is Intelligent Design/Creationism?
o Why is this a movement and why is it gaining momentum?
o Why is it so threatening to society, the educational system, and evolutionists?
o Is Intelligent Design based on science or faith?
o What evidence does it bring, and is the evidence measurable data?
o How doe Intelligent Design differ from Creationism? And how is it similar?
What, no "misconceptions?" And I suppose it's possible that a philosopher might use the term "evolutionists" but probably only sarcastically. We all know the personal worldview that sees legitimacy in a question like "Why is it so threatening to society, the educational system, and evolutionists?" This is a instructor who's creationist biases are plain.
4. Philosophies concerning Origins?
o A summary of ideas.
o How does the Philosophy of Intelligent Design differ from the Theory of Evolution? Are these ideas concerning origins philosophies or are they science?
o How does this debate concerning philosophies affect society? How does it affect you, the student?

o The ideas presented under each topic will be covered by lecture, video presentations, and guest speakers. Equal time will be given to each idea or philosophy. Presentations may vary depending on the available resources.
o Due to the fact that I am unable to obtain a speaker in support of evolution at this time, I have purchased a video series from PBS, that will be used to understand what evolution teaches, its relation and effect on society and culture, and the history behind it. This video series was presented on national television by PBS in 2001. I will be using a overhead presentation directly from the internet which was created by the University of California Museum of Paleontology with the support provided by the National Science Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. I will also be referring to a textbook entitled Evolution vs. Creation by Eugenie C. Scott (as recommended by Ken Hurst).
We see some changes here, obviously prompted by the critical reviews of her original syllabus.
o Ideas of philosophies concerning Intelligent Design/ Creationism will be presented by the instructor through videos and guest speakers. Students will be able to bring questions from their research, form the videos, or from their own knowledge.
o Equal and balanced instruction will be given on all philosophies.
If "equal and balanced instruction" is to be given why is it that the video and internet sources list below is still overwhelmingly slanted toward creationist propaganda?
o Students will also be given time to research the subject matter.
o At the conclusion of the course, students will discuss and share their comments, concerns, opinions, and position on the subject by writing a paper stating their position and evidence to support that position.
One can only hope that the student's grade is not dependent upon his willingness to regurgitate pseudo-science as a sop to the instructor's personal philsophy.
Suggested Videos & Internet Source:
o Evolution by PBS (2001): 600 minutes of tape
o www.berkeley.edu/evosite/evohome.html Understanding Evolution for Teachers
o Unlocking the Mysteries of Life: The scientific case for intelligent design.
o Where does the evidence lead? Exploring the theory of intelligent design.
o Chemical to living cells: Fantasy or Science?
o Focus on the Origin of Life: an interview with Dean H. Kenyon, Professor of Biology at San Francisco State University (1994).
o Focus on the Origin of Life: an interview with Dr. Charles Thaxton
o The Theological Roots of Modern Science: Dr. Henry F. Schaefer, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Georgia (no date).
o Focus on Origins Series: How Darwinists Think by Phillip E. Johnson
o Focus on Origins Series: Raising Question About Evolution in the Schools by Phillip E. Johnson
o A Critique of Darwinist Icons: Lecture and Interview with Jonathan Wells (2002).
o Focus on Origins: A Panel Discussion On the Theory of Evolution (2003).
o On the Origins of Phyla: Interview with James W. Valentine (1999).
o Icons of Evolution: the growing scientific controversy over Darwin (2002).
o 2001 Darwin, Design & Democracy Conference with Jonathan Wells
o The Triumph of Design and the Demise of Darwin, featuring Phillip Johnson (1999).
* Note: Not all the videos will be used, but I wanted to list all possible videos. Some portions of videos may be used and other may not be used at all. There is 600 minutes of Evolution videos, plus overhead presentations from the listed internet source. The remaining videos have to do with intelligent design.
Of the following points there can be no doubt.

- This class, originally designed as a recitation of creationist propaganda, is still, even with the inclusion of a few science sources, an attempt to indoctrinate students in the confused hodgepodge of "Intelligent Design," young-earth-creationism and pseudo-scientific missapprehensions developed by an obviously religiously motivated teacher.

- While said teacher may be a fine human being and a zippy soccer coach, she in not qualified to teach a philosophy class, a critical thinking class, or a science class. For these reasons alone the class should have been disallowed.

- Though titled "Philosophy of Design," this syllabus makes it plain that this course is not a philosophy class, not a critical thinking class, and most definitely not a science class (unless one includes "How not to..." as legitimate pedagogical practice).

It is clear, then, that this course does not qualify as the mere discussion of ID concepts in philosophy class that most of us have agreed would be acceptable. It is demonstrably propaganda, and deserves no academic regard whatsoever. Should the time come for ID to be discussed in humanities classes we can only hope that it's inclusion there will be achieved by the same means science would demand - developing peer-reviewed interest on the part of the experts involved. As usual, the CSC (Discovery Institute) is hopelessly, irrevocably wrong.

What is less clear, to me at least, is that this class should not be taught in conjunction with a public school. It should be plain that I am in favor of opposing the spread of "Intelligent Design" pseudo-science, but I also favor a method of resistance that considers the probable benefit to the effort.

In other words, is this class so egregious - legally, politically and scientifically - that it must be addressed in the courts? Or is it small potatoes, something that taking action against will, in sum, diminish the reputation and resources of those who oppose pseudo-science?

We'll find out soon enough.


Blogger Mark Nutter said...

I can't help but wonder how the people who are protesting in support of the Frazier High course would feel if a similar course was offered, in the Philosophy department, exposing the students to a series of 24 blatantly atheistic videos on the topic of "Whether The Resurrection Was A Legendary Event And Is God Just Your Imagination?" Are the public schools for education or are they a venue for sneaking in the religious opinions of the school board, after all?

1:48 PM  
Blogger RLC said...


A cogent point. The "philosophy" class in question is every bit as skewed as the alternative you suggest.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Seth said...

Whether or not it is taught as science or philosophy isn't the issue here. There is no constitutional requirement for scientific purity. There is one for the separation of church and state.

The issue is whether they are promoting a religious viewpoint. If they are teaching a specific religious point of view, no matter what they call the class, it is unconstitutional.

7:03 PM  
Blogger Jim51 said...

I think seth's comment is the crux for me. The transparency of the evangelical agenda in the course is almost breathtaking. If the course were broader and presented origins stories from multiple religions and cultures I would have no objections. I suspect that many others would also drop their objections.

12:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although I am an ardent opponent of ID, I'm not sure I agree with Seth and Jim. If ID were addressed as the religion that it is, I wouldn't be opposed to having it discussed in the same social studies class as other world religions are. I went to public school and took a class which covered all the major and some minor religions (like Jainism), and feel that would be the appropriate place to discuss ID - specifically as an offshoot of the Judeo-Christian religion.
Alex C.

10:49 AM  

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