Words often get shanghaied and misappropriated in political discourse. If the effort is successful, the usurped word will eventually have a completely different meaning than it once had. Perhaps the best example is “liberal,” which has been so transformed that when reading literature from the time of the American Revolution it is necessary to remember that the Founders’ meaning of the word is now labeled “classical liberalism” or “18th Century liberalism” to distinguish it from present day usage.
Other examples abound, but in this post we’ll consider the term “critical thinking” and way it’s being used by creationists.
Three years ago, when Florida was in the throes of an earlier legislative bout with creationism, that phrase appeared in a House bill which was a companion to Ronda Storms’ bill in the Senate. In The Meaning of “Critical Analysis” in Florida we wrote:
[T]he new version of the anti-evolution bill working its way through the Florida House of Representatives mandates that teachers: “… shall teach efficiently and faithfully … A thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution.”
Some of you may be wondering what’s so objectionable about that. Well, you’ve come to the right place for information. This article, posted about eight months ago at the website of The American Association for the Advancement of Science, is about a commentary written by their CEO, Dr. Alan I. Leshner. Read it and you will have the answer to your question: “Critical Analysis”—or Critical Deception? The article quotes Dr. Leshner as follows (emphasis supplied):
[Quoting the AAAS article:] “But critical analysis, as a slogan embraced by the intelligent design movement, turns the scientific method upside-down,” he said. “Proponents start with their conclusion—that evolution alone cannot explain the origins of humanity—and then construct an argument to undermine evolution. They do no formal experiments to test their hypothesis, and so they have no findings to publish in scientific journals. They produce no hard evidence. They discover nothing.”
In other words, everyone knew what the game was all about three years ago. The creationists weren’t fooling anyone. That bill, by the way, was introduced into the Florida House by Alan Hays, a creationist dentist. He’s now serving in the Florida Senate.
You’re probably wondering why your Curmudgeon is writing about an old and well-known instance of word-gaming. It’s because of a column we found in the Florida Alligator published at the University of Florida: Critical analysis of evolution needed. It supports a bill pending in the state legislature, about which we wrote Florida’s First Creationism Bill for 2011.
The author is Zack Smith, said to be a first-year law student. Funny how The Controversy between evolution and creationism seems to attract people named Zack, but no one will confuse Florida’s Zack with the one we like in Louisiana. Here are some excerpts from Florida Zack’s column, with bold font added by us:
Nearly everyone agrees that critical thinking is a skill essential for children to develop as early as possible. Throughout life, whether they are reading about historical events, watching the news, talking with friends or solving complex homework problems, they will be forced to think critically about issues that confront them. …
Yeah, yeah. That’s what the expression used to mean, before the creationists started abusing it. Let’s read on:
This is exactly what the Florida Senate has proposed to ensure in a recent bill, which would require critical analysis …
Yet, Democratic legislators, the American Civil Liberties Union and others still seek to sink the bill. Why? It is because SB 1854, as the legislation is known, also seeks to ensure a “thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution.” This sounds like a good idea, right? Apparently not. Evidently, it is not OK to critically examine evolution.
Florida Zack may not realize it, but his column reads just like hundreds of blog posts we’ve seen over the years at the website of the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).
Later in his column, perhaps unknowingly, Zack quote-mines Edwards v. Aguillard, which sensibly allows for scientific theories to be taught, but doesn’t leave any wiggle room for creationism (which includes creationism’s closeted love-child, Intelligent Design). Zack says — without mentioning the name of the case he’s quoting:
The U.S. Supreme Court has acknowledged that “teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction.”
Here’s the complete text of EDWARDS v. AGUILLARD, 482 U.S. 578 (1987). After reviewing earlier evolution-creationism cases, and concluding that creationism is a religious concept, the opinion has the paragraph from which Zack’s quote was taken. We’ll put Zack’s quoted text in red; and then in blue we’ll put a very important sentence which immediately follows it — and which undermines the claim Zack asserts in his column:
We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques [emphasis by your Curmudgeon] of prevailing scientific theories be taught. Indeed, the Court acknowledged in Stone that its decision [citation omitted] forbidding the posting of the Ten Commandments did not mean that no use could ever be made of the Ten Commandments, or that the Ten Commandments played an exclusively religious role in the history of Western Civilization. [citation omitted]. In a similar way, teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction. But because the primary purpose of the Creationism Act is to endorse a particular religious doctrine, the Act furthers religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.
We hope Zack reads this post in our humble blog, because it’s a good lesson for him to learn while he’s still in law school. If he made a legal argument in court the way he’s behaving in the Florida Alligator, his opponent will eat him alive; and although the judge will be polite about it, he’ll remember Zack’s argument — and judges talk to each other about the lawyers who appear before them.
So pay attention, Zack: Do your research. Know your subject. Check your sources. Then — and only then — write your argument. Also, when you quote something from a US Supreme Court decision, at least mention the name of the case. And always remember: The opposition is going to — ahem! — critically analyze your argument.
Here’s how Zack’s column ends:
Although the sponsor of this bill probably favors creationism over evolution, it seems clear he is aware of Supreme Court precedent in this area and crafted the bill to pass Constitutional muster and encourage students to think critically in a wide array of areas.
Okay, Zack. Nice try. We’ll probably be seein’ you again.
Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.