Kitzmas Is Coming and Creationists Are Furious

Mars is red,
Uranus is blue,
Ever since Kitzmiller,
Intelligent Design has been poo!

The month of December is when we celebrate Kitzmas. In a few short weeks it will be the fifteenth anniversary of the decision on 20 December 2005 by Judge John E. Jones III in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. It was an absolute triumph of law and science over theocracy and ignorance.

It’s a bit early to start our celebrations, but we were reminded that this is the big month by one of our clandestine operatives, who called our attention to an article at the website of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. It’s titled Expert Witness: Glenn Branch Of The National Center For Science Education Reflects On The Pa. Intelligent Design Trial. The article is an interview with Branch who, as you know, is deputy director of NCSE. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:

Q. On Dec. 20, we are going to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the victory in Kitzmiller v. Dover. What do you think has been this case’s most enduring legacy over the last decade and a half?

Branch: Kitzmiller was, as NCSE’s former executive director (and current Americans United trustee) Eugenie C. Scott recently observed, the last gasp of the creationist strategy of balancing the teaching of evolution with the teaching of a creationist alternative. The strategy started taking form in the late 1960s, after the Scopes-era bans on teaching evolution were legislatively repealed (as in Tennessee) or struck down as unconstitutional (as in Arkansas and Mississippi).

What ensued was a series of attempts to require the teaching of various supposed alternatives to evolution – biblical creationism, creation science, intelligent design – for the ostensible sake of balance. Over time these became less and less overtly religious and more and more vague, but their underlying creationism was always visible, especially through the scrutiny of a federal court. Since Kitzmiller, formal attempts to balance the teaching of evolution have been increasingly rare.

We’re skipping a bit. Then:

Q. The school board in Dover made the decision to advocate for the teaching of intelligent design in the school district’s science classes. How did intelligent design evolve from the teaching of creationism and how are these concepts associated?

Branch: Intelligent design is not so much a coherent view as it is a branding strategy for creationism in general. [Well said!] It emerged with a couple of religious organizations in Texas in the early 1980s. Hoping to become a credible rival to the Institute for Creation Research, then the dominant voice for creationism in the United States, these organizations started work on what would become Of Pandas and People (published in 1989), intended for use as a supplementary textbook in high school biology classes. Of Pandas and People sought to maintain neutrality about issues that divide creationists, such as the age of the earth, while mounting a sustained, and scientifically unwarranted, attack on the evidence for evolution.

It was Of Pandas and People that the Dover Area School Board saw fit to commend to the attention of its high school students in a disclaimer statement adopted pursuant to the October 2004 policy. During the trial, it was revealed that terms like “creation” in drafts of Of Pandas and People were replaced with terms like “design” in the published version, with the replacement occurring in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 1987 decision in Edwards v. Aguillard that teaching creationism in the public schools is unconstitutional. Not presented during the trial – although it was tempting! – was the occurrence of a transitional form in one draft, caused by a faulty search-and-replace: “cdesign proponentists.”

Skipping some more, here’s the last question and answer:

Q. NCSE monitors proposed legislation in state legislatures. What form has this typically taken after Kitzmiller?

Branch: The successor to the creationist balancing strategy is the belittling strategy – requiring or allowing teachers to misrepresent evolution as scientifically controversial, as a theory in crisis, supposedly in special need of critical analysis or examination of its “weaknesses” as well as its strengths. At least 80 bills have been introduced since 2004 proposing versions of the belittling strategy, with three enacted (in Mississippi in 2006, Louisiana in 2008 and Tennessee in 2012).

During the same period, bills to require or allow the teaching of creationism have occasionally appeared, despite the court decisions on the unconstitutionality of their provisions, but these are increasingly rare. NCSE and Americans United have collaborated to oppose such bills whenever and wherever they arise – and doubtless will continue to do so.

That’s enough to encourage you to click over there to read the whole thing. As you probably know, in the early months of this humble blog your Curmudgeon wrote a series of posts about the Kitzmiller case, starting with Kitzmiller v. Dover: Is ID Science? At the end of that post it links to the next in our series, and so on through them all.

