left biblioblography: Slaughtering The Dissonance – Part Four

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Slaughtering The Dissonance – Part Four

Another one of the examples that are supposed to illustrate why you should buy the book titled ‘Slaughter Of The Dissidents’ is the case of one Dean Kenyon:

Dean H. Kenyon is Professor Emeritus of Biology at San Francisco State University and well-known creationist and intelligent design proponent. He is also the author of Of Pandas and People, a controversial book on intelligent design.

Wait – I thought this guy’s career had been ruined? Hmmmm….

Kenyon received a BSc in physics from the University of Chicago in 1961 and a Ph.D. in biophysics from Stanford University in 1965. In 1965-1966 he was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Chemical Biodynamics at the University of California, Berkeley, a Research Associate at Ames Research Center. In 1966, he became Assistant Professor of Biology at San Francisco State University. He has been Emeritus at San Francisco State University since 2000.

And yes, he still works there.

Kenyon's views changed around 1976 after exposure to the work of young-earth creationists. In his own words,

"Then in 1976, a student gave me a book by A.E. Wilder-Smith, The Creation of Life: A Cybernetic Approach to Evolution. Many pages of that book deal with arguments against Biochemical Predestination, and I found myself hard-pressed to come up with a counter-rebuttal. Eventually, several other books and articles by neo-creationists came to my attention. I read some of Henry Morris' books, in particular, The Genesis Flood. I'm not a geologist, and I don't agree with everything in that book, but what stood out was that here was a scientific statement giving a very different view of earth history. Though the book doesn't deal with the subject of the origin of life per se, it had the effect of suggesting that it is possible to have a rational alternative explanation of the past."

General consensus is that young earthers are crazy as shithouse rats, so anyone that easily swayed by that craziness isn’t someone I have too much confidence, multiple degrees notwithstanding. This is why an appeal to authority is a logical fallacy.

In 1980, the San Francisco State University Department of Biology had a dispute over Kenyon's presentation of creationism, then called "scientific creationism" in Biology module 337 Evolution. At that time, Kenyon challenged anyone on the faculty to a debate on the merits of evolutionary theory versus "scientific creationism."

There’s multiple reasons why a debate like this is not a good thing. The rational explanations for the creationist caveats take far too long for the average audience, it could very well be that some of the faculty were afraid of him, or didn’t want to kick up any dust (in the interests of academic tranquility), etc.

According to SFSU biology professor John Hafernik, "There was much discussion in faculty meetings as well. Eventually the faculty voted (none opposed, seven abstentions) not to alter the description of Biology 337 to include creationism. The precedent set, in the context of the 1980 discussions, was that the Department did not support teaching creationism."

So it was handled rationally and accordingly. Now, here’s where it gets interesting:

In 1981, Kenyon was recruited to be an expert witness for the creationist side in the McLean vs. Arkansas case that tested the constitutionality of Arkansas' Equal Time Legislation that mandated equal time for "creation science" and "evolution science." Kenyon flew to Arkansas to be deposed and testify during the trial. However, apparently under the influence of creationist attorney Wendell Bird (who was displeased with the defense of the creationist position by the Arkansas attorney general Steve Clark), Kenyon left town just before he was to testify:

"The attorney general presented six science witnesses, two more than had testified for the ACLU, presumably on the grounds that quantity made up for evident lack of quality. There would have been more had not a serious case of disappearing witnesses set in as the second week wore on. Dean Kenyon, a biologist from San Francisco State University, fled town after watching the demolition of four of the state's witnesses on day 1 of the second week. And Henry Voss, a computer scientist from California, was rapidly withdrawn at the last minute when, in pretrial deposition, he too began to expound on things satanic and demonical."

Waitaminnit - ‘he too’? Apparently Dean had the good sense to see what a clusterfuck it was becoming, and decided not to get lumped in with the crazies. So he’s not completely daft after all.

The Arkansas attorney general apparently threatened to sue Bird after this interference:

There were other witnesses for the defense who did not show up. Several scientists who had been listed as potential witnesses for the state, backed out because of what Clark termed "peer pressure."

I think that can be translated loosely as ‘stop acting like nutters on the stand, stick to the point’.

Another state witness, Dr. Dean Kenyon, a biophysicist at San Francisco State University, mysteriously disappeared on the eve of his day in court. He had flown into Little Rock on a Sunday evening, but when one of Clark's assistants went to take his deposition he could not find him. Kenyon had checked out of the hotel and flown back home. Bird had encouraged Kenyon not to testify, although Kenyon taught evolution theory for 16 years until three years ago when he became a creationist. Bird, who is general counsel to ICR, said he attempted to get other defense witnesses not to testify after he perceived the trial as botched by Clark.
Bird said he was not trying to sabotage Clark's effort. He said he merely had told several witnesses for the state that "I don't think you should jeopardize your reputation with the way [the trial] is being handled." Clark stated he was considering legal action against Bird, whose actions, he said, were "tantamount to tampering with justice."

Wow, what an eye-roller. Not content with having the house of cards collapse on them, Bird and Kenyon tried to build another one:

Following the McLean ruling, which declared the teaching of "creation science" in public schools to be an unconstitutional establishment of religion, Louisiana's version of the "Equal Time" legislation was put to the test. This time, Wendell Bird was deputized by the state and ran the state's defense of the law. Dean Kenyon was advertised as the creationists' lead expert witness, however the case (which eventually became Edwards v. Aguillard when it reached the Supreme Court) was decided by summary judgment, and so never went to a full trial. Nevertheless, in written briefs and in his oral arguments, Bird relied heavily on an expert witness affidavit written by Kenyon. This affidavit is online at the TalkOrigins website. It was entered into evidence in the Kitzmiller case as evidence that Kenyon was explicitly defending "creation science"—and advocating that it be given equal time in public schools and textbooks as the "only" alternative to evolution—while at the same time working on a public school textbook, which eventually became the first "intelligent design" book, Of Pandas and People.

