Intelligent Design Problem… in Oregon? September 8, 2008

Intelligent Design Problem… in Oregon?

You would think Intelligent Design/Creationism controversies would be limited to Bible Belt states like Kansas or Alabama.

But Oregon?

At Jefferson High School near Salem, Oregon, the science curriculum is pretty standard — they tend to teach real science.

Several months ago, however, a local pastor attended a school board meeting and challenged what was being taught in Geology classes. He didn’t like the scientific notion of an Earth that is billions of years old. He proposed that the school invite a speaker to present “the other view” — that is, the made-up, Sarah-Palin-endorsed theory that the Earth is only thousands of years old despite all the evidence to the contrary.

One Jefferson science teacher attending the meeting, Karen Sinex, said “No” to the religious beliefs being taught in her classroom. Why teach someone’s personal mythology in the classroom and waste the students’ time, right?

On August 11th, the pastor returned to the school board. He further challenged materials being used in the classroom and once again proposed to have an Intelligent Design proponent speak in the classroom.

What was the response this time?

Here’s an excerpt from an email from the Columbia (Oregon) Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

Rather than clearly support state law at the board meeting, the superintendent and two of the five board members announced that they believed in intelligent design! The superintendent even went on to say to Ms. Sinex “Who knows, you may end up having to teach it in your class.”

Bruce Adams, the president of the chapter, continues:

When we heard about this, we called the Superintendent and the school board chair. We left [messages] for each of them but neither of them returned our call. Not long after that, we received an email from Ms. Sinex, saying:

Bruce, As you predicted, my superintendent approached me the other day. He said he had received a phone call from you, and asked your affiliation… He said that he intends to sit down with me… to discuss what they will be recommending in this case.

I don’t know what they’ll “recommend.” I want to believe they’ll stand up for their own state’s (pro-evolution) science standards.

But if this situation can happen in Oregon, it can happen just about anywhere.

Members of the AU chapter will accompany Sinex to the next school board meeting to show their support.

While it seems for now that rational people constitute the majority of the school board, it’s only a one-member swing that way. That could quickly change.

If you don’t want it to happen in your neck of the woods, the most important thing you can do is to keep abreast of what’s going on in your own community and make sure no one sneaks their personal (erroneous) beliefs into public classrooms. If they try, alert groups like Americans United, Freedom From Religion Foundation, or the ACLU.

The teacher, Karen Sinex, is going to be speaking about the situation and answering questions at the next meeting of the AU chapter.

That will take place on September 15th at 7:00 p.m. at the Multnomah Arts Center in Portland. If you’re in the area, you’ll want to check this out.

(Thanks to Leslie for the link!)

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  • That’s the thing about morons, they live everywhere.

  • Yoo

    If the pastor gets his way, then he might be surprised that he managed to open the door for other unsupported theories.

  • cipher

    It happened a couple of years ago in Kearney, NJ, ten miles outside of New York City (😉

    And here’s an article about a young man who got a PhD in geology from the University of Rhode Island ( He wrote a dissertation about the Cretaceous era, in which he doesn’t really believe; he’s a young earth creationist. He lied, basically, through the manner in which he presented and defended his paper, but it wasn’t regarded as a lie because he was honest with them about his beliefs. He justifies it by regarding conventional science as a “paradigm” (they’re even using our terms, now). The cognitive dissonance is simply staggering, yet URI allowed it. He teaches “science” now at Liberty U.

    And I was reading recently about a creationist who “earned” (I’m being generous) a PhD at Harvard some years ago. His attendance there was controversial, but I understand Stephen Jay Gould defended him.

    It’s everywhere now, Hemant.

    I am vehemently opposed to this. They shouldn’t be awarded degrees in science at legitimate universities. They have their Bible colleges; let them go to those. If they receive degrees in science from reputable universities and, at a later date, begin promoting creationism or ID – those degrees should be revoked.

    I’ve realized something (perhaps unsavory) about myself recently; when it comes to fundies, I’m a segregationist – separate but equal (nominally). We can’t prevent them from having their psychotic parallel reality (with its own revisionist history and science), but we ought to be keeping them the hell out of ours.

  • Bill

    It has long seemed to me that talking
    about ID in a science class would be
    an excellent opportunity to teach what
    “theory” means in science, and why
    ID isn’t one. 😎

  • cipher

    I don’t know why the “link” button inserted a smilie above! It doesn’t seem to be working properly, Hemant.

    And, the old fifteen-minute window for editing was easier to work within…

  • Aj

    I hear about 50% of americans reject the fact of evolution. They’re not concentrated in one part of the country. A bigger problem is that possibly many more than that 50% wouldn’t be able to accurately describe natural selection, or give examples of the evidence for evolution. The problem is clear, not only do about a half of people reject evolution, but a lot less than half don’t care enough about it to even know the basics.

    Anyone with an agenda can infiltrate the school board of a small town. The “Discovery Institute” has said they plan to secretly infiltrate government, and that’s what has happened in the past. They’re not upfront about what they intend to do before they get on boards.

