RNCSE 25 (1–2)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2005
Date: 
January–April
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 25 (1-2)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2005
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
2

NEWS

  1. The Senator and the Science Committee
    Robert T Dillon Jr
    One South Carolina state senator's attempts to legislate the definition of science — and the effective opposition to his efforts.
  2. Your Official Program to the Scopes II Kansas Monkey Trial
    Tony Ortega
    The Kansas School Board pays to bring in "experts" ... from a creationist organization in Turkey!
  3. Address to the Haverford Township School Board on the Science Curriculum
    William A Wisdom
    A native son reminds the school board of the accomplishments made possible by a quality science curriculum.
  4. Updates
    News from Alabama, Alaska,Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina,Texas, and Virginia.

NCSE NEWS

  1. News from the Membership
    Glenn Branch
    A sampling of our members' activities and accomplishments.
  2. NCSE Thanks You
    We gratefully acknowledge your continuing support.

ARTICLES

  1. Starting Early: Preventing Misconceptions about Evolution Through Elementary Education
    Dina Drits
    What can young children learn about evolution — and when? Dina Drits studies students' preferences and progress in learning key concepts in evolution.

FEATURES

  1. My Trip Down the Rabbit Hole: Experiences as a Science Teacher in South Texas
    William J Gonzalez
    Even when state standards require teaching evolution, what really happens in the schools can be something quite different.
  2. Is Evolution Arkansas's "Hidden" Curriculum?
    Jason Wiles
    Are schools and educational programs keeping a low profile on evolution to avoid controversy?
  3. Evolution and Middle-Level Education: Observations and Recommendations
    Vince Sperrazza
    Reflections on students' reactions when teachers give evolution the full treatment.
  4. Nothing Wrong with Discussing Evolution in School
    Lisa Westberg Peters
    The author of an award-winning children's book on science tells her community what is right about teaching evolution.
  5. Teachers' Comments on Evolution Education
    Teachers share their experiences with evolution in the classroom on an NSTA forum.
  6. The Taboo Standard
    Marni Landry
    What happens when a graduate student tries to ask teachers questions about how they teach evolution? Sometimes administrators respond that the question is too controversial even to ask!

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. Why Teach Evolution?
    Andrew J Petto
    Citizens in Dover PA and Grantsburg WI were faced with these common questions. Here are some answers.
  2. Books: Evo Edu
    Books that explore the value of teaching evolution and related topics.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    An NCSE speaker may be coming to your neighborhood. Check the calendar here.
  4. Letters
  5. Instructions for Contributors

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. Missing Links: Evolutionary Concepts and Transitions Through Time by Robert A Martin
    Reviewed by Kenneth D Angielczyk
  2. A Heretic in Darwin's Court: The Life of Alfred Russel Wallace by Ross A Slotten
    Reviewed by Jane R Camerini
  3. An Elusive Victorian: The Evolution of Alfred Russel Wallace by Martin Fichman
    Reviewed by Charles H Smith
  4. Ancient Earth, Ancient Skies: The Age of the Earth and its Cosmic Surroundings by G Brent Dalrymple
    Reviewed by Timothy Heaton
  5. The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery by Guillermo Gonzales and Jay W Richards
    Reviewed by William H Jefferys
  6. How Blind is the Watchmaker? Nature's Design and the Limits of Natural Science by Neil Broom
    Reviewed by C Kevin Geedey and Stephen B Hager
  7. Does God Belong in Public Schools? by Kent Greenwalt
    Reviewed by John Pieret

The Senator and the Science Committee

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Senator and the Science Committee
Author(s): 
Robert T. Dillon, Jr.
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2005
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
4–5
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The origin of the 2005 threat to science education in South Carolina can be traced back five years to the initial adoption of science curriculum standards by our state board of education. Those standards, subsequently awarded a grade of "A" by the Fordham Foundation, included a rigorous treatment of evolutionary science. (See RNCSE 2000 Jan–Apr; 20 [1–2]: 14–5 for a review of the controversy surrounding the adoption of a standard science curriculum for South Carolina in 2000.)

One might expect that legislation requiring textbooks and other educational materials to match academic standards would be a logical follow-up to the adoption of statewide curricula. Such legislation was indeed introduced in the South Carolina General Assemblies of 2001–2002 and 2003–2004 without success. Science educators were caught by surprise in April 2003 when Senator Mike Fair (R–Greenville) amended the textbook bill to establish a "South Carolina Science Standards Committee" to examine "alternatives to evolution"; fortunately, that bill died in the House at the end of the 2004 session. So when Fair and two co-sponsors pre-filed S114 for consideration by the 2005–2006 General Assembly "relating to the criteria for the adoption of instructional materials for the public schools," friends of science education in South Carolina were alert and ready for action.

The legislative approach taken by Fair is unique, insofar as we are aware. His bill included 4 sections: (1) requiring that textbooks match the state standards, (2) establishing a science committee to examine those standards, (3) providing no funds for the science committee, and (4) repealing the old law. The (rather detailed) section (2) specified a committee membership of 19 to be appointed almost entirely by politicians and charged the committee with determining "whether there is a consensus on the definition of science" and "whether alternatives to evolution as the origin of species should be offered in schools."

Fair's district includes the fortress-like Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist institution that "exists to grow Christ-like character that is scripturally disciplined." And clearly the intent of his legislation was to introduce creationism into the South Carolina public school curriculum. But because S114 did not specifically authorize the science committee to take any action, nor provide any public funding for its deliberations, it is difficult to see how the constitutionality of his legislation could be challenged.

In January 2005, S114 was referred to the Senate Education K–12 Subcommittee, where Fair holds considerable influence. The K–12 Subcommittee is chaired by Robert Hayes (R–Rock Hill), a member of the Presbyterian Church in America — a small fundamentalist organization that has broken from the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA) over the ordination of women.

Citizen Action

With the assistance of the NCSE, a statewide group of concerned citizens organized in early 2005 to oppose S114. The group was primarily composed of faculty from the College of Charleston, the University of South Carolina, and Clemson University, with members from public-school education and the community at large, including clergy. We enjoyed excellent communication through an open listserver organized in 2000 by the AIBS, as well as through a more restricted NCSE system.

Early response is a key to successfully countering a creationist threat. So when the Senate K–12 subcommittee first took up S114 on February 9, both Doug Florian (College of Charleston) and I were present to offer comments, supported by a number of allies in the gallery. I argued that the current state science standards are excellent, and that S114 as currently drafted would seem designed to fix a process that "ain't broke." I observed that the term "science" is well-defined, that no committee need be impaneled to examine the meaning of that term, and that there are no "alternatives to evolution" that qualify as science under any conventional definition. Doug followed my comments with a brief review of the legal precedents regarding creationism, should some hypothetical science committee reach ill-conceived recommendations leading in that direction. Also offering comment was a representative from the state Council of Teachers of Mathematics, who simply asked for a clean bill requiring textbooks to match standards, obviously opposing both science committees and creationism without specifically mentioning either.

