The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘public schools’

The Tenth Anniversary of Dover & the Demise of Intelligent Design’s Wedge Strategy

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 20, 2015

Ten years ago today, on Dec. 20th 2005, skeptics, scientists, and science-boosters celebrated a huge win in the perpetual creationist war against evolutionary science: the historic ruling in the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial. The ruling by federal judge John Jones in the Dover case was a no-holds barred beat-down against the notion of so-called “intelligent design” (ID) as science.

Judge Jones

Judge John Jones – my hero 🙂 (image source)

For those who don’t know, it is important to understand the historical context: in the early 1990s, creationists were trying to figure out a way to move forward after having suffered a major setback when, in 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that creationism wasn’t science and therefore could not be taught as such in public schools. Through the 1990s on into the early 2000s, creationists came up with a new way of branding their ideas, which they called Intelligent Design (ID). The Intelligent Design Movement (IDM – which is just another way of saying “creationist movement”) put together a slick and well-funded think tank known as the Discovery Institute, whose sole purpose at the time was to write about and promote the whole notion of ID as a scientific concept. However, some digging revealed that ID was simply a thinly-veiled attempt to rename and relabel the old-fashioned creationism that had been defeated time and time again through both scientific analysis and courtroom rulings; further investigation also showed that the IDM’s motives were explicitly religious in nature and had little or nothing to do with science. In fact, the IDM’s own stated goals were to, among other things, completely overturn and re-define the entire endeavor of science so as to be in keeping with their narrow religious worldview; in fact, the IDM explicitly stated as much in their now-infamous Wedge Document (an actual PDF of the original document can be found here) in the section titled Goals

Governing Goals

  • To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.
  • to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.

Five Year Goals

  • To see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research being done from the perspective of design theory.
  • To see the beginning of the influence of design theory in spheres other than natural science.
  • To see major new debates in education, life issues, legal and personal responsibility pushed to the front of the national agenda.

Twenty Year Goals

  • To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science.
  • To see design theory application in specific fields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics and cosmology in the natural sciences, psychology, ethics, politics, theology and philosophy in the humanities; to see its influence in the fine arts.
  • To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life. [emphasis added]

The IDM pushed the idea of ID in the popular press, trying to avoid any religious overtones, attempting to make it look like a scientific concept. But all along, the real goal of the IDM and Discovery Institute was to get a federal court ruling in their favor stating that ID itself was a scientific concept so that they could “push the thin edge of their Wedge” into public school science classrooms as part of their larger goal to, in their own words, have their narrow religious beliefs “permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.”

In 2004 the IDM got what it wanted in the form of a federal court case wherein ID was put on trial after the school board of Dover, PA tried to force science teachers in the town’s public school district to teach ID as science. The IDM and Discovery Institute thought this case was going to be a slam dunk for them, partly because Judge Jones was both a Republican and appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush and they thought he would be sympathetic to their worldview, but also partly because they really believed they had good arguments. As it turned out, they were wrong on both counts. Here’s just a taste of what Judge Jones had to say in his ruling of Dover v. Kitzmiller (a more thorough break down, including the all-too-predictable reaction from creationists, can be found here)…

(from p. 63 of the ruling):

“After a searching review of the record and applicable case law, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position,ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.”

(from p. 88-89 of the ruling):

“After this searching and careful review of ID as espoused by its proponents, as elaborated upon in submissions to the Court, and as scrutinized over a six week trial, we find that ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community. ID, as noted, is grounded in theology, not science. Accepting for the sake of argument its proponents’, as well as Defendants’ argument that to introduce ID to students will encourage critical thinking, it still has utterly no place in a science curriculum. Moreover, ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM [Intelligent Design Movement] is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.”

(and the money quote, from p. 136 of the ruling):

“The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.”

More juicy quotes from Judge Jones can be found here and here.

So after this high-profile defeat of their pet “theory”, what did the IDM do? Sadly, they kept on doing the same thing: misrepresenting evolution and science in an attempt to give ID some thin veneer of credibility. But it was too late, because Dover clearly showed the emperor had no clothes, and only those already committed to the creationist cause kept up their attempt to promote ID as science.

