Creationist Wisdom #235: No Tennessee Agenda

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Tennessean of Nashville, Tennessee. It’s titled No ‘radical’ Christian agenda found in science education bill.

The subject of the letter is the latest creationism bill in Tennessee, about which we last wrote here: Tennessee’s 2012 Creationism Bill Passes Senate. The bill, drafted by the Discovery Institute, has been getting national attention, including here from the Wall Street Journal and here from the New York Times. The only favorable reporting is from the Discoveroids (see News Media Going Ape with Misinformation about Tennessee Academic Freedom Bill).

As you would expect, the Discoveroids narrowly focus on the carefully crafted weasel words in the legislation, like the laughable instructions to the judiciary that it “shall not be construed” to have a religious purpose, and that it’s only about presenting “scientific” material — such as the foolishness they themselves conjure up about “irreducible complexity” and all the rest of it.

That’s the background for today’s letter. We’ll give you a few excerpts, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary, and some bold font for emphasis. As we usually do we’ll omit the writer’s name and city. Okay, here we go:

The Tennessean has described Senate Bill 893 as part of a “radically divisive, ultra-conservative Christian agenda.”

That’s probably a reference to this editorial from a few days ago: Evolution ‘debate’ bill is religion, poorly disguised. It’s rather good. Here’s a sample:

Does anybody think that Senate Bill 0893, as amended, is really about making our children smarter, more intelligent and better critical thinkers? No, not on any side of this argument. This bill is about wedging open a door to include a radically divisive, ultra-conservative Christian agenda disguised in politically correct language.

Okay, back to today’s letter:

Not being familiar with this “dark age” legislation, I looked it up and found that it calls for an educational environment that “encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion.”

In addition, the legislation specifically “protects the teaching of scientific information and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine.”

Lordy, lordy. We’re supposed to believe that the letter-writer is a total innocent, an absolute newcomer to the controversy, who never heard of any of these issues before, and who just happened to read the proposed legislation and is totally snowed by it. You do believe that the letter-writer is sincere, don’t you? It must be so, because his letter sounds so much like the Discoveroids’ defense of this legislation, and we know the Discoveroids are also sincere. Yes, it’s obvious that this is an entirely spontaneous letter to the editor, and any similarity to the arguments used by Discoveroids is a natural coincidence. Let’s read on:

I don’t know if this legislation is necessary, but I suspect even Darwin would encourage critical thinking and respect other opinions even if they did not blindly follow all of his 19th-century extrapolation.

Yes — even Darwin would favor this legislation! Let’s skip to the end:

Critical thinking about creation should not exclude scientific thought that includes the Creator. That is common sense, not some radical Christian agenda.

We always wondered what “critical thinking” was. Now we know that it’s scientific thoughts about the Creator.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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10 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #235: No Tennessee Agenda

  1. Curmudgeon: “You do believe that the letter-writer is sincere, don’t you?”

    I have an idea, but as a scientist I feel obligated to test my hypothesis, and reject it if it doesn’t pass the test. So I would ask the writer a few questions, starting with his/her conclusion on the age of life and common descent, and whether he/she arrived at those conclusions on the basis of evidence or some other way (revelation?). If I got any straight answers I would ask if he/she ever challenged evolution-deniers with different opinions. By the 2nd or 3rd round it’s quite clear who’s just clueless and who’s in on the scam. There is a 3rd option, that the person actually believes he/she has a better theory, and wants students to critically analyze that one. So far I have never encountered anyone remotely like that, and have no expectation that I ever will.

  2. Frank J said:

    and whether he/she arrived at those conclusions on the basis of evidence or some other way (revelation?).

    Problem is that (a) they’ll state that “Of course we have evidence!” and (b) they’ll claim it’s the exact same evidence as that used for evolution. They’ll simply tell you you are misunderstanding, misinterpreting, misreading, just blatantly missing what the evidence is clearly telling you. Just as “You can’t fix stupid”, “You can’t argue with denial.”

    There is a 3rd option, that the person actually believes he/she has a better theory, and wants students to critically analyze that one. So far I have never encountered anyone remotely like that

    Herman Cummings?

  3. Gary: “Problem is that (a) they’ll state that ‘Of course we have evidence’!”

    Not a problem at all if you refuse to take the bait and switch, and instead ask exactly what they conclude from that evidence that the designer did, when and how (as opposed to the designer’s mere existence). It’s always best to start with Behe’s position, which includes ~4 billion years of common descent, and ask if they agree or not, and if not, whether they challenged him directly. The big tent scammers just run away, but at least one old-style YEC gave me a quick “they’re wrong too” before moving on to safer turf.

    As for Cummings, I have seen him post here, but am unfamiliar with his position. If he indeed thinks that his “theory” can be tested on its own merits, and not on the same old long-refuted “weaknesses” of evolution, then he would surely oppose the efforts of anti-evolution activists who are hell-bent on insulating their mutually-contradictory “theories” from critical analysis. Anyone know if that’s the case?

