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By Barbara Forrest

The intelligent design (ID) creationists at the Discovery Institute (DI) are nothing if not tech-savvy. They make masterful use of the Internet, producing podcasts, videos, and slick websites to get their message out (see here, here, here, and here). You’d think, then, that they could make sure that all of their supporters had received that little memo saying that the Louisiana Science Education Act DOES NOT PERMIT TEACHING INTELLIGENT DESIGN (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). They apparently forgot to send it to Bradley Monton, an atheist philosopher who announced his support for ID (you read that right) in the title of his book, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design. Or maybe he failed to notice it in his inbox. Or maybe he read it and forgot. Or something. Whatever the reason, DI just can’t seem to keep its people from periodically telling the truth about the Louisiana Science Education Act.

 

Let’s get some background in place before we return to Dr. Monton’s role as “An Atheist [Who] Defends Intelligent Design.” (We know this sounds strange, but bear with us).

Background

DI specializes in dissembling. They deny that ID is creationism, even though it has been exposed in the published scholarship and in federal court as merely the newest variant of old-fashioned creationism. (See also here.) They also deny that the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) has anything to do with ID, despite the fact that showing otherwise is very easy [pdf] and that the LSEA’s legislative sponsor himself announced that the law was introduced precisely to permit teaching creationism. Nonetheless, we have a string of denials from DI.

For example, let’s look at what DI staffer Casey Luskin told the Baptist Press (“News with a Christian Perspective”) on May 13, 2008, as the LSEA was being fast-tracked through the legislative process (emphasis added):

In fact, Luskin said, the language of the bills in Louisiana, Michigan and Missouri does not even allow for ID to be taught. Nevertheless, he said, the bills would be a significant step forward. . . .

The Louisiana bill (SB 733) . . . says the state board of education ‘shall allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators’ to ‘help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review scientific theories being studied,’ including ‘evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.’ A teacher would be allowed to ‘use supplemental textbooks’ in addition to the textbooks in use. In addition, the bill says it ‘shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine.’ . . .

‘The language in those bills pertains to only teaching the strengths and weaknesses of evolution,’ Luskin said. ‘That language does not even cover the teaching of alternatives like Intelligent Design.’

Contrary to what some might assume, the Discovery Institute does not support the mandated teaching of Intelligent Design in classrooms, Luskin said.

On May 24, 2008, in DI’s Evolution News & Views blog (ENV), Luskin said this (boldface added):

Louisiana’s academic freedom legislation is not about ‘creationism.’ It’s about protecting the rights of teachers to teach good science. . . .

The proposed legislation in Louisiana does not address the teaching of alternative scientific theories such as intelligent design. It merely protects critical thinking and discussion regarding existing scientific theories in the curriculum. . . .

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? These are straightforward denials that the LSEA permits teaching ID. (Remember them; they will be relevant below.) Now, we know better than to take DI’s denials seriously. Their history of mendacity is as well established as the fact that ID is creationism. (For example, see here, here, here, and here.) For obvious legal reasons, they keep denying to high heaven that the LSEA permits teaching ID in Louisiana schools, despite the fact that a central goal of their “Wedge Strategy” is “the integration of design theory into public school science curricula.”

However, the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling [pdf] that prohibited teaching ID in public schools, although binding only in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, has in effect made DI’s promotion of legislation containing the term “intelligent design” impossible everywhere in the U.S. (This is why, in March of this year, DI staff attorney Joshua Youngkin posted online instructions to “reformers” in state legislatures about how to write — and how not to write — their “academic freedom” bills. Some creationist legislators haven’t been getting the message.) At the Dover trial, DI’s expert witnesses were shredded during cross-examination, and ID was definitively exposed as creationism. Case closed. Consequently, the creationists at DI have now been forced to implement their post-Kitzmiller fall-back strategy, namely, to promote creationist legislation by stealth, couching it in antiquated, creationist code language.

In Louisiana, this exercise in dishonesty succeeded in 2008 (although, as we have documented here, DI has had a devil of a time getting the LFF and its followers to stick with the playbook). DI’s legal advisor, David K. DeWolf, working with the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), helped stealthify the language of the LSEA. The strategy was (1) to lie their way into the Louisiana Revised Statutes, and then (2) work on getting a teacher to implement the real strategy behind the closed doors of a public school classroom. And if someone with academic credentials who seemingly had no dog in the hunt decided to lend them some credibility (in their minds), so much the better.

