At the Panda’s Thumb, Gary Hurd told an interesting story of career day at public school. Gary is a forensic archeologist and incidentally has written a number of books and articles including this one on evolution. Teaching evolution was not his purpose on career day—it was simply telling second graders what he does for a living. Because he brings archeological finds and equipment such as bones and tools I’m sure his career is pretty fascinating to kids. His whole career is a walking, talking refutation of Dembski's "Design Inference." I'd love to sit Dembski and Hurd down side by side with some irregular rocks and have them each identify them as "designed or not" and the reasons why. The results would be fascinating but I digress.
One side benefit career day is meeting people in other careers you might not normally meet, like judges, actors, performance artists and even “preachers.”
As Gary’s story unfolds, “Preacher Mike” was a little unclear on the concept of "Career Day." Instead of telling kids what a “preacher" does, he felt the need to actually preach to the kids about the evils of archeology. The “preacher” had presumed that Gary had already indoctrinated the wee ones into the pleasures of satanic evilution and wanted to make sure the kids were saved from that menace. Ultimately, since the preacher couldn’t’ distinguish between telling kids what preachers do from actually preaching to them, he was booted from career day.
Gary comments (with my emphais added):
“Mike the Preacher believes in a conspiracy against God, inspired by Satan, that has control of the American schools. This Satanist conspiracy has as its agents all scientists and teachers who are actively trying to corrupt innocent children through public education. The fact that Preacher Mike was tossed out of Career Day only reinforced his paranoid delusion.”
In the post"s comments a commenter, self described as “Your Conscience,” reinforced that observation that many see that evolution can only be the product of a grand conspiracy:
“ People don’t question heliocentrism because it can be tested and verified in many ways. Now common descent and speciation. Nope, never seen anything close to testing and verifying that theory. Have seen some pretty cool drawings of ape-like creatures turning into humans based on fossilized bone and tooth fragmants. Creative imagination does not equal good science.
Why do Darwinian fundamentalists believe that people who don’t worship naturalism simply need more education.”
I couldn’t resist that challenge and I responded that fundamentalists do indeed challenge geocentricism with the same ferocity as they do evolution and referred him to my favorite site, the Geocentric Challenge
Now I happen to be Catholic and I believe that religious fundamentalism makes for equally poor theology as it does science, so I chose to pick a Catholic fundamentalist site (and give my readers a chance to pick up a cool $1000). Other commenters posted other sites demonstrating that people do too question heliocentricism in spite of the evidence. Here are some more examples:  
These all happen to be religious fundamentalist sites all arguing that evolution is held in place only by a grand conspiracy of scientists educators and atheists. There are other conspiracy theories put forth by people from a wide range of views across the political spectrum. Conspiracy theorists are not limited to religious fundamentalists, the right wing or any particular group. They come from all directions.
What they do have in common is that they all confront a vast amount of scientific, medical or technical evidence that is opposed to the conclusion that the theorists seek to confirm. All of this vast work, the entire sum of human knowledge, in the case of biology, is simply dismissed as part of a grand conspiracy. that's how the overwheling evidece is confronted--a simple calim that large groups of peopel made it up.
There are two underlying assumptions about conspiracy theories that are almost universally untrue. First, the conspiracy theory assumes that large numbers of people can keep a secret. This is almost never true. The CIA and the KGB, are both dedicated to secrecy, and both
actively engaged in conspiracies, yet neither ever demonstrated any particular ability to keep information secret. Even the Mafia had security breaches and the Manhattan Project lost the grandaddy of all secrets before the first atom bomb was even detonated. Conspiracy theorists strongly overestimate the ability of any large group of humans to keep secrets.
The second assumption of conspiracists is that people doing their jobs will intentionally choose to conceal the evidence for truth—even when it is against their own personal financial interest. Pastor Mike, for example, is essentially arguing that 30,000 biology PhD’s are all conspiring to conceal the great secret that Evolution is a fraud. Yet, any biologist that demonstrates a major error in evolution will certainly go down in history as the man who showed up Charles Darwin. Honors, fame, perhaps Nobel Prizes, fortune and the undying gratitude of the Christian Right await the turncoat biologist. Certainly, at least one of the scientific conspirators in Evolution would be willing to endure the wrath of his colleagues in return for this kind of fame and fortune. Unless Human Nature fundamentally changes, there is no way that people who know the truth will conceal that truth as part of a conspiracy when disclosure will lead to untold riches. This holds true for all fields, whether science, medicine, religion or technology. Whistle blowing is a lucrative field but difficult to break into because the competition is so fierce. This will always be so.
