Monday, February 02, 2004

Bachmann, GOP and Creationism Headline Retraction

The oddest thing of all about my attendance at last year’s Intelligent Design Conference was my discovery that the retraction by the Gazette of one of its headlines (Local Republicans: Schools Should Teach Creationism) was (in my view) unnecessary and inappropriate.

In the article that followed the headline, Senator Michelle Bachmann said that students should be taught about the ‘controversy’ that is going on between the scientists who support the theory of evolution and the scientists who don’t. But since the scientists who are questioning the validity of evolution are creationists, it would be impossible to teach students about this controversy without also teaching them the views of creationists and creation scientists.

Whether she understood it or not at the time, Bachmann was indeed advocating the introduction of creationist views into the public school science curriculum.

Actually, there isn’t any scientific controversy at all. To have a scientific controversy, you must have competing scientific views. Creationists and creation scientists have not presented any view that other scientists recognize as a legitimate challenge to the theory of evolution; instead they present their colleagues with theories grounded in unproven beliefs about the supernatural. There is certainly a political and theological controversy concerning evolution, but the scientific opinion and evidence demonstrate that evolution is a proven fact.

It is true that a tiny minority of people with science degrees dispute the fact of evolution; but just because some people disagree with a proposition does not mean that that proposition is the subject of ‘controversy’. You might, for instance, find some nut in the sports fan community somewhere who thinks that the Chicago Bears won the Superbowl this year. If you found such a nut (or a dozen such nuts, or even a thousand), would that mean that there is currently a real ‘controversy’ about who won the Superbowl--and that the dissenters are entitled to equal time to present their own version of sports history? The only real controversy involving evolution and the scientific community is whether the people who are challenging evolution are practicing science at all.

Bachmann cited Professor Michael Behe as a ‘scientific author’ who questions the ‘dogma’ of evolution. What Bachmann probably did not know at the time of the interview is that Behe’s Intelligent Design Theory is creationism, according one of its leading proponents.

At the ‘Darwin, Design, and Democracy’ convention I attended last year, I interviewed one of Behe’s colleagues, Professor William S. Harris. Professor Harris is a research biochemist at the University of Missouri and advocate of Intelligent Design Theory. He was a featured speaker at the conference, as was Behe. During the interview, I asked Professor Harris if Intelligent Design Theory was creationism. His answer: Yes-- although Harris dislikes the connations of the word ‘creationism.’

I submit that Senator Bachmann was probably unaware of the fact that she was citing a form of creationism as a legitimate scientific challenge to the theory of evolution at the time she was interviewed.

In the same article, Representative Eric Lipman proposed that the ‘tenets and outlines’ of ‘creation science’ be taught in schools. What is ‘creation science’? According the Encarta dictionary, it is: “Scientific attempts to prove God’s creation: the attempt to provide scientific proof for the account of God’s creation of the world that is described in the Bible.” What is creationism? From Encarta, again: Creationism is “the belief that God created universe: the belief that the Bible’s account of the Creation is literally true.”

Thus, creation science is nothing more than a sub-set of creationism; the presentation of data and arguments that tend to support a supernatural conclusion. More than twenty years ago our courts identified creation science as a religious doctrine, not a legitimate scientific discipline. Because it is a religious doctrine, it cannot be taught as scientific fact in a public school classroom. His comments indicate that Representative Lipman does not recognize this law.

To sum up: 1) the Gazette article reported that Lipman, a Republican, was in favor of exposing students to the tenets and outlines of creation science. Creation science limits itself to the scientific evidence that tends to support supernatural creationism, and has been identified by the U.S. Supreme Court as a religious doctrine, not a science. Lipman has not disclaimed or qualified his remarks in the Gazette since he made them. 2) The Gazette article quoted Bachmann, another Republican, as saying that the controversy between various theories of origins of life should be taught in schools. To put her proposal into practice, it would be necessary to teach the creationists’ views in the classroom (in order to fairly represent their ‘side’ of the ‘controversy’.)

And remember: the Intelligent Design Theory of Professor Behe, cited by Senator Bachmann as a legitimate ‘scientific’ challenges to Darwin—is creationism, according to a leading Intelligent Design advocate.

The remarks of some ‘local Republicans’ in the article following the headline would indeed lead a reasonable person to conclude that ‘local Republicans’ were indeed proposing that ‘schools should teach creationism’ as well as evolution. In light of their statements and their subsequent refusal to respond to my repeated requests for them to clarify their views, I conclude that the headline that Bachmann complained of was not misleading at all and should not have been retracted.

William Prendergast is the author of the crime thriller ‘Forbidden Hollywood’, and like Phillip Johnson, America’s leading advocate of creationism, he has a degree in law, not science.