Intelligent design battle resurfaces in court, school boards

From ArsTechnica & Jonathan Gitlin

The attempts by creationists to have their beliefs accepted as legitimate science is a topic we’ve touched on more than a few times at Ars Technica. The past couple of weeks have seen several more acts played out, both in relation to the science that children are taught in schools and the standards to which researchers in academia are held.

Trouble with the Texas School Board

The first of these events happened last week in Texas, where the Texas Education Agency’s Director of Science has been forced out of her job for allegedly not “remaining neutral” over the teaching of evolution in schools. Christine Comer, a former science teacher, had her nine-year stint as Director of Science ended as a result of an e-mail she sent to colleagues, notifying them of an upcoming talk being given by Barbara Forrest. Forrest is the author of Inside Creationism’s Trojan Horse, a book that details the movement to have ID taught as science in America’s Schools.

The movement suffered what ought to have been a fatal blow following the Kitzmiller v. Dover legal case, but creationists are readying themselves for another confrontation in the coming year, when Texas reviews its scientific curriculum. Although the state has taught evolution as fact for the past decade, the new chair of the State Board of Education is a self-proclaimed proponent of ID and it is widely believed that this will be reflected in the upcoming curriculum.

There are ramifications of this happening in a state as large as Texas, due to the large numbers of textbooks purchased. Textbook suppliers will often design books just for the three largest markets in the US (Texas, Florida, and California) and then sell them to all the other states in the country. If Texas insists on ID being included, the effect will be felt far outside the state’s borders.

The decision to remove Comer was made by Lizzette Reynolds, a former staffer for George W. Bush during his days as governor of Texas. “This is highly inappropriate,” Reynolds said in an e-mail to Comer’s supervisors. “I believe this is an offense that calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment of responsibilities… This is something that the State Board, the Governor’s Office and members of the Legislature would be extremely upset to see because it assumes this is a subject that the agency supports.”

Can a Creationist work as an evolutionary biologist?

As if that weren’t enough, this week saw a lawsuit filed in Boston by a former postdoc at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution over his dismissal. Nathaniel Abraham was fired from his position in 2004 after he informed his Principal Investigator (PI) that he was a creationist. Dr. Abraham was hired to work on an NIH grant concerning how “how aquatic animals respond to chemical contaminants by examining… mechanisms from a comparative/evolutionary perspective.”
After Abraham brought up his creationist beliefs, his PI, Mark Hahn, wrote to him to say that he would only be paid for the 7-10 percent of the work on the project that did not involve evolution. This did not prove satisfactory for either party, and a month later Abraham was asked to resign:

“…You have indicated that you do not recognize the concept of biological evolution and you would not agree to include a full discussion of the evolutionary implications and interpretations of our research in any co-authored publications resulting from this work… This position is incompatible with the work as proposed to NIH and with my own vision of how it should be carried out and interpreted.”

Abraham now works at Liberty University, the Virginia university founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.

This isn’t the first case of a creationist with credentials. Last year, Marcus Ross submitted his PhD dissertation to the University of Rhode Island for examination. Although Ross’s field is geosciences and the dissertation was about marine reptiles that died out 65 million years ago, he is also an avowed young earth creationist who personally believes the world to be no more than 6,000 years old. The granting of his doctorate has raised questions in the academic community regarding his intentions. Ross has appeared in creationist and ID propaganda materials, and has been accused of using his PhD from a secular university as a springboard to further a religious agenda.

Whether these cases highlight a certain duplicity or hypocrisy on behalf of the scientists working within frameworks they refuse to recognize or instead represent their ability to compartmentalize their beliefs is not for us to say, but it does suggest a new approach by the creationist movement in its fight against science.

Both cases also raise questions about the neutrality of scientific organizations when it comes to the nature of science itself. Do institutions have a duty to remain impartial or a responsibility to defend central tenets?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: