Saturday, December 24, 2005

12/24/05 Notes on the Colorado ID movement & opposition

Noting the reactions against the recent Pennsylvania ruling on ID by the powerful and well-financed Colorado-based Focus on the Family and Colorado Southern Baptists, there is certainly a considerable element in our state seeking to see "intelligent design" imposed on our schools. This is all the more ominous in view of the fact that there is at least one openly avowed ID advocate in both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly. Colorado is also the home of a number of professional ID/Creationism advocates with experience in promoting their views elsewhere.

Colorado Springs is the home of the Access Research Network (ARN), which - along with the Discovery Institute and the Intelligent Design Network - is one of the primary secular front groups promoting "intelligent design." ARN began as the "Students for Origins Research, Inc." with the stated purpose of "[assisting] students and educators in critically evaluating the creation and evolution models of origins from a scientific perspective," in 1988. Of the original directors, only two are resident in Colorado:

  • Dennis A Wagner is an avowed Creationist closely associated with the "American Scientific Affiliation" an organization of evangelical "Christian scientists" [See: "Put Another Candle on the Birthday Cake" by Dennis Wagner, 13 March 1997, "Origins Research"]

  • Mark Hartwig is an evangelical Christian with an interest in "challenging beliefs on which people have staked their lives - not to mention their lifestyles." [See: "In Defense of the Supernatural", by Mark Hartwig, 1998, Focus on the Family] A Director of ARN, with a Ph.D. in educational psychology, he is a free lance journalist and author. He also serves as a leader of the IDEA Center whose sole purpose is to promote "intelligent design."

  • Colorado also hosts Douglas Groothuis, who serves as Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and is a national level advocate for ID. Groothuis is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, and the Society of Christian Philosophers. He also writes pro-ID articles for local papers, see for example, "Speakout: 'Design' critics often employ straw men (10 December 2005, Rocky Mountain News).

    All said, we have all the basic ingredients for a major ID push here in Colorado, coupling professional ID advocates with the money and resources of powerful evangelical organizations with at least a couple legislators willing to hop into the fray. A purely scientific defense against such an onslaught is not reasonable since the issue is purely social/political in nature lacking any scientific significance at all. The issue is whether or not the evangelicals will be allowed to indoctrinate Colorado's children through its public schools. Effective opposition has to operate in the field where the conflict is to be held, that is, in the fields of public opinion and politics, not the Ivory Tower from which ID has already been soundly excluded.

    The ID advocates in Colorado have a ready pool of professional advocates to call upon and in this respect we opponents can compete via professional scientists and academics, many of which are already organized through Colorado Citizens for Science. However, the ID advocates, through organizations such as Focus on the Family and the Colorado Southern Baptists can also launch immediate lobbying campaigns (members writing to their representatives, to school boards, &c.), advertising campaigns, and other operations meant to either sway or confuse public opinion on the issue. The opposition has no such ability to immediately lobby on the issue, our sole recourse being the common sense of Colorado residents. However, as the Kansas case has shown, common sense isn't always enough against a massive PR campaign and politically prejudicial public officials. This is where MESIC hopes to come into play, by developing a popular rallying point for updates, information, and action to keep ID out of our schools.

    Thursday, December 22, 2005

    12/22/05 New Developments

    Despite the 139 page ruling by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case that deemed "intelligent design" (ID) a variation on traditional Creationism, the fight is far from over. Although the Dover ruling does not directly apply to Colorado, it is likely to have national ramifications in that it sets legal precedent. However, the effort here in Colorado, being spearheaded by legislators as opposed to school boards, somewhat circumvents this precedent since the legislative efforts are not trying to directly insert ID into the curriculum, but instead seek to "allow" teachers the right to teach this notion independently.

    Colorado State Senator Greg Brophy (R-Wray) has joined Rep. Stafford (R-Aurora) in announcing an interest in promoting ID in Colorado. Brophy's proposal differs from Stafford's but they are mutually complimentary. As reported in the Rocky Mountain News, "Brophy said the bill he is considering would let local school boards adopt an intelligent-design curriculum, but not mandate such instruction." [" Debate over intelligent design theory" by Berny Morson, (21 December 2005), Rocky Mountain News] In that Stafford's suggested bill that would allow teachers to present "alternative theories" is somewhat too broad in scope (at least as she has described it) Brophy's measure is the more direct of the two. We now have at least one openly avowed ID advocate in both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly.

    While it seems unlikely that either Brophy or Stafford could push their respective proposals through the current General Assembly, raising the issue and sparking a public debate on the issue presents its own dangers. Specifically, launching such a public debate could prompt a local school board sympathetic to the idea to adopt an ID measure thereby generating a high-profile court challenge. It is safe to say that most Coloradoans are not extremists of any sort, nevertheless, it cannot really be denied that Colorado has often found itself at the center of issues promoted by well-funded and well-organized evangelical extremists resident in our state. While we can't stop the ID movement and its supporters from doing whatever they can to advance their agenda, what we can do is be prepared to counter their tactics through organization and close monitoring of developments. This is specifically what MESIC has set out to do.

