Saturday, February 28, 2004

Science fights back: Citizens for Science vs. the Discovery Institute

NYT: Montana Creationism Bid Evolves Into Unusual Fight

[Update May 2004]:

The June 2004 issue of Wired has an essay by Bruce Sterling on the societal disease of Lysenkoism. I'll try to remember to link to it when it's available online. Lysenkoism is what happens when political pseudoscience, as in evangelical biology, wins. Lysenkoism played an important role in the collapse of the old Soviet Empire. Same topic as this one. [EndUpdate]
In early December, a local Baptist minister, Curtis Brickley, put up handbills inviting residents of this town, population 754, to a meeting in the junior high school gym. The topic was the teaching of evolution in the Darby schools.

Two hundred people from Darby and surrounding Ravalli County, which nurtures a deep vein of conservative religious sentiment, filed into the gym on Dec. 10. There, the well-spoken minister delivered an elaborate PowerPoint presentation challenging Charles Darwin's theories.

There was nothing particularly unusual about Mr. Brickley's message. For years, opponents of evolutionary theory have been pressing their case, with similar arguments, in statehouses and school systems around the country. What was unusual was the response.

Within days, a group of parents, business people, teachers, students and other residents mobilized to defend Darwin against Mr. Brickley's challenge. The group, Ravalli County Citizens for Science, phoned a biotechnology firm in nearby Hamilton asking for help and was connected with Dr. Jay Evans, a research immunologist. He began looking into Mr. Brickley's claims, which were drawn in part from materials from the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based organization affiliated with many conservative causes.

This is not a particularly well written article, but it appears the Citizens for Science movement started with the Kansas Chapter. Citizens for Science is state based, but the National Center for Science Education is, well, national.

Minnesota is following the path of Montana. Evangelical Republicans are moving on many fronts here to attack the models of natural selection and the theories of biological evolution. They are winning, but it is good to learn that a counter-attack is stirring. Of course if these Evangelicals really do manage to destroy science education, they'll also end up destroying the public school system as secular scholars move en masse to private schools.

Natural selection is one of the most powerful theories in the past two hundred years. It has been applied to a variety of systems, including political systems, economics, corporate behavior, and a very wide range of biological systems from the molecular level to the species level. It's even been applied to cosmology and the evolution of black holes.

Ironically, and this is the point that often gets missed, natural selction and Darwin's work are not inconsistent with "intelligent design". Indeed, were the universe designed, it's likely that the designer also experienced the effects of natural selection in action ...