Are you a monkey or a man?
December 14, 2004 3:26 PM   Subscribe

"The lawsuits are coming," school board member Angie Yingling said. "It's like being on the Titanic. Everyone seems to see the iceberg, but no one is steering away." The ACLU sued the Dover (Pennsylvania) Area School District today to prevent the district from enacting their recent controversial decision to teach "intelligent design" in the classroom.
posted by MegoSteve (39 comments total)
The culture war continues and it's spreading north.
posted by Arch Stanton at 3:36 PM on December 14, 2004

I hope the better of the two wins.
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:37 PM on December 14, 2004

I know god. He's not that intelligent. And "design" is being very generous.
posted by effwerd at 3:41 PM on December 14, 2004

I don't understand this. Angie Yingling is one of the parents bringing a lawsuit about the (stupid) decision. Yet, according to the last link in the post, Yingling voted in favor of the (stupid) decision. What's that about?
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:46 PM on December 14, 2004

Maybe she wanted to force the issue?
posted by kenko at 3:57 PM on December 14, 2004

That doesn't make sense to me, either, but then again, not much does after all this. I'm just glad I don't live in that district, because I'd imagine that their biggest expense will soon be legal fees.
posted by MegoSteve at 4:12 PM on December 14, 2004

This is why God created lawyers.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:40 PM on December 14, 2004

Eleven members of the community spoke before the vote with only one, Eric Riddle, encouraging the board to include “intelligent design” in the curriculum.

Riddle currently homeschools his children.

My father was the superintendent of a relatively small school system in Indiana for around 10 years. School board meetings, which occured twice a month, often consisted of a.) him, b.) the school board, and c.) crazy people from the community. There typically were not doctors, lawyers, other working professionals, or even the teachers of a community coming to these meetings. What they did get were people who didn't want to pay a dime to public education, people who thought the basketball team should have to pay for their own jerseys, and people like Eric Riddle, who have already decided that public education is evil.

This seems like a byproduct of both our crazy anti-science times and the fact that the crazy people in the community are the only ones at these meetings, getting the school board to think that they will vote them out if they don't listen to their demands.
posted by billysumday at 5:14 PM on December 14, 2004

Does the "Enlightenment" fit in here any where?
posted by scalz at 5:42 PM on December 14, 2004

After the meeting ended, Wenrich, who in addition to Jane Cleaver, also resigned two weeks ago but for personal reasons, had a short shouting match with Buckingham who had challenged people’s literacy, knowledge of American history and patriotism throughout the night.

Gosh, sounds like a fun meeting. I'm so sorry I missed it.

I don't understand this. Angie Yingling is one of the parents bringing a lawsuit about the (stupid) decision. Yet, according to the last link in the post, Yingling voted in favor of the (stupid) decision

From the link:
"The Dover Area School Board voted to add “Intelligent Design Theory” to the district’s biology curriculum Monday evening just two weeks after Supt. Richard Nilsen assured former board member Lonnie Langione that wouldn’t happen.
The change passed by a six-to-three margin."

Nowhere does it say that she voted for it.

From the same link:

The new wording in the curriculum states: “Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of life will not be taught.”

This confuses me. It sounds as if they are saying: We will teach about how Darwin's theories on the origins of species are all wrong, but we won't be teaching Darwin's theories.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:52 PM on December 14, 2004

I have no problem with them teaching intelligent design as a hypothesized alternative explanation or interpretation, but I'd prefer that it be taught in Sunday school. I mean, what are they going to do next, insist that pi=3.0 because that's a more godlike number than 3.14159...?

I'm a fairly religious person, but (please, bear with me for a moment if you're not religious) I'm PROUD to be descended from monkeys, because, to me, it shows a) the majesty of God's creation that something like us could result from it and b) the interrelationship of all things created by God. To me, that only strengthens the greatness of any god worthy of being the only God. Y'know?
posted by socratic at 5:56 PM on December 14, 2004

Gravy - The last link most certainly does say that Angie voted for the proposal. I quote:

"Voting to approve the final version were William Buckingham, Alan Bonsell, Sheila Harkins, Heather Geesey, Jane Cleaver and Angie Yingling."

That seems unambiguous.

Socratic - I hope by "prefer" you mean "demand". I also have no problem with Sunday School teaching intelligent design. Teaching it in science class, however, is completely unacceptable on any level.
posted by Justinian at 6:01 PM on December 14, 2004

Here you go, SLG:
"Voting to approve the final version were William Buckingham, Alan Bonsell, Sheila Harkins, Heather Geesey, Jane Cleaver and Angie Yingling. Voting against it were Wenrich, Carol Brown and Jeff Brown."
posted by doublehelix at 6:01 PM on December 14, 2004

Voting to approve the final version were William Buckingham, Alan Bonsell, Sheila Harkins, Heather Geesey, Jane Cleaver and Angie Yingling

Ok, my mistake.

