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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

News flash!: Lawsuit over use of religion to promote Darwinian evolution

I received this press release today:

News Release

For IMMEDIATE RELEASE on October 12, 2005

Contact: Larry Caldwell
Phone: 916-774-4667

Lawsuit Alleges that Federally-Funded Evolution Website Violates Separation of Church and State by Using Religion to Promote Evolution

San Francisco, CA— A California parent, Jeanne Caldwell, is filing a federal lawsuit today against officials of the National Science Foundation and the University of California at Berkeley for spending more than $500,000 of federal money on a website that encourages teachers to use religion to promote evolution in violation of the First Amendment.

"In this stunning example of hypocrisy, the same people who so loudly proclaim that they oppose discussion of religion in science classes are clamoring for public school teachers to expressly use theology in order to convince students to support evolution," said Larry Caldwell, President of Quality Science Education for All, who is co-counsel in the suit with the Pacific Justice Institute.

Called "Understanding Evolution," the website identified in the lawsuit directs teachers to doctrinal statements by seventeen religious denominations and groups endorsing evolutionary theory. A statement by the United Church of Christ, for example, declares that evolution is consistent with "the revelation and presence of... God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit."

The website further suggests classroom activities that explicitly use religion to promote evolution. In one suggested activity, teachers are supposed to share with students statements by religious leaders on evolution, but only those "stress[ing] the compatibility of theology with the science of evolution." In another activity, students are assigned to interview ministers about their views on evolution, with the purpose of showing students that "Evolution is OK!" Teachers are cautioned, however, that this particular activity may not work if they live in a community that is "conservative Christian."

"While the government has a legitimate purpose in educating students about the science of evolution, it's outrageous that tax dollars would be spent to indoctrinate students into a particular religious view of evolution. There are many different religious views about evolution. How dare the government tell students which religious view is correct!" said plaintiff Jeanne Caldwell. "This is propaganda, not education."

The lawsuit alleges that the state and federal government are promoting religious beliefs to minor school children through the website in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The suit seeks injunctive relief to remove these government endorsed religious beliefs from the website.

The lawsuit also alleges that the website is being used to further the religious agenda of a private organization, the National Center for Science Education (NSCE), which has a "long history of religious advocacy" on the evolution issue. According to the suit, the NCSE, which helped design the website, provides religious "outreach" programs and "preaching" on evolution to churches, all aimed at convincing people of faith that there is no conflict between their religious beliefs and evolution.

"It turns out that the NCSE and its allies in the scientific and educational establishments don't mind having religious beliefs discussed in science class, as long as those discussions are aimed at convincing students to convert to the religious beliefs favored by the NCSE", added attorney Caldwell. "Their willingness to flagrantly violate students' constitutionally protected religious freedoms in order to sell evolution to our children is the height of hypocrisy."


I was also given a link to an astonishingly ugly cartoon that makes the mindless evo guy shake hands with the mindless religion guy, as if they were two child molesters agreeing to lie for each other. See "Misconceptions: 'Evolution and religion are incompatible'" The idea seems to be that two mindless ideas can work together fine. You know what? People like that can't win. (Anyway, who can take seriously people who shake left hands?)

There is also a link to a bunch of religious groups that don't see any problem with Darwinism. My friend, the Relapsed Catholic, calls them "the churches nobody goes to any more."

Virtually all religions teach that human beings were created for a purpose, which contradicts the key claim of Darwinism.

According to my information, the lawsuit alleges that officials are using government funding and resources to actively promote the religious beliefs held by a private organization, the National Center for Science Education, which has a "long history of religious advocacy" on the evolution issue. The contact is attorney Larry Caldwell, President of Quality Science Education for All, ( or Pacific Justice Institute (

As the comments box fills with angry messages pointing out that it is OKAY for pro-Darwin groups to use the public purse to promote their religious affiliations, I can only say, don't write Caldwell off. He made the California Academy of Sciences and NCSE's Eugenie Scott correct incorrect and potentially defamatory information about him, originally printed in CAS's mag California Wild. Also, I cannot take seriously anyone who does not agree with me that the cartoon is ugly.

How to freak out your bio prof: Forget getting frogs drunk. Try questioning Darwinism!

Student Josh Dill kindly sends me an account of what happened when he started asking questions at Highline Community College in Washington State:

I recently left Highline Community college after receiving my AA. While at Highline I had an interest in Biology, specifically evolution and natural selection. A few of the classes I took were intro to Biology, where we discussed natural selection, evolution, and origin of life. I took Anthropology where we learned about human evolution, and our close relationship with chimpanzees, I even went to Central Washington University to the chimposium and observed the chimpanzees (not an assignment). I also took a class called ‘Genetic Revolution’ where we learned about the genome, genetic traits, protein synthesis, and I even did a presentation on human evolution to that class. I followed the textbook for the presentation in fear of my grade. This professor had written a few articles criticizing Intelligent Design. But after hearing “we are 98.8% chimpanzee” almost every single day, I used an article from National Geographic about lab rats and their genome. I applied the same method used in the chimp example and stated “we are 60% rat”. The students laughed, but the professor didn’t.

