[2007/01/06] Is Legal Hammerlocking the Way to Win a Scientific Controversy?
Is Legal Hammerlocking the Way to Win a Scientific Controversy? 01/06/2007 The cartoon stereotype of a scientist as an unbiased truth-seeking nerd wearing a white lab coat is hard to reconcile with some recent events. Not that the cartoon stereotype was ever realistic, but the row over Darwinism vs Intelligent Design (ID) shows just how biased and unethical certain people and organizations can behave in support of their side. One would think a scientific controversy would involve the debating of evidence in the open marketplace of ideas (another cartoon stereotype). But what if some participants work instead to prevent their opponents from even being heard? Is making one’s opponent cry uncle a measure of scientific progress?
Georgia: Stickers gone “for good”: The Cobb County School District near Atlanta, Georgia thought they had a strong case for appealing the decision of Judge Cooper, who ordered stickers in high school biology textbooks calling for critical thinking on evolution to be removed (05/24/2005, bullet 6). The appeals court did not rule on the constitutionality of the stickers. Instead, it remanded the decision back to the local court on grounds the records of the lower court were incomplete. In the meantime, though, the burden of legal proceedings and costs on the school board grew too great. Weary from legal hassles and mounting costs, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the school said last month it was giving up. It settled with the five parents who sued the school with backing from the ACLU, by agreeing to remove the stickers. Not only that, they would never again apply any similar stickers, they said, and agreed to pay a third of the plaintiff’s costs: some $160,000. The school board was not acknowledging fault by this action, as if they felt they had done something wrong or without merit. Attorney Larry Taylor expressed his feelings to the paper in an editorial Dec. 21 (article reprinted on Uncommon Descent): “Once again, the potent combination of a liberal judge and the deep pockets of the American Civil Liberties Union have proved too much to overcome,” he said. “...This case was never about questioning evolution. It was about making sure it was taught honestly, fairly, accurately and completely – all of which the current textbooks fail to do.” Nature (4 Jan 2007) agreed that the decision was pragmatic: “The school board had a right to appeal but decided to abandon the case, in part because of rising costs.” CNN quoted the board chairwoman saying, “We faced the distraction and expense of starting all over with more legal actions and another trial.” They just wanted to get it over with and start the year with a clean slate. Attorney Brian Fahling of the American Family Association, according to Agape Press, regrets that the school board buckled under pressure. Needless to say, the pro-Darwin side is rejoicing over this capitulation. The NCSE justified the decision, and Science Now smirked that the stickers are “gone for good.”
California: Frazier Park a year later: What happened since the Frazier Mountain High School capitulated to legal pressure in January? (01/25/2006) In that case, also, it was not that the teacher or the school board felt that they had done anything wrong; they were concerned over the cost of defending themselves in court. Even though they agreed in the settlement to “never again” offer a class that promotes creationism or intelligent design, the teacher had every intent of offering her “philosophy of design” class again this year, because “promoting” creationism was never the purpose to begin with. Nevertheless, certain persons saw to it that it wouldn’t happen. Though the people in the communities around Frazier Park are overwhelmingly conservative and supported the class, the only newspaper in the little mountain town is owned by a liberal pro-Darwinist. She not only wrote articles strongly biased against intelligent design (example), and tended to print only letters of similar persuasion, but promoted anti-ID candidates in the school board election. As a result, two anti-ID candidates won seats—one of them the plaintiff who had filed the lawsuit. Ethics would demand he recuse himself over this issue because of a conflict of interest, but because the community appears weary of the controversy, it appears unlikely it will be discussed again any time soon. Unfortunately for the pro-ID side, one of their allies, the district superintendent, had to quit his position over charges of ethical violations unrelated to the ID controversy. The school board is now strongly stacked against the class and it is unlikely a repeat will be attempted again any time soon. One pastor in the area says that the paper pushed the two anti-ID candidates ad nauseum and reported against ID with false information and bias approaching hysteria. He said the people of the community tend to get excited over an issue for awhile but quickly tire of it. Thus the anti-ID minority in this small mountain town gained the momentum against the majority—not by debate over the issues, but over legal pressure, threats and propaganda.
Darwin’s arsenals: Apparently not satisfied with their legal victories, or rather their ability to wear down the opposition, the pro-Darwin forces are ratcheting up their battle tactics. Science this week (Netwatch, Jan 5) urged readers, “Become an Evo Warrior.” What, pray tell, is an evo-warrior? The news item pointed to an arsenal of evolutionary info at FASEB, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, which contains “pointers on meeting with public officials, testifying at school board hearings, and related topics” in case your local school board tries something like Cobb County or Frazier Park did, or even if your hometown newspaper runs an editorial in favor of intelligent design. The site has sample letters to write, Powerpoint presentations, posters, cards and even buttons that proclaim “Teach Evolution – Learn Science.”
Paper victory: A congressional committee found evidence for harassment and discrimination by the Smithsonian against Dr. Richard Sternberg, who had allowed publication of a pro-ID paper in a Smithsonian journal (see Evolution News). The report listed numerous examples of spying, plotting, lying, scheming and creating a hostile environment against Dr. Sternberg by Smithsonian staff with the NCSE’s help. It is unlikely those charged will suffer any consequences of this report, however, or that many citizens will even know it exists. The NCSE website makes no mention of the accusations against them in the report and shows no signs of changing anything they are doing. Apparently there are no fines, penalties or legal consequences against those involved—unlike the large legal costs faced by school boards sued by the ACLU or Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The report, headed by Republican congressman Mark Souder, only makes recommendations to Congress about what should be done to prevent such behavior by the Smithsonian in the future. With the new Democratically-controlled congress in session, that will most likely not be on the agenda.
It would seem that school boards intellectually prepared to debate evolution and ID lack the fortitude or budget to count the cost of protracted, expensive lawsuits. Is Darwinism winning by pressure, then? John West of the Discovery Institute, however, is encouraged by the events of 2006. In his podcast for Dec. 25 on ID the Future, he listed reasons to believe Darwinism is imploding and ID is making headway – not the least of which is the apparent paranoia of Darwinism’s defenders.
After the Darwin idol topples, we’re going to remember the litany of shenanigans and intimidation tactics of the Darwiniacs and hold it up for all to see. Philosophers and historians of science are going to shake their heads over this one. It’s hard to remember a time when people ostensibly committed to evidence, debate, logic and reason behaved so badly. Where is the rationality, the intellectual dignity and integrity, behind Darwin buttons and Darwin Days and legal hammerlocks against poor local teachers who just want their student to hear both sides of one of the biggest scientific controversies of our time? This is crazy. They don’t have a philosophical or historical leg to stand on for believing Darwin’s fairy tales and insisting that people can’t hear anything else. Whenever the Darwiniacs have tried to debate the evidence in a fair exchange they have almost always walked away with dodo droppings on their heads. No wonder they are paranoid. Notice that nothing in the Darwin Party’s reaction deals with scientific evidence. It’s all about strategizing to silence anyone who opposes them. If they can only win by threatening with their ACLU attack dogs and silly propaganda games, how can they look at themselves in the mirror? The evidence, meanwhile, marches on (example).