I think what is happening here is she has a bad case of the regrets.
1. She votes along with the other board members to change the curriculum.
2. She tries to "revisit" the vote in order to reverse her decision by saying the district will be sued.
3. Board members are not persuaded.
4. She, along with other parents, sues the district.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:11 PM on December 14, 2004

So I guess I get a C- on reading comprehension tonight.

Maybe God wasn't so intelligent when he designed me.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:14 PM on December 14, 2004

Interestingly, the Discovery Institute (which is the country's most prominent proponent of Intelligent Design) also opposes the Dover school policy, and has publicly criticized it and called for its withdrawl.
posted by gd779 at 6:16 PM on December 14, 2004

I'm PROUD to be descended from monkeys

Nothing against your family, socratic, but my understanding is that the man-monkey similarities indicate that that both men and monkeys evolved from a common ancestor, not that man is descended from monkeys.

This may not apply to certain White House residents.
posted by groundhog at 6:27 PM on December 14, 2004

I mean, what are they going to do next, insist that pi=3.0 because that's a more godlike number than 3.14159...?

Shhh....before somebody mentions 1 Kings 7:23
posted by jonp72 at 6:41 PM on December 14, 2004

The theory of evolution is only a theory. It's not the only theory taught in science class.
A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena. (1)
Intelligent design is an observation. There is no evidence supporting it. There is no testing of this theory and it is not widely accepted. In fact, the opposite is true. It is widely rejected and it can not be tested.

One way to easily explain intelligent design is to show an observer several objects, some man made, some natural. With a high degree of certainty, the observer can differentiate between the two.

Then explain the operations of any living thing at a subcellular level. The smaller, the better and, of course, the less scientific the explanation, the better. In fact, sum it up with, "At a subcellular level, it looks like a factory. It's extraordinarily complex." Show them an artists rendition of subcellular activity.

Now, ask the loaded question. "Does this look like it evolved by chance?"

The answer is no, it doesn't. (And that's the correct, if misleading answer. At this point we're mincing the mathematical and biological meanings of the words chance and the scientific and common meanings of the word evolve.)

In intelligent design speak, that's the challenge of irreducible complexity.
Irreducibly complex systems appear very unlikely to be produced by numerous, successive, slight modifications of prior systems, because any precursor that was missing a crucial part could not function. Natural selection can only choose among systems that are already working, so the existence in nature of irreducibly complex biological systems poses a powerful challenge to Darwinian theory. (2)
I am not opposed to teaching alternative theories. However, intelligent design and all of its supporting arguments amount to nothing more than a rhetorical trick to teach children that they should believe in a creator. While this is fine for privately funded schools, public schools have no business teaching religion as science. (If we ever get our collective heads together, we should teach religion in an academic sense. Exposure to a variety of religions and tolerant, open discussions about them is a good thing.)

On preview, the Discovery Institute is a privately funded think tank, not a scientific organization. At best, they are carpetbaggers, creating useless press releases to keep their agenda in front of the public.
Mission Statement

Discovery Institute's mission is to make a positive vision of the future practical. The Institute discovers and promotes ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty. Our mission is promoted through books, reports, legislative testimony, articles, public conferences and debates, plus media coverage and the Institute's own publications and Internet website ( ). (3)
Their constitutional argument against the teaching of the theory of evolution, their overemphasized, unnecessary pedantry about teaching evolution as theory, their observations and the rest of the organizations that support independent design reek of an ulterior motive.
posted by sequential at 6:48 PM on December 14, 2004

sequential, that's what happens when you get people who challenge (from profound ignorance) just about every step in the sequence of reasoning that starts with undifferentiated matterenergy at the Planck time and ends with the universe we observe - one abounding in phenomena of high internal complexity.

I almost think there's something deliberate in the abandonment of an empirical pedagogy and the critical thinking skills it would have conveyed over the last several decades. Without fierce commitment to empiricism, even otherwise credible-seeming, adult people don't have the intellectual toolkit to compare, say, self-organizing systems theory with an obvious absurdity like "intelligent design."

If I were a reactionary theocrat-in-waiting in 1970, chafing at the Mao/Abbie/Nader/Yoko tenor of the times and waiting for the day I could establish the Dominion at gunpoint, I couldn't imagine a smarter strategy than undermining critical reasoning in all its manifestations. And then the pedantry and basic category errors and sheer simple stupidity and fear you see in microcosm in this story would become general, and there would be no one left to raise a finger against it...
posted by Adam Greenfield at 7:17 PM on December 14, 2004

I have no problem with them teaching intelligent design as a hypothesized alternative explanation or interpretation, but I'd prefer that it be taught in Sunday school.

