Eric Meikle's picture

Opposition to Evolution: Grand Island, Nebraska

Recently the online edition of the Grand Island Independent, a newspaper in Grand Island, Nebraska, carried a story with the prosaic headline "Northwest school board begins budget work." This came to my attention through the magic of the search engine because, amid many paragraphs about budgets, tax levies, school calendars, and other issues of interest to residents of the Grand Island Northwest Public Schools district, was this sentence: "In other business at the school board meeting Monday night, Northwest High School science teacher Dave Olson made a presentation asking that Northwest High School students ‘learn about both the scientific evidence for and against neo-Darwinian evolution.’"

Since I was reading this just the day after the school board meeting in question, I was curious to see what else the article might have to say about this event. Over the years at NCSE we have encountered phrases like "evidence for and against evolution" frequently, and they nearly always mark a superficial appeal to "fairness" while actually attacking evolution education and promoting the same creationist arguments which have been refuted years, and sometimes decades, ago.

Sure enough, deeper in the article are five paragraphs quoting Mr. Olson and his PowerPoint slides, which apparently cited well-known evolution attacker Jonathan Wells and which seem, although the article does not say so, to be derived from Wells's publication Icons of Evolution. I would suggest that any student, parent, school board member, or anyone else in the Northwest district interested in this topic take a look at the extremely detailed critique, written by Alan Gishlick and available on our site, of the many misleading, inaccurate, and simply false claims made in Icons of Evolution.

After seeing that the presentation to the school board included material from Jonathan Wells, I became interested in finding out more about whether there might be significant opposition to evolution education in the area. I discovered that Mr. Olson teaches chemistry at Northwest High School. In the same article I've been discussing he is also indirectly quoted in this paragraph:

Near the end of his presentation on evolution, Olson told board members that he is not proposing that Northwest High School students learn about any religious viewpoints such as creationism and he is not proposing that students learn about intelligent design. He also said he is not proposing that students stop learning the evidence for evolution. Instead, he said he wants students to learn the evidence both for and against neo-Darwinian evolution.

This is interesting because the online archives of the Independent contain a letter, apparently from the same Dave Olson, published in November, 2012. Here Mr. Olson asserts,

Today’s biology books and those of past [sic] proclaim the theory of evolution to be factual and the basis for the life forms we know. This is no longer true nor really has ever been true. Today there are more facts supporting Intelligent Design. The main problem with evolution is that there currently is no evidence to support it.

And at the end of this letter he suggests, "Parents should demand their student’s high school biology course give equal time to Intelligent Design as a viable theory for life’s beginnings."

I wonder if something happened between that letter and the school board meeting to change his mind?

Here at NCSE we are always ready to provide advice or assistance to supporters of evolution education who may encounter opposition, no matter the source. We've been doing this for years, and pretty successfully. Don't hesitate to get in touch with any questions or concerns.