A debt of gratitude is owed to Senator JW Matthews (D–Bowman), who arrived at the subcommittee meeting prepared with an amendment to strike section (2) from S114. Matthews opined that the evolution/creationism issues raised in section (2) seemed too important and controversial to be confounded with the simple textbook issues addressed in section (1). His motion to strike section (2) was approved by a vote of 5–3, with Hayes joining Fair in the minority.

What goes 'round …

But we had not heard the last of Senator Fair or his Science Committee. On February 23, S114 was remanded by the full committee back to the K–12 Subcommittee without objection. Working through contacts, we were able to preview draft language for a new amendment to be proposed by Fair. In his new conception, the Science Committee would "determine whether scientific alternatives to socially or scientifically controversial theories should be offered in schools." This language seemed to us even more slippery than the language deleted on February 9 — avoiding mention of evolution, creation, the origin of species, or indeed any specific "socially controversial theory" at all.

After a series of delays, S114 was taken up by the Senate K–12 Subcommittee on April 13. Present to offer comment on this occasion were Jerry Hilbish (USC Biology), John Safko (USC Physics), and I. Fair surprised us all with a new amendment to S114, specifying that his science committee would perform six tasks — some of them overtly creationist, many of them described in terms failing the simple test of subject–verb agreement. His task #5 was, for example, "Is there scientific design theory/ies available for discourse in the public school classrooms of South Carolina?"

I was first to offer comment. I spoke in favor of the simple, clean version of S114 as currently amended, pointing out the logic of textbooks' matching curriculum standards. As I was thanking Senator Matthews and his colleagues for their wisdom in deleting the provision for a science committee in February, I was interrupted by much ado among the senators. Fair stated that he did not realize that his science committee provision had been removed!

I will live and die and never understand how the senator could have been so confused. The language of the amendment he distributed on the morning of April 13 neglected to reinstate his science committee before charging it with the six creationist tasks. So after this (rather important) point was clarified, I finished by observing that a state science committee, as originally proposed by Fair, and obviously still advocated by him, would introduce needless controversy — legal problems, constitutional problems, religious problems — which would complicate the passage of an otherwise simple bill.

Jerry Hilbish came next to the speaker's table, and he offered an excellent overview of the many problems with inserting creationism or "intelligent design" into the public-school curriculum generally. Jerry also spoke highly of the current science curriculum in South Carolina. John Safko followed with some well-aimed attacks at the specifics of Fair's proposed amendment, focusing on the scientific method.

All three of us were engaged at great length by Fair. He denied that any of his legislation had any religious content or motivation. He listed all the books on his shelves supporting his position, authored by such respected scientists as Gish, Behe, Denton, and Dembski. He called for a tornado to assemble the South Carolina statehouse spontaneously. He evoked pathetic images of his scarred youth, tricked by diagrams of humped-over human ancestors — all faked! We must ensure that both sides of this story are fairly presented, he argued.

Fair concluded by moving that S114 be amended to include the same science standards committee as described in the original version of his legislation, but changed so that its charge included the six tasks specified that morning. Chairman Hayes seconded Fair's proposal. The amendment failed on a vote of 5–3. Then Hayes put the main motion — to report S114 to the Senate favorably without amendment — and that passed unanimously.

This was the best result we could have hoped for, and we were all quite pleased. Afterward I met a lobbyist outside the meeting room who remarked how refreshing it was to hear anything intelligent said at a Senate committee meeting. He commented at length on the influence that can be wielded by three PhD scientists in a meeting such as we had just attended. John, Jerry, and I sat front row center all morning and controlled the show, simply by speaking calmly and looking reasonable.

S114 successfully passed the Senate in clean form on April 26 and went to the House on May 5, where the political climate has been much more favorable in previous sessions. Senator Fair's efforts did, however, slightly affect the review process for our Year 2000 state science curriculum, which (by accident of timing) is on a 5-year cycle. The work of the Science Standards Review Panel, a committee of 28 professional science educators assembled by the State Department of Education, was delayed by the threat of a politically-appointed science committee as envisioned by Fair.

Among the many lessons to be taken from the events of the previous months are the values of information, organization, communication, and early action. We also suggest that it is especially important, even in the face of success, never to declare victory. A new battle may be looming in South Carolina later this year, when our freshly revised science curriculum standards are submitted to the state board of education for approval. We'll keep you posted.

About the Author(s): 
Robert T. Dillon, Jr.
Department of Biology
College of Charleston
Charleston SC 29424
dillonr@cofc.edu

Is Evolution Arkansas's Hidden Curriculum?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Is Evolution Arkansas's Hidden Curriculum?
Author(s): 
Jason Wiles
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2005
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
32–36
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
As I was working on a proposal for a project at the Evolution Education Research Centre at McGill University in Montréal, I received an e-mail from an old friend back in Arkansas, where I was raised, whom I had known since high school. She was concerned about a problem her father was having at work. "Bob" is a geologist and a teacher at a science education institution that services several Arkansas public school districts. My friend did not know the details of Bob's problem, only that it had to do with evolution. This was enough to arouse my interest, so I invited Bob to tell me about what was going on.

He responded with an e-mail describing the scenario. Teachers at his facility are forbidden to use the "e-word" with the kids. They are permitted to use the word "adaptation" but only to refer to a current characteristic of organism, not as a product of evolutionary change via natural selection. They cannot even use the term "natural selection". Bob fears, and I agree with him, that not being able to use evolutionary terms and ideas to answer his students' questions will lead to reinforcement of their misconceptions.

But Bob's personal issue is more specific, and the prohibition more insidious. In his words, "I am instructed NOT to use hard numbers when telling kids how old rocks are. I am supposed to say that these rocks are VERY VERY OLD ... but I am NOT to say that these Ordovician rocks are thought to be about 300 million years old." As a person with a geology background, Bob found this restriction a bit hard to justify, especially since the new Arkansas educational benchmarks for 5th grade include introduction of the concept of the 4.5-billion–year age of the earth. Bob's facility is supposed to be meeting or exceeding those benchmarks.

The explanation that had been given to Bob by his supervisors was that their science facility is in a delicate position and must avoid irritating religionists who may have their fingers on the purse strings of various school districts. Apparently his supervisors feared that teachers or parents might be offended if Bob taught their children about the age of rocks and that it would result in another school district pulling out of their program. He closed his explanatory message with these lines:

So my situation here is tenuous. I am under censure for mentioning numbers ... I find that my "fire" for this place is fading if we're going to dissemble about such a basic factor of modern science. I mean ... the Scopes trial was how long ago now??? I thought we had fought this battle ... and still it goes on.

