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Continuing assault on science education

In the last week (or so) Behe’s new book (The Edge of Evolution) shipped, the DI came out with their new textbook Exploring Evolution, and the Chesterfield School Board discussed the lack of “alternatives to evolution” in available textbooks. All of these seem to bode well for the Wedge strategy. While ID suffered a major defeat with the Kitzmiller ruling, the broader DI strategy has evolved to keep up with events. While they originally envisioned intelligent design being taught in schools, they later moved to their “Teach the Controversy” and “Critical Analysis of Evolution” campaigns, which sought to sow doubt and uncertainty regarding evolution.

According to PZ Myers’ review, Exploring Evolution is a re-write of Jonathan Wells’ Icons of EvolutionIcons is a polemic, not a serious analysis of evolution. According to the ToC, each chapter of the book is divided into “Case for”, “Reply” and “Further debate” sections. A quick look inside the book shows (unsurprisingly) that it is in keeping with the general DI strategy of attacking straw men and misleading the gullible. Not a big surprise. However, it is probably designed (intelligently or not) to overcome some of the problems with Of Pandas and People that were pointed out in the Kitzmiller trial. Judge Jones ruled that ID was religious in nature, and while its proponents argue otherwise, that conclusion is likely to be a deterrent to any school board looking to add creationism to the syllabus (although, as I said before, this doesn’t seem to have worked with the Chesterfield School Board).

Presumably, Exploring Evolution is an attempt to move beyond intelligent design Teach the Controversy into Critical Analysis of Evolution. On the surface of it, using an examination of the underlying motif of biology to teach critical thinking skills isn’t something that anyone should be upset about. It would be great to use this book as a tool to teach students how to analyse the clearly fallacious arguments of the anti-science crowd. As Marcus Ranum said in a comment at Pharyngula:

Indeed, this book sounds like a FASCINATING teaching tool. At 150 pages it would make the core of a class on critical thinking in the sciences. Students could take the book and research the actual science related to each topic and be responsible for understanding and explaining what’s going on, section by section. I remember we spent several days going over Lysenkoism when I was a kid, in my high school science program. I found that to be a fascinating topic as it illustrated what happens to science when government-sponsored wishful thinking combines with the power of life and death.

The problem with a book like this is that it is less explicitly religious than Pandas.  However, the underlying standard for judging whether something like this would be legally acceptable is the Lemon test which says:

  1. The government’s action must have a legitimate secular purpose;
  2. The government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
  3. The government’s action must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion.*

If a school board selects Exploring Evolution in order to further the cause of creationism, they should run afoul of the Lemon test.  Of course, I suspect that this requires some level of awareness – people need to know that the “textbook” is flawed, and why it is flawed.  If they honestly believe the DI’s disinformation regarding evolution, if they seriously believe that there is a “crisis” in evolution, and if they seriously believe that Exploring Evolution serves a secular purpose of critically analysing the dominant paradigm in biology…they may be able to skirt the Lemon test.  Of course, once they are made aware of the issue, things might be different.  Of course, I know almost nothing about the law, so I am not the right person to comment.  Nonetheless, it seems to me that it’s important that the book get is critically analysed (and thoroughly debunked) and that the issue is widely covered.

*from the Wikipedia article Lemon v. Kurtzman, authorship here.


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