Anti-ScienceReligionScience

Academic Freedom is Smelly Crap

Oh, just what I needed…another reason to be embarrassed to live in Florida.

It seems there are two types of Floridians – those that introduce infuriating, frivolous legislation and those that fight it with references to malodorous poo. I’m pretty sure neither knows how to vote.

Last month, Florida decided to promote references to evolution and prohibit religious theories (including Intelligent Design) in science classrooms. This month, the Academic Freedom Act was drafted to counteract it.

The AFA protects the right of teachers to present “scientific” information in criticism of evolution. The problem, of course, is that there is no legitimate scientific information challenging the validity of evolution, and scientists already welcome classroom discussion about the actual disputes on the finer points of the theory.

And although the bill doesn’t make mention of protecting ID specifically, it seems the intent is for this act to be used as a loophole. I mean, why introduce an act to allow actual science to be taught in a science classroom? So we’re back to debating whether Intelligent Design can be considered science. Sigh.

And, of course, the Floridians wishing to fight this legislation have lots of valid, elegant, scientifically grounded arguments at their disposal. But my people went with the smelly crap argument. Yes, they countered with “Academic Freedom is nothing but smelly crap”. If you don’t believe me, click here.

I guess they really showed those litigious conservatives with their redundant insult. I mean, it’s not just that odorless crap. It’s smelly.

Appropriately, Ben Stein has become the celebrity supporter of the smelly crap, as the underlying concept is supported by his documentary, Expelled.

I don’t plan to see Expelled, not because of Stein’s complete bastardization of logic and lack of intellectual honesty, but simply because this picture of him in his boxers frightens me.

In defense of the AFA, Stein says,

“This bill is not about teaching intelligent design. It’s about freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry – nothing more complicated than that. We have freedom of speech in just about every other area. Why don’t we have it here?”

And he goes on to point out that Darwin would have applauded such a debate.

Stein is making it a “free speech” issue, but it’s not. In a classroom, teachers are obligated to present the best, most recent academic research available, regardless of whatever smelly crap they might believe. And that goes for any subject, not just evolution, and not just science.

Darwin, and scientists in general, would encourage lively debate about evolution. But there is no debate about whether evolution happened. Only debate on the finer points of how it happened. Intelligent Design is a fringe concept, too unsupported and irrelevant to science to even be mentioned as an “alternative”.

And no one is even saying that it can’t be taught in schools – only that it can’t be taught in a science classroom, as an alternative to evolution. ID belongs in a mythology class, next to all the other creation myths. Those are its fair comparisons, not evolution.

But to hell with it, I guess it’s more concise to just say – [The] Academic Freedom [Act] is smelly crap.

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28 Comments

  1. The saddest part is that I don’t think anyone actually believes that intelligent design is science, not really. The only people who even say it is are at that very moment trying to get it into science class.

  2. Let them teach ID in schools. It’s not as if evolutionary theory is important in biology, pharmacy, medicine, genetics or even archeology, anthropology or psychology. These so called “sciences” should just be replaced with prayer and other forms of wishful thinking. Who needs an education anyway?

  3. jtradke said,

    I thought Ben said Darwin’s ideas led to the Holocaust. Why would that version of Darwin have then applauded free speech? Ben can’t have his cake and eat it, too.

    Thanks for saying this. Stein also uses the very foundation of science (openness to ideas and debate) against us in this case – saying that scientists would encourage a lively debate about ID vs. Evolution. These are two examples of Steins “complete bastardization of logic and lack of intellectual honesty. Continuing to examine unsupported, fringe ideas is not science.

  4. Galphanore said,

    The saddest part is that I don’t think anyone actually believes that intelligent design is science, not really. The only people who even say it is are at that very moment trying to get it into science class.

    Right, and coincidentally, they are usually Christians. Hm.

    I’m pretty laid back, but I have to admit that the smelly crap article (link above) got my panties in a bunch because the last paragraph said that the very fact that the FL Darwinists are fighting ID means that they secretly think it is science.

    I mean, even if it did (which it doesn’t), what would that prove? Who cares what anyone thinks? Examine the theory itself to decide if it’s science.

    Ok. Done.

  5. If ID is to be taught then it should also be taught that the same reasoning (or lack thereof) led people to conclude the wind, rain, tides,etc. were being caused by gods. Afterall they could not imagine what else could be doing it. Also it is a kind of self centered myopic vision that leads one to think it is inherently seen that things are “made” like a watchmaker makes a watch. If you look at more ancient religions , back when society was less in a manufacturing mode ,you see myths with gods giving birth to the earth.

  6. John,

    Exactly. And it’s that “intuition” that arguers of creationism rely on, and not to be elitist, but the masses totally buy into. That is what is so hard to fight, because there’s strength (and in this case ignorance) in numbers.

  7. That cartoon is great. I used it in the class I teach elementary teachers about math and science. I was shocked at the response. Some of the these teachers to be saw no reason to either teach evolution or that we should present both sides. I thought my head would explode. We did have a lively debate and I hope some changed their minds or at least felt they needed more info. I am most worried about the 2-3 that I know really believe in some nonsense other that science – they will be in schools teaching.