I immediately referred Bob to the people at the NCSE. He wrote to them explaining the situation, and they responded with excellent advice and support. Bob was able to use their suggestions along with some of the position statements found in the NCSE's Voices for Evolution in defense of his continued push to teach the science he felt he was obligated to present to his students, but his supervisors remained firm in their policy of steering clear of specifically mentioning evolution or "deep time" chronology.

I was going to be in Arkansas in December anyway, so I decided to investigate Bob's issue in person. He was happy for the support, but even more excited to show me around the facility. Bob is infectiously enthusiastic about nature and science education. He is just the kind of person we want to see working with students in this type of setting. He had arranged for me to meet with the directors of the facility, but he wanted to give me a guided tour of the place first.

Self-censorship in defense of science?

I would like to describe the grounds of the facility in more detail, but I must honor the request of all parties involved to not be identified. It was, however, a beautiful setting, and the students, 5th graders that day, seemed more engaged in their learning than most I had ever seen. To be sure, the facility does a fantastic job of teaching science, but I was there to find out about what it was not teaching. Bob and I toured the grounds for quite some time, including a hike to a new cave he had recently discovered nearby, and when we returned I was shown to my interview with the program director and executive director.

Both of the directors welcomed me warmly and were very forthcoming in their answers to my questions. They were, however, quite firm in their insistence that they and their facility be kept strictly anonymous if I was to write this story up. We talked for over an hour about the site's mission, their classes, and Bob's situation specifically. Both directors agreed that "in a perfect world" they could, and would, teach evolution and deep time. However, back in the real world, they defended their stance on the prohibition of the "e-word", reasoning that it would take too long to teach the concept of evolution effectively (especially if they had to defuse any objections) and expressing concern for the well-being of their facility. Their program depends upon public support and continued patronage of the region's school districts, which they felt could be threatened by any political blowback from an unwanted evolutionary controversy.

With regard to Bob's geologic time scale issue, the program director likened it to a game of Russian roulette. He admitted that probably very few students would have a real problem with a discussion about time on the order of millions of years, but that it might only take one child's parents to cause major problems. He spun a scenario of a student's returning home with stories beginning with "Millions of years ago ..." that could set a fundamentalist parent on a veritable witch hunt, first gathering support of like-minded parents and then showing up at school-board meetings until the district pulled out of the science program to avoid conflict. He added that this might cause a ripple effect on other districts following suit, leading to the demise of the program.

Essentially, they are not allowing Bob to teach a certain set of scientific data in order to protect their ability to provide students the good science curriculum they do teach. The directors are not alone in their opinion that discussions of deep time and the "e-word" could be detrimental to the program's existence. They have polled teachers in the districts they serve and have heard from them more than enough times that teaching evolution would be "political suicide".

Bob's last communication indicated that he had signed up with NCSE and was leaning towards the "grin and bear it" option, which, given his position and the position of the institution, may be the best option. I was a bit disheartened by the situation, but still impressed with all the good that is going on at Bob's facility. I was also curious about the climate regarding evolution in other educational facilities in the state, so, I decided to ask some questions where I could.

The first place I happened to find, purely by accident, was a privately run science museum for kids. As with Bob's facility, the museum requested not to be referred to by name. I was only there for a short time, but I'm not quite sure what to make of what happened there. I looked around the museum and found a few biological exhibits, but nothing dealing with evolution. I introduced myself to one of the museum's employees as a science educator (I am indeed a science educator) and asked her if they had any exhibits on evolution. She said that they used to at one time, but that several parents — some of whom home-schooled their children; some of whom are associated with Christian schools — had been offended by the exhibit and complained. They had said either that they would not be back until it was removed or that they would not be using that part of the museum if they returned. "It was right over there," she said, pointing to an area that was being used at that time for a kind of holiday display.

Because I had happened upon the place by accident, I had not made room in my schedule for a longer exploratory visit. I did call the museum at a later date to find out more about the removal of the evolution exhibit. After calling several times and leaving a few messages, I finally reached someone who explained that the exhibit had not been removed due to complaints, although people had in fact objected to the display. Rather, it had been taken down to make room for their merger with another science education institution. I am not speculating here, only reporting information that I was given, but when I asked when the newly partnered institution planned on moving in, I was told that the grant for the new space had not yet been written. It could be quite some time.

Later that evening, I had a visit with the coordinator of gifted and talented (GT) education at one of Arkansas's larger public school districts. As before, she has requested that she and her school system be kept anonymous, so I will call her "Susan". Susan told me about a situation she had been trying to decide how to deal with. She had overheard a teacher explaining the "balanced treatment" given to creationism in her classroom. This was not just any classroom, but an Advanced Placement Biology classroom. This was important to Susan, not only because of the subject and level of the class, but also because it fell under her supervision as part of the GT program. Was she obliged to do something about this? She knew quite well that the "balanced treatment" being taught had been found by a federal court to violate the Constitution's Establishment Clause — perhaps there is no greater irony than that two of the most significant cases decided by federal courts against teaching creationism were Epperson v Arkansas and McLean v Arkansas Board of Education. She is quite knowledgeable, and her husband is a lawyer who has written about the Edwards v Aguillard evolution case. She also knew that this was unsound pedagogy, but dealing with the issue is not easy in Arkansas.

Susan sincerely wanted to do something about it, but in the end, she had decided to let it go. Her reasoning was that this particular teacher is probably in her final year of service. To Susan, making an issue out of this just was not worth the strife it would have caused in the school and in the community when it would soon be taken care via retirement.

As the discussion progressed that evening, I learned that omission was the method of dealing with evolution in another of Arkansas's largest, most quickly growing, and wealthiest school districts — an omission that is apparently strongly suggested by the administration. I decided to check on this, but made little progress, receiving the cold shoulder from the administration and the science department at that school. However, I spoke with a person who works for a private science education facility that does contract work for this district: "Helen" — she, like the other people I had visited, requested that she and her employers not be identified. I asked Helen about her experiences with the district's teachers. Her story was that in preparation for teaching the students from that district, she had asked some of the teachers how they approached the state benchmarks for those items dealing with evolution. She said, "Oh, I later got in trouble for even asking," but went on to describe their answers. Most teachers said that they did not know enough about evolution to teach it themselves, but one of them, after looking around to make sure they were safely out of anyone's earshot, explained that the teachers are told by school administrators that it would be "good for their careers" not to mention such topics in their classes.

