From Seattle writer and consultant Matt Rosenberg...

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Ashland, Oregon Dust-Up Over Intelligent Design

August 17, 2005

There was a real dung-storm recently in uber-liberal Ashland, Oregon, a place where the right to public nudity is codified in a village ordinance - and the streets are filled with increasingly aggressive panhandlers confronting Oregon Shakespeare Festival-goers and other visitors to the charming, sylvan town.

Yes, a conservative Christian black man, Mike Green, the content editor at the local newspaper, the Ashland Daily Tidings, penned a Web-only piece for the publication, in favor of teaching intelligent design in public school science classes.

Which resulted in calls from readers for censorship of such views. Here is an editorial from the paper about the reaction to Green's column. An excerpt:

Letters decrying the “idiot” author of the column demanded censorship of this position. Most said space in the newspaper should not be wasted on this point of view, even though no newspaper space was utilized.

It’s ironic a forum that allows for three different points of view would incite people to such a vociferous reaction. One writer said a conservative with such views shouldn’t be allowed to work at the Tidings!

All too typical of our "tolerant" Left Coast "progressives." A day before Green's hot-button commentary, The Tidings published two contrasting opinion pieces by other staffers on Intelligent Design; one opposed to its inclusion in school science curricula, the other, by editor Andrew Scot Bolsinger, in favor of it. Bolsinger noted:

...any responsible educator would hold themselves to a higher standard of fairness, probing their actions to eschew proselytizing for the advancement of critical thinking. Having students who think for themselves is the foremost educational goal.

To that end, acknowledgement of the religious environment that floats in the historical midst of evolution is an important aspect of teaching the science. Likewise, a classroom will not cave to religious fervor by explaining a segment of our culture that touts a concept, lacking in scientific evidence, called intelligent design.

Christians have faith-based schools to teach religious curriculum. Efforts to tout any faith violates the separation of church and state. But during the instruction of evolution, it hurts no one to offer a basic level of explanation as to alternative views of the subject that are prevalent within our culture.

Even Bolsinger's moderate position - similar to posts of mine on I.D. at the blogs Red State and Sound Politics - was likely an affront to the liberal group-think of Ashland and many other similarly-inclined burgs. But going so far as to publish Green's hard-edged piece on I.D. and faith in public life - in this Patchouli/Lexus outpost's daily paper - was downright gutsy. More power to the Ashland Tidings for rocking the boat in a community that badly needs alternatives to one-party ideological rule.

By the way, Mike Green's back at it today in The Tidings - with a great, seriously researched piece which ties together the themes of education spending; academic expectations; and the roles of the family and the individual in minority achievement.

TO COMMENT: The regular comment feature is not in operation now. However, you can e-mail me your comments on this post, at the address under "Contact," above. I'll add them, here.

Tom Rekdal: The choice of any curriculum necessarily involves a decision to teach some things, and, by implication, to exclude others. To describe such an exclusion as "censorship" is merely a confusion of thought.

No competent educational institution still teaches courses in witchcraft or the geocentric theory of the heavens (except, perhaps, Berkeley). Few people would consider this "censorship." Instead it represents discrimination in its primary sense: a selection based upon defensible reasons.

The view that intelligent design should be taught in our schools as a scientific theory is supported almost exclusively by the Discovery Institute and some fundamentalist religious groups. To describe this view as one "prevalent within our culture" is a gross exaggeration, to put it mildly.

"Med": God will create nothing else until he comes back and then he'll create hell. When will one of the evolution believers show me an animal of any species that has evolved (not cross bred/hybrid junk science) since man has been on earth. There are none. If evolution is a fact, why aren't more species "evolving" every day, at least one small animal in 2000 years? Give me the junk science answer to that.

James J. Na Rekdal writes:

"The view that intelligent design should be taught in our schools as a scientific theory is supported almost exclusively by the Discovery Institute and some fundamentalist religious groups."

This is a serious mischaracterization of Discovery Institute's position, and is plain inaccurate. DI position has NEVER been to force schools to teach ID along with, or in lieu of, evolution. DI reps have stated repeatedly that evolution is the dominant paradigm and that ID is a very new, but promising alternate theory. As such, they have maintained that schools SHOULD NOT be forced to teach ID.

In stead, they favor the "teach the controversy approach," in which the best evidences for evolution as the dominant paradigm are taught as well as the scientific evidences supporting some critiques, like the Cambrian explosion and notions about irreducible complexity. In other words, teach evolution but also teach that there are some gaps and possible counter evidences in the theory.