Some years after the Dover ruling, I had the opportunity to attend a talk by Casey Luskin, who at the time worked for the Discovery Institute, and I was interested in seeing whether or not ID’s biggest proponents had lived up to their talk of ID being science. That’s because actual science adapts and evolves, refining theories as a result of observation and experimentation. But I saw no evidence of this in Luskin’s talk; in fact, I saw quite the opposite: little more than a sad rehashing of the same tired old creationist arguments against evolution, lame attempts to label ID as science, ranting against the evils of materialism, and a  general collapse of all arguments under even the barest scrutiny. Here is my more detailed account of Luskin’s talk, and here is his response to my criticism. Lastly, in the spirit of throwing Luskin and his colleagues at the Discovery Institute a bone, I even came up with an experimental method for testing a key aspect of ID, but – ironically – they have yet to take up that (or any other) challenge and actually test out this supposedly scientific concept.

Of course, to say that creationism is dead and buried would be incorrect. After all, once the IDM could no longer promote ID as science, they fell back on the time-honored creationist tactic of attacking evolution and science in general, and these attacks still continue; a great way to keep track of attempts by creationists and others to tamper with science education is to stay tuned to the National Center for Science Education. Fortunately, the evidence suggests that creationists are, slowly but surely, losing the fight as more and more Americans become accepting of evolutionary science and view creationism with suspicion. It’s been a long, hard fight, but it’s one well worth having, given the stakes. And we’ll continue the fight as long as it takes.

Last, but not least, I cannot help but point out the irony of the timing: right around now is when the writers of the Wedge Document stated that they had hoped to have ID “permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life”, and – thanks in large part to the Dover ruling – that certainly hasn’t come to pass.

Happy 10th birthday, Dover v. Kitzmiller 🙂


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New JREF eBook: Magic in the Classroom

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 25, 2015

I’ve been teaching physics, astronomy, and math at both the high school and college level for about 18 years. And in that time I’ve made a number of contributions to the intersection of skepticism and education. I’m proud to say that one of them is a my part in a new ebook published by the James Randi Educational Foundation, available for free download. Please pass this along to any educator whom you know is interested in preserving and encouraging scientific and critical thinking in the classroom 🙂

New eBook: Magic in the Classroom

Magic in the Classroom

The JREF is pleased to offer a new eBook for educators

Magic in the Classroom is a collection of essays by educators across the curriculum who are using extraordinary claims to teach critical thinking. Editor Robert Blaskiewicz gathers the contributions of fourteen authors from the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Swift Blog who write on topics ranging from popular culture, psychology, linguistics, evolution, exobiology, history, folklore, and many more. Together these essays represent the work of a vibrant skeptical culture in education that is bringing critical thinking skills to students across the curriculum.


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Satanic Temple Convinces Florida School District that Church-State Separation is a Good Thing

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 17, 2015

In recent years, the Satanic Temple has been getting more and more attention as they have been attempting to make themselves more visible in the public eye. In fact, they’ve taken a page from the tactics employed by many Christian churches, and they have begun to demand a place in erecting holiday displays, advocating for religious monuments on public land, and even distributing literature at public schools.

And it’s that last point which is so interesting and ironic: last fall a judge ruled that religious pamphlets could be handed out in public schools in Orange County, Florida. School officials seemed just fine with this scheme as long as it was only Christian literature and Bibles that were handed out to kids, but then along came the Satanic Temple…

Satanists victorious in wild scheme to disrupt Florida school district’s Bible plan

In September of last year the Satanic Temple revealed plans to disseminate the “Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities,” to kids in a Florida school district.

The Satanic Temple along with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) were responding to a ruling, which let the Orange County school district allow religious and atheist organizations to distribute materials — including bibles and other pamphlets — in public schools.