Enter Bradley Monton

Bradley Monton is a philosophy professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder. The creationists at DI really like him, even if they are not crazy about atheists in general (see here, here, and here). They constantly refer to him as “atheist philosopher Bradley Monton.” Having an atheist on their side helps them to continue the charade that ID is something other than what it really is — a form of creationism, which is rooted in the New Testament Gospel of John rather than Genesis (in order to avoid fights with young-earth creationists about Earth’s age) and anchored in the religious commitments of its chief proponents.

Monton has been useful to DI. On January 4, 2006, he posted a paper on the Internet arguing that Judge John E. Jones’ reasoning in his Kitzmiller ruling [pdf] is flawed. Monton wrote his paper quickly — the decision had just been issued on December 20, 2005. On January 5, 2006, DI fellow William Dembski posted a link to Monton’s “important article on Dover” at his Uncommon Descent (UD) blog. Dembski, by the way, had been scheduled to testify as an expert witness for the creationist Dover School Board until he bailed out before being deposed. So it was nice to have some help in criticizing the ruling after the fact from the safety of a computer keyboard.

(Aside: Monton’s opining about Kitzmiller is irrelevant. He showed up after that party was over. The real work in that case had already been done. DI had blown its first big chance to defend ID in federal court when most of the DI fellows serving as witnesses for the Dover, Pennsylvania, School Board withdrew from the case. Besides having to worry about their people being cross-examined under oath, DI staff were too busy writing and posting on DI’s website a fake interview with one of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses. We are concerned here only with Monton’s pronouncements on the LSEA, which we shall discuss shortly.)

DI enthusiastically publicizes its friendship with Monton. Casey Luskin, who attended the May 21, 2008, House Education Committee hearing on the LSEA at the Louisiana Capitol, has interviewed Monton for DI’s ID the Future podcast no fewer than five times. In November 2008, ID supporter Denyse O’Leary, who also blogs at UD, plugged Monton for plugging ID. Monton has even earned the distinction of being listed (just before young-earth creationist Paul Nelson) among the “ARN Authors” at Access Research Network, a clearinghouse for ID materials that functions as a de facto arm of DI. Even better, his book was endorsed by two DI fellows, Dembski and David Berlinski. (See a review of Monton’s book by philosopher Sahotra Sarkar. Here is another review by Jeffrey Shallit, who was scheduled to testify for the Kitzmiller plaintiffs as a rebuttal witness to Dembski until Dembski pulled out.)

DI must have been grateful for Monton’s public support for the LSEA, which he announced on his blog on July 5, 2008, precisely ten days after Bobby Jindal signed it into law.

I support the passage of the Louisiana Science Education Act, which Governor Jindal recently signed. I recognize that this is not popular with fellow secularists. . . .

Monton assures “secularists” who might be upset at the passage of the LSEA that they have nothing to fear. (Apparently he doesn’t think that there might be religious people who object to this law.) The “relatively innocuous” law is all about critical thinking, which Monton declares himself “all for promoting” because promoting critical thinking “is what philosophers do, and I’ve encountered too many college students who are shockingly bad at it.” No disagreements here. I teach critical thinking, too. Good stuff, critical thinking.

Monton also assures readers that the LSEA’s specific listing of “evolution, the origins of life, global warning, and human cloning . . . doesn’t change the material content of the act; it just provides examples of the sorts of theories that could be talked about.”     (Insert long pause here.)     Uh, actually, no. The LSEA specifies unambiguously that

the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education . . . shall allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning. [emphasis added]

In short, the state board is under a mandate (“shall allow and assist”) to enable public school teachers to promote “critical thinking” about (read: “undermine”) “scientific theories being studied including [not “such as“] evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” And they can throw in anything else they want kids to think “critically” about since they are not even “limited to” those subjects. Monton apparently wasn’t thinking critically about the law. He ends his post with some additional reassurance (emphasis added):

It’s clear that the worry from many secularists is that creationism or intelligent design will be taught as true in science class as a result of this act. Well, if that were to happen, teachers would be violating what the act says — they wouldn’t be having an open and objective discussion.

It seems that some critical thinking is needed here. Monton assures us that “secularists” shouldn’t worry about creationism or ID being taught “as true” in a science class “as a result” of the LSEA. But his assertion clearly rests on the premise that ID will actually be taught in a science class as a result of the LSEA. So, ID can be taught in Louisiana, but it can’t be taught “as true.” But Casey promised us in May 2008 that the bill “does not even allow for ID to be taught” at all and that “the proposed legislation in Louisiana does not address the teaching of alternative scientific theories such as intelligent design.” Period. Have we properly understood Monton here? Perhaps he didn’t read Casey’s comments to Baptist Press (“News with a Christian Perspective”) and in the ENV post. Or perhaps we should consult more of Monton’s thinking about the LSEA than he shared in this July 2008 blog post, so let’s do that now.

