Florida: John West Spins Wildly to Cover Luskin’s Back

Yesterday, I wrote about the Discovery Institute’s game plan in Florida, which is to recruit teachers to push their drivel in schools. Casey Luskin had let the cat out of the bag during a press conference, saying that of course “intelligent design” creationism constituted “scientific information” that would be protected by bills filed in the Florida legislature. John West is quick off the mark with a damage-control post on the DI blog, but along the way he confirms exactly what my analysis yesterday said.

Here’s what I said:

The only reason the Discovery Institute makes a big deal about not “mandating” instruction in “intelligent design” creationism (IDC) is that a law doing so could be challenged immediately without waiting for it to actually affect a classroom. By relying upon the known demographic that 30% or so of science teachers would be totally on board with slipping in bogus old religiously-motivated antievolution arguments, like the content of “intelligent design” creationism, the Discovery Institute is able to recruit a substantial proportion of science teachers into providing lawsuit fodder at some later time. Add on to that the fact that in many cases even if a teacher is blatantly proselytizing in a classroom, it is often difficult to find someone with standing that wants to go through the process of becoming a plaintiff. By not “mandating” IDC, they get a chunk of science teachers purposely passing their anti-science drivel on to children, most of whom will never be challenged as they should be.

And here is John West spinning like he usually does:

Right now, as Luskin correctly pointed out at the press conference, there is a debate raging over whether intelligent design is science. Scientists and philosophers who support ID certainly think it is scientific in precisely the same way Darwinism is scientific. But the proposed Academic Freedom Act does not wade into the design debate one way or another. If and when ID supporters are able to win the debate over whether ID science, then by definition any scientific information about it that pertains to biological or chemical evolution would be protected—just like any other scientific information relevant to those topics. But, again, the bill doesn’t decide the debate over whether ID is science. It leaves that debate alone.

So who would decide what is scientific under the bill?

The same people who currently must make that determination: science teachers themselves in consultation with their science curriculum staff and their school boards. And if they happen to promote something that isn’t science, we can be sure that groups like the ACLU will be ready to police their activities—just like they do now.

Just as I said, this DI-sponsored and orchestrated effort seeks to set up teachers as lawsuit fodder. But beyond that, what West says deserves nothing but sarcasm.

Sure, all those teachers are going to “consult” with curriculum staff and school boards before sticking exactly what they want to in the science classroom… riiiigggghhhhhtttt. The “academic irresponsibility” bills also say nothing about any procedure of consultation for teachers — or students, don’t forget the students — to follow before interrupting science class for non-science time. Plus, we know how teachers insert religiously-motivated antievolution materials into classrooms, with the prime example of the Discovery Institute’s own pet teacher, Roger DeHart. DeHart “consulted” with the administration over materials, once students and parents complained. DeHart then agreed to teach a particular curriculum, but once on his own in the classroom, he completely blew off what he had told the administration. Check out what DeHart, as responsible-teacher-example-number-one, wrote on a student’s test when the student disagreed with him:

Interesting. Your belief sounds biggoted.

Spelling error as in the original.

The science domain experts and education experts in Florida have already identified science classroom content. Do we really expect any random teacher to have a better understanding of both the core material and the pedagogy to trump that? This stuff from West and the DI is transparent flim-flam, just another page in the long-running farce that is religiously-motivated antievolution, now working on the third or fourth major strategy to pass off a sham as a legally permissible intrusion into science classrooms.

There is no “debate raging” over whether “intelligent design” creationism is science. There are a bunch of delusional people at the DI who think that crankery is “debate”. The 1997 “Naturalism, Theism, and the Scientific Enterprise” was a foray of the DI’s to attempt to get a philosophical imprimatur of scientific standing for “intelligent design”. Those of us who came there as critics immediately took up a two-question response that could stand as the enduring legacy of the NTSE conference: “What would an ‘intelligent design’ hypothesis look like? How could it be tested?” They had no answers to those questions then, and they still have none now.

This wouldn’t be complete without taking up the final piece of spin from West’s screed:

Ironically, the only reason Florida Darwinists would have to fear that this bill might protect intelligent design somewhere down the road is if they already have concluded they cannot win the debate over whether ID is science. Indeed, by insisting that intelligent design must be covered by the bill, Darwinists in Florida seem to have admitted that despite their rhetoric, they really believe that intelligent design is science after all! And that may be the most telling admission in the entire debate.

Sorry, dude, but delusion doesn’t make a good premise for an argument. The bills don’t specify that materials taught will be accountable in any fashion, nor do the bills specify what is or isn’t “scientific information”. We already know that a substantial fraction of science teachers are themselves confused enough to think that bogus old religiously-motivated antievolution arguments, such as those peddled as the content of “intelligent design” creationism, represent some sort of “scientific information”. That confused teachers would bring non-science into the science classroom is a legitimate concern, since we have seen exactly that happen in the past. The “academic irresponsibility” bills make it that much more likely that such confused teachers — and students, don’t forget the students — will interrupt the limited class time available to insert their unaccountable, unscientific, and anti-science arguments for antievolution. We’ve seen it happen before; it certainly is no concession about the status of “intelligent design” creationism as recycled anti-science to say that these bills will be exploited by antievolutionists if passed.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

6 thoughts on “Florida: John West Spins Wildly to Cover Luskin’s Back

  • 2008/03/14 at 2:03 pm
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    It’s worth pointing out that the actual legislators in question have already explicitly listed some of the “criticisms of evolution” that they are thinking of. Alan Hays mentions the lack of any “half-monkey, half-human” evidence: a concept as evolutionarily laughable as a half-squid, half-bird fossil. In other words, these legislators are imagining protecting things that are downright falsehoods told about what evolution predicts and shows.

  • 2008/03/14 at 5:38 pm
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    One good development is that some of the Florida legislators might be seeing the light. Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, who previously was making soothing noises in the direction of supporters of the “academic freedom” legislation, may be having a change of heart:

    House Speaker Marco Rubio said there can be “valid debates on Darwin.” But he said there’s a reason teachers are held to a standard curriculum for K-12.

    “It seems to me the movie and the issue applies more in the higher education setting,” Rubio said.

    Florida is supposedly in a big push to attract biotech jobs and it may be sinking in that this kind of foolishness is hurting their chances.

  • 2008/03/14 at 5:54 pm
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    Nevermind that he considered the student “biggoted,” why is Inheret the Wind being shown in a science classroom in the first place?

  • 2008/03/15 at 2:00 am
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    So who would decide what is scientific under the bill?

    The same people who currently must make that determination: science teachers themselves in consultation with their science curriculum staff and their school boards.

    Well, now ain’t that lovely? He’s take away this job from the scientists, say at the National Science Foundation, National Academies of Science, and AAAS, and from the courts, and given it to local school boards.

    Lawsuit fodder? You bet.

  • 2008/03/17 at 4:40 am
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    Oops. “take” should be “taken.”

    Apologies.

    Unlike Luskin, I think accuracy is important . . .

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