January 10, 2006

Creationism in California - Review of preliminary syllabus for ID class

My last post dealt with the controversy created by a class now being taught at a high school north of Los Angeles near Lebec, California. The class is a winter intersession course - now called "Philosophy of Design" (originally called "Philosophy of Intelligent Design") - and is generating a bit of a stir due to the rather inept covering of obviously ideological tracks along the path of its development.

The instructor, who by the way has admitted she is not particularly qualified to teach what is now being lauded as a philosophy or critical thinking class, is a minister's wife and is rather ignorant of many of the pertinent issues. The previous post revealed the original course description, a strange farrago of ID, YEC and popular misconceptions of science. This post will look at the syllabus initially submitted for the class. The document will be inset with my comments threaded in.
Philosophy of Intelligent Design
Teacher: Sharon Lemburg

Tentative: Subject matter that will be covered

1. What is Philosophy? @ 3 days
… How does philosophy influence individual lives?
… Is Evolution a science or a philosophy?
… Is Intelligent Design a science or a philosophy?
It must be noted that Lemburg has admitted that this syllabus was created in a rush and as such it cannot be expected to display careful consideration. However we need to observe right at the start that Lemburg has also acknowledged that she is not an expert in philosophy and intends for videos and guest speakers to provide most of the instruction for the class. In light of that, then, it seems a bit of a concern that there is no speaker proposed who can cover the above material, and no video scheduled to address the philosophical aspect of this "philosophy" class.
2. What is Intelligent Design? @ 5 days
… Why is it a movement?
… Why is it gaining momentum?
… Why is it so threatening to society?
As I said in my previous post, the language used for this document, as well as the descriptive paragraph, is unmistakeable in its focus. Asking why ID is gaining momentum or threatening to society appear to be rather odd ways to grapple with the epistemological and ontological questions posed by different concepts of origins.

On the other hand, this kind of terminology is depressingly familiar to those of us who've spent a bit of time addressing the public relations strategies of the "Intelligent Design" movement.
Video: Unlocking the Mysteries of Life
… Is it based on science?
… Is it based on what we know?
… What evidence does it bring and is the evidence measureable data?
This video is a piece of ID marketing which offers slick animation and interviews with many of the leading lights of the movement including Paul Nelson, Stephen Meyer, Dean Kenyon, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Jonathan Wells and others. Of course any class that proposes to deal with the philosophy of design will, by obligation if nothing else, include an example of the thoughts of the prominent individuals involved so this by itself is no indictment of the class in question.

The problem is that there are far more informative sources regarding the concepts involved in ID "theory" than this wafer-thin paean to anti-evolutionism. It is a piece of propaganda that does not serve the purposes of a course that purports to analyze design. Excerpts from the works of the priniciple ID "theorists" would be more appropriate.
3. What is Darwinism/ Evolution? @5 days
… The History behind Darwinism/ Evolution.
… The Historical Roots/ the Greeks.
… Is Evolution based on a religion?
… Is Evolution based on philosophy?
Again we see examples - like "Darwinism" - of ID boilerplate in the language. And the only people who ask questions like the last two above are creationists. The scientific nature of evolutionary biology is overwhelmingly accepted by the science community.

Although this is, as discussed previously, a rushed attempt at a syllabus, it seems reasonable to observe that if the evidence of the instructor's creationist propensity is this obvious we can only wonder what she might be likely to teach when left to her own devices.

We also begin to see quite clearly that Lemburg has a poor understanding of ID, something she appears to conflate with young-earth creationism.
4. Laws of Thermodynamics @ 2 days
… Conservation of Energy
… Law of Entrophy
Another example of creationist argumentation. It is often charged by those ignorant of physics that evolution contradicts the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. There would be no reason to include anything about Thermo. in this course other than to advance this old creationist canard. More information on this can be found at talk.origins.

Virtually all modern scientists and philosophers of science understand that evolution in no way runs afoul of the laws of thermodynamics. And most of them probably spell "entropy" correctly as well.
5. Fossil Records and Dating Methods @ 2 days
… Testable Predictions/ experiments
… What is known about the fossil records
… How the dating methods work
A response to this material could be copied and pasted from the one directly preceding. But it might be instructive to present another's viewpoint. The following is taken from a commentary on this preliminary syllabus by Ken Hurst, a JPL scientists who works with the students at FMHS in their award winning robotics program.

