Over the weekend a number of us at Discovery Institute received a nasty, taunting email. It was from a high school biology teacher on the East Coast — I was subsequently able to verify his self-identification. I wrote to the man to ask for permission to publish his letter, but he refused. Though I know from experience that many on the Darwin side of the evolution debate would not extend the same courtesy to us, without his permission I can’t now justify revealing his name and the name of the high school where he teaches, though I know both.
That’s frustrating because the letter was quite revealing, and I don’t doubt that many parents and other citizens in his school district would like to know about this teacher’s classroom strategy. After all, they pay his salary — not that he seems much aware of that fact. Nevertheless, respecting the privacy of his communication, I will withhold identifying information and merely paraphrase what he said.
In a nutshell, as he proudly informed us, he uses his classroom, including assignments from New Atheist writers Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne, to target the argument for intelligent design. Admittedly, how much he understands about "intelligent design" is unclear. In typical Darwinist style, the email confused ID with creationism, alluding to Discovery Institute’s being proprietor of a museum and amusement park. Huh? That momentarily bewildered me, until I realized he was thinking of an actual creationist organization that, unlike Discovery Institute, indeed has a creation museum and plans to build a theme park including a reconstructed Noah’s Ark.
So the bravado of his email — subsequently cancelled by the chickening out of this public servant from owning up to his words here — is matched by his ignorance of what proponents of intelligent design actually say and do. Besides brandishing the awesome effectiveness of the Darwinian mutation/selection mechanism, he went on to refer to the question of the age of the earth — though of course ID does not contest the standard dating of the Big Bang, of the formation of our planet, or of the origin of life.
It’s foolish enough to say ID is just creationism in disguise. This man, who says he teaches against ID in his public school classroom, as evident from his own account does not understand the simple distinction between ID and young earth creationism.
It gets worse. He was careful to say that his strategy is not to turn his students into atheists — but he also wrote that he counts it as a victory when, as a result of his teaching, they do in fact give up religious ideas, which he characterized contemptuously. The kids enter with one set of beliefs, he said, and many leave with a different set.
We can assume the man is exaggerating his own effectiveness. He writes like a pompous ass. But even he admits it would be hopeless to think, if he wished to do so, that he had it in his power to undo a lifetime of parents’ seeking to inculcate faith in their children.
So what do we have here? A teacher in a public school who uses the fact of his having a captive audience of young people to try to undermine religious beliefs, while indirectly advancing his own credo.
I’m not a lawyer so I’ll leave to others the question of just how certainly this is a violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition of using public institutions to promote a religious faith — in this case, atheism. It’s certainly a violation of the trust that tax-paying parents place in this teacher not to abuse his power over their children, and the trust his employer, the high school, places in him.
It’s a shame he doesn’t have the courage of his convictions. I would love to discuss his pedagogy with him in a public forum.