Inadequate science education

How often does this kind of thing happen? How many teachers are deleting the most fundamental principle of the biological sciences from their classes due to school and community pressure or due to lack of knowledge? How many are disregarding Supreme Court decisions and state curriculum guidelines? These are good questions, and I have been given relevant data from a person currently working in Arkansas. I was introduced to this person, who has clearly expressed his wishes to be kept anonymous (are you noticing a pattern here?), through the NCSE. I will call this science educator "Randy". When I began looking into Arkansas's evolution education situation, the NCSE sent me Randy's contact information.

Randy runs professional development science education workshops for public school teachers. He's been doing it for a while now, and he has been taking information on the teachers in his workshops via a survey. He had a bit of data that he was not sure what do with while maintaining his anonymity, but he shared it with me. He later posted the same results on an e-mail list-serve for people interested in evolution education in Arkansas, but this is the way it was reported to me.

According to his survey, about 20% are trying to teach evolution and think they are doing a good job; 10% are teaching creationism, even though during the workshop he discusses the legally shaky ground on which they stand. Another 20% attempt to teach something but feel they just do not understand evolution. The remaining 50% avoid it because of community pressure. On the list-serve Randy reported that the latter 50% do not cover evolution because they felt intimidated, saw no need to teach it, or might lose their jobs.

Apparently, by their own description of their classroom practices, 80% of these teachers are not adequately teaching evolutionary science. Remember that these are just the teachers who are in a professional development workshop in science education! What is more disturbing is what Randy went on to say about the aftermath of these workshops. "After one of my workshops at an [state] education cooperative, it was asked that I not come back because I spent too much time on evolution. One of the teachers sent a letter to the governor stating that I was mandating that teachers had to teach evolution, and that I have to be an atheist, and would he do something."

Of course the dichotomy of "you're either an anti-evolutionist or you're an atheist" is a false one. Many scientists who understand and accept evolution are also quite religious, and many people of faith also understand and accept evolution. But here is a public school teacher appealing to the governor to "do something" about this guy teaching us to teach evolution. Given that evolutionary science is prescribed in the state curriculum guidelines, and given that two of the most important legal cases regarding evolution education originated in Arkansas and Edwards v Aguillard originated in Louisiana directly to the south (all of these cases resulted in support of evolution education and restriction of creationist teachings in public schools), how exactly would we expect the governor to respond? I am not sure how or even whether Governor Mike Huckabee responded to this letter, but I have seen him respond to concerned Arkansas high-school students regarding evolution in the schools on television.

The Arkansas Educational Television Network produces a program called "Arkansans Ask" on which the state's citizens confront the governor about various issues affecting the region. I've seen two episodes on which students have expressed their frustration about the lack of evolution education in their public schools. These students obviously care about their science education, and for two years running Huckabee has responded to them by advocating that creationism be taught in their schools. Here is an excerpt from one of these broadcasts, from July 2004:
Student: Many schools in Arkansas are failing to teach students about evolution according to the educational standards of our state. Since it is against these standards to teach creationism, how would you go about helping our state educate students more sufficiently for this?
Huckabee: Are you saying some students are not getting exposure to the various theories of creation?
Student (stunned): No, of evol ... well, of evolution specifically. It's a biological study that should be educated [taught], but is generally not.
Moderator: Schools are dodging Darwinism? Is that what you ... ?
Student: Yes.
Huckabee: I'm not familiar that they're dodging it. Maybe they are. But I think schools also ought to be fair to all views. Because, frankly, Darwinism is not an established scientific fact. It is a theory of evolution, that's why it's called the theory of evolution. And I think that what I'd be concerned with is that it should be taught as one of the views that's held by people. But it's not the only view that's held. And any time you teach one thing as that it's the only thing, then I think that has a real problem to it.
Governor Huckabee's answer has several problems and is laced with some very important misconceptions about science. Perhaps the most insidious problem with his response is that it plays on one of the most basic of American values: Huckabee appeals to our sense of democracy and free expression. But several court decisions have concluded that fairness and free expression are not violated when public school teachers are required to teach the approved curriculum. These decisions recognized that teaching creationism is little more than thinly veiled religious advocacy and violates the Establishment Clause.

Furthermore, Huckabee claimed not to be aware of the omission of evolution from Arkansan classrooms. From my limited visit, it is clear that this omission is widespread and no secret; but it is even harder to understand the governor's apparent ignorance about the situation in July 2004, when another student called in with similar concerns almost exactly one year earlier on the July 2003 broadcast of "Arkansans Ask":
Student: Goal 2.04 of the Biology Benchmark Goals published by the Arkansas Department of Education in May of 2002 indicates that students should examine the development of the theory of biological evolution. Yet many students in Arkansas that I have met ... have not been exposed to this idea. What do you believe is the appropriate role of the state in mandating the curriculum of a given course?
Huckabee: I think that the state ought to give students exposure to all points of view. And I would hope that that would be all points of view and not only evolution. I think that they also should be given exposure to the theories not only of evolution but to the basis of those who believe in creationism ... .
The governor goes on for a bit and finishes his sentiment, but the moderator keeps the conversation going:
Moderator (to student): You've encountered a number of students who have not received evolutionary biology?
Student: Yes, I've found that quite a few people's high schools simply prefer to ignore the topic. I think that they're a bit afraid of the controversy.
Huckabee: I think it's something kids ought to be exposed to. I do not necessarily buy into the traditional Darwinian theory, personally. But that does not mean that I'm afraid that somebody might find out what it is ...

Sisyphean Challenges

How are teachers like "Bob", administrators like "Susan", and teacher trainers like "Randy" supposed to ensure proper science education regarding evolution in accordance with state standards and within the bounds of case law and the Constitution if politicians like Huckabee consistently support and advocate the teaching of non-science and pseudoscience that flies in the face of sound pedagogy and the First Amendment's Establishment Clause?

It is quite telling that none of the people I spoke with were willing to be identified or to allow me to reveal their respective institutions. In the case of "Bob" and his facility's directors, they were concerned about criticism from both sides of the issue. They did not want to lose students by offending fundamentalists or lose credibility in the eyes of the scientific community for omitting evolution. "Susan" has been trying to avoid a rift in her district, so identifying her school is out of the question. "Randy" believes that much of the good that he does is at least partly because of his "behind- the-scenes" activity and that he "may do the cause more good by not standing out."

Some people might assume that the evolution education problems of Arkansas and its governor end at its border. In fact they do not, but I think that we seldom realize the wider influence our local politicians might have. For instance, the Educational Commission of the States is an important and powerful organization that shapes educational policy in all 50 states. Forty state governors have served as the chair of the ECS, and the current chair is — you guessed it — Governor Huckabee of Arkansas.

