Thursday, July 09, 2009

Cheek Responds: Rejects as "Quite Unsound" Earlier Creationist Writings

I wrote the creationist article
... more than a quarter of
a century ago. At that time
I had little formal background
in biology or theology.
Subsequent growth in my
own knowledge and experience
in many domains led me
to find my earlier work
quite unsound.
--Dennis W Cheek

In a routine background check of scholarly writings Tuesday, KSN&C unearthed an old creationist paper written by Dennis Cheek, who is presently a finalist for the Education Commissioner's post. The article raised concerns in the minds of many school folks that such views might not be consistent with the best interests of all Kentucky school children or the Constitution.

Board of education members had not been alerted to Cheek's writings by their search firm, Greenwood & Associates. But because of the board's decision to publicly announce four finalists and allow for a time of public vetting before announcing a final choice, they were able to learn of the concern and question Cheek during his 90-minute interview yesterday.

This morning the Herald-Leader reported,

...the first hint of an issue in the selection process surfaced Wednesday over a blog posting on Kentucky School News and Commentary concerning past writings by Cheek with an apparent creationist bent.

[Board Chair Joe] Brothers said that board members questioned Cheek about the matter during his interview and that Cheek assured them that he is "very comfortable with the evolution component."

Cheek told reporters outside the meeting that he had sent a reply to the blog.

When KSN&C did not find his response this morning, in the mailbox or on the blog itself, I alerted Cheek who resent an expanded response (See below). We assume there was a technical glitch on one end or the other that prevented the message from getting through.

Cheek told H-L,

he believes evolution, not creationism, should be taught in science classes. He said he also supports the 2005 federal court ruling that struck down the teaching of "intelligent design" in science classes in Pennsylvania's Dover Area School District.

"What should be taught in school is exactly what the judge in the Dover case said. He was quite clear ... and I concur 100 percent with the decision that was made," Cheek said.

Cheek said that while people of various religious beliefs can differ on evolution, "when it comes to what is taught in the science curriculum, evolution can be demonstrated and seen in many different dimensions of science."

The article that caused the stir was this one, from a 1981 Creation Research Society publication:


"After some consideration of the philosophical cautions which should be observed in any scientific discussion, the fossil evidence having to do with primates is reviewed. It is concluded that there is no real evidence to show either that the primates evolved from anything else, or that man evolved among them. The Scriptural view, that man and these other creatures were created separately, is fully as much in accord with the evidence, and is more credible on other grounds." (emphasis in original)

In an interview yesterday, Cheek told C-J he has since rejected those views.

Although he still accepts the "concept of creation" as a Christian, he said he recognizes that "we have plenty of evidence of evolution," and he does not believe that creationism or intelligent design should be taught in schools.

Further, he said, he doesn't believe in "young earth creationism," which holds that the earth is just thousands of years old. "My view is that we should never think about introducing material into a science class until the scientific community has embraced it," said Cheek...

A Courier-Journal editorial asked,

What are the implications of Dennis Cheek's background as a pastor and church-planter, his appearance on Stanford University Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship leader Glen Davis's list of "Pentecostal/Charismatic/Third Wave leaders" [along side John Ashcroft, Sarah Palin & James Watt] and his years with the controversial and polarizing John Templeton Foundation?
Brothers told C-J that no front runner had been identified, but the board was "very pleased with what it heard" and wanted more time to check into the candidates' backgrounds...

Cheek Responds

This from Dennis W. Cheek:

I wrote the creationist article in question and another in a similar vein more than a quarter of a century ago. At that time I had little formal background in biology or theology. Subsequent growth in my own knowledge and experience in many domains led me to find my earlier work quite unsound. As many leaders within the K-12 science education community know (e.g., Gerald Wheeler, former NSTA Executive Director and old-time members of the Council of State Science Supervisors), I do not find the views labeled young earth creationism, old earth creationism, and Intelligent Design (e.g., Phil Johnson, Michael Behe, William Dembski) at this point compelling theologically or scientifically. I sometimes speak on this topic at religious colleges and universities.