Since religious and atheist materials could be handed out, the Satanic Temple made a request to hand out the aforementioned activity book, while the Freedom From Religion Foundation planned to hand out a pamphlet describing the bible as an “X-rated book.”

Now, the Satanic Temple’s request has the school district rethinking its policy, and the district is currently putting the distribution of all religious paraphernalia on hold, according to WFTV-TV.

“We don’t want our schools to become religious battlefields,” David Williamson, of FFRF, told WFTV-TV. “We’ve advocated all along to close the forum.”

So in a hilarious and embarrassing turnabout, the school district did what they probably should have done all along: they decided that in order to respect the separation of church and state they should probably just not allow any religious organizations to distribute literature in the public schools.

In closing, I think it’s fair to say that a picture is worth a thousand words 🙂


Posted in education, politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin Responds… And Fails

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 2, 2011

I found out recently that Casey Luskin of the intelligent design/creationist “think” tank the Discovery Institute has  responded in print to my takedown of his public lecture last August in Chicago.   I think it is important is to dissect his arguments and point out the utter failure of him to make any headway in his arguments; he is simply recycling the same ol’ same ol’, in my view.  For reference, here is my account of what happened at the event last August.

Me & Casey Luskin, chillin’ after his lecture.  Nobody was hurt in the making of this photo 🙂

And I also wrote a follow-up post specifically criticizing Luskin’s claims of the supposed scientific nature of ID’s so-called “design inference”. It is pretty telling that Luskin never addresses any of these points in his response, but more on that later.

Speaking of which, here is Luskin’s response. Technically, it isn’t really a response to my blog posts, because he never references my blog or the posts in his article, but he does refer to me and the questions I asked at his lecture (though he doesn’t name me).  Allow me to go through his points one at a time…


ID’s Critics Engage in Motive-Mongering to Avoid the Evidence

By Casey Luskin

In August 2010, the creators of Salvo graciously invited me to speak at the University Club in downtown Chicago. After a short 40 minute presentation on the positive scientific case for intelligent design (ID), we opened up the floor to the audience.

Most of the inquiries led to serious and worthwhile scientific discussions. But one gentleman [that’s me] was confident he came armed with a “gotcha question” that would stump me. His challenge essentially boiled down to this: What about the ‘Wedge Document’?

The Wedge What?

Salvo readers generally believe—quite rightly—that seeking truth requires merely following the evidence where it leads. As a result, they don’t get bogged down in endless debates about personal motives or the religious (or non-religious) beliefs of scientists. At the end of the day, what matters is the evidence. Right?

For many ID critics, that’s not right. In fact those who follow the ID debate closely are depressingly familiar with the fallacious distraction of the “wedge document.”

While the “Wedge document” has no bearing on whether the information-rich molecular machines that underlie every living cell point to an intelligent designer, it’s worth rebutting to help those who are seeking truth understand this debate.

What is now called the “Wedge document” was originally a short fundraising packet compiled in the late 1990s by the pro-ID think tank Discovery Institute (“DI”). Like any good prospectus, it laid out the goals of the DI, centering around using pro-ID arguments to influence various branches of culture, including science, politics, education, and theology. …

Actually, the Wedge Document (and related strategy) is entirely relevant to the entire question of ID and its origins as an explicitly religious enterprise.  That’s because, as I documented earlier & as Luskin fails to note (surprise), during his lecture he stated on multiple occasions that “ID isn’t about religion, it’s about science!”  So when I pointed out the fact that the Discovery Institute’s Wedge Document most certainly shows that the primary motivation for pushing ID is religious in nature (with such notable sections as the “20 Year Goal: To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.” – yup, that’s a direct quote, entirely within context.  Read it for yourself), Luskin was hoisted by his own petard, so to speak.  In fact, I had a conversation with one of the other audience members in the lobby of the University Club after Luskin’s lecture, and while this fellow wanted to agree with Luskin, he simply couldn’t because of exactly what I’d pointed out.

What was Luskin’s reaction to my criticism?  Well, the next section of his article pretty much spells it out.  Read on… Read the rest of this entry »

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ID’s Next Strategy in the Evolution/Creationism Wars?