    I don’t think there’s any danger of them winning in court, but they do get to poison the minds of students for a while, and there’s the obvious publicity for the “Discovery Institute”.

  • I think that they should be allowed to teach the science in creationism. What is the science in creationism anyway?

    What? There isn’t any?

    Well then, that’s what they should teach.

  • Ubi Dubium

    Sounds like the Pastafarians need to show up to the meeting and demand equal time!

  • SarahH

    This issue has been given plenty of air time and debate and even legal scrutiny, and I think it’s clearly been decided everywhere but in the eyes of creationists, who will continue to push the issue at a local level like this. They’re encouraged by people like “teach-the-controversy” Palin, who imply that there’s still any controversy outside the minds of the creationists.

    I wish government employees (superintendents, judges, teachers) would take their role to keep religion and state separate seriously, but the unfortunate truth is that their positions are often at risk if they offend the majority. At least in places like Oregon, the majority seems to be on the side of the Constitution.

  • TXatheist

    Hemant, I’m offended you didn’t include Texas as backwards like Kansas. We are innovators in being backwards concerning science. Don’t be surprised what happens in small towns.

    I read on the other topic SMU, Baylor and TCU are secular. Compared to what UT-Austin? Having friends/family attending all 3 at one time secular must mean you don’t have to believe every word of the bible because they are very much conservative toward xianity and imo stretches the idea of being secular. IMO, they are a money funneling service that grants degrees under the guise of xianity.

  • Siamang

    These little scraps never happen in my backyard (GO LAUSD!!!) So I hardly ever get to bring my evolutionary superpowers to bear.

    I did once. Discovery Institute had a tv show that was called “Unlocking Life’s Origins” or something like that, that was very slick, had a lot of computer animation of DNA and stuff, lots of footage of animals and a very dry boring narrator. You could watch it for ten minutes and if you weren’t paying very close attention, mistake it for a regular, if boring, science docu for PBS.

    So this is where the Discovery Institute’s tendency toward mendaciousness showed up: They rented time on a tv satellite, during a block of time when local PBS stations normally (and automatically) pull down programming cleared for rights-free public broadcast. Then at some point the show got shown on public television stations across the country.

    The Discovery Institute being the shameless self-promoters that they are, they put on their website when stations were scheduled to broadcast their show. Reading some science and evolution oriented blogs, I found out that my local station, KLCS was about to play it.

    Now, KLCS isn’t your ordinary run-of-the-mill PBS station. It’s actually run by the Los Angeles Unified School District as an instructional station.

    Luckily for me, someone in my family was an aide to a member of the school board. Once I let them know that this tv show was religion masquerading as science, and I provided them with pages and pages of documentation proving it… it disappeared from the schedule and never aired.

    It’s really despicable what trickery creationist groups will resort to in order to try and sneak their religious myths into our public schools. I don’t know how they internally rationalize deceit like this.

    Anyway, be alert and know what’s going on. And as Hemant says, be aware that nowhere is safe. If Rick Warren can peddle his young-earth nonsense and attract mass crowds and public adulation in the shadow of UC Irvine, one of the premiere scientific institutions in the nation, then truly nowhere is safe.

  • TXatheist

    Off-topic but all that time we heard about Michelle Obama not liking America can now be said about Palin’s spouse too. He’s a a member of AIP and their President’s statement is
    “I’m an Alaskan, not an American…I’ve got no use for America or her damned institutions. The fires of hell are glaciers compared to my hate for America and her government.”

  • cipher

    OH, I hope it’s true! And I hope it gets publicized up the wazoo!

    If it is true, how could the RNC have missed it?

  • You wouldn’t be surprised if growing up with the internets, you had read the Sean Baby Probe:

    October 25th, 2000
    Finally, We Get to Vote on Whether or Not Kids Are Gay.

    Every state has great measures you can vote on, but most people that tell you they understand them are either wrong or lying. The truth is, we can’t tell if modifying the tax bracket for elected seniors is a going to make us go bankrupt or win us a million dollars.

    But not all of the measures on the ballot are cloudy amendments to zoning and things you can’t pronounce. Every year at least one well-funded Christian hate group gets something on the ballot that comes straight from a Wonder Woman villain’s plan book. This year in Oregon it’s measure 9. If measure 9 passes, schools will be forced to immediately stop turning children into homosexuals. Not with revolutionary herbal remedies or brainwashing – the plan is to make it illegal to tell school children what gay people are.,,,

    He even links to an internet opinion section full of blatant bible-pushing and extreme bigotry. Also, there’s a hell of a christian cult living there.

  • Luther Weeks

    I have heard that some lurking hear may be those most feared by McCain and Palin, Community Organizers.

    I have to admit to being one as a Volunteer Political Activist. Here is my definition for what it is worth:

    Volunteer Political Activist – Not exactly a Mayor, Governor, or Legislator, but improves democracy for everyone without money, staff, employees, or authority.