And the fun begins:

In 1987 in Edwards v. Aguillard the Supreme Court heard a case concerning a Louisiana Law that required "creation science" be taught on an equal basis with evolution in public schools. Anti-creationists argued that this was illegal on the basis that it violated the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution. Kenyon issued an affidavit in that case, stating his support for creationism, and defining it thus:

Creation-science means origin through abrupt appearance in complex form, and includes biological creation, biochemical creation (or chemical creation), and cosmic creation. (...) Creation-science does not include as essential parts the concepts of catastrophism, a world-wide flood, a recent inception of the earth or life, from nothingness (ex nihilo), the concept of kinds, or any concepts from Genesis or other religious texts.

The Supreme Court did find that the law violated the establishment clause and the teaching of creationism in America's public schools was henceforth declared illegal. However, it also noted that

Teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction.

Around the same time, Kenyon was co-authoring with Percival Davis a creationist school textbook entitled Of Pandas and People. After the Edwards decision, all references to "creationism" were replaced with "intelligent design", with a reference to "creationists" being replaced by "design proponents", and in one case by "cdesign proponentsists". This is seen within the history of creationism as the origin of the term intelligent design and the "missing link" between creationism and intelligent design.

So there you have it – it was re-branding, re-framing, call it what you will.

In October 1992, Kenyon was told by the chair of the SFSU Biology Department to stop teaching creationism in introductory biology courses. This led to talks with what became the Discovery Institute, including Stephen C. Meyer, Phillip E. Johnson, William Dembski, and Michael Behe. Kenyon was eventually reinstated to teach, and he claimed his colleagues' objections rest on a positivist view of what constitutes legitimate science.

Kenyon co-authored a paper, "The RNA World: A Critique," which appears in the Winter 1996 issue of Origins and Design, a now defunct creationist journal where he was on the Editorial Advisory Board.

At one time, Kenyon was listed as an author of the forthcoming textbook The Design of Life, a retitled edition of Of Pandas and People. Kenyon is a Fellow of the Discovery Institute, the driving force behind the intelligent design movement.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, meine Damen und Herren – there was no ‘slaughter’, metaphorical or otherwise. More of a paper cut, really. Kenyon isn’t sleeping in a cardboard box or begging on a street corner, or even banned from teaching. So, there’s another one down. In fact, it’s getting less likely as I go along that I’d buy the book. File this one under YALTCT (Yet Another Lie The Christians Tell).

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Kevin said...

You included a lot of good research here. Unfortunately, you also leave out a considerable amount of the rest of the story, you know, the heated encounters Kenyon had with his colleagues and others who were hell-bent on making sure he never again was allowed to challenge his students to think outside the box of evolution-only ideas and that darn old dogma about evolution as that pure-as-the-driven-snow solid scientific fact. Or that he was ORDERED to talk about 'ONLY the dominant scientific view' (ie, the consensus view), and that he was further forbidden to discuss the negative results of any SCIENTIFIC research which called many evolutionary presuppositions into question.

Nor did you include any remarks about how his scientific views were labeled "religious" when they clearly were not. Or that he was reassigned to teach other courses because of his views. If memory serves me correctly, his office was also moved to a distant location in a far-off campus location - though don't hold me to that one.

The man demonstrated that he is unequivocally a competent scientist, and religious views did not render him unable to conduct his classroom duties or conduct scientific research. After all, his earlier work established that he was among the best and brightest in his field. But of course guys like you prefer not to bring up that sort of thing, right? That would be just a little too...what, awkward? That would be too much to expect - yeah - to give the guy credit for the good stuff he did wouldn't make for a very interesting story, would it? Of course, his work was ALL good until he started asking questions, and then all hell broke loose, and suddenly, everything the man did became suspect.

You also failed to point out that a respected 3rd party investigated Kenyon and found that his academic freedom had been abridged, and that his teaching approach was sound.

Your review of the story is good as far as it goes, but it's not anywhere near complete. You seem to think that everything you managed to dig up tells the whole story. But >whack< upside my head... of course! I should have expected nothing less! After all, that's what you evolution folks do best! You just tell the part of the story that aligns with what is consistent with your views, and ignore or trash the more challenging stuff as irrelevant! Case closed! Nice and tidy, right?

I am SO impressed with how well you do this...you are a true artist of your craft.

So, the Kenyon case is NOT another instance of what you so smugly and confidently claim to be YALTCT. You're like someone who says Jesse James only robbed one train and didn't deserve his reputation as one of the biggest outlaws of the Wild West.

Really good reporters take a look at EVERYTHING, not just what is convenient for their perspective.

Again, READ THE BOOK to get a more comprehensive view on the rest of the story. And even then, we don't tell the whole story in SOD...we just got the ball rolling.

Kevin said...

By the way, speaking of Wendell Bird, readers might want to check out a 2 Volume work he wrote titled "The Origin of Species Revisited" poublished by Philosophical Library, NY in 1987, '88, and '89.

It's an exhaustive review of the scientific issues and evidemce surrounding Darwinism.

Krystalline Apostate said...

Kevin - as usual, your snark falls flat.
Solid facts remain - his life/career WASN'T ruined (that's the lie I refer to), evolution is the reality regardless of the stand he took, & teachers don't get to do anything they damn well please in class (otherwise there'd be academic anarchy), & science ISN'T a democracy.
PS: you're going to have to provide some links for your claims, because I trust creationists as far as I can sling a piano.