    Selected Colorado News Round-up, December 19-22:

  • "Intelligent design bad choice for state" [Editorial] (22 December 2005), Rocky Mountain News

  • "Intelligent design in Colorado?" by Brian Newsome, (22 December 2005), The Gazette (Colorado Springs)

  • "Gavel to Gavel -- The Year in Review, Part III" by Andrew Cohen, (22 December 2005), CBS News (Channel 4, Denver)

  • "Debate over Intelligent Design Goes On After Court Ruling" by Francis Helguero, (22 December 2005), The Christian Post

  • "Debate over intelligent design theory" by Berny Morson, (21 December 2005), Rocky Mountain News

  • "Colo. groups split on ruling" by Virginia Culver, (21 December 2005), Denver Post

  • "Intelligent design ruling felt in Southern Colorado" by Sharon Brandman, (21 December 2005), KOAA-TV

  • "Religion vs. Evolution: A false dichotomy" by J. Brent Walker, (21 December 2005), Colorado Daily

  • "Not An Intelligent Design" (21 December 2005), Colorado Pols

  • "Judge Says Intelligent Design Has No Place in Public Schools" by Wendy Cloyd, (20 December 2005), Focus on the Family
  • Monday, December 19, 2005

    Introducing: Maintain Educational Standards in Colorado (MESIC)

    With the recent decision of the Kansas Board of Education to allow "intelligent design" to be taught in public schools, it can come as no surprise that fellow advocates in Colorado are preparing to press the issue here as well. For the record, the "intelligent design" movement is spearheaded by a tiny fringe element in the scientific community and a large number of primarily Christian fundamentalist lawyers, philosophers, and apologists.

    As a matter of clarification, it must be noted that most mainstream churches and religious institutions generally oppose the teaching of "intelligent design" in public schools. Further, even most of the nation's leading evangelical universities have moved away from the "intelligent design" notion because there is very little science, but a great deal of politics behind it. ["Intelligent Design May Be Meeting Its Maker" by Laurie Goodstein, (4 December 2005), New York Times] This is a movement by and for the nation's most extreme fundamentalists, despite the fact that many of its leading advocates (primarily philosophers and lawyers) attempt to portray it as a non-religious "scientific" notion to the public at large. It is vital to note that neither MESIC, nor the effort to prevent "intelligent design" from being introduced in Colorado's public schools is anti-religious or anti-Christian in any way; instead, it is an effort to secure all Colorado's children the sound education they need to succeed in the modern world.

    Now the "intelligent design" movement is coming to Colorado. However, the tactic is a bit different now that the movement is in the public spotlight. In Kansas, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere the advocates for this notion were able to gain the traction they did because it was largely "below the radar" and the opposition - those supporting sound educational standards - found themselves fighting an improvised defense against this ideological assault on their children. With leading conservative politicians weighing in on the issue and the decision in Kansas, it is no longer possible to quietly submit the "intelligent design" notion to a school board without garnering significant attention. Therefore, we have to appreciate the subtlety of the tactic developed by Colorado State Representative Debbie Stafford (R-Aurora).

    Rep. Stafford, an ordained minister, has opted to take the "intelligent design" notion to the General Assembly in the guise of a "Teacher Protection Act". Specifically, the Act, as described by Rep. Stafford, will protect teachers from sanction or censure should they choose to use the classroom to teach whatever alternative theories they happen prefer. To quote: "I support giving teachers protection so that they can bring academic information to students at all levels. ... Including other theories, that's (intelligent design) certainly one alternative theory, but it's certainly not the only alternative theory." ["State Rep.: Protect Teaching Of Intelligent Design" by Arturo Santiago, (10 November 2005), CBS News (4 Denver)]

    This strategy affords the "intelligent design" movement two immediate advantages when the issue of teaching "intelligent design" follows. First, it permits the advocates of "intelligent design" to argue their position before School Board or Department of Education from a position of existing Colorado law in its favor. Secondly, it will embolden that tiny minority of the state's teachers who wish to indoctrinate their students to step forward and publicly defend the notion. It is, all said, a fairly clever strategy.

    For the record, Representative Terrance Carroll (D-Denver), also an ordained minister, has already spoken out against the introduction of "intelligent design" in our public schools: "When you try to cloak an attempt to impose some sort of religious orthodoxy in the language of science, it becomes misleading and it becomes problematic, ... This is an effort to undermine science as we know it." [ "Colorado evolution curriculum could be evolving" by Adam Schrager, (15 August 2005), KUSA-TV (9 News)]

    Maintain Educational Standards In Colorado (MESIC), is a grass-roots effort to mobilize popular opposition to the notion of introducing the "intelligent design" notion in Colorado public schools. In that the legislature is not currently in session and we have been unable to locate a draft copy of Rep. Stafford's proposed bill, at this stage we have devised Phase I of our defense of educational standards.

    Phase I consists of:

  • The Petition, giving a simple and basic statement asking to maintain our current educational standards and separation between the liberal arts (including "intelligent design") and the sciences. Later, the petition will be presented to the General Assembly and other relevant bodies being utilized by the "intelligent design" advocates.

  • The Organizational Endorsements feature allows Colorado organizations to endorse the same statement as the petition.

  • The MESIC Blog -, which will closely monitor and report on efforts to lower our educational standards and may serve as a useful networking and/or organizational tool for the opposition once the controversy is underway.

  • At present, our emphasis is on getting the petition circulated and on mobilizing those members of the community that wish to maintain Colorado's educational standards. We are also looking for early volunteers for Phase II. Once Rep. Stafford introduces her proposed legislation, we will move to Phase II, which provisionally includes:

  • Meeting with and encouraging other state Representatives and Senators to oppose the measure.

  • Working with academics and teacher's organizations on ways and means of registering protest of Rep. Stafford's measure.

  • Locating and encouraging local experts in the sciences to testify and/or submit statements to the legislature in support of maintaining sound scientific standards in our schools.

  • Organizing a grass-roots media campaign - press releases, editorials, public meetings, &c. - to stop the imposition of "intelligent design" on our schools.

  • We are more than open to alternative or additional suggestions and recommendations at this stage. We are also looking for volunteers before we reach Phase II. Feel free to CONTACT US if you would like to get involved. Let's unite to defend our children's right to a sound education.