Monday, July 29, 2013

#647: Paul Ellwanger

It’s thirty years since Paul Ellwanger achieved fame and we have barely heard from him since the eighties. I really have no idea if he is still kicking around, but no evidence of his demise either. So we’ll assume that he’s still qualified for inclusion. Ellwanger was the guy who drafted the creationist “balanced treatment” bills that became law in Arkansas and Louisiana, and which were eventually declared unconstitutional in the celebrated MacLean vs. Arkansas Board of Education (thorough documentation related to the case can be found here) and in Edwards vs. Aguillard. It is a little remarkable how this local crazy, leader of the groupe Citizens for Fairness in Education, was able to have his rants passed as law, but he did, and the world is thirty years on an altogether better place for it (because, of course, of the subsequent court cases). His policy suggestions from 1988, updated in the face of the rather severe drawbacks of being judged unconstitutional, are discussed here. Less famously, Ellwanger is/was also a geocentrist and actually attempted to have “equal time” bills for geocentrism passed as well.

Whatever the case may be with Ellwanger, at least Wendell Bird, the guy who officially pushed the Arkansas creationist bill, is still on the loose. In 2005 Bird filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of an association of Christian schools against the University of California system accusing them of discrimination because they wouldn’t recognize the validity of some courses at Christian secondary schools that use creationist textbooks (these books, including a hardcore creationist Biology textbook by Thomas E. Porch & Brad R. Batdorf that states that “If the conclusions [of scientific research] contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them”). They lost that one (also here).

Diagnosis: As opposed to the vast majority of loons in our Encyclopedia Ellwanger’s contributions are actually among the most significant demonstrably positive contributions to the side of reason in the US the last decades. Unintentionally so, of course, but Ellwanger was to a large extent responsible for both Edwards v. Aguillard, and for MacLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, two landmark victories for sanity. 

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