Okay, dear reader, that’s all we have today about Kitzmiller. We’ll undoubtedly have more to say as Kitzmas approaches, so stay tuned to this blog!

Copyright © 2020. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

36 responses to “Kitzmas Is Coming and Creationists Are Furious

  1. “Intelligent design is not so much a coherent view as it is a branding strategy for creationism in general. ”
    I’d love to see the faces of the IDiots from Seattle when reading this.

  2. Michael Fugate

    It is interesting to read DI attacks on the trial. Jonathan Witt tried to take down Barbara Forrest by claiming that since Dean Kenyon and Percival Davis wrote both science books and religious books, one couldn’t use their religious writings as evidence against ID. He accuses Forrest of omitting their science work, but he omits that Kenyon started religious training and became a YEC after he wrote a book on chemical evolution and both clearly stated their religious motivations – how could a creationist not do so? How many cock crows does a DI fellow need to hear?

  3. Could Kenyon and Davis be honest brokers? They’re religious and they write science books. Is it possible for the former not to interfere with the latter?

    I would answer, yes, it is possible for general religion. But I would draw the line at “YEC”. YECs say that they really believe the Earth is less than 10 000 years old, and that the Universe, the Earth, all life and human beings were created by divine fiat in their current forms in the same week at the start of that period. Anybody who can say that might be honest – although distressing often they are not – but their religion has manifestly supplanted any committment to appraisal of the evidence. Any scientific writing such a person might produce is necessarily heavily compromised.

  4. @PaulB: a good read indeed. I like

    “It is ironic that sev­eral of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.” (Judge Jones)

    This is what I mean when I write that in a way YECers are more honest, or rather less dishonest, than IDiots.
    I also like this typo.

    “These bills included language that undermined ….. climate change”
    If only this was possible.

  5. @Dave Luckett
    Comsider a person who has a science
    education who says that they must accept the Bible even when it is contrary to science, and thus they are YEC. But even Augustine and other early Bible believers did not feel it nevesssry to take creation week literally.

  6. @TomS: there are several. Jonathan Sarfati from New Zealand is one of them:

    https://creation.com/how-did-all-the-animals-fit-on-noahs-ark

    It’s almost a quarter of a century old. The site has some “interesting” articles, like the one called “Four steps for surviving evolution classes at high school”. I opine that our dear SC should discuss it to celebrate Kitzmas.
    There is also that guy who studied biology and came out of the YEC-closet afterwards, saying (I paraphraze, because I can’t remember his name) that in case of conflicting conclusions he would take (his particular interpretation of) the Bible over science eight days a week.

  7. @FrankB
    Thanks.
    Of course, people are relying on their own personal judgement as to what the Bible is saying.
    Very few are Biblical Flat Earthers. Most people have reasons to say that the Bible doesn’t teach that the Earth is flat.
    There is a small group that say that the Bible teaches that the Earth is motionless, and that the Sun and the whole heavens make a daily motion around the Earth. We don’t hear much about them.

  8. I found the guy I was thinking of:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_Wise

    “He has a PhD in paleontology from Harvard University”

    “Although there are scientific reasons for accepting a young Earth, I am a young age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.”

    So his coming out was during his study, not afterwards.
    He hasn’t been active last several years, only one article at AIG in 2018.

  9. @Dave Luckett, There is a civil war within the various Abrahamic religions. Ken Miller is a devout Catholic, but so is Michael Behe. The Vatican has – sort of – accepted evolution, but a Catholic creationism is emerging in Poland. In the US, while liberal and reform Judaism accept evolution, there is a power struggle within Orthodox Judaism between modernisers, who do, and Charedi, who don’t. Among evangelicals, there are those like Dennis Venema who eloquently defend evolution, and on the other hand AiG and CMI. Within Islam, I am less well-informed but I think there is something similar, with Iran accepting evolution, but their fellow Shiites In Iraq rejecting it, and my friends in the Iraqi Translation Project (https://uk.news.yahoo.com/iraqi-translation-project-helping-rebuild-162045812.html) doing their best to get it accepted in Iraq and throughout the Arabic-speaking world.

