RNCSE 22 (6)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2002
Date: 
November–December
Articles available online are listed below.

John A Moore: A Champion of Evolution

An ardent long-time supporter of NCSE, the distinguished biologist John A Moore, Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), died in May 2002, a month short of his 87th birthday. John had a passionate commitment to improving the teaching of biology and stressed that evolution is the essential framework on which such teaching must rest.



John was born in rural West Virginia, where he acquired a lifelong interest in natural history. He published his first research paper in Auk in 1931 at the age of 16. His senior year of high school was spent in New York, where, while volunteering at the American Museum of Natural History, he formed a lifelong friendship with Ernst Mayr. From there, he entered Columbia University, where he specialized in embryology and genetics, receiving his PhD in 1940. In 1938, he married a fellow graduate student in zoology, Betty Clark. Betty was his scientific collaborator and co-author throughout their long and happy life together.

While in his 20s, he taught at Queens College of the City University of New York and Barnard College, but soon returned to Columbia University, where he remained until 1968. At Columbia, he rose rapidly to be Professor of Zoology and chairman of an illustrious department that included Theodosius Dobzhansky, among other outstanding biologists. In 1969, he moved to UCR, from which he retired in 1982. As a Professor Emeritus, he not only actively pursued research but also provided service to scientific and educational organizations. In fact, John served on more than 30 national committees on biological sciences education, for such organizations as the National Research Council, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Institute for Biological Sciences (AIBS). The latest of the many awards John received came from AIBS, which honored him with its 2002 Education Award for his efforts in the public understanding of science and the teaching of evolution.

His research on a wide variety of biological topics — especially herpetology, developmental biology, and population genetics — received widespread recognition. He was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1960 and a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1963. He was President of the Society for the Study of Evolution in 1963 and President of the American Society of Zoologists in 1974. One form of recognition, which he related to me with a special twinkle in his eyes, was the illustration of one of his research subjects in an unusually widely distributed format. John's research in herpetology took the Moores to Australia in 1952-3, resulting in his monograph on Australian frogs, which included the description of several new species. One of these, the spectacularly colored Corroboree frog, was later featured on a beautiful Australian postage stamp!

John was a champion for the cause of improving education in biology. His first major book, Principles of Zoology, published by Oxford University Press in 1957, was a widely adopted undergraduate textbook that influenced a whole generation of biologists in the US. He believed that modern biology and evolution should also be integral parts of a well-rounded education for non-scientists and should therefore be promoted at the K-12 level. He was one of the founders of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. In 1960, he supervised the preparation of one of the BSCS's first high school textbooks, Biological Sciences: An Inquiry into Life. It sold more than two million copies and for 20 years was the leading high school biology text using an inquiry-based approach.

The one unifying theme of John's approach to teaching was his insistence on placing each topic into its broad historical perspective as a way of understanding the development of scientific thought and showing how this development is influenced by the social context of the times. In 1993, Harvard University Press published John's seminal book, Science as a Way of Knowing: The Foundations of Modern Biology. It concerns the development of the major ideas of the biological sciences and explores their historical roots and the growth of the concept of evolution. He described his reasons for writing this book as follows:
There can be no future for the human experiment unless a critical mass of involved people understands that the laws of nature constrain our activities and that our solutions to these problems must be based on knowledge and not blind adherence to fads.
John edited 6 more volumes in what became a series of Science as a Way of Knowing books written by outstanding biologists.

During the 1970s and 1980s, John became increasingly concerned with the inroads being made by the resurgence of so-called scientific creationism. John saw this as an attempt to return to the science of the first half of the 19th century, before Darwin. He frequently pointed out that the modern creationists and proponents of "intelligent design" are the direct intellectual descendants of William Paley and his Natural Theology; or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity (1802). The indifference of many mainstream biologists to the challenges being made by the burgeoning creationist movement concerned John greatly. His initial attempts to get the National Academy of Science involved in the creation/evolution issue met with failure. He therefore wrote numerous articles countering creationism and published them in journals such as Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Journal of Geological Education, Journal of Science Teacher Education, Academe, Daedalus, and The American Biology Teacher. Subsequent events, including those in Kansas in 1999, among others, brought home to many scientists that the impact of creationists on the public at large and on K-12 education in particular is too important to ignore. The National Academy of Sciences reconsidered its position, and John served on the committee that wrote Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences (second edition, 1999).

