At the beginning of the week L.A.W. posted the article “Darwinism Isn’t Science”, in which I criticized the Michigan State Board of Education for mandating the teaching of Darwinism in biology classes as fact rather than conjecture as to how life evolved on Earth. The board was plainspoken about the impetus for this decision. They did not want Intelligent Design to also be taught as a competing explanation for evolution. In fact, the board wanted to stamp out completely any possibility that children learn in public schools that Darwinism is not fact. Hence they ruled, for example, that the Darwinian principle of natural selection is, rather than may be, the primary mechanism of evolution.
Of course, the members of the state board of education are political creatures and so politics influences policy. They were certainly reacting to the atrocious intrusion of federal power into local school curriculum by U.S. District Court John Jones who declared by judicial fiat in last year’s Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District decision that Intelligent Design is not science and so is banned from public school science classes. Without regard to the merits of his lengthy opinion about the status of Intelligent Design as science, Jones’s ruling assaults the First Amendment and the sovereignty of the states. It stinks of Lysenkoism, in which the government dictates what will and will not be permitted in public discourse about science.
So, one might argue that it was politically prudent of the state board of education to scrub Intelligent Design from the biology curriculum in light of the expansive power of federal courts today. No doubt the defense of a state’s sovereignty to sort out its own affairs, such as public education, is a lost cause in the current judicial environmental. Yet, the board did not merely do that. They went beyond Kitzmiller to enshrine Darwinism as the one and only explanation for how evolution occurred. The problem is that as a matter of science it is not*, and so the board members who backed this decision in a unanimous vote are as much Lysenkoists as Judge Jones is. They let politics and ideology dictate what constitutes science rather than sound broadly-accepted philosophical principles.
THE FLYING MONKEY BRIGADE
If there is any doubt that Darwinism has been wrapped into a particular ideology, consider what happened here at L.A.W. this week. The flying monkey brigade of one such ideologue was loosed upon us and invaded the comment section of the “Darwinism Isn’t Science” article, because we had the temerity to question the exclusivity of Darwinism as the scientific explanation for evolution. The ideologue is Ed Brayton, host of a ScienceBlogs website called “Dispatches from the Culture Wars”. Much of the squawking of the flying monkeys was nothing but the recycling of jabs Brayton took at us at his website. A cursory perusal of his website will clarify their agenda behind Darwinism. For example, Brayton had this to say the other day: “No, not every [Intelligent Design] advocate is also an anti-gay bigot, but there certainly is a great deal of overlap there. While there is no necessary relationship between the two positions, they do tend to appeal to the same audience of protestant fundamentalists and evangelicals. But the battle against both goes hand in hand for me.”
So it is this political animus against Christians that set the tone of Brayton’s minions in their comments here at L.A.W. It is an irrational animus that blinds both Brayton and them to any reasonable distinctions that might be made by those who disagree with their agenda. Case in point, L.A.W.’s criticism of the recent decision of the Michigan State Board of Education to mandate Darwinism as fact in public schools. They do not grasp the possibility that a person can demur from teaching Darwinian natural selection as the mechanism of evolution in biology classes for rational reasons that have nothing to do with Intelligent Design, the supernatural, or religion. Hence, the repeated refrain by Brayton at his website and his cohorts in L.A.W.’s comment section that I am stumping for Intelligent Design when I did nothing more than report what the state board of education was opposing. For them the world is black and white. Either you are a rational man of science, liberal politics, and secular culture or you are a hateful Bible-thumping wretch salivating to extinguish the flame of the Enlightenment.
While Brayton and his gang are extreme, their intolerance of a theistic worldview infects mainstream science, politics, and culture. It manifests itself in the mainstream with a low-grade paranoia that any challenge to a secularized public square must entail a theocratic impulse to regiment society to the will of pastors and priests. It justifies itself in the mainstream as a noble and enlightened defense of the wall separating church and state (which in fact our Constitution never built). And so a panel of education officials in Lansing declares that Darwinism is the theory of evolution in our public schools to keep religion out of them, with a Lysenkoist ignorance of the actual grounding of the claims of Darwinism in science, a slavish abdication of independent thought to academic authorities jealous of their prerogative to dictate what constitutes science, and an obliviousness to a First Amendment that strips the government of the power to impede free speech and the free exercise of religion.
They do so, contrary to reason and law, because they are on a crusade to cleanse the public square of religion. The members of the state board of education are not the shock troops, that’s the mission of the likes of Brayton and his flying monkey brigade to intimidate laymen from voicing their doubts about what some try to traffic as science. Instead their fellow-traveling board members hold the ground so yielded by the general public and secure it with the bulwark of bureaucracy. Therefore, what they do is more enduring and so more corrosive of our liberties. That is why it is important to examine the state school board’s seemingly routine policy decisions, like this one. It is Lysenkoism. It falsely mandates Darwinism as the only explanation for evolution. Thus, it prohibits within the public square of the classroom free inquiry as to how evolution transpired. And so the state school board’s decision undermines the tolerance of divergent worldviews vital to sustaining a genuinely liberal society.
* Darwinism isn’t science. At least it is not a scientific theory of evolution, despite all of the howling to the contrary by Brayton’s boys here at L.A.W. (See the footnote of our previous article on this subject for the distinction science makes between theory, hypothesis, and conjecture.) One might say that the theory of evolution is the scientific explanation for the fossil record – i.e., the fossil record is the result of the descent of all organisms from a common ancestor through modification of form. It is a sound explanation and no facts exist to refute it. I will say however that it is not theory, in the sense that general relativity is a scientific theory, but it is a complex of hypotheses, in the sense that the standard model of the Big Bang is.
That said, Darwinism and its progeny are sets of conjectures as to the mechanism for evolution – in other words, what caused organisms to change form over time. The only hard facts of evolution are the fossil record of past organisms and the biology of present ones. These facts, at least our present understanding of them, do not let us draw any firm conclusions as to how organisms evolved over the past four billion years. This is not say that evolutionary biologists are full of nonsense or that none of the conjectures they have put forth make any sense. It is nothing more than the recognition of the gap between an explanation and its verification through observation or experimentation.
For example, the Galapagos finches are cited as verification of the Darwinian claim of evolution through natural selection. We have indeed observed within historical time variation in those finches, especially their beaks in response to environmental pressures. However, all this really tells is something already known. Many species of organism are elastic within certain boundaries as to form, as the beaks of Galapagos finches have changed back and forth depending upon the available food source. What we have not observed is a finch’s beak turning into a set of teeth so that it can start chewing, let’s say, grass and leaves. In short, we have not seen a species “jumping” the boundaries of its form’s elasticity. The fossil record certainly shows us it must have happened, but we have no theory as to how. Only conjecture.
This is why mandating the teaching of Darwinism as the theory of evolution, rather as a conjecture as to how it might have occurred, is a gross scientific error on the part of the Michigan State Board of Education.