Buffalo BEAST - Buffalo's New Best Fiend

Sept 21 - Oct 5, 2005
Issue #84

  ..Buffalo's Best Fiend
Why is it OK for the press to lie?
Allan Uthman

Banana Republicans
3rd World, US-style
Shawn Ewald

Drowning Reality
Truth not a Major Factor in New Orleans
Kit Smith
Of Pandas & Morons
Truth vs. Myth in PA
Jeff Dean
Star Wars
The Sequel & the Reality
Bob Fitrakis

Play the Blame Game!
Match the Stupid Quote!
Roberts Confirmation Maze

Buffalo in Briefs
The Sports Blotter
The Week in Sports Crime
Matt Taibbi
Wide Right
Bills Football
Ronnie Roscoe
Kino Korner: Movies
Michael Gildea
Page 3
Separated at Birth?
[sic] - Letters
 Cover Page

Idiot Box
Perry Bible Fellowship
Bob the Angry Flower

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Of Pandas and Morons
Jeff Dean

On September 26, the eyes of the nation should be focused with laser precision on a courtroom in Harrisburg, PA, as proceedings get underway in the premier battle of evolution vs. Intelligent Design.

The case of Kitzmiller, et al vs. Dover Area School District, et al, is expected to last a month before going on the road to its inevitable stop at the Supreme Court. The case, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Dover resident Tammy Kitzmiller and several other parents in the Dover school district, alleges that the Dover school board has willfully attempted to infuse religious doctrine into the curriculum, violating constitutional separation of church and state.

The genesis of the complaint is reportedly a school board meeting in June of last year, during which board member William Buckingham, head of the district’s curriculum committee, suggested that the board not approve the popular science text Biology by Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine. Buckingham complained that it was “laced with Darwinism.”

As a replacement, Buckingham suggested that the board approve instead a 1989 textbook called Of Pandas and People. The book is widely regarded as the first intelligent design textbook. Buckingham said the text would offer a comparative balance between Darwinism and Biblical creationism. When it was suggested that such a change to the curriculum would violate church-state separation, Buckingham angrily countered that “This country wasn’t founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution. This country was founded on Christianity, and our students should be taught as much.” At a meeting the next week, Buckingham continued his rant, presumably between bouts of handling serpents and speaking in tongues: “Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can’t someone take a stand for him?”

As far as the separation of church and state, Buckingham has since denied making the much, much-quoted blathering rant: “...nowhere in the Constitution does it call for the separation of church and state.”

Meanwhile, the Dover board approved Biology by a 5-3 vote, declining to purchase Of Pandas and People. Immediately after the vote, Buckingham announced that fifty copies of the fairytale book had been anonymously donated to the district. Later, the board voted 6-3 to accept the donation and resolved that students would be “made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution including...intelligent design.”

Science teachers in the district revolted after being told that they would be required to read the “gaps/problems” preamble to their class discussions, arguing that such a requirement violated the Pennsylvania Code of Professional Conduct for Educators. In a January 6 letter to the board, the teachers stated: “We believe reading the statement violates our responsibility as educators as set forth in the code. Students are allowed to opt out from hearing the statement. We should be able to opt out from reading it.”

The teachers won their argument, but administrators have been standing in to read the “gaps/problems” statement.

Since the debate flared last summer, the school board underwent drastic changes. After Of Pandas and People was accepted, the three board members who voted against it resigned. One, Carol Brown, issued a statement in which she claimed other board members had asked if she was “born again.”

Angie Zeigler-Yingling, who voted for the book, also resigned, saying she regretted her vote, and did so only after other board members accused her of “being un-Christian.”

The heavy-handed conservative Christian agenda is at the base of the complaint, and it will be difficult for the defense to prove that the ID move is just about exposing kids to differing views of the origins of life. For its part, the leading ID think-tank, the Discovery Institute, has issued statements distancing itself from the Dover case. Dr. John G. West, associate director for the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, said in a statement that “Although we think discussion of intelligent design should not be prohibited, we do not think intelligent design should be required in public schools.”

However, on September 30, West wrote on the Discovery Institute’s website that “While Discovery Institute does not support efforts to require the teaching of intelligent design in public schools, it also strongly opposes the ACLU’s attempt to censor classroom discussion of intelligent design.”

This modification of the Institute’s position is eerily compliant with the directions of ID proponent Philip Johnson, who advocates using evolution vs. ID as a wedge to get ID into the curriculum, creating a Trojan horse from which creationism can spring. In a similar fashion, the Discovery institute has taken the First Amendment and turned it around on its secular foes.

Unfortunately for the defense, there’s no science to back up their scientific theories. ID proponents like to say that ID is a theory, just like evolution, and that since no theories can be proved, ID should be taught along with evolution. However, as most scientists like to point out, science involves theories that can be tested under observable conditions. Intelligent Design can not be tested, and is therefore an invalid scientific argument.

In a fantastic interview on National Public Radio, Dr. Donald Lamb, the Director of Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, said he helped his students understand the ID debate by telling them that “the world began one second ago. Tell me why I’m wrong.” A student would say that it was impossible, because they had been talking for ten minutes. “No, the world began one second ago. God put those memories in your head to make you believe we’ve been talking.” Another student would give him another bit of scientific proof, and he would counter with another theory. The point, he would finally explain to them, is that while they were arguing science, he was arguing belief, and that they can not be homogenized.

Although the current political climate allows no sure things, it is unlikely that the Dover board of education will win the Kitzmiller case. The case, which concerns the separation of church and state, seems pretty clear-cut given the comments of record by Mr. Buckingham. The final nail in the coffin, at least before the case goes to the State Supreme Court, may be the “Pandas” book itself. The book is published by the Texas-based Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE), a fundamentalist Christian organization. In the past, the organization stated its mission as “proclaiming, publishing, preaching and teaching the Christian Gospel and understanding of the Bible and the light it sheds on the academic and social issues of the day.”

More recently, the mission statement has been toned down, claiming that the goal is “to restore the freedom to know to young people in the classroom...in matters of worldview, morality, and conscience, and to return the right of informed consent to families in the education of their children.” There is almost no mention of religion on their website. However, on their IRS Form 990, required of all non-profit groups, FTE claimed to be in the business of “promoting and publishing textbooks presenting a Christian perspective of academic studies.”

The Reverend Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State recently told the media that “Public schools are not Sunday schools...[and] there is an evolving attack underway on sound science education, and the school board’s action in Dover is part of that misguided crusade.”

“Intelligent design,” Lynn added, “ has about as much to do with science as reality television has to do with reality.”

While the case looks good for Tammy Kitzmiller and the other plaintiffs (some are wondering if the defense will be required to prove any ID theories, something they have been reluctant to try and unable to do; or even if they will be required to go so far as to prove the existence of God), stranger things have happened. The way the Discovery Institute and the FTE have been altering their positions (or the wording thereof), Kitzmiller vs. Dover could be headed for a violent and worrisome twist in the direction not of separation of church and state, but freedom of speech, something the ACLU will be reluctant to argue against.

But freedom of speech is not the issue. These people are free to push any old cockamamie theory they want on the street, but you don’t dissect frogs in church (well, no church I’ve been to anyway) and you don’t teach religion in biology class.

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