Intelligent design in science classes: Two views

August 19, 2009

Texas’s ACLU chapter’s convention on August 1 featured a lively and informative session on intelligent design.  It might seem like it was set up as a debate, but as the video shows, the two views complemented each other surprisingly.

Presenters were Liberty Legal Institute’s Hiram Sasser and Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, the premier chronicler of the creationism wars in the U.S.

Help others to see:

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Texas social studies curriculum panel reports: The Great Texas History Smackdown

July 7, 2009

Just when you thought it was safe to take a serious summer vacation, finish the latest Doris Kearns Goodwin, and catch up on a couple of novels . . .

The sharks of education policy are back.

Or the long knives are about to come out (vicious historical reference, of course, but I’m wagering the anti-education folks didn’t catch it).  Pick your metaphor.

Our friend Steve Schafersman sent out an e-mail alert this morning:

The Expert Reviews of the proposed Texas Social Studies curriculum are now available at

http://ritter. tea.state. social/experts. html

Social Studies Expert Reviewers

  • David Barton, President, WallBuilders
    Review of Current Social Studies TEKS
  • Jesus Francisco de la Teja, Professor and Chair, Department of History, Texas State University
    Review of Current Social Studies TEKS
  • Daniel L. Dreisbach, Professor, American University
    Review of Current Social Studies TEKS
  • Lybeth Hodges, Professor, History, Texas Woman’s University
    Review of Current Social Studies TEKS
  • Jim Kracht, Associate Dean and Professor, College of Education and Human Development, Texas A&M University
    Review of Current Social Studies TEKS
  • Peter Marshall, President, Peter Marshall Ministries
    Review of Current Social Studies TEKS

You can download their review as a pdf file.

Three of these reviewers are legitimate, knowledgeable, and respected academics who undoubtedly did a fair, competent, and professional job. The other three are anti-church- state separation, anti-secular public government, and pseudoscholars and pseudohistorians. I expect their contributions to be biased, unprofessional, and pseudoscholarly. Here are the bad ones:

Barton may be the worst of the three. He founded Wallbuilders to deliberately destroy C-S separation and promote Fundamentalist Christianity in US government. Just about everything he has written is unhistorical and inaccurate. For example, Barton has published numerous “quotes” about C-S separation made by the Founding Fathers that upon investigation turned out to be hoaxes. Here’s what Senator Arlen Specter had to say about Barton:

Probably the best refutation of Barton’s argument simply is to quote his own exegesis of the First Amendment: “Today,” Barton says, “we would best understand the actual context of the First Amendment by saying, ‘Congress shall make no law establishing one Christian denomination as the national denomination. ‘ ” In keeping with Barton’s restated First Amendment, Congress could presumably make a law establishing all Christian denominations as the national religion, and each state could pass a law establishing a particular Christian church as its official religion.

All of this pseudoscholarship would hardly be worth discussing, let alone disproving, were it not for the fact that it is taken so very seriously by so many people.

I am sure these six will participate in a Great Texas History Smackdown before our crazy SBOE. Perhaps this will finally sicken enough citizens that they will finally vote to get rid of the SBOE, either directly or indirectly. Be sure to listen to this hearing on the web audio. Even better, the web video might be working so you can watch the SBOE Carnival Sideshow.

Steven Schafersman, Ph.D.
President, Texas Citizens for Science

The non-expert experts were appointed by Don McLeroy before the Texas Senate refused to confirm his temporary chairmanship of the State Board of Education.  The good McLeroy may have done as chairman is interred with his dead chairmanship; the evil he did lives on.  (Under McLeroy and Barton’s reading of history and literature, most students won’t catch the reference for the previous sentence.)

Tony Whitson at Curricublog posted information you need to readTexas Freedom Network’s Insider has a first pass analysis of the crank experts’ analyses — they want to make Texas’s social studies curriculum more sexist, more racist, more anti-Semitic, more anti-working man, and closer to Sunday school pseudo-history.  While Dallas prepares to name a major street in honor of Cesar Chavez, Barton and Marshall say he’s too Mexican and too close to Jews, and so should be de-emphasized in history books (a small picture of Chavez appears on one of the main U.S. history texts now).

That’s the stuff that jumps out at first.  What else will we find when we dig?

More to come; watch those spaces, and this one, too.

A different view of the California creationism in the classroom decision

May 10, 2009

Wired takes a different view of the California case in which an AP history teacher was found to have violated a student’s rights with comments about creationists — at least, different from the view I’ve articulated here.  It’s worth a look — and it shows that this case needs to be evaluated more carefully and closely.  Alexis Madrigal wrote at Wired’s website:

The teacher got into hot water because the creationism statement came outside the context of his AP European History class. In making the statement during a discussion of another teacher’s views on evolution, the court could not find any “legitimate secular purpose in [the] statement.”

However, Judge Selna found a second statement that Corbett made about creationism did not violate the student’s First Amendment rights, although it’s an equally pointed critique.

