Thursday, August 18, 2005

My favorite creationist argument
There used to be a Republican state senator from Moses Lake in Eastern Washington named Harold Hochstatter. For years he would introduce a creationism bill into each session of the legislature. For a while his favorite was the warning label for high-school science books that's now in use in much of the South. The bill he introduced was a boilerplate bill written by the Eagle Forum (the same one that has been used in Alabama since 1996). In 2002, Hochstatter apparently felt that conservativism was triumphant and it was no longer necessary to hide his true goals. A few days after introducing the "warning label" bill he introduced a second bill to completely outlaw the teaching of evolution in Washington state. That was his last creationism bill, he retired at the end of that session.

Hochstatter entered politics as an anti-abortion activist, and though he made the predictable attempts to get around Roe and abolish abortion in Washington, some of his most memorable legislative moments dealt with education, or perhaps I should say "education." He wanted Bible teaching and prayer to return to the schools, he thought teachers should be allowed to carry handguns in the classroom, and he thought evolution should be driven out of the schools.

I was reminded of old Harold by a post in Phayngula. PZ was doing his usual great job of demolishing creationist op-ed pieces. Today he gave us one Christopher Flickinger of Pittsburgh (or as he likes to call it, "The People's Republic of Pittsburgh: a cesspool of unionized liberalism"). Flickinger throws out a bunch of arguments that would embarrass an eight-grade debater including this goodie concerning the Declaration of Independence:
In the Declaration of Independence, our founders speak of "unalienable rights" by which (sic) we are endowed with (sic) by our Creator. If there is no Creator, then where do our rights come from? A piece of paper?

Which proves what? Most of us get past being impressed by these kinds of semantic arguments in Jr. High. They don't prove anything. Still, it made me think of SB 6500, Hochstatter's last and most ambitious anti-evolution bill.

With the "warning label" bills, Hochstatter was simply recycling the tactics tested and perfected by other and their lawyers. I believe SB 6500 was an argument original to Hochstatter. He based it on a little used law in Washington that bans teaching anything that contradicts the principles of the Declaration and Constitution. I can no longer find the full text of SB 6500, but the official summary read:
SB 6500 Finds that the teaching of the theory of evolution in the common schools of the state of Washington is repugnant to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and thereby unconstitutional and unlawful. Provides that all textbooks and curriculum that teach the theory of evolution shall be removed from the public schools forthwith and replaced with textbooks and curriculum that teach the self-evident truth of creation.

Hochstatter's killer argument, as he saw it, ran something like this: 1) the state constitution prohibits the teaching of anything that is against the Declaration of Independence, 2) the Declaration says "all men are created equal," 3) therefore the Declaration supports creationism, 4) evolution denies the existence of a creator or a special creation, 5) therefore evolution contradicts the Declaration, and 6) should be against the law. Oh yeah, 7) the teaching of creationism should be required in all Washington schools. Although SB 6500 was well co-sponsored by other Senate Republicans and a companion House bill was introduced, it never made it out of committee and died a well-deserved death at the end of the session.

I've never seen this argument used elsewhere, which is too bad. It's certainly a lot more fun than the same old misquotes of Stephen Jay Gould, babbling about thermodynamics, and misrepresentations of the nature of controversy in science.

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