  • Todd Palin is a former member. He hasn’t been a member since 2002.

    Also, I can’t find any definitive information showing that Sarah Palin is a Young Earth Creationist. There are indications/quotes showing that she holds some ID views, but nothing specifically regarding YEC.

    Did I miss something?

  • cipher

    Todd Palin is a former member. He hasn’t been a member since 2002.

    That’s a damn shame. I get little enough pleasure out of life.

  • JSug

    Out of curiosity, I recently did some research to find out what my local school board has to say on this topic. My son is still in preschool/daycare, but we plan on staying in the area for the foreseeable future, so I figure it’s worth knowing. I was able to locate the text of the most recently approved biology curriculum and was very pleased to find this line item towards the end:

    Any study of science involves reviewing data that has accumulated over time and from which testable hypotheses are derived. From this process scientific theories emerge. It is recognized that there are other points of view and these will be treated with respect. The study of these views, however, shall be done in forums outside the school.

    So that’s a relief. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this sort of thing as my son gets older, though.

  • David D.G.

    cipher wrote:

    They shouldn’t be awarded degrees in science at legitimate universities. They have their Bible colleges; let them go to those. If they receive degrees in science from reputable universities and, at a later date, begin promoting creationism or ID – those degrees should be revoked.

    I sympathize with your frustration, cipher (enormously!), but I cannot agree with this as a remedy. These people do the work that the university specifies as necessary to earn that degree, so they EARN that degree. That they are insane enough to deny the factuality of what they’ve parrotted to get it is wildly disturbing, but they have done the required work, so they have earned the degree nonetheless.

    As soon as we start requiring standards of belief — on anything — to be part of the criteria for getting a degree at a secular institution, its value will immediately become just as suspect as any degree from such Christian luminaries as Liberty University, Pensacola Christian College, and Bob Jones University. Ideology must be kept out of such considerations, or some future fashionable version of “truth” may very well make us regret incorporating it.

    ~David D.G.

  • SarahH

    Well put, David D.G. While I don’t think degree should be denied based on beliefs, I do think that the creationist with a PhD faces a bleak job search, degree notwithstanding. Scientific institutions and respectable colleges want staff who write peer-reviewed material and understand and accept the research in their field – not just parrot it.

  • cipher

    But, David, don’t you think they’re obtaining the degree under false pretenses? It’s utterly lacking in academic integrity; they’re just parroting back, as you say, to get the piece of paper. What if someone were to approach the head of a math dept. and say, “All right, while I’m here, I’ll use your accursed base-10 math, but I want you to know that as soon as I’m out of here with a sheepskin in hand, I’m going to start teaching that anything other than base-2 is the work of the devil!”? Would giving such a person a math degree be in keeping with the spirit of a liberal arts education?

    Regarding the value of the degree – I’m concerned that it is just this sort of thing that will devalue it. If a young earth creationist can get a diploma at an Ivy League or other top-tier university – what does that do to the value of all future diplomas awarded by that institution?

    Furthermore, the act of hiring someone who has such credentials validates the hiring university indirectly. You enable Jerry Falwell to say, “See? We are a legitimate institution; we have people with science degrees from secular universities teaching here.” It validates the creationist organizations as well; they can point to these people and say, “These are real scientists, with real science degrees, who uphold our beliefs.”

    I have to think that this is a very bad idea.

  • As much as I despise him, I am firmly convinced Jerry Falwell will never, ever, say such a thing.

  • JSug

    What if someone were to approach the head of a math dept. and say, “All right, while I’m here, I’ll use your accursed base-10 math, but I want you to know that as soon as I’m out of here with a sheepskin in hand, I’m going to start teaching that anything other than base-2 is the work of the devil!”? Would giving such a person a math degree be in keeping with the spirit of a liberal arts education?

    As a holder of a BS in computer science and a successful software developer, I can assure you that anything other than base-2 is, indeed, the work of the devil.

    In all seriousness, I don’t have a problem with people having beliefs that conflict with their area of study. It is not a school’s function to tell you what to believe. That’s exactly the argument we’re having with these people. They want their system of belief taught in schools as fact. We’ve been arguing that the teaching of belief belongs outside of public schools. You can’t then turn around and tell them that if they want to go to those schools, they have to abandon their beliefs. At least, not without sounding hypocritical.

    The key to winning this fight is pointing out that the material the ID/creation proponents want to teach is not science, and therefore it does not belong in a science classroom. Don’t get hung up on character debates about who does and does not support it.

  • David C.

    I don’t understand why an atheist student couldn’t enter a Christian college and put up a stink about learning creationism instead of evolution.

  • cipher

    I don’t understand why an atheist student couldn’t enter a Christian college and put up a stink about learning creationism instead of evolution.

    I think a lot of them (the ones that teach creationism) make you sign a statement of faith, or some such thing. It could be regarded as a breach of contract.

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