“Contrast that with creationists,” Corbett told his class. “They never try to disprove creationism. They’re all running around trying to prove it. That’s deduction. It’s not science. Scientifically, it’s nonsense.”

That statement was OK because it came in the context of a discussion of the history of ideas and religion. Thus, its primary purpose wasn’t just to express “affirmative disapproval” of religion, but rather to make the point that “generally accepted scientific principles do not logically lead to the theory of creationism.” One might expect that if creationism came up in the context of evolutionary biology, it would be similarly OK to say, “Scientifically, it’s nonsense.”

The nuanced decision prompted the judge to append an afterword. Selna explains his thinking a basic right is at issue, namely, “to be free of a government that directly expresses approval of religion.” Just as the government shouldn’t promote religion, he writes, the government shouldn’t actively disapprove of religion either.

It seems to me, still, that the instructor was well within legal bounds.  For example, we would not ask a biology instructor to pay deference to the Christian Science view that disease is caused by falling away from God (sin), and not by germs, and consequently that prayer is effective therapy.  As a pragmatic matter, Christian Scientists don’t demand that everybody else bow to their view; but in a legal suit, the evidence of Pasteur’s work and subsequent work on how microbes cause disease would trump any claim that Pasteur was “not religiously neutral.”

We still await word on whether the district and teacher will appeal the decision.

5th Circuit approves Texas “moment of silence” law

March 19, 2009

Any Texas student who had hoped to get out of the one-minute silence exercise suffered a defeat on St. Patrick’s Day.  A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sustained a Texas federal court’s ruling that the state-mandated moment of silence is legal.

Edith Brown Clement wrote the decision for the panel, in Croft vs. Texas (the link is to a .pdf of the decision).

David and Shannon Croft, as parents and next friends of their three minor children (collectively, the “Crofts”), bring suit against the governor of the state of Texas, Rick Perry (“Perry”), arguing that Texas Education Code § 25.082(d) is an unconstitutional establishment of religion. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Perry, holding that § 25.082(d) had a secular legislative purpose and was not an establishment of religion. For the following reasons, we affirm.

*     *     *     *     *     *


The Crofts have standing to challenge the 2003 Amendments. But the Amendments are constitutional and satisfy all three prongs of the Lemon analysis. There is no excessive entanglement, and the primary effect of the Amendments is not to advance religion. The most difficult prong—for this and for moment of silence statutes generally—is legislative purpose. But our review of legislative history is deferential, and such deference leads to an adequate secular purpose in this case. While we cannot allow a “sham” legislative purpose, we should generally defer to the stated legislative intent. Here, that intent was to promote patriotism and allow for a moment of quiet contemplation.  These are valid secular purposes, and are not outweighed by limited legislative history showing that some legislators may have been motivated by religion. Because the 2003 Amendments survive the Lemon test, they are not an unconstitutional establishment of religion, and the judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED

We covered the original trial court decision here at the Bathtub.

Not much news coverage of the story, not so much as I would have thought (many Texas schools are on break this week).  No firm word on whether the Crofts will appeal further.  An Illinois case went the other way in January — enough conflict to get the Supreme Court involved?  Difficult to say.  The Illinois Legislature is working to undo the federal court decision, in Illinois.

Would it be a good case to cover in government?  What do you think?

What should the students meditate on?  A suggestion from the comments at the Dallas Morning News blogsite:

“May we please have a moment of science, for those poor souls that cannot understand evolution as God’s scientific method.”
Joseph Cassles

Disciples minister to preach National Prayer Service

January 18, 2009

This will make P.  Z. Myers shake his head — apologies, P. Z. — but those of us in the “mainstream,” or “liberal leaning” sect of the Disciples of Christ are quite happy that our general minister, Sharon Watkins, will preach the sermon at the National Prayer Service on Wednesday.

We’re such a politically polyglot group that we can be described as mainstream, liberal, or conservative with some accuracy.  Three presidents have Disciples roots — James Garfield, who was a Disciples minister before becoming president of a Disciples college in Ohio; Lyndon Johnson, who was a life-long Disciple, and who built a chapel on his ranch; and Ronald Reagan, whose mother was a devout Disciple, and who attended one of several Disciples affiliated colleges, Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois.

Watkins is the first woman to preach at this service in the history of the nation.

The National Prayer Service is one of those events that underscores the separation of church and state.  At the first Washington inaugural, it was held the same day as the ceremony, but after the official ceremony.  The attendees concluded the swearing in and other official ceremonies, then adjourned to a church a few blocks away for a sermon, those who wished to.

This year the sermon will be held in the National Cathedral, a majestic building which is actually an Episcopalian venue (where Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller are interred), miles from the federal area at the National Mall, and a day after the inauguration.

But watch:  There will be a band of religious radicals, fanatics, who will claim that the mere existence of this service somehow nullifies the First Amendment, and suggests that the government has a religious bias.  Do not believe them.  You know the history, and you know better.  Our government has great tolerance for religious displays, but no tolerance for religious bias, in our government.

