Friday, January 13, 2006

Evolving and adapting to an ever harsher environment

Here's the course description of Frazier Mountain High School's "Philosophy of Design" class:
This class will take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological, and Biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin’s philosophy is not rock solid. This class will discuss Intelligent Design as an alternative response to evolution. Topics that will be covered are the age of the earth, a world wide flood, dinosaurs, pre-human fossils, dating methods, DNA, radioisotopes, and geological evidence. Physical and chemical evidence will be presented suggesting the earth is thousands of years old, not billions. The class will include lecture discussions, guest speakers, and videos. The class grade will be based on a position paper in which students will support or refute the theory of evolution.
With such a description this class is not about philosophy. If they're going to pit ID against evolution discussing ID "as an alternative response to evolution" and discuss the age of the earth based on "physical and chemical" and other empirical evidence, then it's going to be a science class. And we all know how vacuous ID is as a science. It isn't science. It's pseudoscience. And it may not even be pseudoscience, but plain religion. And not just religion but a sectarian movement--a fundamentalist-evangelical consortium--with the goal of undermining science and science education.

If Frazier wants to have a philosophy class that includes ID creationism then limit it to a philosophy of science, to defining the characteristics of science, to defining what a theory is in the scientific sense, to debating why creationism in general or its variants including ID should be categorized as science/pseudoscience/nonscience, to the long-standing science-pseudoscience demarcation problem, to naturalism and materialism, to metaphysical questions, and the like.

The Philosophy of Design syllabus on the other hand fares much better. A good number of questions that the class will supposedly tackle are within the turf of philosophical inquiry. Of course, what the students will in fact be fed and what discussion topics/questions will be posed is another thing. Will the class be more or less faithful to the syllabus or does teacher Sharon Lemburg--wife of a minister of a fundamentalist church which believes in creationism--have something else up her sleeve?

Kenneth Hurst, a geologist and whose children attend Frazier, makes a good point by addressing, among others, this question posed in the syllabus. "Is evolution based on a religion?" Well, no. Evolution is based on empirical evidence. It is a very well-tested theory. And evolution isn't based on a philosophy either, as the syllabus seems to be implying. The allegation that evolution is religion goes back decades. But neither scientists nor the courts have questioned evolution's status of not being a religion. In 1981 Judge Overton stated in his Opinion: "[I]t is clearly established in the case law, and perhaps also in common sense, that evolution is not a religion and that teaching evolution does not violate the Establishment Clause."

For years creationists have been exploring various means to smuggle their brand of religion into classrooms. In decades past they merely appended the word "science" and called their movement creation science. That didn't earn them any Brownie points. The courts put an end to creation science's infiltration attempts in McLean v. Arkansas and Edwards v. Aguillard. Since then dropping the word God and references to the bible has been the strategy of ID. Its proponents had hoped that with such cosmetic exfoliations of patently religious terms and references it could avoid being described as religious and booted out for being so. But subterfuge certainly didn't work in Dover. Judge Jones was not to be fooled. And he did not suffer the fools in the Dover school board. After Kitzmiller the proponents of creationism have to become ever more subtle and cunning. I have to hand it to them. Using philosophy as its new Trojan horse is a most wily move. Has the creationism virus finally found a way to infect schools?

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