  8. Is it really valid to say that science should support debate anyway? (Open and lively or otherwise?) I would agree that scientific theories are open to challenge through experimentation, but debate? So if I lose a rhetorical debate with an ID espousing mush-head, do I then have to accept their silly drivel as science? Accepting the notion that science is about debate seems somehow off to me.

  9. Is it really valid to say that science should support debate anyway? (Open and lively or otherwise?) I would agree that scientific theories are open to challenge through experimentation, but debate? So if I lose a rhetorical debate with an ID espousing mush-head, do I then have to accept their silly drivel as science? Accepting the notion that science is about debate seems somehow off to me.

    You’re right that it’s a fine line, Grimmstail. I mean, one of the great things about science is that ideas must stand up to rigorous challenge and peer review in order to be accepted. This prevents ideas becoming accepted just because an authority figure espouses them.

    On the other hand, some debates are just a waste of time. As is the case with ID vs. Evolution. ID is too unsupported and unscientific to even merit the debate.

    So, I would say that science is about debate in the context of ideas that have some support or merit. But not any old idea someone has.

  10. I love how Disseminating Idiocy of Seattle twist that scientist are only arguing against the introduction of IDiotism into the science classroom because it isn’t science as validation that it is science. Another organisation that has read Orwell as in instruction manual rather than a warning.

  11. I love how Disseminating Idiocy of Seattle twist that scientist are only arguing against the introduction of IDiotism into the science classroom because it isn’t science as validation that it is science. Another organisation that has read Orwell as in instruction manual rather than a warning.

    Oh. My. God. I know. Like I said above, I’m generally pretty laid back, but this got me riled.

  12. Being new to this blog, I have to ask an initial question – are all skepchicks atheists? (When you capitalize “God”, Stacey, I am assuming it is with an ironic wink.)

    With respect to this subject, what I do not understand is how “dumb” Christians have hijacked Christianity. Of course, I preface this with the fact that I am not a Christian. Nonetheless, in Catholic school (K-12), my biology instructor taught evolution, and believe it or not, my theoology instructors (who were spirtiually secure enough to also teach us the fundamental tenets of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism), posited that the story of Adam and Eve is a metaphor and that evolution (and scientific discoveries of the last 3,000 years) ARE consistent with that metaphor. Based on my admittedly informal and unscientific poll of Christian friends and acquaintances over the last 10 years, this belief seems to be shared by a majority of Christians. (Although maybe I just don’t know the right kind of Christians.)

    So my question is why aren’t these “intellectual” Christians involved in this debate? Is this debate (which I do not believe is really intellectual, but political) really just a manifestion of a modern political trend whereby extremely vocal special interests get all of the traction while the masses sit by in silence?

  13. Hi SkepticalMale and welcome to the blog.
    One question at a time:
    No, all Skepchicks are not atheists. And there are what you refer to as “intellectual Christians” in the skeptical community; they are in the minority, though.
    I personally refer to myself as agnostic, and in my daily life, almost no one even knows that about me. So we are certainly not all militant atheists. On this blog, we are preaching to the choir and it is a place where we are free to share our thoughts and vent our frustrations.
    As far as the “dumb” Christians hijacking Christianity, I have mixed feelings about that. I agree that many modern day Christians believe that Adam & Eve is a metaphor with which evolution is compatible, and that is good in the sense that it doesn’t thwart scientific education/progress. However, I also think most of the so-called “intellectual” Christians are merely better at apology than the others. The Bible is an interesting historical document, written by men, and it captures the norms of many cultures and time periods. But it is breathtakingly flawed as a spiritual document. Reading the bible in its entirety and choosing to still subscribe to the mainstream, fuzzy-feel-good version of Christianity that makes sense in our current culture takes a generous helping of intellectual dishonesty. (Click here for examples) Most deal with it by cherry picking the passages that support the version of Christianity that they are comfortable with.

    So, the apology of the “intellectual” Christians has failed to impress me, personally.

    And, to address your last question – yes, pretty much. It’s usually the crazies that spur the litigation and the “masses” agree with their basic premise (that creationism/ID should be taught as an alternative to ID in a science classroom), and therefore do nothing to stop it.

  14. I believe that both pieces of legislation should be summarily rejected. On the other hand, this is an issue that has probably inevitably escalated from the school boards (which are really just one level away from the homeowners associations in terms of the modern manifestations of ignorant fascism). To put it quite simply (and I don’t want to sound like a libertarian here), legislatures should not be micromanaging what is taught in the classroom. I know what you are probably thinking … We started down that road when the public started funding public education, and the toothpaste is out of the tube … But there IS a difference between setting the bar for a minimum level of student competence and literally telling teachers the fine details of what they can and cannot teach. Call me an idealist, but I believe in the marketplace of ideas, and that regardless of whether schools are publicly funded, the solution is to give parents a choice and let the fundamentalist Christian teachers do whatever the hell they want. If a school teaches ID only, then most rational parents (and yes, I do believe most parents are rational) will simply choose to put their children in another school.

