November 17, 2005

Intelligent Design Creationism and the Dover trial: IDC as comparative religion?

Now that there is a new school board elected in Dover, there is an interesting wrinkle to this story.

The new school board ran on a platform that did not call for the complete elimination of IDC from the schools. They said that it should be taught, except not in science classes. They said that it should be taught as part of an elective comparative religion class, so that students who want to learn about it could do so.

This seems like a reasonable policy. After all, although the winners of the election obtained a clean sweep of all the contested seats on the school board, they were careful to point out that it could not be really be considered an overwhelming mandate since the margins separating the winners and losers was very small. This was a refreshing piece of political honesty, unlike the case of President Bush claiming in 2004 that he had a mandate to make huge changes after winning just slightly more than 50% of the vote.

It is clear that the school board winners are mindful of the fact that there are a lot of IDC supporters in their community (possibly even among their own ranks) and it made sense to provide some accommodation to those people.

As far as I can tell, there are no constitutional problems with teaching comparative religion in schools and including IDC ideas in such a course. But by advocating what they may have seen as a gracious compromise, the new school board may have unwittingly created a major headache for IDC supporters. (Or maybe they did this wittingly, I don't know.)

If I were an IDC advocate, here is the dilemma I face with this offer to teach IDC in a comparative religion class. If I allow IDC ideas to be taught in such a class, would it not be a tacit admission that IDC is, in fact, a religion? If so, wouldn't it undermine the carefully constructed story that IDC is not a religious belief, and cause problems in Kansas and elsewhere? Remember that the goal of the IDC people is to include IDC ideas nationwide in science classes as a means of undermining the teaching of evolution and natural selection. Having it taught in a religion class would not only not advance this goal, it would set it back.

On the other hand, on what grounds can I (still playing the role of IDC advocate) challenge the inclusion of IDC in a comparative religion class? There don't seem to be any constitutional concerns (to be discussed in a later posting), so I would not seem to have a legal case. I would have to argue that since IDC is not a religion, teaching it in comparative religion is going outside the curriculum of a religious studies course.

But that will be a hard sell. The curricula in social studies and the humanities do not have the paradigmatic structure of the sciences where there is a fairly clear consensus on what does and does not belong in science classes, especially in K-12 classes. The former curricula are much more flexible and so it will be hard to argue for the exclusion of IDC ideas from a comparative religion class. After all, the winks and nudges that IDC advocates gave their supporters to indicate that even though they did not say 'god' they really were meaning god, will now come back to haunt them, because by now everyone knows that the words 'intelligent designer' is code for god.

Take Pat Robertson (please!), who can always be counted upon to say the wrong and idiotic thing. He is upset with the citizens of Dover for the way they voted and since he has god's unlisted number, he knows for a fact that god is ticked off as well. He said: "I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover. If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city. And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there.” (See here for the video. It always amazes me that Pat Robertson can say the most absurd things but as long as he maintains an even tone of voice and smiles as he speaks, the media don't treat him as a certifiable wacko. Watching the video it is hard to escape the sense that Robertson is hoping for some disaster to strike Dover in order to make the people there see the error of their ways.)

So Pat Robertson is convinced and openly saying that the intelligent designer is god. Since Robertson is not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, it is a safe bet that if he has figured out that the intelligent designer is god, then so has pretty much anybody with a pulse. And, most importantly, this will not have escaped the notice of federal judges who have to rule on the constitutionality of including IDC in science classes.

The IDC strategy of trying to conceal the religious basis of their theory by using neutral language, while using nudges and winks to their religious supporters to signal their covert agenda, was always heading for this kind of collision. Covert strategies work only when they are not widely publicized. Now that IDC has become high profile, its religious foundations have become clear to everyone and trying to hide it becomes obviously and embarrassingly disingenuous. Paradoxically, becoming well known might turn out to be the undoing of IDC.

IDC's grass-roots supporters in Dover, who may not be fully tuned to the grand IDC wedge strategy, might take offence if the IDC top brass try to argue that if IDC is not allowed in science classes, then it should not be allowed anywhere else in the curriculum. After all, all other disciplines (science included) would be delighted if other disciplines included their subject in their teaching plans. My feeling is that the grass roots supporters of IDC in Dover want it taught somewhere in their schools and if they can't get it in the science classes, they would settle for it in other classes, even if it torpedoes the case that IDC is not religious. Most people care a lot more about local issues than grand strategies.

It will be interesting to see how the strategists at IDC headquarters deal with this problem.

POST SCRIPT: US admits use of white phosphorus weapons in Fallujah

In a previous post, I discussed the allegations of the use by US forces of the lethal chemical white phosphorus in the attack on Fallujah in November 2004. The BBC now confirms that story saying "The US has now admitted using white phosphorus as a weapon in Fallujah last year, after earlier denying it."

It is interesting that the foreign press is giving much more play to this story than the US print media. Members of the British parliament are calling for an inquiry and even the Iraqi government has ordered an inquiry in response to the anger that has been generated by these reports. (I don't watch TV news so don't know if it received much coverage in that medium.) In the Plain Dealer it was a one paragraph story in the "Nation" news summary column on the back page of the front section, easily missed by the casual reader.

This lack of coverage in the US of things like this explains why people here keep being baffled by the depth of hostility that some Iraqis exhibit towards the US presence. When the next atrocity occurs against US troops or contractors or even some hapless journalist or civilian who happens to be the victim of a reprisal, people will wonder what caused such behavior and ask bewilderedly "Why do they hate us? Aren't we trying to help them?"


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Funny, I was just saying to my friends and wife a few days ago that Robertson's inane babbling on the Dover case was one of the best things that could happen to the IDC opposition. Now that I've seen a similar conclusion here, I know I was right :-).

Posted by Mike on November 17, 2005 09:25 AM

I don't think you're going to find many takers for Pat Robertson, but I wish you luck.

Posted by Katie on November 17, 2005 09:32 AM