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 10, 2010

A little over a week ago, I gave a presentation to the Illinois North Shore chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church & State about the lecture I attended in August by Casey Luskin of the intelligent designcreationist think tank called the Discovery Institute. Specifically, my presentation, titled “ID’s Next Strategy in the Evolution/Creationism Wars?” was a rebuttal to the various points made by Luskin and the intelligent design movement in general.  I recorded the audio of my talk, and I’d like to share it with you here.  Enjoy!

Click here for the audio of my presentation –

Rebuttal to Luskin ID-talk

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My Challenge to the Discovery Institute’s “Design Inference” Model

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 7, 2010

In an earlier blog post, I gave a detailed rebuttal to a lecture by the Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin titled “Intelligent Design: Dead Science or the Future of Biology?” – however, it wasn’t until recently that I came up with what I consider to be the real killer criticism of a basic intelligent design argument: their so-called “design inference” model. During his talk, Casey Luskin showed a picture of Mount Rushmore, which he stated the design inference model shows is clearly a product of ID, not the result of natural processes.  The implication is, of course, that much of evolutionary science is false because ID’s design inference model can prove that ID is a better explanation; but there’s a fatal flaw here.

The basic argument is simply a variation of the classic watchmaker argument, which is essentially an argument from ignorance. Not to mention, Luskin has stacked the deck in favor of the ID design inference model because every time an ID-advocate trots out their model it is in the context of a post-hoc analysis: they already know ahead of time that the object/situation they’re analyzing is the product of intelligent (human) processes.  Hell, of course Mount Rushmore is the result of (human) ID, because we have records & photos of humans chipping away at the damn rock!  So they can’t lose – in this sense, the ID folks are proposing a non-falsifiable model, which makes it NON-science.

Read the rest of this entry »

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My Thoughts on Attending Casey Luskin’s Intelligent Design Talk at the University Club of Chicago

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 20, 2010

This past Tuesday, I attended a talk by Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute at the University Club of Chicago.  Attending this talk with me was Jamie Bernstein (her post on the event is located over at the Friendly Atheist blog) – we were both very curious to see what Luskin had to say on the topic of intelligent design (ID), which is essentially another form of creationism.

The event was a casual luncheon, and I must profess that the people gathered there were quite pleasant.  After Jamie & I seated ourselves and started our meals, the group (which numbered approximately 30 in total) held an invocation (appropriate, considering as how the St. James Fellowship and Salvo Magazine – both Christian organizations – sponsored the event).  It was at this time that Jamie & I felt a wee bit self-conscious, because we had started our meals before the prayer while everyone else was waiting – oops.  But no one made a big deal out of it, for which I was thankful.

After awhile the talk got underway.  I did my best to transcribe the talk on my computer, and I will include the notes I took below – all of my specific after-the-fact commentary will be in bolded italics

Me and Casey Luskin (right) after his talk – though we butted heads (more on that below) during his presentation, we agreed that it wasn’t necessary to get out the boxing gloves 🙂

Intelligent Design: Dead Science or Future of Biology?

talk by Casey Luskin (M.S., J.D., ESQ) of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture

at the Fellowship of St. James, University Club of Chicago

Read the rest of this entry »

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Textbook stickers for all your educational needs

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 21, 2009

If you’ve kept track of various creationist-related nonsense over the years, then you no doubt have heard about their attempts to insert “disclaimer stickers” into biology textbooks.  For example, in the case of the infamous Cobb County debacle, here’s what the sticker looked like…

Of course, this is just another variation on the tired, old creationist tactic where they say schools should “teach the controversy” or “teach all views” and “let the kid’s make up their minds”.

In response to this idiocy, some skeptics & educators have decided to fight fire with fire: by providing textbook stickers for all manner of subjects.  This is done partly as a joke, but the serious side is to illustrate just how stupid & intellectually vacuous this creationist argument really is – here’s a link to the stickers (image below)…

Read the rest of this entry »

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