I’ve wondered sometimes what would happen were the three Disciples presidents to meet.  If Reagan and Johnson ever met, I have not found the record of it.  I wonder whether Johnson, Reagan and Garfield could have found between them some subject of common interest for talk of substance.  It’s difficult to imagine Reagan and Johnson finding much common ground, one who revered FDR and the New Deal, and the other who campaigned against the New Deal almost from the day FDR died.  And yet they shared concepts of faith, and they may have found there common ground on which to stand, and talk.

I marvel at a sect that embraces, and celebrates, such diversity.  We think it makes for healthier theology, healthier congregations, and a healthier nation.

We can hope.

Below is the press release from Disciples News Service, with details about the service and how to view it or listen to it.  There is also a plea for clips from local papers — maybe some of you could do a good turn and clip any article that appears in your local paper, with the date and page, and mail it in.  It’s for the archives, you know — history.

Disciples News Service


National Prayer Service Updates

January 17, 2009
Dear Disciples,
Earlier this week it was announced that Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins will preach the sermon at the National Prayer Service in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Jan. 21. Her sermon will conclude Presidential Inauguration activities for our country’s forty-fourth President, Barack Obama. Dr. Watkins appreciates the outpouring of support, prayers and well wishes she has received from Disciples and ecumenical colleagues everywhere since the announcement.
“I am so grateful that Disciples have a role in this historic moment,” said Watkins. “I am depending on your prayers for God to use me to deliver an uplifting and appropriately challenging message to our new President, vice-President and all those who will attend the service.”
Watkins will be joined by a diverse group of religious leaders at the prayer service, which will take place at the National Cathedral, starting at 10 a.m. EST.
A press release listing those who will participate in the service was released yesterday afternoon and includes another Disciples pastor, Dr. Cynthia Hale, Senior Pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Ga. Hale will be among those reading scripture. To read the press release that announces participants at the service, please go to:

Many of you have asked about opportunities to view the program. Our office has just learned that the program will be webcast in two ways. One is through the National Cathedral website at: The other option is to go to the Presidential Inaugural Committee website at
We’ve also had a number of phone calls regarding the availability of tickets for the prayer service. Unfortunately, we have not been able to secure tickets for the service.
Please note that DisciplesWorld Publisher and Editor Verity A. Jones will provide special coverage of many Inauguration activities, including the prayer service. Jones will blog from Jan. 18 to Jan. 21 at: She also will post news stories to the Disciples World home page and send short updates from the DisciplesWorld “twitter” account. To read more about ways DisciplesWorld will keep you informed, go to:

Finally, Associate General Minister and Vice-President Todd Adams asks that Disciples send in hard copies of newspaper articles that have been covered in your community about Dr. Watkins and the prayer service, so that we might keep them in our official archives. Articles can be sent to: Dr. Todd Adams, Office of General Minister and President, P.O. Box 1986; Indianapolis, Ind. 46206-1986.
To read the Jan. 11 press release from the Presidential Inaugural Committee that announced Dr. Watkins selection for the prayer service and to learn updates about events taking place during the Inauguration, please visit
Please keep Sharon and the many other Disciples who will be attending the Inauguration, National Prayer Service and other events in your prayers.

Wanda Bryant Wills
Executive Director of Communication Ministries

Tip of the old scrub brush to Bill Longman, “Bill in the Ozarks,”  and the DoCDisc Listserv.

Other resources:

Separation of church and hate

November 18, 2008

Florida protest, photo found at Quark Soup

Florida protest, photo found at Quark Soup

We’re in the middle of grading; I confess I do not know what this protest is about (Proposition 2?  What is that?).

The line is priceless, regardless.

Who is going to order the bumperstickers?

Found the photo at Quark Soup.

Slinging mud, losing elections

November 1, 2008

Encouraging reports from North Carolina, not-so-encouraging reports from Kentucky.

In North Carolina, Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s campaign dived into negative campaigning, with a crude and inaccurate campaign ad against her rising-in-the-polls opponent, state Sen. Kay Hagan.  It appears many voters are disgusted with the negative ads.  In any case, the Charlotte Observer wrote an editorial condemning Dole’s ad and negative tone, “Dole’s desperate turn to Big Lie advertising.” Good on them.

In Kentucky, however, we learn that negative campaigning can still pack a punch among poorly educated or bigoted groups.  The Lexington Herald-Leader has a poll showing significant portions of Kentucky voters think Barack Obama is Muslim.

One might recall Dumas Malone’s description of the election of 1800, between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson thought it beneath his dignity, and not part of American politics, to discuss a candidate’s religious faith.  Alexander Hamilton, on behalf of Adams, led a campaign of calumny in newspapers throughout the U.S. saying that because Jefferson was atheist, as president he’d send the army to confiscate Bibles.  Jefferson refused to respond.  Malone notes that on election day, fully half of all American voters were convinced Jefferson was atheist.

They voted for Jefferson anyway, rather than stick with the failed policies of Adams.  There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

%d bloggers like this: