The Problem Was the School Board

The Gazette’s recent article [“Intelligent Demise,” Mar/Apr] does an excellent job of chronicling the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision that struck down the inclusion of intelligent design (ID) in public school biology classes in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, and the involvement of two Penn graduates Eric Rothschild (prosecutor) and Michael Behe (defense witness). As a graduate of both Penn (2004) and of Dover Area High School (2000), I wanted to add some details and clarifications to the article that are often missed in the media.

The Dover School District is not a backward institution. I can say this because I am a product of that institution, and my current career involves providing fossil evidence for human evolution. I am a Ph.D. student in paleoanthropology at Stanford University, and my passion for science was initially fostered and encouraged by my teachers, advisors, and colleagues at Dover High School. The academic training and career preparation offered by the teachers and advisors at Dover were excellent, helping me to get accepted into Penn and pursue my career goal at Penn’s Department of Anthropology and Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. In fact, the teachers and administrators of the Dover School District were such pioneers in areas such as special education, vocational training, and business and college preparation, that certain families moved into the school district from better-funded urban and private schools to take advantage of Dover teachers’ experience and dedication.

If Dover was so progressive, then what was the problem? The problem, to put it plainly, was the school board. Dover is a rural/suburban area with little infrastructure to support industry or other large businesses; therefore, municipal revenue comes primarily from property taxes. The school board was made up of individuals who were elected by a population that was already burdened with high property taxes, and was itself made up of many large property owners from the area. The usual campaign platform was one of lower property taxes for all, which would mean cutting the school district’s budget. Board members elected on such platforms were at odds with the few members of the board who truly cared about education and had children of their own in the district, such as Barrie Callahan (mentioned in the Gazette article). These members and the progressive faculty and administration, however, could not stand up to the ignorance and oppression brought to bear on the board by the neoconservative lobbyist members described in “Intelligent Demise.”

Now that the case is over, ID has been defeated, and the entire school board has been replaced, the district is left holding a $2 million bill for legal fees, half of which will be taken from the already overstretched budget and the other $1 million taken directly from the taxpayers’ pockets.

It is ironic that school-board members who were elected on a platform of lowering taxes (especially for themselves) have ended up costing the taxpayers astronomically, yet made absolutely no contribution to the education of students of Dover Area School District. It is the students of Dover, not ID, who have lost the most in this battle between a few misguided, locally elected officials and an entire community.

Jason Lewis C’04 G’04 Stanford University


Who’s Blinded by Belief?

In the editor’s column, John Prendergast wrote that “The will to believe is a powerful thing, and it can be blinding—but not always.” I smiled when I read that. We who are well educated, or at least extensively educated, have been taught to believe that evolution is the only reasonable explanation for how we got here. We are emotionally invested in that belief because we all want to believe we are smart enough to know the truth when we hear it. Because that particular subject impacts on our moral, religious, and legal viewpoints, our will to believe it is strengthened. And there you have a recipe for a self-applied blindfold, particularly if you think like a lawyer.

The law says O.J. is both innocent and guilty of the same crime. The legal profession is OK with that. I don’t think like that, and I don’t want to learn to think like that.

When I was an engineering student at Penn, we were taught the law of entropy. It applies to physical systems with the same regularity as all the other laws of nature—gravity, conservation of mass, etc. It goes something like this: “The order within a system can never increase unless work is done on that system from the outside.” The word “order” means the level of complexity of organization. There has never been one observed violation of the law of entropy—not one, ever! That’s why it’s the law of entropy and not the theory of entropy.

I think we can all agree that life is more highly organized than the state the planet was in before life appeared. Therefore, if the theory of evolution is valid, the law of entropy is not. We can talk about irreducible complexity, gaps in fossil records, DNA, RNA, legal decisions, etc., but the scientific discussion is over unless we can reconcile evolution and the law of entropy. That forces an obvious and fascinating question: Who or what did the work on the system from the outside?

A final word about the blinding effect of the will to believe. I noticed one of the criticisms of those opposed to evolution was that they never provided scientific evidence for their alternative, they only tried to poke holes in the evolutionary theory. That is correct. Let’s talk about logic. If either A or B must be true, but they can’t both be true, then if you can prove A is false, you have also proven B is true. That truth is so obvious, it’s almost an insult to have to spell it out.

Bob Koons ChE’70 D’77 Plano, TX


Level the Playing Field

To suggest that arguments for intelligent design have been “demolished’ is ludicrous and ignores the growing cadre of Ph.D.s and scientists who are publicly voicing skepticism over Darwin’s theory of evolution. We need to first make this a level playing field. Over 500 university Ph.D.s/scientists (including 26 professors from across the Ivy League spectrum) are on record as stating they are “skeptical of claims of the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.”

Darwin’s theory of evolution, however goes beyond micro-evolution to propose that all life forms must have evolved from a single organism, and that their development and complexity is due solely to random and unguided genetic variation coupled with the natural selection of those variations (that is, macro-evolution).