Because anti-evolutionists have been quite successful in placing members of their ranks and sympathizers in local legislatures and school boards, it is imperative that we point out the danger that these people pose to adequate science education. Although each school, each museum, or each science center may seem to be an isolated case, answering to — and, perhaps trying to keep peace with — its local constituency, the larger view shows that evolution is being squeezed out of education systematically and broadly. Anti-evolutionists have been successful by keeping the struggle focused on the local level and obscuring the larger agenda, but the educational fallout is widespread ignorance of the tools and methods of the sciences for generations to come. The scientific literacy of our future leaders may very well depend on it.

[Update: May 1, 2008. The pseudonymous "Randy" is Bill Fulton, formerly the K-12 Science Curriculum Specialist for the Arkansas Department of Education. Bill retired after 36 years of service.]

About the Author(s): 
Jason Wiles
Evolution Education Research Centre
McGill University
3700 McTavish Street
Montréal PQ Canada H3A 1Y2
jason.wiles@mcgill.ca

Nothing Wrong with Discussing Evolution in School

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Nothing Wrong with Discussing Evolution in School
Author(s): 
Lisa Westberg Peters
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2005
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
38
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Under the newly approved science standards, Minnesota's youngest students will be expected to understand that biological populations change over time. Students will need to know that many organisms, such as dinosaurs, used to live on earth but are now extinct. This understanding of basic science can't come soon enough.

A suburban Twin Cities elementary school invited me to speak to its students recently about my work. I have written several children's books, including a science book about our intimate connection to earth and life's history. This book recently won the Minnesota Book Award for children's nonfiction. The school agreed to prepare for my visit by reading and discussing my books with the students.

The day before my presentation, the school sent me an e-mail. The faculty and the principal had discussed whether it was a good idea to share a book about evolution in their school and they decided that without much more in-depth discussion, it was not. They hadn't shared my evolution book with the students, and they preferred that I not share it either. Later, on the phone, I learned that parents with certain religious beliefs would object to the presentation of this book. The school was asking me to censor myself, but the idea didn't much appeal to me. I knew I would do a disservice to myself and other writers by agreeing to this surprise, last-minute request.

What if parents had come to this same school arguing that the earth was the center of the universe? Teachers, well familiar with the scientific evidence, would have continued teaching their students the facts: the earth is not the center of the universe and here's the evidence for that position. Even Pope John Paul II, who must be as devout as any Christian, accepts the idea that life has evolved. Millions of Christians, Jews, and Muslims have a concept of God that is large enough to include the process of evolution. But I was asked not to discuss this fascinating subject in a Minnesota school. Many other elementary schools avoid it, too. Some teachers tell me they wouldn't dare teach evolution. A southern Minnesota educator warned me in hushed tones that her town was pretty religious. I hear the word "touchy" all the time.

This widespread timidity comes, in large part, from ignorance. Elementary teachers reflect the general population: They don't know much about evolution. If they did, they would have captive audiences. They could tell their students that we share 98% of our genes with our closest relatives, chimpanzees. They could ask: Is it the remaining 2% that makes us wear platform shoes and dye our hair purple? What child would not be intrigued by that discussion?

While we wait for the new science standards to force teachers to bone up, here is a brief biology lesson: Elementary teachers have backbones, inherited from the earliest fish in ancient seas. Teachers should use their backbones to stand tall and teach basic science. Tell the kids who object that they don't have to accept it, but they do have to understand it to graduate. Teach students about the wide range of creation stories, too, but do it during social studies.

Teachers have lungs, also inherited from early fish. They should use their lungs, take a deep breath and repeat: Evolution is not just one explanation for the diversity of life; it's the scientific explanation. Evolution is not a belief system that you take on faith; you examine the evidence for it and accept it or not. Teachers have legs and feet, inherited from early amphibians. Teachers should use their legs and feet to politely escort anyone who protests the teaching of basic science to the front door. And finally, elementary teachers have large brains, inherited from the earliest hominins. They should use those great brains to read more and learn more about evolution. When a parent comes in arguing that life hasn't changed over time, these informed teachers can continue teaching the facts: life has indeed evolved, and here’s the ample evidence for that position.

Knowledge is power and elementary teachers need more of both.

[Originally published in the St Paul Pioneer-Press 2004 Jun 1 and reprinted with permission.]

About the Author(s): 
Lisa Westberg Peters
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477

Review: The Privileged Planet

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
25
Year: 
2005
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
47–49
Reviewer: 
William Jefferys
University of Texas at Austin
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery
Author(s): 
Guillermo Gonzales and Jay W Richards
Washington (DC): Regnery Publishing, 2004. 444 pages

The Same Old Shell Game

The Privileged Planet is based upon the odd notion that the more unsuitable our universe is for producing intelligent life, the more likely it is that our universe was "designed" to produce intelligent life by a "designer" of indeterminate nature; put another way, supposedly the less likely it is that there could be a planet in our universe that supports intelligent life, then the more likely it is that the universe was "designed" to produce a particular intelligent life form — us — that can and will investigate the nature of the universe.

We know from experience that this is not how human beings, the only intelligent designers of which we have any experience, work. We know that a human designer of a factory does not design a factory so that it will only occasionally, if ever, produce a car, or a computer, or whatever the target object is; rather the factory is designed to produce the largest possible amount of product consistent with the constraints: cost, energy, physical reality ... whatever.

The fundamental error made by Gonzalez and Richards, as with most creationists (including "intelligent design" [ID] creationists), is that they imagine that they can prove the existence of their "intelligent designer" by merely alleging evidence against a particular strawman naturalistic scenario, and, without clearly specifying an alternative model, simply assert that the only other explanation possible is that everything was created by a "designer". Under this strategy, no details are specified about what we would expect to see if the "designer" existed, or why we would expect to see that and not something else. It is, as we shall see, not a scientific theory. It is instead nothing but the usual fallacious Argument from False Dichotomy.

Of course, we know why ID creationists do not want to talk about the nature of the "designer". If they were to do so, they would undermine their claim that ID creationism has nothing to do with religion. They do admit the nature of their designer in private, among friends, but not before school boards or state boards of education. Since the real point of ID is to slip religion surreptitiously into the public school classroom, they cannot reveal the true nature of their "designer" in any arguments intended for public consumption (as this book is). In line with this political strategy, the authors of this book are similarly cagey about the nature of the designer (p 330).

But they are between a rock and a hard place. Gonzalez and Richards do not realize that unless they can show that what we actually see is more probable — given that an "intelligent designer did it" — then they have no case. This is because a basic rule of inference is that one has to compare the likelihood of observing evidence E under all relevant hypotheses H1, H2, ..., Hn. Then the hypothesis that has the greatest likelihood is the one best supported by the evidence. Obviously, if you do not say what your hypothesis is — in this case by specifically describing the nature of the "intelligent designer" and the consequences for the real world if that entity exists, so that actual calculations can be made — then it is impossible to compute the likelihood of observing E under your hypothesis, and your hypothesis never even gets to the starting gate.

