Food Fight: Discovery Institute and NY Times

OUR EARLIER (and very Curmudgeonly) article describes the origin of this “controversy”: Discovery Institute — Blithering Pettifoggery. It was about a Discovery Institute blog that responded to an article in the New York Times describing a creationist threat to education in Texas.

We pointed out that the Discoveroid blog article was devoted entirely to the trivial issue of whether the Texas creationists’ tactic is new (as the Times article claimed). The Discoveroids engaged in pure pettifoggery, because it doesn’t really matter if the tactic in Texas is new. The tactic is indeed being deployed by creationists, and the Times article was describing the tactic itself, and its likely effect on education in Texas and elsewhere.

The tactic, by the way, is teaching the so-called “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution, where the “weaknesses” (wink, wink) are the same old, tired, long-refuted creationist talking points. The Times is surprisingly good on this issue — unlike economics, military strategy, geopolitics, etc. We’re told their obituary section is also good. The Curmudgeon always gives credit where it’s due.

Now, the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids) have fired off another salvo in this titanic struggle, in the form of their latest blog article: None Dare Call it Journalism. Here are some excerpts, with bold added for Curmudgeonly emphasis:

Times reporter Laura Beil [who wrote the first article about the “strengths and weaknesses” strategy], using valuable time that could have been spent doing further investigation into the dangers of fluoride in the city’s water, has carefully researched the Protocols of the Elders of ID and is hot on the scent of the meaning of its secret code:

[Quoting someone:] Starting this summer, the state education board will determine the curriculum for the next decade and decide whether the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution should be taught. The benign-sounding phrase, some argue, is a reasonable effort at balance. But critics say it is a new strategy taking shape across the nation to undermine the teaching of evolution, a way for students to hear religious objections under the heading of scientific discourse.

Observe, Curmudgeon fans, that the pettifoggery is continuing. The Discoveroids are not in any way disputing the existence of the “strengths and weaknesses” tactic in Texas. Instead, they are attempting to distract everyone’s attention by quibbling about trivia. First they howl (whether correctly or not doesn’t matter) that the Times made a gigantic mistake because the tactic isn’t really all that new. Okay, so it may not be new. So what?

Now the Discoveroids are pettifogging with a different trick — they’re making jokes about conspiracies and secret code words. Another excerpt:

I will probably get in trouble for revealing it, but when an ID advocate thinks someone else might be a creationist agent, he simply says, “Strengths.” And if the other person, looking to the right and left to make sure no one else can hear, says, “and weaknesses,” at the same time giving the secret handshake, he knows he has identified his creationist contact, and can pass along any secret messages from headquarters.

Funny, huh? Big joke. Har-de-har har. A real knee-slapper. Except for one little thing — the “strengths and weaknesses” tactic is indeed an arrow in the creationists’ quiver. But the Discoveroids never quite get around to mentioning that central fact, do they? We’re not supposed to notice that, because we’re so convulsed with laughter over the Discoveroid jokes. Yeah, we’re laughing.

The Discoveroid blog makes a few other conspiracy jokes. Some of them are rather cute. Then they wrap it up like this:

Obviously the Times has more work to do, yet it may be well on its way to a Pulitzer for blowing the lid off this conspiracy. Yes, there are creationists under the bed, and the Times seems well on its way to discovering them.

For all the jokes, all the pettifoggery, and all the smoke and mirrors, the central point of the original Times article by Laura Beil remains un-refuted — and even un-mentioned — by the Discoveroids, so we’ll repeat it here:

Opponents of teaching evolution, in a natural selection of sorts, have gradually shed those strategies that have not survived the courts. Over the last decade, creationism has given rise to “creation science,” which became “intelligent design,” which in 2005 was banned from the public school curriculum in Pennsylvania by a federal judge.

Now a battle looms in Texas over science textbooks that teach evolution, and the wrestle for control seizes on three words. None of them are “creationism” or “intelligent design” or even “creator.”

The words are “strengths and weaknesses.”

Quit the pettifoggery, Discoveroids. Respond to the issue!

The times has already fired the next shot in this battle. Check out their latest editorial: The Cons of Creationism.

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2 responses to “Food Fight: Discovery Institute and NY Times

  1. I do hope that someone compiles a list of the strengths of evolution theory. One problem with current texts is that they rather ignore this impressive body of evidence.

    If we’re to teach strengths and weaknesses, the books will have to be expanded a lot to cover the strengths. It will double the size of most of the texts.

    Discoveroids like Luskin, who I swear acts sometimes like he got his law degree from a box of Cracker Jacks (apologies to Cracker Jacks), haven’t figured out that if by some miracle such a claim doesn’t get struck down, there will be massive law suits to insist that the strengths of evolution be taught, and included in the texts?

    If we handle this right, it will be a huge public education opportunity.

    How much will it expand the texts? Have you seen Stephen Jay Gould’s last big book, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory?