Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Fundies Attack

The right, it seems, believes nobody's views but its own should be heard.

Days after the news that his University of Kansas class "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies" has been cancelled at his request, University of Kansas religious studies professor Paul Mirecki was attacked and beaten badly enough to be sent to the hospital by a pair of good Christians.

John Altevogt, Mirecki's most vocal fundie critic, showed his true colors when he piped in with, "[Mirecki] has very little credibility left. The one thing that could save his bacon is to become a martyr of sorts, or to elicit sympathy from being the victim rather than the persecutor."

The course in question, it will be remembered, engendered much howling from the fundies when Mirecki expressed his personal views on a listserver for KU atheists and agnostics. A fundie spy got hold of Mirecki's intemperate email and ran with it to the press. Other than changing the title -- which Mirecki had described on the list as a "nice slap in their [fundies'] big fat face" -- the course was set to go forward. Chancellor Robert Hemenway -- who had been right behind Mirecki all the time up until the email came out -- clucked and distanced himself enough from the enterprise but he obviously felt nothing further needed to be done. But Mirecki said that the atmosphere had been poisoned -- and maybe he was right.

The course was not dreamed up out of the blue. It was a logical reaction to the Kansas school board's reversal of it's earlier reversal on the teaching of evolution and ID.

Kansas School Board's History of Promoting Pseudoscience

The first volley in this particular theater of the culture war was fired in August of 1999. The Kansas Board of Education voted to delete evolution from the state science curriculum. The board, in a 6 to 4 vote, resolved to "reject evolution as a scientific principle." Also rejected was the Big Bang. All of those members of the board who voted for rejection were Republicans (though not all the board's Republicans voted for it.) Governor Bill Graves -- himself a Republican -- had threatened to dissolve the board if they messed with the standards.

It seemed to the board, maybe, a benign action to take, the rejection of evolution as science. The teaching of evolution was not expressly forbidden in science classes, even though the board had declared evolution not science; nor was the teaching of creationism required.

The public universities in Kansas were unanimous in their opposition to the changes then, as they are now to the latest ones. The presidents of all six sent a letter to the board before the August 11, 1999 meeting proclaiming that the rejection of evolution would "set Kansas back a century and give hard-to-find science teachers no choice but to pursue other career fields or assignments outside of Kansas. "

The boards decision held until the next election, when, in a pattern that has become familiar in locations as far apart as Roseville, CA and Dover, PA, a number of the members who had voted for rejection of evolution found themselves diselected. People don't tend to show up for school board elections unless they have nothing better to do. But apparently enough other stuff was being voted on at the same time, or the electorate of Kansas was sufficiently embarrassed by the actions of their duly elected board, that a large enough turnout occurred to dilute the votes of the glossolalics, the snake handlers, and the Baptists. Evolution was restored.

Fast forward a few years and a veterinarian, Dr. Steve Abrams, an undiselected board member from Arkansas City from the old days, found himself board chairman. Abrams, a six day creationist, has stated in a school board meeting that it impossible to reconcile a belief in the Bible to evolution. He has also declared the works of Ken Keasey, Richard Wright, and Nobel laureate in literature Toni Morrison to be pornography, and decried their use in the school curriculum in Kansas. Abrams stated his position in "A column about Kansas Science Standards" (sic) on November 14. The document positively drips disingenuosity, claiming that the board has no intention of "trying to insert the supernatural into the Science classroom."

And then he drags out the fundie straw men.

"The critics also claim that in the scientific community, there is no controversy about evolution," he writes.

This is code, meaning that because the exact proportions of the ingredients of the mechanism of evolution are debated, as well as at what level -- organism, gene, population -- evolution operates, then the whole thing is "just a theory."

The new standard for evolution states, at Benchmark 3, Indicator 7, that the curriculum "explains proposed scientific explanations of the origin of life as well as scientific criticisms of those explanations." (My emphasis.)

Does this mean they are to teach that Gould, et. al., worked from the premise that evolution operated primarily at the level of the organism, but also at the level of populations and sub-populations, whereas Dawkins works from the primacy of the gene?

No. Abrams means that those who believe that a talking snake got us all kicked out of the garden should have their "theory" that, while living organisms can change over time so that we have Chihuahuas and Greyhounds and Newfoundlands where once we had wolves, these animals never shared a common ancestor with the cat or the weasil or the bear. Each was created in its own "kind," These kinds do not conform to Linnean taxonomy's species, and can include whole taxonomic genera or families. Kinds are variable to one degree or another but will never move beyond certain limits.

No legitimate scientist holds this view. Not one. People with advanced degrees are pointed to all the time who do, but they always fall into one of three categories: those who have degrees in some field other than science (lawyers are common); those who do not work in the field in which they have these advanced degrees, but make their money lecturing to church groups and whomever else will listen on the insufficiency of the "theory of evolution;" and those who worked in their fields long enough to get tenured positions from which they cannot be pried.

That is what the academics of Kansas are up against.


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