One wonders what Gonzalez and Richards would say if the evidence were otherwise. They talk about the fantastically small probability that our universe would give rise to intelligent, inquisitive life, but what if it were the opposite? What if we had observed that the universe was actually quite conducive to the existence of intelligent, inquisitive life? Would Gonzalez and Richards then conclude that the probability of observing such a universe, given that it was designed by an "intelligent designer", was small? I hardly think so. In such a case they would surely be pointing to the fecundity of the universe as evidence for the existence of their "intelligent designer". In other words, the assertion of a "designer" is a no-lose position. Whatever evidence one observed would by this fallacious reasoning support their "designer."

But there's the rub. They cannot have it both ways. An elementary rule of inference is that if evidence E supports hypothesis H, then observing that E is false would undermine H. In other words, if observing that the universe is fecund were to support the hypothesis that the universe is "designed", then observing that it is not fecund would necessarily support the hypothesis that it was not "designed" and would undermine the design argument.

Unfortunately, it means that the ancient argument from design (of which this book is just a modern example) is scientifically useless. There is no conceivable evidence that could, even in principle, refute the notion that everything happens as a result of an unconstrained, very powerful "designer". This is because such an entity can be invoked to explain any evidence whatsoever. Real scientific hypotheses have to be vulnerable to evidence. It must be possible to imagine evidence that would undermine them (see Pennock 1999, ch 6, for an extensive discussion). This is not the case for a mysterious "intelligent designer" of nature so unspecified that one cannot even make predictions about what one would expect to observe if it existed.

Consider, for example, the fine-tuning argument: The fact that "the constants are right" for our own existence is supposed to support the existence of an intelligent designer. Philosopher of science Elliott Sober (2003) has refuted this argument and, independently, Michael Ikeda and I have made similar points with some variations (Ikeda and Jefferys 1997). Sober points out that the usual design argument is that the probability that the "constants are right," given that design is true, is greater than the probability that "the constants are right," given a naturalistic universe. Notwithstanding the fact that we do not know whether this inequality is true or not in the ID creationist view — because the ID community stubbornly refuses to specify the nature of the "designer" so that we can actually do the required calculations — there is a deeper problem.

Sober and Ikeda and I pointed out that the relationship fails to take into account our own existence. In other words, we are here (we know this, and could not be making any arguments if it were not so), so any discussion must take this fact into account. Thus, the correct comparison is between (A) the probability that "the constants are right" given design and our own existence, and (B) the probability that "the constants are right" given a naturalistic universe and our own existence. Since in a naturalistic universe our own existence implies that the constants must be right, this means that (B) is equal to 1. What about (A)? Clearly, since probabilities are always less than or equal to 1, (A) cannot be larger than 1, so the ratio of (B) to (A) must be at least 1. This means that observing that "the constants are right" cannot undermine the naturalistic hypothesis.

Sober says that (A) is also 1, but here he missed an important point. Since the nature of the designer is unspecified, and might be an omnipotent deity, for example, it would be possible for the designer to produce universes where the constants are not right, but in which we could still exist.

An example would be a universe where the constants are not right for producing carbon in stellar interiors. In their book, Gonzalez and Richards mention Fred Hoyle's remarkable 1954 prediction of special resonances in carbon and oxygen nuclei (p 198 and following). These resonances were predicted because without them, carbon and oxygen could not be synthesized in stars, and since they also could not be synthesized by the Big Bang, our own existence implies that the resonances must exist, at least if the universe is naturalistic. This in turn leads to rather narrow predicted ranges for certain physical constants ("the constants are right"). Indeed, the resonances were found to exist, one of the earliest and possibly best examples of a prediction of a physical fact from the so-called weak anthropic principle, that sentient beings ought to observe that the universe they inhabit is consistent with their own existence.

But, if the universe had been designed by a sufficiently powerful designer, the constants would not have to be right in order for us to exist. For example, the designer could create a universe where the constants are not right for the production of carbon and oxygen in the interiors of stars, preferring instead (for whatever reason: whim, or the desire to accomplish other goals such as letting us know that he exists by means of a subtle scientific clue) just to manufacture the required carbon atoms and sprinkle them where needed throughout the universe.

If we consider the possible existence of such a designer — and remember, the ID creationists' intentional refusal to specify the nature of their designer leaves this possibility open — then it is no longer the case (as Sober asserts) that (A) is equal to 1. Indeed, it is less than 1 and could be quite small, which means that our observing that "the constants are right" actually provides powerful evidence in favor of the naturalistic hypothesis. It would actually be our observing that "the constants are wrong" that would undermine, and in fact refute the naturalistic hypothesis. The ID creationists have the inequality backwards.

In another section, Gonzalez and Richards also attempt to refute the so-called "Many Worlds Hypothesis" (MWH), which postulates the existence of a very large or even actually infinite collection of universes called the multiverse (p 268 and following). I should first point out that they are simply wrong to think that the motivation for the MWH is to get around the fine-tuning problem. In fact, it is a consequence of the leading theory of cosmology — the theory of chaotic inflation — which is the theory best supported by the evidence (including that from the recent Wilson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP). Chaotic inflation was invented to explain certain observed facts about our universe, for example its flatness and homogeneity. One consequence of inflation is that the universe is actually infinite in extent both in space and time, containing infinitely many regions that have each inflated into expanding universes much like ours, but perhaps with physical constants different from ours. Indeed, this multiverse is so vast that it would contain infinitely many universes exactly like ours, as well as infinitely many others that differ from ours in only subtle ways, for example ones in which I am an ID creationist and the authors are attempting to refute my pro-ID arguments, or ones where I have a long green tail, or ones in which a particular gene in my genotype has a C substituted for an A (see Seife 2004 for more on this).

Gonzalez and Richards's "refutation" of the MWH is unconvincing. It consists of a bland dismissal that an actual infinite set can exist (p 268 — where did they learn their mathematics?) together with a claim that "we have no evidence to think that other universes exist," a claim that happens to be false, for several reasons. One reason is that it is a prediction of the best-supported theory in cosmology — one that is strongly supported by evidence. And the second is that under that model, our own existence evidentially supports the MWH (since under that hypothesis a selection effect is involved: we can only exist in one of the very small proportion of worlds in which "the constants are right," so our own existence implies the existence of these other worlds).

