Added Feb. 1, 2009: Here’s the current form of an amendment that Texas State Board of Ed Chairman McLeroy (with an egregious quote-mining rampage) got added to the current draft of the Texas science standards, as approved at First Reading Jan. 23, to be put to a final vote in March:
[Students will] Analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common descent to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of the fossil record.
Following Ben Stein, I think a HS student should get full credit for this “analysis and evaluation”:
Common descent is completely insufficient to explain sudden appearance, stasis and the sequential nature of the fossil record, just (exactly) as it is insufficient to explain gravity or thermodynamics.
Even the DI’s Michael Behe concedes that common descent is undeniably true.
An earlier post here includes a video with this line from Ben Stein (whose movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which purports to “document” a truth-and-evidence-defying regime of “neo-Darwinist orthodoxy” dogmatically supressing an abundance of evidence against evolution, was cited to that end by creationist members of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) in their public input session November 19, 2008), in which Stein tell his audience and interviewer:
I’m pretty good with the ladies. [Richard Dawkins is a] self confident guy. But thinks — in my humble opinion, thinks he knows a lot more than he does. Darwinism cannot explain gravity, cannot explain thermodynamics. Most of all, it cannot explain how life began.
Stein is often introduced by his interviewers as the smartest man they’ve ever met — if not the smartest person in the world. While I have never had anywhere near that view of him, I did assume that he must be smart enough to understand what’s wrong with saying that Darwinism cannot explain gravity. I assumed him to be knowingly cynical — knowing that the audience he plays to would let him get away with such an ignorant remark, and even reward him handsomely for saying things like that.
Well, I now have to admit that I was wrong about the man; he really is that dumb. In an August 17, 2008 interview on the C-SPAN program Q&A (transcript and video available here), Stein has this colloquy with Brian Lamb:
LAMB: Why did you do it [Expelled]?
STEIN: Excuse me. Well, first I wasn’t going to do it. Then he came to me and he told me about it, I thought, these people are crazy, but I – but I started looking into it and a very smart friend of mine, my smartest friend, A Burton, said something incredibly insightful. He said, well, if there’s no intelligent design, where did gravity come from?
Where did thermodynamics come from? Where did the laws of motion and mechanics and fluid motion come from? He said, I could easily see evolution in species, but where did the great laws of the universe and of movement, the governing universe come from?
And I thought, well, that’s a really good question and yet, if you even ask that question, you can be disciplined in the academic setting. So I thought, if it’s good enough for my wonderful pal, Al Burton, it’s good enough for me.
LAMB: How does something like that work? In other words, when did – did they hire you, pay you an up front fee?
STEIN: They came to me around 2004 roughly and first they didn’t pay me and they just gave me a pile of books and showed me some animations and wanted me to look into it. And I must say, the books and the animation were not dispositive. It was my friend, Al Burton’s incredibly insightful comment, where did gravity come from?
Where did physics come from? Where does mechanics come from? That really was – made me think, you know, if in fact there is any explanation to those that say neo-Darwin explanation, it’s pretty far fetched.
Then I did a little tiny bit of reading about what Darwin thought about it himself and Darwin himself said, I believe that existence is a combination of design and accident. I’m not sure of the proportions of each.
And Darwin himself also said, what I think is vital to know is that this whole subject is so complex that for a human being to try to understand it is like a dog trying to understand Newton’s physics. And I said, so for me, I just let – I say, let the continuing discussion take place and let each man hope and believe as he wishes.
So, as it turns out, not only does Ben Stein think it is a “weakness” for Darwinism if it cannot explain gravity, but that idea actually played a part in motivating his participation in the movie. But wait, there’s more:
… I think people in the academic establishment get mistreated if they taught, not always, but often if they tried to challenge the neo-Darwinist orthodoxy.
LAMB: But you survived all that.
STEIN: Well, I’m not an academic. I don’t have to – I don’t have to earn my living as an academic. I don’t depend upon having tenure.
LAMB: Could you not go back to a university setting based on what your views are at any time?
STEIN: Well, I wouldn’t be in the science department anyway. I mean, I make no claims whatsoever to being a scientist. I interviewed scientists and I read a little tiny bit about the subject, but I wouldn’t be in a science faculty no matter what.
LAMB: Do you dismiss the scientists’ view of this or just you don’t like their answer?
STEIN: No, no, I don’t dismiss it at all. I think, as I said in this trailer, there are some incredibly smart people here who think that neo-Darwinist orthodoxy explains everything and they’re very, very smart people. But as I say, when I say to them, well then, how did life begin? Where did gravity come from?
Did lightening strike and the mud puddle created the first cell? OK, where did the lightening come from? Where did the mud come from? Who created matter? And they say, well, it isn’t a who who created it. It just happened to get created. Well, how did it just happen to get created?
How did the cell get to have hundreds of thousands of moving parts each of which fit together perfectly and have to repair each other, reproduce each other? How did that happen? I mean, it’s like saying – it’s like saying that a powerful windstorm passed over a junk yard and when the windstorm was gone, there was a fully functional Boeing triple seven. I mean, that’s how far fetched it seems.
Ben Stein might not be knowingly and cynically dishonest as I had suspected. I now see him, rather, as somebody who is intellectually lazy to the point of being conveniently dishonest in another way, given what he has been saying and doing lately.
I could make an argument for that interpretation based on other things in this odd interview. But the state of Ben Stein’s soul is not my concern. More to the point, when it comes to the conflicts over science curricula, is the realization that when Stein and those listening to him talk about “neo-Darwinism” or “evolutionary theory,” what they have in mind is something altogether different from what scientists mean by those terms. For people like Stein, these terms refer to something vague and dark that stands in opposition to their own beliefs about lightning, gravity, and everything else. Their discourse operates in such an altogether different semantic universe that it’s no wonder when communication doesn’t happen.
For scientists, the lack of any explanation for lightning or gravity is certainly no “weakness” of evolutionary theory. Nor would it be spoken of by scientists as a “limitation” of the theory. For counterpoint, here is a 40-second audio clip from the lucid testimony of Joseph Martin at the SBOE’s November 19 meeting:
Again, as I’ve suggested earlier, the conflict is not a matter of evidence on two sides of a commonly understood proposition. The proposed alternative to scientific inquiry is some kind of discourse about “strengths and weakness” (notwithstanding any substitution of alternative phrases) in a discourse operating in a semantic universe somewhere way outside the language used by scientists and science educators.