In his blog post, Monton promised readers that “there’s a lot I could say about these issues (and I do say a lot in my forthcoming book).” He was true to his word. His book was published a year later in July 2009, and he certainly did have more to say. In the interim, his thinking about the LSEA appears to have “evolved” even further, if you will. In fact, one might wonder whether the DI fellows who endorsed the book actually read that part. If they had, they would surely have reported back to Casey, who might have retracted the nice things he said about Monton in those podcast interviews. Casey, after all, assured us unambiguously — this bears repeating — that the LSEA would “not even allow for ID to be taught.” So, what does Monton say about the LSEA in his book?

On p. 143, Monton says that “it can be a good idea to teach ID in school” and that “if I were the teacher, I would take up intelligent design because . . . the students are eventually going to hear about it anyway.” So they should hear about it in “an intellectually well-informed climate.” That squares with what Casey says on p. 4 of The Theory of Intelligent Design: A Briefing Packet for Educators [pdf], which he co-authored with DI colleague John West. Casey and West say that although DI “do[es] not propose that intelligent design should be mandated in public schools” (because they know that mandating creationism was declared unconstitutional in Edwards v. Aguillard), teachers should be well-informed.

[I]f you [the teacher] voluntarily choose to raise the issue of intelligent design in your classroom, it is vitally important that any information you present accurately convey the views of the scientists and scholars who support intelligent design, not a caricature of their views. Otherwise you will be engaging in indoctrination, not education.

They also say on p. 7 (and this part is baloney) that teaching ID should be constitutional because ID is a real scientific theory.

Since ID is a legitimate scientific theory, it should be constitutional to discuss in science classrooms and it should not be banned from schools. If a science teacher wants to voluntarily discuss ID, she should have the academic freedom to do so.

This sounds like it could be relevant to Louisiana and might make Pelican State “secularists” a little nervous. But we can rest easy because Casey said that the LSEA does not allow ID to be taught. (Insert sigh of relief here.)

Let’s now continue our consideration of Monton’s comments on p. 143 because that’s where he talks about “legal matters.” This could be important. He opines that Dover was a “highly non-ideal” case for testing the legality of ID. (As pointed out earlier, his opinion on Dover is irrelevant.) What Monton would really like to see, he says, is “a test case that stemmed from an individual teacher choosing to take up the issue of intelligent design in a intellectually informed, non-proselytizing way.” Well, maybe he would like to see that, but Casey has already told us that we won’t be seeing it here in Louisiana. What does Monton say next?

Perhaps there will be one in Louisiana, as a result of the Science Education Act, which passed the legislature and was signed into law in June 2008.

Wait a minute . . . what was that? But Casey promised us in May 2008  — let’s quote him one more time — that the LSEA “does not even allow for ID to be taught.” As chummy as Casey and Monton are, surely Monton reads all of Casey’s blog posts, right? So maybe we misunderstand Dr. Monton. (He actually seems to be hoping that the state will be sued!) Let’s read a little further.

He quotes the relevant part of the LSEA, just as he did in his post a year earlier. So, okay, there’s that. And then, on p. 144, he says — uh . . . oh.

As you can see, this act allows for intelligent design to be taught in school, as part of the open discussion that could take place regarding evolution and the origins of life. . . .

Maybe we didn’t read that closely enough. Let’s look at it again.

As you can see, this act allows for intelligent design to be taught in school, as part of the open discussion that could take place regarding evolution and the origins of life. . . .

My goodness. We did read that right. Ok, let’s do one final test and compare what Monton said side-by-side with what Casey said (with emphasis added for clarity).

 

Casey, to the Baptist Press (“News with a Christian Perspective”):

In fact, Luskin said, the language of the bills in Louisiana, Michigan and Missouri does not even allow for ID to be taught.

Monton, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design:

Perhaps there will be one [a legal test case] in Louisiana, as a result of the Science Education Act, which passed the legislature and was signed into law in June 2008. . . .

[Quotes LSEA]

As you can see, this act allows for intelligent design to be taught in school, as part of the open discussion that could take place regarding evolution and the origins of life. . . .

 

We knew it! We’ve been saying all along that the LSEA gives teachers the green light to teach ID creationism! Perhaps Monton has been reading our blog instead of Casey’s!

Someone should point this out to Casey. What he’s got here is a clear case of Cool Hand Luke Syndrome. He’s going to have to be more conscientious about making sure everyone gets those memos.

 

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