As Mark Perakh (2004) has pointed out in another context, there is nothing particularly unparsimonious about the multiverse hypothesis. For one thing, it is based on the observational fact that our own universe definitely exists, and since it does exist, it is reasonable to presume that naturalistic processes would produce other universes, just as different versions of our own. If physics can produce one universe, there is nothing in principle to prevent it from producing infinitely many. Indeed, it would be expected. By contrast, the hypothesis of an intelligent designer of universes is completely speculative; there is, as Perakh points out, not a single observational fact that points to the existence of such an entity other than ancient, conflicting legends.

In their discussion of the MWH, Gonzalez and Richards also repeat a fallacious argument (p 270) that has been made by John Leslie, concerning a hypothetical officer who survives a Nazi firing squad and concludes that this must be due to design (the firing squad intended to miss) rather than chance (the firing squad members all missed by accident). We are supposed to reason by analogy that since the officer concludes that design rather than chance was the reason for this particular low-probability event, we should infer the same as regards the universe. Notwith-standing the obvious differences between naturalistic universes that have no known intentions, alleged "designers" whose intentions cannot be clearly specified without undermining the political aspirations of ID creationists, and firing squads that have well-understood intentions, this argument is plain silly and has been decisively refuted in Sober's paper (2003). Analogies can be treacherous things.

Finally, I turn to Gonzalez and Richards's notion that our earth is uniquely designed for its inhabitants to do scientific exploration, and that the universe is similarly designed for us to do that scientific exploration. They point to a number of phenomena that have aided our scientific enterprise, such as the transparency of the earth's atmosphere, the fact that we have a moon that is just far enough from the earth to produce spectacular solar eclipses, and so on. Of all the arguments in the book, I find this the weakest. It puts the cart before the horse. Suppose it were not so; if we existed on another world very different from the earth, then we would surely be doing something. We would be doing whatever was possible for us to do under the circumstances in which we found ourselves. If we accepted the Whiggish reasoning of the authors, we would be just as justified in concluding that our planet — and our universe, if we could see it in this alternative reality — was designed so that we would do whatever we happened to be doing at the time or find interesting at the time (as diverse human cultures have always done). The authors could learn much by studying a little anthropology and a little history.

To summarize, the little that is new in this book is not interesting, and what is old is just old-hat creationism in a new, modern-looking astronomical costume. It is the same old shell game. It is too bad that Guillermo Gonzalez (whom I know from his tenure as a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Texas's Astronomy Department) has allowed himself to be sucked in as an advocate for this ancient argument. The Argument from Design is at least 200 years old and has not improved with age. It has not resulted in any new knowledge in all of those years. Modern astronomy is constantly producing new knowledge and understanding of the universe. Gonzalez is a promising young astrophysicist, and I hope that he does not throw away his career on such nonsense.

References

Ikeda M, Jefferys WH. 1997. The anthropic principle does not support supernaturalism. Available on-line at ; last accessed January 4, 2005.
Pennock RT. 1999. Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.
Perakh M. 2004. Paul Davies: Emergentist vs reductionist. Available on-line at ; last accessed January 4, 2005.
Seife C. 2004 Jul 23. Physics enters the twilight zone. Science 305 (5683): 464–6.
Sober E. 2003. The design argument. In: Manson NA, editor. God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science. New York: Routledge. p 27–54. Also available on-line at ; last accessed January 4, 2005.

About the Author(s): 
William H Jefferys
Department of Astronomy
University of Texas at Austin
Austin TX 78712-1020

Review: Does God Belong in Public Schools?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
25
Year: 
2005
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
51–53
Reviewer: 
John Pieret
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Does God Belong in Public Schools?
Author(s): 
Kent Greenawalt
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004. 261 pages
Kent Greenawalt is a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice John M Harlan, a former Deputy US Solicitor General, and Professor of Law at Columbia University's School of Law. He is an expert in the field of constitutional law and jurisprudence, with an emphasis on issues of church and state.

Professor Greenawalt's book is a good primer in the often arcane jurisprudence surrounding the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution and its application to issues of religion in public education. About a quarter of the text is devoted to the questions that arise out of the teaching of natural science, specifically focusing on the area of evolutionary theory, "creation science" and "intelligent design" ("ID"). It should be noted that much of this material can be found in Greenawalt's paper "Evolution, creationism, and intelligent design" delivered at the Colloquium on Constitutional and Legal Theory in March 2003 (available on-line in PDF format at ).

One good reason for reading this book is that recent positions taken by advocates of ID, including the Discovery Institute, appear aimed at meeting some of the criteria for passing constitutional muster that Greenawalt posits. But any teacher or administrator in the public school system will find the book a most useful resource for navigating such thorny issues as what sort of holiday celebrations can take place in public schools, sex education, student religious clubs, prayers at school events, and the like. Naturally enough, this review will focus on the part of the book dealing with the teaching of science.

The book is written in an open style, without much in the way of legal jargon, but is heavily footnoted (67 pages' worth) for those who want to delve deeper. It should be noted that books of this sort have been influential on US courts in the past, especially in areas fraught with more public passion than solid case law, as is the case with the relationship of ID to science and religion.

Greenawalt starts with a brief history of public schools in the US, noting that, up until quite recently, it was common practice to require students to participate in religious devotions that amounted to a kind of nonsectarian Protestantism. Greenawalt then summarizes the major Supreme Court decisions during the last half of the 20th century that, at least officially, ended such practices.

Next, Greenawalt lays out the various theoretical purposes for having a tax-supported educational system in order to set the stage for differentiating valid secular purposes from impermissible religious ones. He identifies the major aims of public education as: vocational training; enhancement of the capacity to make life choices; enrichment of lives through knowledge of literature, science, history and sports; training to participate in civic life and the instillation of socially desirable morals and ideals, such as honesty and respect for others.

Greenawalt quickly points out that there is no simple one-to-one relationship between any one of these purposes and any particular area of study. Great literature, for example, not only enriches the aesthetic sense but also can illuminate political life, instruct in social morals and even contribute to career choices. These necessarily overlapping domains result in what Greenawalt calls "spillover effects," where an area of study undertaken for otherwise acceptable purposes can impact a particular set of religious beliefs. Spillover effects are the source of much of the conflict that occurs in the realm of religion and public education.

An early question to address is: What are religious propositions? Greenawalt generalizes suggests that claims about the existence, nature and actions of God; life after death and the ultimate significance of physical reality and human life are inherently religious. Agnostic and atheist claims that address these areas, whether or not these beliefs are themselves "religions," are constitutionally impermissible, if taught as true, because they consist of answers to those same religious questions. Similarly, practices such as church attendance, prayer, and sacraments cannot be held up as desirable or mandatory, but neither can they be held up as undesirable or forbidden. Gray areas arise because religions typically include ideas about how people should live their lives. For example, many religions teach personal honesty, generosity towards others and parental love. Greenawalt would identify these as secondary religious propositions that flow from, but are not themselves dependent on, the primary religious perspectives. For example, a belief that the nature of God includes a desire that we care for each other does not debar schools from teaching that children need love from their parents, as that can be presented on a basis other than the nature of God. On the other hand, teaching that parents should love their children because the Bible tells them to would involve primary religious claims and is not allowed.