    And what are we to make of Dean Kenyon, Professor Emeritus of Biology at San Francisco State University, and Charles Thaxton, who did post-doc work in molecular biology at Brandeis, and Perceval Davis, MA Zoology Columbia, who together wrote in Of Pandas and People, p37 of second edition, “Darwinism [sic] would predict greater molecular distance from the insect to the amphibian than to the living fish, greater distance still to the reptile, and greater than that to the mammal” ? A schoolboy error, and ironically one that Berlinski accused Matzke (!) of committing. But I see that Berlinski Is not among those thanked in Pandas

  10. Dave Luckett

    Paul Braterman, if Kenyon and Davis wrote those quoted words, and they are in context, (as I have no doubt is the case, since it is you quoting them) then they have utterly destroyed their own credibility as biologists. Even I know that the quoted words constitute, as you put it, “a schoolboy error”.

    What on Earth gets into these people’s heads? Or, perhaps more to the point, what has escaped from them?

  11. There is a long history in Christianity of flexibility in interpreting the six days of creation and the rest of Biblical chronology. This is not to say that millions of years was ok, but people like Augustine realized that there was something difficult in literal six 24-hour days. And in the beginnings of Fundamentalism, around the turn of the 20th century, YEC wasn’t important. The Scofield Reference Bible wasn’t YEC. The Jehovah’s Witnesses had some complicated computations stretching time beyond 6000 years – not as much as millions, to be sure. I’m sure that many of the intellectual YECs are aware of that. Yet they are not open to saying that Genesis 1 is more difficult than it seems. And, of course, scientific chronology has improved in so many ways since Lord Kelvin’s few million years.
    I must contrast the flexibility of Biblical chronology with the universal acceptance of Biblical geocentrism. Yet we hear next to nothing in defense of geocentrism.

  12. I just looked up about the Great Debate between Shapley and Curtis about the nature of the spiral nebulae. It was in 1920 – was there any celebration of the centennial of that debate? Just think, what every school kid knows about multiple galaxies – Star Wars taking place in a galaxy far away!

  13. @Dave Luckett , it is as you say. They give a table of number of differences in cytochrome C for 17 species so it humans vary at one site from rhesus monkeys 10 sites from sheep 13 Percent from penguins 20 Percent from tuna, 23 Percent from dogfish, 29 Percent from silkworm moth, 38 Percent from wheat. I quote:

    This finding is not surprising since it corroborates traditional taxonomic categories.

    Now look at the entry for silkworm moth and this time go down the table from vertebrate classes vertebrate classes. Notice that the cytochrome C of this insect exhibits the same degree of difference from organisms as diverse as human, Penguin, snapping turtle, tuner, and lamprey. Considering the enormous variation represented by this organisms, it is astonishing that they all differ from the silk warm moth by almost exactly the same percent.

    The reason this finding it so surprising is that it contradicts Darwinian expectation. As we move up the scale of evolution and silkworm moth, that expectation (although it was probably never stated as a prediction, was certain find progressively more divergences on the molecular level. [end quote]

    As bad as it could be. Actually, you could draw a pretty good taxonomic tree from the data in their table.

  14. @Frank B, Kurt Wise had been preaching creationism since his teenage years, despite which Stephen Jay Gould took him on as a post-doc. He is discussed at some length in Numbers’ book, The Creationists, and has developed his own peculiar ideas while trying to preserve simultaneously his creationism and his scientific integrity. For example, he accepts the accuracy of the geological column, and the existence of overthrusts

  15. Michael Fugate

    If you haven’t read it, Jason Rosenhouse’s “Among the Creationists” is worthwhile. He has a chapter on “conversion” stories and much like St Paul’s, who knows if they are true. When one looks at the quality of science coming out of creationist papers and books, their “science” could not lead one to Christ or creationism…

  16. @Michael Fugate; An excellent book, an unusual for its sympathetic treatment of the creationists (though not of course of their beliefs). From Wikipedia: “The school board’s elimination of evolution from science textbooks introduced him to the creationist community, and he says that his time spent with them has convinced him that “the task of reconciling science with faith is far more difficult than is sometimes pretended.” ” This may of course depend on what kind of faith; Although his brief Wikipedia entry gives no clues on the subject, his name suggests a Jewish background

  17. Michael Fugate

    He is a non-practicing Jew and atheist. His view from attending the conferences was that biggest issue driving anti-evolution is how evolution is perceived as eliminating humans as the image of God.