  4. @Frank J – Not here, but I have seen him post a few times in newspaper responses, in Articles Curm here has highlighted, and yes he does openly attack YEC, OEC, and ID in those responses.

  5. Frank J said:

    Not a problem at all if you refuse to take the bait and switch, and instead ask exactly what they conclude from that evidence that the designer did, when and how (as opposed to the designer’s mere existence).

    … which is exactly when they point you to someone’s creationists writings (Dembski, Gish, name one) and say, “It’s all explained there.” Seriously, arguing with a creationist is analogous to trying to nail Jello to the wall. It’s extremely difficult, it typically doesn’t work, and you simply wind up with a mess.
    As for Cummings, he’s a bit eccentric. He denies BOTH evolution AND creationism (at least how it’s currently explained by most mainstream creationists). That’s why he’s always posting comments on blogs (including this one) that we’re ALL wrong

  6. Dave de Vries

    I recently checked out the Discovery Institute website. According to it, Intelligent Design is actually theory of evolution. It supports the big bang, fossil records, the Cambrian explosion and that “living things are related by common ancestry and ‘change over time’.” It seems that their only point of disagreement with “neo-Darwinism” is with the evolutionary agent. ID rejects “the process of natural selection acting on random mutations” and substitutes it with a Designer (anything from space aliens, a time traveling cell biologist, or God (or gods) working directly or through surrogate intelligences; anything from angels to organizing principles embedded in nature).

    Even if one punts for the “God working directly” option, their ID is far from the “big tent” being claimed. It is still in direct conflict with a seven day creation, the young earth, and more importantly, Adam and Eve, original sin and the requirement for salvation.

    So the question is; Are the financial backers of the DI aware they’re supporting an organization that promotes evolution and denies the rationale behind the doctrine of original sin?

  7. Gary: “It’s extremely difficult, it typically doesn’t work, and you simply wind up with a mess.”

    Not if there are fence-sitters present, who can see which one is clearly playing games. I for one never debate any science-denier with the goal of changing his/her mind. If there’s no one else present, my goal is only to see what “kind” they are, and where on the scammed-scammer axis they lie (pun intended).

    Case in point, on Talk.Origins, I am asking one of those “don’t ask, don’t tell” types a few simple questions – which “evolutonists,” OECs and YECs have no problem answering, and I’m getting several rounds of evasive non-answers, inlcuding a “no” to a “A or B” type question (I almost fell for it).

  8. @David

    The DI does not officially deny the Big Bang or ~4 billion years of common descent, and indeed, that’s the only clear position admitted by any of its key players. But theirs is a “big tent” scam that also accommodates all the results of YEC, geocentrism and flat-earthism – and a designer that, per Behe’s Dover testimony, could even be deceased! The DI is shrewd enough to know that its target audience (mostly Biblical literalists) will infer the Judeo Christian God, and whatever origins account they are comfortable with. Such audiences will “tune out” what they don’t like (e.g. possibly deceased designer, humans related to broccoli, etc.) if those statements are only made occasionally, and drowned out by what they want to hear, e.g. “Darwinism” is dead, dying, falsied, unfalsifiable, the root of all evil, etc.

  9. Frank J said:

    Not if there are fence-sitters present, who can see which one is clearly playing games.

    I just don’t know if there all that many fencesitters out there. And the ones who would call themselves “fencesitters” or “I really don’t care” are the ones who, in my opinion, will say, “Why not teach both? What’s the harm?”
    Look, I realize I’m coming across all down about this. I don’t mean to. You’re getting my “I can’t believe with all of the problems in this country we’re having to deal with this!” frustration.
    Then again, it might just be I’m really brain dead due to preparations for a midterm exam on Thursday.
    Probably both.

  10. Dave de Vries

    @ Frank J
    Mate, I agree.
    They have the Biblical literalists in the bag. However, I’m not sure that’s where the problem lies.
    Despite their claim, the Discovery Institute is not in the business of science. They’re a political lobby group, and their target audience is the politicians in the state legislatures and school boards.
    Politics is not about facts, it’s about who can tell the best story. And the story they are telling is seductive: “You are created in God’s image. And ID scientifically proves it.” Who cares if it doesn’t? It’s a great story, with ID a hero for the politicians to get behind.
    To change any political landscape, one has to change the story.
    Here’s a potential news headline; intelligent design hypothesizes that the big bang was created by a time travelling cell biologist. Here’s another: Intelligent design hypothesizes that the Greek gods are guiding the evolution of the universe.
    Both entirely consistent with ID’s stated position, both make great news copy, and both are completely ridiculous.
    No politician wants to look ridiculous. So when one asks the question; “Will you categorically rule out that the big bang was created by a time travelling cell biologist?” The answer must be “Yes”. Which is then followed up with “Why?”
    Whatever they answer doesn’t matter. The story has been changed. And it is ID and not evolution on trial.