When Greenawalt turns to science education, he makes this initial point:
Although I have no expertness in evaluating the plausibility of scientific claims, my appraisals are nevertheless worth stating, both because almost anyone trying to figure out what is true overall must engage a field in which he is not expert and because many educational officials and virtually all judges who must discern if educational decisions are constitutional will lack special scientific competence. (p 101)
No matter how much we might wish otherwise, because of our constitutional framework and the patchwork system of US education that emphasizes the political role of state and local school boards, critical decisions about what constitutes valid educational goals are necessarily in the hands of people with little or no expertise in either education or the particular subjects to be taught. (Science education would be well served if all school board members, administrators and judges had anywhere near Greenawalt's grasp of the issues involved in the evolution/creationism dispute. If his notes are any guide, he has read widely in the literature of both sides. Besides referencing such well-known philosophers of science as Hume, Popper, Lakatos, and Kuhn, he discusses the works of philosophers particularly interested in the evolution/creationism debate, including Philip Kitcher's Abusing Science, Larry Laudan's "Science at the bar: Causes for concern" and Robert Pennock's Tower of Babel and Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics. Among scientists, he is familiar with Kenneth Miller's Finding Darwin's God and numerous works by Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, Niles Eldredge, and others. Nor does he neglect the creation science and ID side, citing works by Henry Morris, Jonathan Wells, Phillip Johnson, Alvin Plantinga, William Dembski, and Michael Behe.) Greenawalt admits that "it may seem that I give more credence to critics of dominant evolutionary theory than would the overwhelming majority of practicing scientists" (p 89), but goes on to point out that the primary issue in the law is not the scientific validity of the critique but whether including it in public education transgresses constitutional boundaries.

One point Greenawalt forcefully makes is that natural selection, and evolutionary theory in general, are important not only in the study of the development of species but also across the board in the biological sciences. Therefore, according to the standards within the discipline, evolutionary theory would undoubtedly be taught except for religious opposition. Any decision not to teach evolution or to teach that it is "only a theory" (as long as that implies that it is less well confirmed that than most scientific explanations) would be an implicit endorsement of religious views and violate the Establishment Clause.

After discussing the philosophy of science in some detail, he concludes that both creation science and ID are really about the limitations of science. He further concludes that claims that scientific theories may fail as explanations could be an appropriate subject in science courses. In short, he is of the opinion that at least some issues in the philosophy of science are appropriate to public school science courses. Greenawalt also points out that negative arguments do have a legitimate role in scientific discourse, but he acknowledges that the leap ID makes from arguments that selection fails to explain apparent design to the claim that such features are necessarily the result of an intelligent creator, is unwarranted.

As an "ideal" statement of what might be discussed about the limits of science, Greenawalt offers the following:
Modern science seeks to discover natural explanations for physical events. We cannot be certain that natural explanations will always suffice, but physics, chemistry, and biology have made amazing advances by assuming that they will. If we had powerful evidence that science could not conceivably explain some phenomena, this evidence of limits could be one small part of science courses; some people believe such evidence exists about evolutionary processes, but the uncertainties there are matched by those in other areas of science. In any event, it is too soon to conclude that any difficulties with evolutionary theory, even if they exist, cannot be rectified by scientific explanation. (p 114)
Coming to the nitty-gritty, Greenawalt has no great difficulty identifying "creation science" as a religious program. "[W]hat makes the theory religious is that religious premises explain why the practitioners reach the conclusions they do" and no attempt to edit out scriptural references and to substitute "abrupt appearance" for "divine creation" can disguise that (p 116).

ID is, however, less easy to locate within constitutional law. Greenawalt notes that just because a scientific explanation of phenomena happens to bear on the likely truth of a religious tenet does not make the explanation religious in nature and, hence, impermissible in public education. However, he goes on to make the important point that this is a two-way street. If an explanation lends support to a religious view, that alone does not bar it from being scientific or from being taught in public schools. After reviewing the Supreme Court cases of Epperson v Arkansas and Edwards v Aguillard, he concludes:
The dominant neo-Darwinian account has enough conundrums for text writers, science teachers, and boards of education to conclude that teachers could usefully discuss them and, further, suggest that whether the dominant theory, and particularly the pre-eminent place it accords natural selection, may require substantial revision or supplementation is an open question. I do not claim that scientific evidence supports this qualified presentation of neo-Darwinism better than an unqualified account, only that the choice is within the range of constitutionally permissible judgment — something judges have to assess by the balance of scientific opinion and their own sense of the strength of arguments. (p 124)
However, Greenawalt immediately goes on to say:
Were educators to go further and insist that intelligent design is probably a needed supplement to natural selection and other aspects of neo-Darwinism, or that intelligent design is the alternative to unvarnished neo-Darwinian theory, they would step over the constitutional line, because such judgments could now be made only on religious grounds. (p 124
That the proponents of ID may have taken Greenawalt's positions to heart in recent days should now be clear. In the case of the Dover, Pennsylvania, school district's attempt to present ID, the local school board — at least following the court challenge — has denied that it will curtail the teaching of evolution in any way and presents ID merely as one possible alternative to evolutionary theory (see RNCSE 2004 Sep/Oct; 24 [5]: 4–9).

Those interested in strong science education in US public schools may be disappointed that Greenawalt would open the door to the "teach the controversy" ploy. When implemented, these programs may well degenerate into spurious philosophical claims, selective quotations and arguments from incredulity, instead of sound science education. That does not mean that he is wrong about the constitutional permissibility of attempting them.

If there is one serious flaw in Greenawalt's analysis, it is that he makes no attempt to elucidate how any "conundrums" might properly be presented or whether it is even appropriate to address the real controversies in evolutionary theory in K–12 education. We are left in the dark as to whether any limitations exist on what can be claimed to constitute conundrums, how the courts could evaluate those limitations, if any, or what constitutional standards they could apply. Certainly, courts would be loath to micro-manage the science curricula of public schools but, as we all know, the devil is in the details.

Greenawalt is right enough when he says:
I have proposed a middle course somewhere between what evolutionists insist is the only sound scientific approach and what proponents of Genesis creation and intelligent design seek. This counsel of moderation may have little appeal for opposing camps who standardly accuse one another of dogmatism and dishonesty. (p 125)
The problem is that he has left us with no way to tell what his "middle course" might look like in practice.

[Originally posted on the talk.origins usenet group, 2005 May 28, and reprinted with permission.]

About the Author(s): 
John Pieret
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org