I don't understand how it really fits into Sunday school either. Even if you accept the idea, it says nothing about any particular religion, and it doesn't really seem to offer any insights into morality or any other religious teachings. The creator could be long dead by now. Or there could have been 100 creators. I mean, how much is there to say in a Sunday school context, assuming (ha!) that it's not just there to be hijacked for one particular religious agenda?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 7:34 PM on December 14, 2004

I propose suing churches on grounds that intelligent design is false advertising. If Christians are going to tie up our courts with this garbage, then give them a taste of their own medicine.
posted by AlexReynolds at 7:50 PM on December 14, 2004

I'm not at all proud to announce that I live in the same county as these yahoos.
posted by Guy Innagorillasuit at 8:24 PM on December 14, 2004

groundhog - coming from a man (or woman) who goes by the nick "groundhog", I will say I appreciate your concern for my family heritage. :) Anyway, I'll amend my comment to say that I'm PROUD to share 99.5% (or whatever obscenely high number it is) of my DNA with apes and a not insignificant percentage with pigs and fruit flies.

Maybe it's the Jesuit education (IANAC, however), but there are fewer more beautiful things for me to do than to look at a moth that's pestering me as I sit outside reading and realize that it's a distant cousin. "Intelligent design", to me, makes an absolute mockery of Creation, as does the fundamentalist rejection of the almost absurd age and likely lifespan of the Universe. Good Lord, if there's anything to give a person a sense of God, it's to look out on the Universe and think that it's all real.

The wonderful thing is that both atheists, agnostics, and people whose faith is reinforced by what's actually out there can agree at how magnificent it all is. Anyway, sorry to threadjack with my own theology. It's probably heretical anyway (he says with a bit of irony).
posted by socratic at 8:56 PM on December 14, 2004

Guy Innagorillasuit - Yes.
posted by socratic at 8:57 PM on December 14, 2004

Am I being too cynical or just plain obvious when I say that the idea of intelligent design plainly derived from christians who's creationist theories have been undermined and have therefore had to find another way to get god on the agenda? I suppose that could be answered by determining whether or not there are any non-christians who believe in intelligent design?

If it isn't about christians looking for alternatives, I wonder what other sorts of divine beings are imagined under the intelligent design theory? Does the theory accept that, for example, hinduism or islam got it right? Or did aliens land and dropp off eggs? Who knows.

posted by gt16 at 5:11 AM on December 15, 2004

The trouble with folks who reject intelligent design as a valid theory is that are in the reality based community. Meanwhile, those who embrace it are always creating a new reality for all the intellectuals to study historically. (Am I getting the gist of this?) :-)

Actually, those who embrace "intelligent design" are the proof of the "missing link" or the "gap" in evolutionary theory. Damn fundy troglodytes!
posted by nofundy at 5:28 AM on December 15, 2004

Why do (some) US-christians get so huffed up about this? What do they feel is at stake? Don't they have bigger battles to fight than the relatively esoteric argument over the origin of life, speciation, etc? What possible consequences do they foresee from the discussion going either way? Does any ethical, moral or legal argument ever start "Well, we know that man and apes have a common ancestor, so..."
I'm not being disingenuous or rhetorical here, I really don't get why these people don't spend their time battling sex-education, cloning, abortion or some other, more momentous issue.
Latin American catholics, for example, are widely lampooned as backwards and traditionalists, but I don't see even the most pigheaded, close minded one waste even a single breath arguing for "intelligent design".
posted by signal at 6:45 AM on December 15, 2004

According to ID: Humans are so complex, we must be "designed". It follows that whatever/whoever is the "designer" must be more complex than its/his/her creation. Okay...if you follow that line of thought you must ask this question: Who designed the designer? It's turtles all the way down.
posted by pepcorn at 6:52 AM on December 15, 2004

I don't think we as descended from monkeys as we think we are.

I think some monkeys got farther from the tree than other monkeys, but that's as far as I'm willing to go.

