(This is a “bonus” part of the Florida’s Greatest Menace series. For an introduction to the series, go here.)
When antievolution fever strikes a community, I’m curious about how the controversy affects the students. While the adults are debating, yelling, preaching and seizing the media spotlight, what are the kids thinking about this circus whirling around them? We got a glimpse of one such teen in part six of this series. Lawrence Linick, a Plant Senior High School student, actually attended a Hillsborough County school board meeting in 1979 and spoke in support of evolution education. He then became a target for other speakers at that meeting. That must have taken some courage.
As I conduct my research for these articles I like to run names of those I’m writing about through good ol’ Google to see if I can learn anything more about these folks. When the search results for Lawrence Linick popped up they were fascinating. A 2005 press release from Northrop Grumman said that Linick was a program manager for the Deep Impact mission that allowed NASA to probe beneath the surface of a comet. How cool is that?
I reached out to Linick to confirm that he was in fact that lone teenager who spoke up for evolution 30 years ago. Yup, that’s him! He was kind enough to answer some questions about the past and present and allow me to publish them here. Enjoy!
Q1: Can you set the stage a little bit concerning the atmosphere in the county at that time? The newspaper articles make it seem like this was a big issue that attracted a lot of attention. Was it?
A1: The issue was really just beginning to heat up (again—as these things tend to go in cycles). So the atmosphere was intense. Many on the anti-evolution side were just starting to concoct new pseudo-scientific ideas like “creationism.” This may have been the very beginning of the affront, which used “science” against itself. Now we have seen it continue with things like “intelligent design,” and huge lists of prominent scientists signing petitions against evolution. The point missed with that idea is that science is not a petition—it doesn’t function by popularity poll.
Q2: How did you get involved in that 1979 school board meeting? It appears that you were the only student there, or at least the only one who spoke. Were any other students there?
A2: I was on the debate team at the time. As a teenager I always was a little attracted to stirring the pot and getting the adults annoyed, so this topic was an easy target for me. Actually, it was myself and Mike Barkin who attended the hearing, both of us from Plant High. Mike was my debate partner and really the more intelligent and skilled debater. He went on to become an attorney, etc. But he was not confident enough to get up and speak then, so I did it. We had also done a similar thing during the mock-congress portion of the debate season. We had proposed a “bill” to overturn obsolete sex laws—laws banning sodomy and bestiality, etc. We almost got thrown out of several events for that one. I argued against the bestiality law, stating that it was more unjust to murder an animal like a cow or a chicken than it was to sodomize it and yet we murder thousands of cows and chickens every day. It was a bit over the top. But we had fun with it anyway. Mike and I were always seeking opportunities to debate topical issues like this. The school board meeting came up and we went. I don’t think any other school kids were there. Some church-type groups were there though arguing against evolution.
Q3: What was the atmosphere of the meeting like (crowded, circus-like, lots of media, etc.)?
A3: It was crowded. There were lots of adults, and many reporters, too. I believe it was filmed. I recall that there was some kind of picture published of me speaking, so I am pretty certain that there were some newspaper reporters there. I think there were mainly these church groups—bunches of middle-aged men and women who were trying to get the evolution curriculum dumped. At first, they spoke. The board listened to them. It wasn’t circus-like at all. It was pretty sedate. I think they were hoping to keep it quiet and get their agenda passed. But then there was a call for other speakers in the audience. I may have been the first, or one of the first to speak out in favor of keeping the curriculum on evolution intact.
Q4: Were you nervous when it was your turn to speak? How did the school board members react to what you said?
A4: I was not nervous. I think the reaction was sort of startled. The board did not expect such a vigorous defense of evolution—especially from a student. After I spoke there was a change in the atmosphere. I think some of the people there representing the creationism agenda got very defensive. And then there were some others like me who began speaking out against them.
Q5: According to the board meeting minutes, at least two other speakers actually singled you out, such as: “A college professor claimed that Linick ‘was totally misinformed,’ and an attorney said that ‘the young man from Plant High School was a perfect example of what was happening because of the failure of the educational system to provide an alternative theory which clearly exists.’” What were you thinking when those things were said?