    The issue that I have with Christians that seek to “teach” intelligent design is that they are so insecure in their faith that they cannot accept the competing idea (i.e., evolution). You know, I don’t have a problem with someone who has religious principles (as irrational as the underlying premises may be) – indeed, there is a great deal of common wisdom across all the major religions. Even if I called myself a secular humanist, I would be intellectually dishonest myself to say that a world full of people acting like Jesus would be a bad thing for society.

    That said, I read your article in the link, and I responded.

  15. I think where we differ is that you seem to have a “what’s the harm” view of teaching ID as an alternative to evolution.

    We (I) do think there is harm in that.

    Teaching ID as if it were a valid alternative to evolution is completely misrepresenting science and the scientific method, two of the most important keys to our current lives, our future, and the future of our planet.

    ID is the concept that some supernatural being created the earth and the universe. It is not science. It isn’t that children shouldn’t be exposed to that idea, only that it shouldn’t be taught in a science class. It should be taught in a mythology class, next to all other speculations as to how the universe came into existence.

  16. Maybe we disagree about the basic premise that a legislature should be micromanaging what is taught in a classroom. I think that is another issue altogether – in my opinion, in whatever context we discuss it, I just believe that it is one of those things where the means do not justify the ends.

    But that said, I don’t advocate teaching ID in a science class. The problem I have is with the following statement, which I took as suggesting ID should not be discussed in ANY class:

    “In a classroom, teachers are obligated to present the best, most recent academic research available, regardless of whatever smelly crap they might believe. And that goes for any subject, not just evolution, and not just science.”

    Maybe I am misinterpreting that. But I think the more you stifle free speech, the more you make the other side look like martyrs in a political/cultural war rather than an intellectual discourse. Ultimately, ID will lose in the marketplace of ideas.

    In the Scopes trial, if Clarence Darrow won the public opinion, it was by bringing in the media to question William Jennings Bryan about the Bible and making him look like a moron. With the New York Times constantly running stories about the trial, people began to look upon Tennessee as a bunch of fascists for even passing a law like the Butler Act.

    I merely caution against making martyrs of the fundamentalists.

  17. And no one is even saying that it can’t be taught in schools – only that it can’t be taught in a science classroom, as an alternative to evolution. ID belongs in a mythology class, next to all the other creation myths. Those are its fair comparisons, not evolution.

    That’s a quote from the original post.

    I have no problem with students being exposed to ID and other creation myths. I think presenting it as a valid alternative to scientific research is absurd and harmful.

  18. Acknowledged, although I do not recall having a class on mythology in K-12 (just Catholic theology :)

    Personally, I think the appropriate venue for discussion is civics/government – e.g., is ID simply a religious belief wrapped up in a cloak of pseudo-science, and as such, would teaching it in a public school at all violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? … I think it is especially apropos in that context since the matter has come within the legislative activities of our state and local government … A sort of “meta-educational” experience.

  19. Personally, I think the appropriate venue for discussion is civics/government – e.g., is ID simply a religious belief wrapped up in a cloak of pseudo-science, and as such, would teaching it in a public school at all violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?

    Well, I certainly agree that would be a fascinating and appropriate topic to cover in a civics/government class.

    But you don’t think teachers should go in depth about the theory of ID (irreducible complexity, etc) in a civics/gov’t class, right? So, it would still be appropriately taught in a mythology/religious studies class.

    My high school had a religious studies class, but I don’t recall if we had a mythology class or not.

  20. “But you don’t think teachers should go in depth about the theory of ID (irreducible complexity, etc) in a civics/gov’t class, right? ”

    Not necessarily, but there would have to be some discussion of the theory itself, along with tracing the line of its proponents as a scientific phenomenon, to explore whether it is, in substance, a religious concept (i.e., promotion of religion).

    Certainly the subject would be very appropriate for a religious studies class, although from what I understand, the availability of such a class in public schools is limited. But if I am making a faulty assumption, please let me know.

  21. What assumption is faulty? Studying attempts to insert religious teaching into public schools as a matter involving the First Amendment (i.e., in a government/civics class)?

    Also, what do you mean by “ID as a theory isn’t even wrong”?

  22. SkepticalMale – I agree that this would make an interesting topic for either a gov’t/civics class (an exercise in critical thinking regarding legal issues) and/or a religious studies class.

    And, honestly, I don’t know how many high schools offer classes in religion. I’d have to look that up. Certainly it would be an elective course, and probably one of the first one to be cut if budgets were reduced.

  23. I couldn’t tell whether Rav was referring to my assumptions about religious classes in public school or the assertion that it could be taught in a civics class … Anyway, my point is that, even in a religious studies class, you probably can NOT get into theological debates in public school because the First Amendment is interpreting to include freedom FROM religion (as in atheists and agnostics have a constitutional right to not have to sit through morning prayers, etc. ) … As you more eloquently pointed out, civics classes (in high school anyway) tend to be where the “debates” occur, always in the context of the law and government, and although I know people disagree with me on this point, I think the issue becomes a political one once it becomes a subject of legislation, and as such, I don’t think that such a discussion runs afoul of the First Amendment.

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