The video list below suggests that this material is being taught from the young-earth creationist perspective. The RATE project recently released its "final report" entitled "Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth: Results of a Young-Earth Creationist Research Initiative". A description of the project prior to the final report is available at http://www.icr.org/pdf/research/RATE_ICC_Vardiman.pdf. The last paragraph of the introduction reads:

"It is hypothesized by the RATE group that at some time in the past much higher rates of radioisotope decay have occurred, leading to the production of large quantities of daughter products in a short period of time. It has been suggested that these increased decay rates may have been associated with the rock-forming processes on the early earth, and possibly one of the results of Godís judgment upon man following Creation. The RATE group suspects that large amounts of radioactive decay may have occurred during the first two and a half days of Creation as part of the supernatural Creation process. The jury is still out and, until we complete our research phase, this thesis remains tentative. The presence of supernatural ìprocessî during Creation is essential to our approach, however. Scripture talks of at least two major events which occurred after Creation, the Judgment in the Garden of Eden and the Flood. It would seem appropriate to consider at least that an original distribution of elements could have been mixed, and radioactive processes speeded up during one or both of these events."

There is nothing in this syllabus or in my conversations with the teacher that suggests that she understands or is planning to present how radiometric dating is really done though I have asked about it.

Back to Lemburg's syllabus,
*** Much of the teaching will be done by way of videos and discussion. A list of video will be presented.
*** Several scholors/ scientists in the field will be invited to come and present on selected topics.
*** Students will prepare a position paper supporting their beliefs on the subject of evolution or intelligent design.
Philosophy of Intelligent Design

… Ken Hurst ñ Ph.D. in geology; works at JPL in jet propulsion; an evolutionist.
… Ross Anderson ñ Ph.D. In biochemistry; professor at The Master's College in Santa Clarita.
… Joe Francis ñ Ph.D. In Microbiology
… David Kopich ñ Creation Scientists
… Francis Krich ñ Evolutionist
Ken Hurst has responded that he never had, nor would he have, agreed to participate in this class. And as discussed in the previous post the inclusion of Francis Crick (Krich???) on the list is indicative of someone sorely lacking in the wherewithal to develop and teach this kind of course.

The other three speakers, proponents of ID, are, respectively, a professor from a fundamentalist Christian school, a professor recommended by the first professor, and an individual affiliated with Creation Safaris (this information comes from Ken Hurst). Again it is fair to observe that not only is this course a philosophy class in name alone, but it is about "Intelligent Design" only in the most superficial of ways. The evidence of this first syllabus is suggestive of an attempt to introduce students to creationism of the most unsophisticated kind.
Videos: (incomplete list)
… Creation/Evolution
… Dating fossils and rocks
… The origen of life
… The Fossil Records
… Astronomy and the Bible
… Lucy: She's no Lady!
… From a Frog to a Prince
… Chemicals to Living Cells: Fastasy or Science?
… Unlocking the Mystery of Life
… Mt. Saint Helens: Explosive Evidence for Catastrophe
… The Fire Below Us: Remembering Mount St. Helens
… Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe
… The Grand Canyon Castastrophe
… Thousands...Not Billions
… Life's Story
… The Privileged Planet
… Rocks of Ages or Rock of Creation?
… Radioisotopes and the age of the earth
… Experiments in Stratification
… Icons of Evolution
… War of the Worldviews
… In the Beginning
… Evidences: the Record and the Flood
… Geologic Evidences
Hurst has tracked down the source of most of these videos. Nearly all hail from creationist organs like Answers in Genesis or ICR. One, The Fire Below Us, appears to be a legitimate documentary used to support creationist ideas, and several could not be identified.

Hurst's analysis: Score: 19 creation, 4 unknown, 1 documentary to support catastrophism, 0 evolution

Again, Hurst's comments are well worth reading in their entirety.

In conclusion, it's only fair to include Lemburg's syllabus' ending note.
I still need to view the videos and decide which videos will be used and with what topics of discussion. This may not be completed until the time the class starts. This class is a work in progress.
The class itself is now in progress. And the revisions made to the approved syllabus will be the next subject for evaluation.

Stay tuned.


Post a Comment

<< Home