A5: Like I said, I was not adverse to controversy and criticism. I think I was feeling pretty good that I had gotten the attention of the creationism supporters.
Q6: It took a few more meetings for the board to officially direct for creationism to be included in the curriculum. Can you describe what the atmosphere in the county and in your school was like during this time? Did people talk about it? From what you remember, were folks in the county supportive of the school board or against them?
A6: I had moved on after that. I never experienced creationism in my high school. I was not aware that the board ever passed a measure to include it. I graduated in 1981. I went to college at UPenn in Philly, which is a bastion of liberal thought. During the 1980s, as you well know, neo-con thinking flourished and I guess that a lot of southern conservative communities were embracing this nonsense. I studied Electrical Engineering. I was involved in some other controversies in college too. But that will have to be a different story.
Q7: What was your career path? You were a program manager for the Deep Impact program at Northrop Grumman, correct? Tell me a little bit about how you got involved in that.
A7: I worked for Texas Instruments in Dallas for five years. While there I worked on advance target trackers and computer vision algorithms for weapons systems like the HARM and TOW missiles. After that I came to Litton (now Northrop Grumman) and worked on inertial navigation. I moved from being a software, technical person to managing programs with many engineers and other people reporting to me. I was the program manager for the inertial-reference-unit subsystem on Deep Impact. That was a tremendously rewarding achievement. The IRU was used to guide both the flyby and impact vehicles. They both worked flawlessly, and I consider it to be one of the greatest navigation achievements ever in terms of the precision and accuracy of it.
Q8: Finally, as you look back on that day in 1979, did it have any lasting impact on you? Are you familiar with the modern day efforts to undermine evolution education (“strengths and weaknesses”, “critical analysis”, “intelligent design”)? What do you think of them?
A8: Looking back I am saddened by how little progress we have made in terms of educating people. I think the Bush years, like the Reagan years were a step backward in terms of technology and education. Whenever we embraced dumbness and regressive thinking, people suffer. I am hopeful though that the pendulum has swung back in the direction of progress now.
This may surprise you too, but I do blame the culture of the scientific community for much of the problem. Science in its early days was far more self-aware, and far more open to advancement. During the 20th century that changed. The science community today is far more restrictive and closed. New ideas like Planck’s and Einstein’s wouldn’t stand a chance today. Science thinks it knows everything and has constructed a stone wall around itself. It has lost sight of what it is and how it developed in the first place.
I have been working actively with a group called WSM (wave-structure of matter). This is a group of forward thinking mathematicians, philosophers and physicists, who believe that we may have drastically misinterpreted much of modern science and cosmology. In a very weird way it almost exonerates the creationists, because it puts “devout” scientists in the same league. What I have found is that people “believe” scientific things—like the big bang, black holes, etc.—thing for which there is very little if any real scientific proof. This makes science their religion. And then they are no better or worse than religious zealots pushing their agenda.
I have advanced a theory, which transcends evolution and creationism. But it is far too complex and difficult to explain here. It begins with the premises that there is no matter, no time, no space and no energy. There is only one thing and it oscillates between the state of being and not being. But ordinary science cannot penetrate it—because science is by definition causal—that is it depends on a sequence of events occurring over time. In this alternative theory all events occur simultaneously. This new method of understanding can be subjected to the methods of digital signal processing and frequency domain analysis.
Of course the advocates of creationism, etc. are so far out of it that such a theory would strike them as heretical, except that it reaffirms the need for God in the universe. Science alone fails us in several key tests: “What was before the big bang?” “Where did all the matter and energy come from in the first place?” “What is outside of the universe?” In science these are unanswerable boundary questions. Science has obviously failed to explain life, intelligence, consciousness, etc. In fact, science fails to explain everything in terms of reasons. There is no explanation for the cause of gravity or any forces in science. They are assumed de facto. So, with all that said, the reasons for creationists, etc. are obvious. They are reacting to some real flaws in the only alternative: science. There is a sort of battle between religion and science and they are arguing over who is right—or more right—than the other when, in fact, both are wrong for different reasons. What is really needed eventually is a transcendent understanding that validates what is right about science and religion, but goes beyond them both to answer some questions and solve some problems that have not yet been solved.