Let’s investigate a gaping hole in Darwin’s macro-evolutionary theory. One need look no further than the Cambrian Explosion. Paleontologists call this the “Biological Big Bang” of the fossil record, as it witnessed the sudden emergence of most of the major animal phyla that are alive today. These new life forms came into existence in a “cosmic split-second” and, contrary to Darwin’s theory, there is an embarrassing lack of fossil evidence of pre-Cambrian transitional life forms. Certainly there is no credible fossil history of gradual divergence or new species development, an absolute prerequisite that Darwin himself established for his theory to be valid. In his Origin of Species Darwin laid down his own marker, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organism existed which could not have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”

Is not the sudden appearance of a multitude of new life forms more consistent with an intelligent design explanation than a theory that relies solely on incremental random adaptation? One could conclude—with conviction—that, since no convincing fossil record of transitional life forms have been found, none exists. But that would be an acute embarrassment for those trumpeting Darwinism as the one and only theory of life-form development.

Donald L. Jordan W’64 Pittsburgh


A Win for Evolution Maybe, But Not Science

Eric Rothschild may have “Won One for Evolution” as the cover states, but it’s not clear that he won one for science. Do you think biology teachers might make the simple statement that there are complex organic structures whose evolution is not obviously consistent with the theories of natural selection and random mutation?

Albert McGlynn C’67 Philadelphia

God Designed the “Big Bang”

“Intelligent Demise” thoroughly covers the Dover school-board case. However, there are a few things that need to be clarified, especially in defense of Dr. Michael Behe.

First, intelligent design is not synonymous with creationism. The Intelligent Designer, also known as God, existed before and designed the Big Bang billions of years ago, giving rise to the universe. Creationism refers to the beautiful allegorical story of the six-day creation of the universe as written in Genesis.

Dr. Behe made the mistake of equating intelligent design with science. ID is faith, not science. Concerning faith, the human brain can never comprehend God. The designs of God can be analyzed and measured by scientists, but God will forever be an incomprehensible entity.

If the Intelligent Designer chose evolution as Its method of creation, so be it. As a crude analogy consider the evolution of the Ford over the past century. Starting with the Model T, engineers each year designed changes, some adopted, some discarded, culminating in the modern vehicle that will continue to evolve.

Dr. Behe put too much emphasis on bacterial flagella instead of describing the intricacies of the atom, DNA, the human brain, and the universe. Calling on the great thinker of our time, Dr. Albert Einstein, would have strengthened his position. It would have been beneficial to quote Dr. Einstein who, according to Lincoln Barnette in his The Universe and Dr. Einstein, said, “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.”

Jack E. Cole M’41 Bethlehem, PA


More Consideration, Please

It was with great disappointment that I read the March/April edition of The Pennsylvania Gazette and, in particular, the “Intelligent Demise” article lauding the accomplishments of Eric Rothschild L’93, in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial.

It was not so much the biased reporting of the merits of the “evolution v. intelligent design” debate which offended me. Rather, it was the smug, insulting, demeaning, and flippant approach of the writer, which appeared to be based on the premise that anyone who believed in intelligent design or even supported the right to teach same as a theory to be considered was a moral midget, with an IQ barely breaking into double figures. Certainly, no Penn grad (excluding, I guess, Professor Behe) could possibly be so ignorant as to believe in such a ridiculous concept, and fail to accept evolution as the gospel truth.

I am sure there are many other Penn grads much more intelligent than I who also question evolution and support intelligent design. On their behalves, and my own, I would appreciate your being a little more considerate of our beliefs and convictions.

Arthur H. Coleman W’60 Austin, TX


No Comparison

I find ridiculous Dennis Drabelle’s comparison of the Fox sisters’ sham to the case that dedicated, experienced and reputable scientists have made for the theory of intelligent design [“Feet and Faith,” Mar/Apr]. Although his exposé of modern spiritualism through the findings of the Seybert Commission was both informative and refreshing, his understanding of the relationship between those who question the validity of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and their personal faith is severely misinformed. Clearly the tricks of Maggie and Katy Fox did not hold up under the scrutiny of the Commission. Similarly, there are scientists today who question the legitimacy of Darwin’s theory. Good science does not require protectorates; it is upheld regardless of popular opinion or institutional tradition because of what it proclaims: Truth.

Charles Darwin himself writes, “the sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick” (The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, 1887, F. Darwin, Editor). What about a feather would make him sick, one wonders? Might it possibly have something to do with its remarkably exquisite and brilliantly intelligent design?

Ruth Brittain C’95 Philadelphia


Careful Words Can’t Conceal Poor Performance

March/April’s “Whence the Money,” on where Penn’s money comes from, and where it’s spent, discussed the endowment’s investment performance with carefully worded sentences, and pointed to the “controversial” managers at Harvard and Yale as if to imply that Penn’s poor performance was the price paid for probity. For the fiscal year 2004-05, of the 25 largest university endowments, Penn’s performance was 24th. In 2003-04, it was tied for 13th.