I concur fully with the very well-reasoned and well-articulated opinion of the judge in the Dover case in PA that these positions have not led to anything yet that qualifies as science. Deciding precisely what is or is not science is admittedly a bit hard to pin down fully since the demarcation arguments regarding science are still quite robust among professional philosophers of science. The judge found that the ID views are fundamentally religious (I would also add metaphysical) in nature and do not belong in the science classroom as part of the formal scientific curriculum. At a minimum it also would make sense to require that such views would have to become widely taught at the collegiate level first for those aspiring to BE scientists and widely expressed throughout the scientific literature before they were taught as part of the formal science curriculum. In this sense, K-12 schools should always trail the academic conversations about what “counts” as human knowledge worth all students knowing rather than leading the way. If we use “cold fusion” as but one small example, cold fusion should not have been taught in K-12 schools within the physics
curriculum as “fact” simply because a set of peer-reviewed articles advanced it. Subsequent work failed to replicate the findings and the scientific community was able to say with certainty that no such achievement occurred – at least not yet. Within the science classroom teachers need to treat with respect students whose metaphysical views lead them to strongly react against certain aspects of modern science while at the same time requiring students to demonstrate that they have good understanding of essential scientific concepts and contemporary understandings including evolution. The Project 2061 Benchmarks for Science Literacy, a project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) with which I have been associated for a long time as an advisor, speaks to these issues in several of its benchmarks. I funded while VP at the Kauffman Foundation a large project for the National School Boards Association and the AAAS to prepare training materials for school boards across the nation dealing with how to handle controversial issues in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education (e.g., evolution, dissection, global climate change, use of calculators). These materials are starting to roll out through state-level school board associations and several national and statewide training sessions have occurred. Information on this project and resources can be found on the NSBA website. I have also been an informal advisor for several years to the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DOSER).

Working at the John Templeton Foundation as a Vice President for two years afforded wonderful opportunities to discuss both science and religion/theology with many of the world’s leading scientists (including quite a few Nobel Prize winners) as well as theologians. The voluminous literature in this field at this point in time finds several encyclopedias now in print on science and religion that summarize the work to date. The long history of these interactions suggest that White’s famous 19th century “warfare” metaphor between science and religion is not a proper historical view (e.g., works by John Hedley Brooke, David Lindberg, Ronald Numbers). Both celebrity atheists and celebrity young earth creationists and others have played on this warfare approach for some time, invoking science as “proof” that their metaphysical views are correct (e.g., Karl Giberson, Mariano Artigas, Oracles of Science, Oxford, 2007 which I reviewed in Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith). This of course is a logical fallacy and an individual person does try to integrate their knowledge and beliefs in a consistent manner we should never miss the fact that much of what we believe cannot be empirically verified by the methods of science now or ever. The Sloan Foundation’s project, “The Known, the Knowable, and the Unknowable” does a good job taking up the limits of science – now or ever – as did the much earlier Encyclopedia of Ignorance, Plenum Press, 1977. I summarized my personal take on the state of the field in science and religion while at the Templeton Foundation in a posting you can find on the Metanexus website that was in response to a request following a presentation I gave at one of their international meetings. My own views at this point on the subject of creation and evolution would be quite similar to those of well-known figures in science and religion dialogue such as Sir John Polkinghorne, Francis Collins, Simon Conway-Morris, and Denis Alexander – all of whom are persons known to me. John and I are both members of the Society of Ordained Scientists whose title of the society speaks for itself. Since I am Wesleyan in my theology, I find the essays in the recently published Divine Grace and Emerging Creation: Wesleyan Forays in Science and Theology of Creation, Ed. Thomas Jay Oord, 2009, also quite illuminating.

From "Interdisciplinary Dialogue and Issues in Science and Religion"
By Dennis W. Cheek at Metanexus

There is a growing recognition that students in public and private schools can and should be exposed to science and religion dialogue, including the history of this engagement and implications of modern science (and technology) for religious thought...

Dialogue between religion and specific sciences and subdisciplines within those sciences also need to be expanded. To date there has been extremely limited dialogue between say, chemistry and religion or mathematics and religion as compared to certain aspects of physics. Experimental physics has been virtually ignored while quantum physics has been extensively explored by comparison. (These examples can be multiplied many times over.) ...

So there you have it. Asked and answered. Written and rejected.

What I can't figure is - why didn't Cheek inoculate himself against the sizable vulnerability represented by creationism? Did he bet it wouldn't be discovered? Did it not come up in Missouri where he was also a finalist for their top post?

He is obviously an intelligent and very well studied individual; a complex guy, as one KSN&C commenter said.

A tech-savvy guy who understands the power of the Internet; knowing that he was "on the record;" and on such a hot-button issue - why didn't he alert the board during his first interview?

Why didn't he say to the board, 'Look, you're going to find something on my record, that I need to talk about. ...and then explain?

In retrospect, wouldn't something like that have been a better approach?

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