John was the author or editor of more than 180 articles and books. The most recent of these should be well known to the readers of RNCSE. In February 2002, the University of California Press published John's last book, From Genesis to Genetics: The Case of Evolution and Creationism. In it, he explains that for religion and science to coexist, they must be free to do the good for which each is uniquely qualified. He describes the ancestry of ancient creation myths and the history of biblical interpretations of the Book of Genesis. He reviews the historical context of creationism and intelligent design in the 19th century and the development of evolutionary thought. Finally, he strongly advocates strengthening the separation of science and faith in our educational system. All this is written with his usual, and awesome, breadth of scholarship and fluid style.

On the personal level, John was admired and loved by all who knew him. The enthusiasm for the natural world that he acquired as a boy never left him, but his interests were not limited to science: widely read in culture and history and with a strong appreciation for the arts, he exemplified the conception of a Renaissance Man. He was very supportive of his associates and students, freely giving them encouragement with his gentle, though penetrating, questions and humor that helped them to develop their ideas. At the memorial meeting for John held at UCR in May 2002, Bruce Albert, the president of the National Academy of Sciences, talked at length about the great influence that John had had on him, calling him his "hero and role model". And I am proud to have been numbered among his friends.

There is no more fitting way to conclude this tribute to John Moore's contributions than by quoting the concluding words of From Genesis to Genetics, in which he lauds those individuals down the ages who, by using their unfettered minds for rational inquiry, gave us:
the modern world and the possibility of truly great improvement of the human condition. They have replaced the primitive view of nature as chaotic, mysterious, and often threatening with a view of the universe and life as responding in patterns that are precise, beautiful, and awe-inspiring. Beyond giving pleasure to the inquisitive, analytical mind, this progress in understanding provides previously unimagined ways to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and lessen toil. Lives are poorly lived when they look out upon a cold, hostile, inscrutable world; lives are enhanced when they look out upon a world with appreciation of its beauty and order and its suitability as a warm and friendly home. It matters little for the great moral and ethical questions facing humanity whether or not the human brain and mind are the consequences of random events in evolution, though scientists are convinced they are. However, it matters a great deal that we use our brains and minds honestly, humanely, intensively, and effectively to preserve and improve the world for ourselves and for generations that follow (p 206).
John A Moore had just such a mind, honest and humane, one that worked intensively and effectively to improve the world of biology and of all who knew and interacted with him.

NCSE Members Reply to Cal Thomas

In late August 2002, Cal Thomas devoted his syndicated column to calling for "equal time" for creationism in the science classrooms of the public schools. (The column appeared on a variety of dates and under a variety of headlines, the most common of which was "Making monkeys out of evolutionists"; it is available on-line, dated August 27, 2002, at http://www.townhall.com/columnists/calthomas/ct20020827.shtml). In it, all the familiar tropes of creationism are dutifully employed: likening of evolutionists to apes ("pro-evolution forces jumped from their trees and started behaving as if someone had stolen their bananas"), quote-mining of popular and dated sources ("No less a pro-evolution source than Science Digest noted in 1979..."), citation of scientists of the past who supposedly would have agreed with creationism (Johannes Kepler and Wernher von Braun, both of whose first names Thomas misspelled), dogged insistence on a false dichotomy ("There are only two models for the origin of humans: evolution and creation"), and, of course, equation of evolution with atheism ("Anything involving God, or His works, [contemporary evolutionists] believe, is to be censored...").

In addition to Daniel J Phelps's op-ed (see article following), the responses of several NCSE members appeared all across the country. Kudos to them and to everyone who wrote to their local newspapers to attempt to counter Thomas's column.

A long op-ed entitled "Faulty biblical literalism doesn't belong in schools" by Gary Bennett appeared in the Idaho Statesman (2002 Sep 14; available on-line at http://www.idahostatesman.com/Opinion/ReadersOpinions/story.asp?ID=20364). Bennett ironically proposed that "students should also be allowed to vote on the biblical description of the earth (flat) versus the scientific observation of the earth (spheroidal)", adding, "In case anyone thinks this is absurd, consider that the creationist [Tom Willis] who gutted the Kansas school standards three years ago isn't sure that the sun doesn't go around the earth, because that's how the Bible describes it". He went on to explain that evolution is not a theory in crisis and that most of the mainstream religious denominations in the United States do not regard it as theologically problematic. Ending with a reference to Kenneth R Miller's Finding Darwin's God, Bennett wrote, "Apparently the creationist god is too puny to create something as complex as evolution."