You point with pride to the “positive returns” in the fiscal years ending in June 2001 and June 2002, when “many” other endowments had negative returns, but in 2001-02, for example, Penn reported a 0.1 percent increase in its endowment, while Harvard had a 0.5 percent loss.

Hoorah for Penn’s positive return! I’m sure we could find some other periods of relative outperformance, a year here, a week there. On the other hand, in 2004-05 Yale earned 22.3 percent, and Harvard 19.2 percent to Penn’s 8.5 percent.

Penn’s endowment has in general done poorly for a long time, rather ironically given Penn’s much vaunted Wharton School. Maybe Penn needs a controversial manager of its own.

Jeffry Klugman C’69 M’73 Guilford, CT


Extra Credit Needed

While Professors Ivar Berg and Randall Collins deserve praise for telling the truth about the harmful effects of the overemphasis on higher education in this country, Noel Weyrich was remiss in overlooking the originator of this controversial thesis [“Failing Grades,” Mar/Apr].

In 1963, John Keats first expressed these concerns in The Sheepskin Psychosis. In a slim volume that was based on his notes gathered for a 6,000-word piece he wrote for Life magazine, Keats maintained that the idea of going to college had been wildly oversold to the public.

By failing to mention Keats in his piece, Weyrich conveys an incomplete picture. As a result, I have to give him at best a C.

Walt Gardner C’57 Los Angeles

Science? Skill? Art?

Bravo and roses to Professors Berg and Collins for daring to point out that the emperor is not wearing clothes, and a thorn to Dr. Stanley Goldfarb for his pompous declaration that the practice of medicine is “science.” As a Ph.D. chemist I find it strange that an activity that depends on vague, and often contradictory, factual inputs to determine a possible diagnosis and then proposes a poorly understood course of remediation would be designated “science.”

What physicians do is a skill, an art, but not science. If it was, we wouldn’t hear so many instances of wrong diagnosis and poor therapeutic results.

Werner Zimmt G’81 Tucson, AZ


Tired Rationalizations

Dr. Amina Wadud’s article, “One Faith, Many Fragments” [“Alumni Voices,” Mar/Apr], makes tired rationalizations for religion gone wrong. Her odd adherence to her faith, when many of its key tenets are anathema to her purported beliefs, is an insidious, twisted type of fanaticism. She fails to explain why she has chosen a religion that (apparently) provides so little incremental insight and enlightenment, when it, in effect, imprisons her gender. She makes excuses:

“As the modern nation-states emerged, the inheritors of the Islamic tradition were ill-prepared to manage this transformation, especially as still dominated by a matrix of Western philosophical, epistemological, political, and economic constructs.”

Ill prepared? Give me a break. Dominated by Western “constructs?” Please! Dr. Wadud’s string of academic-sounding adjectives cannot obfuscate the fact that virtually every ethnic and religious group has been enslaved, disenfranchised, and oppressed, and none of these groups have resorted to widespread, cowardly, just-plain-stupid suicide bombings.

Wadud continues her argument, submitting that women have had increasing involvement in modest leadership positions: “In fact, women have been leading mixed male-female congregations in prayer in discreet corners of the Muslim world since the 20th century.”

If these women are leading congregations, where is their unqualified condemnation of: (1) September 11; (2) suicide bombing; (3) oppression of females; and (4) the ridiculous widespread reaction to a few stupid cartoons in a Danish newspaper?

Wadud sounds like others who have embraced fundamentalist ideology—they each have a substantial weakness in their constitution—a vacuum that gets filled with stale, destructive concepts that promote blind adherence and discourage free thinking. The irony here is that while Dr. Wadud professes a will to initiate widespread change, she has selected a hopeless “construct.”

H. Jordan Foster C’86 WG’91 New York


Listen to Dad!

My attention span normally does not accommodate readings that are longer than two minutes (like magazine articles), but I was struck by the March/April “Notes from the Undergrad” written by the dad of a student [“Pocket Change”]. While my accomplishments during my four years at Penn pale in comparison to those of his son’s solely during his freshman year, the essay served to reinforce the diversity of our experiences and the diverse reasons we chose Penn in the first place. It also behooves us (students) to remember that most of our parents do learn to love Penn for the right (or sometimes wrong) reasons.

Pauline Park C’06 Philadelphia


We Can Write Our Own History

The particulars of some lives are of more interest than others to be sure. Regardless of the particulars, one comes away from reading well-written obituaries comfortable with the thought that even though those folks dealt with life’s problems, they were able to accomplish much.

Marilyn Johnson [“Expert Opinion,” Mar/Apr] notes that “Obituaries have a pull, a natural gravity, for those of us who have noticed that life has a way of ending” and I note that the obituaries serve as a daily reminder that we can write our own history with bolder strokes … starting now.

Cornelius D. Helfrich W’61 Bel Air, MD

©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 05/05/06

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