Naughty Josh. According to a learned rabbi we are also thirty percent banana. But you are not to draw any conclusions from that, do you understand? You are only supposed to draw the conclusions you are told to draw.

Anyway, Josh took to reading literature written by intelligent design theorists, a dangerous practice. He then booked a room at the end of the year and showed two videos, Icons of Evolution and Unlocking the Mystery of Life. Two biology profs attended. Here is Josh's account of what happened next:

I offered asked if they would like to say a few words in response to the videos (I did this out of respect to them coming to my event), but they declined and asked me to take questions from the students. I took a couple of questions from the students, but then an interruption came out, it was one of the professors.

He lambasted me with accusations of having a religious agenda, that I was just simply a creationist. He had immediately lost his temper with me and shouted at me in front of an audience of students. He accused me of misleading the students, "you should be ashamed of yourself… what you’re doing is criminal!"

He belittled me saying "just because you take a couple science classes doesn’t give you the right!" I kept my composure and a good attitude. I tried to ask him science questions, after all, the event was intended to be about Intelligent Design, and evolution, not creationism or Christianity.

I asked the professor about embryology, he said "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny!" I questioned "well then why are the earlier stages, which we are not shown, different when those would be the ones that are the most important?" He said "yes they're different but that doesn’t matter!"

I asked him to explain how natural selection can account for fossils in the Cambrian explosion where nearly thirty-five of the forty total phyla are found in a geologically short time span of ten million years with no precursors, and given the novel genes, thousands of novel proteins, and novel body plans needed for these organisms how can natural selection be applied? He avoided answering and asked me to take someone else’s question.

He abstained from giving any explanation to how genetic material within our cells could have originated, he said "that’s a different question, I'm talking about evolution!" He then looked at all the students and urged them that "the truth is that evolution is nailed down flat, its secure as gravity, I can’t emphasize that enough."

The professor claimed that any scientist skeptical of Darwin’s theory are only questioning because of religious motivations. I held up the list of names of 400 scientists who question the power of natural selection and asked him if he could account for every single one of those people, and he said "I would bet my pensions on it!"

I asked him how micro-evolution could be extrapolated to explain macro-evolution. He replied "well extrapolation is a good word, you have to use your imagination. Given the amount of time you have." I insisted that the probabilistic resources are not evident to allow for the scale of macro-evolution required by the theory of Darwinian Evolution. He didn't have an answer to this either. Now when I look back, I still can't believe he answered "you have to use your imagination." That should be a bit discerning to some scientists.

I think Josh means "disconcerting" here. (I'd be disconcerted too if I were paying good money to have these fellows teach me. As a writer, I am all for using one's imagination, but in my line of work we make a clear distinction between fiction and non-fiction.)

Anyway, after one of the bio professors attacked Josh's character, a political science prof stepped in and defended him. The meeting ended on that note, but there was an interesting followup:

A couple of weeks later, the professor that I had an exchange with e-mailed me and was interested in meeting me one on one to have a discussion. I agreed and was thankful for his interest. I figured that in a one on one meeting he wouldn’t be as irate and personally aggressive as he was in our first encounter, but I was wrong. He stayed resolute in stating that I am a dishonest person, and that I shouldn't have done what I did. He accused me of encouraging students to rebel in their science classrooms. I never asked students to question their professors in class. I never encouraged disobedience or disrespect, but he insisted that it was wrong. He told me that I should have opened with a preamble, telling students not to bring these questions into the classroom.

Well, there you have it. If you are a student who questions Darwinism, do not bring your questions into the biology classroom. Just memorize and reiterate the party line, and find out the true state of the evidence somewhere else. No wonder there has been a boom in ID-related books lately ...

Blog service announcement: Are you looking for the following story? "Academic Freedom Watch : Here's the real, ugly story behind the claim that 'intelligent design isn't science'?".

Blog service announcement:: O’Leary at blogging conference October 13 through 15

I will either be in Los Angeles at the blogging conference at Biola University—or camped in airports at either end.

On Saturday morning (October 15), I will be leading a breakout session on "Blogging the intelligent design controversy."

It sounds like a great conference, and the organizers say I can blog from there, so I will try to post stuff of interest, including what I plan to say/actually said/didn't say/didn't think of till later.

The conference organizers have asked me to draw your attention to a movie called Elizabethtown, which I haven't seen yet but looks quite interesting. About a fellow who gets fired and discovers a whole new life. Interesting music too, and you can listen to a sample online.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.
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