Mike Kueber's Blog

June 24, 2011

Creationism and intelligent design

While driving back from North Dakota, I continually switched from listening to talk radio and CDs of the book American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips.  As I previously blogged, the former warned that cultural liberals were causing America to become a secular state while the latter cautioned that the Religious Right was producing scientifically backward country.  As an example of backward science, Phillips referred to intelligent design, which he said was a Christian attempt to provide a scientific alternative to those who refused to accept the science of evolution.

Coincidentally, shortly after hearing from Phillips on this topic, I heard talk-show host Sean Hannity being challenged by a listener who wondered how someone as intelligent as Sean could believe in God.  Sean responded by giving a heartfelt explanation that relied heavily on the concept of intelligent design – i.e., certain features of the universe and living things, such as irreducible complexity and specified complexity, are best explained by an intelligent cause, not by an undirected process such as natural selection.

The listener didn’t accept this explanation, but before he could put forward follow-up questions, Sean disconnected the call.  My follow-up question would have been how Sean’s explanation supports his view that Christianity is the only true religion.

Upon returning to San Antonio, I decided to research the issue of intelligent design to determine if the positions of Kevin Phillips and Sean Hannity are in conflict, and I concluded that they are not.

The term “intelligent design” has been used since 1847, but the concept came to the forefront in 1987 when the US Supreme Court held in Edwards v. Aguillard that a state couldn’t require the teaching of “creation science” as an alternative to evolution science.  The Court came to
this holding after reviewing supportive amicus briefs from 72 Nobel prize-winning scientists, 17 state academies of science, and 7 other scientific
organizations that described creation science as essentially consisting of religious tenets.  Therefore, requiring that creation science be taught as an alternative to evolution was a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

In response to the Aguillard decision, Christian groups decided to push the “science” of intelligent design, but in 2007 in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District a federal district court held that requiring the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution was infirmed
for the same reason creation science was – i.e., it violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Based on these legal decisions, it appears that Kevin is correct in declaring that intelligent design is not science, but rather is a thinly-veiled effort of Christians to challenge the science of evolution.  But evolution is not inconsistent with Sean’s belief in intelligent design.  Teaching of the belief, however, should be reserved for religious instruction, not public schools.

February 24, 2011

Citizens United – the Supreme Court decision

In a recent blog entry about the anti-union movement in Wisconsin, I made a glib comment about the merits of a Supreme Court decision – Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 130 S.Ct. 876 (2010) – that I hadn’t read.  Fortunately, an anonymous reader called me to task for that glibness, and as penance I decided to read the decision. 

Citizens United (Citizens) is a non-profit corporation with an annual budget of $12 million.  Although most of its money comes from individuals, a small portion of it comes from for-profit corporations.  In January 2008, Citizens released an anti-Clinton movie titled Hillary: The Movie.  Because of Citizens’ concerns that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) prohibited it from marketing the movie (and paying cable companies to make it available to free), Citizens sued the FEC to have the BCRA declared a violation of its constitutional right to free speech.

The BCRA, which was enacted in 2002, is also known as the McCain-Feingold law.  Among other things, it prohibited corporations and unions from making expenditures for speech defined as “electioneering communication” – “any broadcast, cable, or satellite communication… that refers to a clearly identified candidate for Federal office,” and is made within 30 days of a primary or election.  This limitation on electioneering communications was upheld in a 2003 Supreme Court decision (McConnell v. FEC) that relied on a 1990 Supreme Court decision, Austin v. Michigan Chamber of CommerceAustin had held that political speech may be banned based on the speaker’s corporate identity. In 2010 Citizens asked the Court to reconsider the Austin decision, and it did, with five justices ultimately agreeing to reverse the decision.  “The government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress the speech altogether.” 

My glib comment in an earlier blog was:

  • When I campaigned for Congress, I was asked about Citizens United and I indicated that I supported it.  It makes perfect sense that political speech by rich people should be constitutionally protected, so why make a distinction for corporations?  As George Will suggested decades ago – don’t limit the speech, just require full disclosure of who is paying for the speech.  Then let the voters decide.  I realize that many think my view is impractical and Pollyannaish – that American voters aren’t capable of avoiding manipulation by slick marketing – but I believe we can rise to the occasion.

Despite the glibness of the comment, it does contain two important concepts:

  1. Why make a distinction for corporations?  According to the Citizens decision, there is no good reason to make a distinction – “Corporations and other associations, like individuals, contribute to the discussion, debate, and the dissemination of information and ideas that the First Amendment seeks to foster. [We] rejected the argument that political speech of corporations or other associations should be treated differently under the First Amendment simply because such associations are not natural persons.
  2. American voters will be duped by slick corporate ads.  The 1990 Austin decision was based on the government’s interest in preventing “the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth that are accumulated with the help of the corporate form and that have little or no correlation to the public’s support for the corporation’s political ideas.”  In the 2010 Citizens decision, the Supreme Court rejected that basis and declared – “The right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak, and to use information to reach consensus is a precondition to enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it…. When Government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought.  This is unlawful.  The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”

The majority decision for Citizens was written by Justice Kennedy and joined by Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts.  The dissent, which was written by Stevens and joined by Sotomayor, Breyer, and Ginsberg, warned that the majority decision, “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution.”  It concluded by noting:

  • At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

President Obama was so upset with the decision that he referred to it unfavorably in his weekly radio address (“this ruling strikes at our democracy itself” and “I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest.”) and in his State of the Union address (“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.”)

Well, I think our democracy and our Democrats will survive the involvement of corporations and unions in elections.  As I said in my earlier blog entry, American voters will rise to the occasion.