So, when I say "that monkey is close to the tree" I think you know who I'm talking about.
posted by ewkpates at 7:10 AM on December 15, 2004

Some more from the complaint:
...In a public meeting of the defendant Dover Area School Board on June 7, 2004, School Board member William Buckingham, Chair of the Board's Curriculum Committee, criticized the textbook Biology because it is "laced with Darwinism," and advocated the purchase of a biology book that includes theories of creation as part of the text. At that meeting Mr. Buckingham said that as part of the search for a new biology book, he and others were looking for one that offers balance between the biblical view of creation and Darwin's theory of evolution. He also said there need not be any consideration for the beliefs of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims or other competing faiths and views. "This country wasn't founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution," he said. "This country was founded on Christianity and our students shold be taught as such."
posted by Armitage Shanks at 7:15 AM on December 15, 2004

Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s Theory...

Gaps in the theory of evolution are already taught along with said theory of evolution. I suppose an open approach to teaching theories is frowned upon by people from some quarters. I get the feeling that the gaps in Intelligent Design won't be part of the required curriculum.

Will the Intelligent Design courses also feature the Babel Fish sequence from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?
posted by juiceCake at 7:38 AM on December 15, 2004

Why do (some) US-christians get so huffed up about this? What do they feel is at stake? Don't they have bigger battles to fight

It's not about evolution. It's about control of institutions, controlling people you don't like, and the degree to which religion should be a part of public life -- to some extent on both sides, though there are far fewer actual antireligionists than people trying to force thinly-veiled Genesis on others.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:46 AM on December 15, 2004

Is Buckingham so sure that the country was founded on Christianity? The founding fathers were revolutionaries, heavily influenced by the Enlightenment, by the (atheist) French Revolution... then there's the separation of church and state, and thus public schools ... if our aim is to respect the culture of the nation's creators, should that not be maintained?

Question from the British - what do you actually have to do to get onto the Curriculum Committee? Is it about qualification, or about spare time?
posted by tannhauser at 8:02 AM on December 15, 2004

Actually I've always found that the most effective argument against Intelligent Design is the obvious lack of intelligence that went into the design. The Unintelligent Design Network is a joke, but a joke that contains some pretty good arguments. Why would any *intelligent* designer build in carpal tunnels, or the damn "funny bone" (that's a great idea, let's take one of the main control nerves for the hands and expose it to damage). Why isn't the spine located closer to the center of mass? A top located spine makes sense for a quadruped, but not for a species that walks upright.

Then, of course, is the whole issue of Intelligent Grapplers. And I, for one, object strongly to the fact that even though every aspect of chemistry is just a theory we don't present equal time for alchemy.
posted by sotonohito at 8:15 AM on December 15, 2004

Why would any *intelligent* designer build in carpal tunnels, or the damn "funny bone"

Yeah, and WTF is up with that effin' blind spot? The nerves go on the BACK of the retina, dammit. I mean, DUH.
posted by kindall at 8:31 AM on December 15, 2004 [1 favorite]

Question from the British - what do you actually have to do to get onto the Curriculum Committee? Is it about qualification, or about spare time?

It is not standardized from area to area. I would venture a guess that in 98% of the case it is a matter of spare time.

This is very similar to tactics used and documented to elect specific people to school boards. Since voter turn-out is so low for school board elections, a moderately organized entity (say a large Church), can easily put up a candidate and have its members then go vote for for the candidate and before you know it the boards are stocked with people with very definite agendas to change the school system.

btw. I can at least respect creationism, without ascribing to it, as an idea as it requires faith to justify its workings, but ID PISSES ME OFF. Like you wouldn't believe, it makes me want to slit my wrists when otherwise moderately intelligent people spout this bile.
posted by edgeways at 9:25 AM on December 15, 2004

I'd point out to those who might advocate for the teaching of intelligent design "theory" in public schools one little problem with it:

-- the "designer" you posit ain't necessarily "God" --

By that I mean if you seriously believe that "someone" messed around with the evolution of life on earth, then it could just have easily been an unknown alien intelligence, ETs. It could've been god, or it could've been those super-beings from Altair 7.

Of course, the argument could then go on to "OK, smarty pants, who designed those Altairians?" Maybe the mega-brains from Deneb 17B?

And of course the argument would then descend into the murky reaches of galactic prehistory.

Reminds me of the famous quote regarding the "real" structure of the universe -- that the world rides on the back of a turtle, which is supported by what? Answer: "It's turtles, turtles all the way down..."
posted by mooncrow at 9:35 AM on December 15, 2004

Don't sue my church (Episcopal USA) or the church I was raised in (Roman Catholic), as they both have grappled with, and issued official statements that accept, the basic premises of evolutionary theory.

Just pointing out that "Christian" != "idiot".

If this sort of thing really sends you into orbit, as it does me, consider supporting the National Center for Science Education, which does as much, if not more, to defend the teaching of actual science as the ACLU does to defend civil liberties, with much less media and public attention.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:38 AM on December 15, 2004

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