  18. Rosenhouse wrote an excellent comment on the JTB blunder concerning teinar Thorvaldsen and Ola Hössjer; our dear SC has reported about it.

    https://pandasthumb.org/archives/2020/10/biology-journal-gets-conned.html

    The IDiots from Seattle haven’t reacted yet, though they have expressed their dislike of JasonR in the past.

  19. @Michael Fugate, that’s what I’d guessed about him. And he has a point, as far as marketing ideas goes. A lot of people are emotionally opposed to the scientific analysis of almost anything, because they see it as dismantling by reductionism, and are of course particularly threatened by what they see as dismantling their own humanity.

    Evolution poses a very real problem for those who believe in such an entity as the soul (if anyone reading this comment does believe in the soul, I would greatly value their opinions). Did Homo habilis have a soul? If so, what about Australopithecus, And if not, what about H. erectus…?

  20. Michael Fugate

    Human exceptionalism seems to underlie much if not all of ID; the culmination is their big book attacking theistic evolution. Their argument requires a belief in Adam and Eve as real people, the first people created by a god, who disobeyed said creator god resulting in their death and the need for their descendants’ salvation.

  21. @PaulB: ” (if anyone reading this comment does believe in the soul, I would greatly value their opinions)”
    What does your friend (I’ve forgotten his name; wasn’t his first name Joel?) say? A while ago I suspected him to be a creacrapper; he explained that creacrappers are not genuine creationists.
    Several decades ago, a while before I began to call myself an atheist (still a relatively weak one), I believed in the soul. I never saw a problem with common descent. At the other hand I never wondered whether Homo Habilis had one.
    Nowadays I still don’t think it’s a problem, or rather, I think it’s totally possible for dualists to develop a coherent and consistent story that doesn’t conflict with evolution theory. The easy answer is “Only God knows”; as long the soul is not meant as a scientific concept (ie something that needs empirical support), but as a faith-based one, that’s totally acceptable on dualism. Then the Adam and Eve story becomes a story of mankind receiving consciousness, knowledge and awareness of good and evil; eating that piece of fruit a symbol of curiosity with its negative consequences and getting kicked out of the Garden of Eden a symbol of losing innocence.
    I don’t accept anything of it, but that’s simply because I’m not a dualist. Moreover I think such a story far more in line with the humility preached by abrahamists, in stark contrast with the both amusing and annoying arrogance displayed by all creacrappers. In western culture science was developed as a second way to get nearer to YHWH – and still creacrappers reject that tool out of sheer personal dislike.
    The fundamental problem of creacrap in my view is that at one hand it claims to know the TRVTH while at the other hand it promotes the fallibility of humans. They never research the fallibility of their own thoughts and can’t stand the thought that they, human as they are, may produce falsehoods. Thus they don’t practice what they preach.

  22. When Darwin’s “Origin” came out, the immediate reaction was about man being a monkey, although Darwin carefully said practically nothing about human evolution. I’d guess that if asked for a definition of evolution, most people would say “man came from monkeys”.

  23. Michael Fugate

    TomS, I agree. I still not sure how sharing ancestry with the those awful sinners Adam and Eve who caused me and Jesus to die is better than sharing it with apes and monkeys and other animals and plants. Monkeys didn’t cause me to die.

  24. @FrankB, presumably you mean Joel Duff; who blogs at https://thenaturalhistorian.com/author/naturalhistorian/

    I might ask him. Though I’m very wary of asking individual religionists the very tough questions

  25. I think that many of the creationists do not pay enough attention to the difference between the individual and the group (species, population). The soul is created individually. The soul is not a property of Homo sapiens.

  26. Late on, but souls, now. The general usage of “soul” would seem to imply an immortal entity, self aware, capable of perception and emotion and apparently of conscious action, but unique to human beings.