In fact, DI has fought those who have attempted to hijack its position by insisting on teaching "divine design," creationism or even ID itself along with, or in lieu of, evolution. Again, that is NOT DI's position. But critics who never bothered to read DI's position (or have, but don't care to argue the substance) love to keep distorting the actual DI position along with the usual "Christian fundamentalist" ad hominem attack (there are Christians, Jews, agnostics, deists and atheists at DI and in the ID movement, and Bruce Chapman, the DI president, is a Catholic, hardly a bible-thumping fundamentalist).

In fact the real missing story is not about bible-thumping fundamentalists wanting to teach creationism, but about the supposedly objective neo-Darwinists with materialist-bent attacking those scientists with any kind of faith, going so far as to create a hostile work place. Read the National Review article about that here.

It's author David Klinghoffer is Jewish and, in fact, authored a book called "Why Jews Rejected Jesus." Hardly the minion of fundamentalist Christian Right.

Tom Rekdal: Despite Mr. Na's vehement clarification, I do not see how his remarks contradict anything I have said, much less demonstrate a "serious mischaracterization" of the Discovery Institute's position.

I do not know what "forcing" schools to teach intelligent design would mean--something I did not accuse the DI of in any case--but they certainly do advocate teaching intelligent design as a credible alternative to evolution. Calling this a "teach the controversy" approach is merely another way of saying the same thing. Readers can judge for themselves whether there is any important difference.

As for the fundamentalism issue, I do believe it is true that most of the people not directly associated with the Discovery Institute, who support their position on ID, are religious fundamentalists of one sort or another, though not necessarily Christian. No doubt there are some--Mr Na may be one of them--who are not affiliated with any religious sects at all, but they are certainly not large in number, and I do not understand Mr. Na to believe otherwise.

James J. Na: Let me try again. Mr. Rekdal wrote:

"The view that intelligent design should be taught in our schools as a scientific theory is supported almost exclusively by the Discovery Institute and some fundamentalist religious groups."

In other words, Mr. Rekdal seems to believe that Discovery supports teaching ID at schools. This is plain wrong. Read the NYT article about Discovery that appeared Sunday, here.

While it is not an entirely friendly coverage (it is the NYT after all), the article gets one thing right. Discovery does NOT support teaching Intelligent Design at schools (NYT excerpt below):

But even as the institute spearheads the intellectual development of intelligent design, it has staked out safer turf in the public policy sphere, urging states and school boards simply to include criticism in evolution lessons rather than actually teach intelligent design...

Dr. West, who leads the science center's public policy efforts, said it did not support mandating the teaching of intelligent design because the theory was not yet developed enough and there was no appropriate curriculum. So the institute has opposed legislation in Pennsylvania and Utah that pushes intelligent design, instead urging lawmakers to follow Ohio's lead.

"A lot of people are trying to hijack the issue on both the left and the right," Dr. West said.

Indeed, because of the usual media distortions and ad hominem attacks that tie Discovery to "Christian fundamentalists" (which NYT also does), what's often obscured is that Discovery OPPOSES legislation mandating teaching of intelligent design at schools whether in lieu of or together with evolution.

Tom Rekdal: Mr. Na makes yet another attempt to explain that "teaching the controversy" about Darwinian evolution vs. intelligent design does not involve teaching intelligent design. The puzzle persists.

No one thinks it important to teach the "controversy" about a subject if it is generally recognized that one side of the dispute is sheer humbug. Teaching the controversy becomes important only when the outcome and the answers are unclear; there appear to be appealing arguments and credible evidence on both sides, so we lay out the case for both sides and let students decide for themselves--we being so democratic, and all. Perhaps Mr. Na can explain how to teach the controversy over evolution without teaching anything about the intelligent design side of the dispute.

If by not teaching intelligent design the Discovery Institute means only that the Darwinian paradigm will not be entirely cast out of the scientific curriculum and replaced by a wholly intelligent design theory, fair enough. Thanks for small favors. But the effect of introducing intelligent design as a serious rival to Darwinian evolution will be to increase the legitimacy of, and receptivity to such ideas. That, of course, is the whole point of this gambit. It is also why the critics of this approach so often advert to the ad hominem point that so irritates Mr. Na: most of the people pushing this idea have theistic axes to grind.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at August 17, 2005 12:00 PM

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