I think it’s a fair, when somebody like Pastor Mike or “Your Conscience” suggests Evolution is part of a grand conspiracy, that we ask them to explain what makes the evolution conspiracy different from recognizably “kooky” theories like heliocentricism, AIDS conspiracies or holocaust revisionism.
I don’t believe there is any principled difference.
Orak, the respectfully insolentpractitioner of the dark arts, hosts the second meeting of the Skeptics Circle.Based on the tradition of “Grand Rounds” of the medical blogs, the Skeptics Circle collects thoughtful posts from a variety of scientific and skeptic’s blogs. Orak has mixed wonderful fables and fine spirits in highlighting dozens of therecent posts at these great blogs. His hosting of the Circle has set a very high standard indeed and I’m honored to be able to hoist a pint in such company! Well done Orak! Be sure to visit his site and check out the Skeptics circle (and my small bits there as well)..
Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times has a fabulous column describing her tour of the Museum of Creation and Earth History, the famous YEC Santee monument to the explosive mixture of arrogance and ignorance.
Keep in mind I'd just seen "proof" that the Earth is no older than about 10,000 years, that man and dinosaurs coexisted before a flood that not only created the Grand Canyon but put the final score at humans (Noah and kin) 1, dinosaurs 0.
But then she inserts the knife:
What confronted the Georgia judge is not Santee's brand of quaint creationism but a more sophisticated, neo-creationism creep that's moving through school boards and state legislatures across the country.
It's Intelligent Design spreading like the villian in a bad horror movie. A fabulous article in anational newspaper. She calls it like it is: Intelligent Design is creationism. It's nice to see what a good writer can do.
The Panda’ Thumb announced that an appeal is likely in the Cobb County Sticker case.After re-reviewing the slip opinion, there is evidence of what I call “bulletproofing” the opinion. I use the term “bulletproofing” for those actions the trial judge takes to reduce the chances of a case being reversed on appeal.“Bulletproofing” can take many forms.
I wrote about the Cobb County evolution creation trial a few months ago on my other blog. After a bench trial, the U.S. District Court held that anti-evolution stickers were unconstitutional. Its opinion is here.
The case arises from a decision by the school board to place a sticker in the front of biology textbooks that says:
“This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with a n open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.”
The plaintiffs, parents of children in the school district, claimed that the sticker violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.The trial court held correctly but unfortunately, that there is no bright line for evaluating establishment clause claims.”Although I am generally in favor of such bright line evaluations, in this case, I can’t think of a workable bright line Establishment Clause test.
The test the Court used was set out by the Supreme Court in Lemon v Kurtzman 403 U.S. 602. In Lemon, the Court held that a government sponsored message such as the sticker in this case violates the establishment clause if it fails one of these three prongs:
1.It does not have a secular purpose.
2.It’s principal or primary effect advances or inhibits religion.
3.It creates excessive entanglement with religion.
In applying the first of the Lemon prongs, the court held that the sticker had a secular purpose—in fact two of them.First, the school board intended to encourage student critical thinking. Second, the school board wanted to reduce offense to those whose personal religious beliefs might conflict with the teaching of evolution.
The court noted that the school district had refused to teach evolution for many years and was updating its biology curriculum in 1999.Knowing there would be a significant objection from many families the school board sought to soften the blow by including the sticker. The court found that this was the main purpose of the sticker.
In applying the second Lemon prong, the court considered whether a disinterested reasonable person would conclude that the sticker contained an endorsement of religion.This fortunately, is usually a legal question based more or less on judicial interpretation of social facts, and here the court concluded that a reasonable person would conclude the sticker conveyed and endorsement of a certain form of religion,and that such persons were favored members of the political community so as to require a sticker to assuage their more privileged concerns.
The court did examine the social and historical background of the evolution creation conflicts routinely occurring in public schools.It also focused on the wording of the sticker itself “Evolution is a theory, not a fact.”This language taken directly from many religious creationist claims is essentially a “code phrase” routinely used by creationists opposed to evolution. Its use displays either a religious intent or a fundamental ignorance of science and the history surrounding the debate.The court did not find the school board members to be ignorant and noted the historically loaded connotation of the “evolution is a theory not a fact” phrase. As the court observed, The Establishment Clause, at the very least, prohibits government from appearing to take a position on questions of religious belief and this is exactly what the School Board appears to have done.
Although the governmental action is invalidated if any Lemon prong is violated, the court went on to hold that the school board had effectively entangled itself with religion by taking a position that agrees with and endorses fundamentalists and creationists but not necessarily all other religious beliefs.