    So the question of whether H habilis or H erectus had souls is simply the question of whether you consider them to be human beings. “Homo”, their genus, means “Man” in the sense of “human”. Their family name, Hominidae, which includes gorillas, means “man-like”, which would imply that gorillas are not quite human, and therefore don’t have souls. But are you going to allow a bunch of taxonomists, many of them godless, to rule on this question?

    But Genesis tells a somewhat different story. Here we fall foul of the Hebrew words (forgive me; I can’t give the Hebrew script) “nephesh chayya”, which are difficult to translate. Literally, they mean “living creature”, where “living” is a derivation from the concept of “breathing”. “Nephesh chayya” describes all breathing creatures on land, even “creeping things”, at Genesis 1:24. The idea of “spirit” seems to be entangled in “breath”, for this writer.

    The difficulty is that the very same words are used – probably by a different writer – at Genesis 2:7 to describe God breathing life into the body of the man He had created. There, they are usually translated “living soul” or “living spirit”, but that translation implies that there is something about this “living spirit” that is different from those of the other breathing animals, an implication not found in the original. This text does not say that there is a unique human soul. Hence, the question of where exactly on our ancestral line it was installed was of no importance to that writer.

    So we have here an example of an admonition that should be familiar to those who read translated texts from very different cultures: don’t assume the words mean what you think they mean; don’t assume the writers share your perceptions, concepts or values. Which necessarily implies, don’t assume that the text constitutes what even the writers thought of as the literal truth – if indeed they owned such a concept as “literal”.

    But of course Biblical literalists immediately dismiss all the above, and the libraries of scholarly commentary of which it is an inadequate distillation, as backsliding, sophistry and gobbledygook. They know what God said.

    Hey-ho.

  27. @PaulB: yes, that’s him.

    “I’m very wary of asking individual religionists the very tough questions.”
    In my experience it’s OK as long as you show genuine interest and don’t abuse it for an attempt to deconvert them. Ie just ask questions and try to understand the answers.

  28. @Dave Luckett, “So the question of whether H habilis or H erectus had souls is simply the question of whether you consider them to be human beings.”

    Therein lies the problem. Ancestors could be more or less human, so that drawing a sharp line between pre-human and human is as arbitrary as drawing a sharp line in the spectrum between blue and green. But you can’t more or less have a soul. Either you have an immortal soul, or you don’t.

    And indeed we don’t know exactly what might have been meant by an Old Testament writer who refers to “nephesh”, but I’m talking about people, which I think includes all mainstream followers of Abrahamic religions, who believe right now that human beings have immortal souls

  29. Souls are not material. They are not subject to the laws of nature. They are not, like bodies, reproduced but are created individually by God. What can science have to say about souls? What can scientific categories like genus and species have to do with souls?

  30. @TomS, are you being ironic? souls are linked to individuals, and individuals belong to species

  31. Individuals belong to all sorts of groups. What is distinctive about species that makes belonging to a species critical for having a soul?

  32. @TomS, It’s not so much a matter of species as a matter of the properties that leaders to define organisms to species. If you think that a person has a soul, but the last common ancestor of all eukaryotes didn’t, then presumably there are some level of complexity or awareness or self awareness that is necessary in order to have one. But whatever that threshold is, it was presumably traversed gradually in the course of our evolution.

    So the problem is, we have to say that at some stage parents who didn’t have a soul gave birth to a child who did. It’s a little bit like the pseudo-problem that creationists raise; evolution requires non-human parents to have had a human child. The reason that that is a pseudo-problem, is that being human is a matter of more or less. But having a soul or not having a soul is all or nothing.

    Is that clear now?

  33. Michael Fugate

    Lots of people seem to believe their pets will join them in heaven – more so than in the past…
    https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03015-8

  34. But a soul is not a physical thing. How can having a soul be determined by physical properties? To be subject to physical laws is to be physical, that is what it means to be physical. To
    be a child of one’s parents is a purely physical thing. One’s soul is not related to one’s parent’s souls. One does not need to have parents with souls in order to have a soul. If one has a soul, one can have a child without a soul. Unless souls obey some physical laws.