Tom Kerr wrote to the editor of the Contra Costa Times (published in Walnut Creek, California) to complain that Thomas apparently "chooses to ignore the overwhelming evidence that has established evolution as the foundation of modern biology. Evolution is simply the best explanation of biological and paleontological data available." He also noted that most mainstream churches accept evolution and support evolution education. He concluded, "This issue shouldn't be about fear or faith. For the sake of our students and the quality of education, we can't afford to teach bad science alongside good." Kerr's letter was published on September 13, 2002.

NCSE Supporter Michael Ruse, Lucyle T Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University, contributed an op-ed piece to the Tallahassee Democrat: "Genesis has no place in science class" (2002 Sep 1; available on-line at http://www.tallahassee.com/mld/democrat/news/opinion/3964995.htm). Emphasizing the continued need for separation of church and state, Ruse remarked, "Science tells us that life developed slowly and naturally from primitive beginnings up to the forms that exist today — evolution. And science tells that we humans are part of this process; Homo sapiens evolved about a million or so years ago. This is what is science, and this is what is and should be taught." Responding to Thomas's contention that it is only fair to teach evolution and Genesis side-by-side in science classrooms, Ruse said, "what should be taught as the best science should not be something open to democratic vote ... Science tells us that evolution is the answer. Let us leave matters at that and move on to other issues. Never forget, if we are indeed made in God's image, then turning our backs on where our intelligence leads us is spurning his greatest gift of all."

David E Thomas, president of New Mexicans for Science and Reason, wrote to the Albuquerque Journal to protest Thomas's column. Dave — it is necessary to use first names here, for obvious reasons — ironically remarked that Cal's enthusiasm for "equal time" is apparently quite selective: "Surely, this is not the same Thomas who calls for schools to get back to math and science basics, and to stop wasting students' time on 'trendy subjects' like 'sex-ed, environmental-ed and homosexual-ed.'" He also took issue with Cal's "repeated implication that one must choose between evolution and God," explaining, "This is a crock. Many religious groups have no problem accepting modern science, including evolution." Dave ended by rebutting Cal's assertion that both creationism and evolution are untestable, pointing out that the discovery of the Toumai skull and the completion of the sequencing of the human genome both could have conceivably overturned evolution. His letter appeared on September 6, 2002.

New OSU Dean an Evolution Activist

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
New OSU Dean an Evolution Activist
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2002
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
5
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Joan M Herbers, recently appointed Dean of the College of Biological Sciences at the Ohio State University, has a history of active support for evolution education — one that she expects to continue. Herbers comes to OSU from Colorado State University, where she headed the Biology Department for 8 years. She was active in supporting evolution education during a creationist episode in the Poudre School District in Fort Collins, Colorado, as she and NCSE member Michael F Antolin describe in their "Evolution's struggle for existence in America's public schools" (Evolution 2001 Dec; 55 [12]: 2379-88; see also RNCSE 1999; 19 [4]: 4-5 and 1999; 19 [5]: 10). Herbers told the Columbus Dispatch (2002 Sep 8) that she plans to participate in the process of developing science education standards based on strong evolutionary foundations.

Ohio Reflections

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Ohio Reflections
Author(s): 
Eric Meikle
NCSE Outreach Coordinator
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2002
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
4
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The Ohio State Board of Education (OBE) voted to adopt new academic content standards for science on December 10, 2002. The vote, 18-0 with one member absent, brought to a close a year-long process of writing and revising that sparked debate across the state about how evolution should be presented. Supporters of science education have welcomed the new standards as a great improvement over Ohio's previous guidelines, which avoided the word "evolution" entirely and referred only vaguely to "change through time". (For previous reports on 2002 events in Ohio related to the new standards, see "Ohio overthrows Scopes legacy", RNCSE 2002 Sep/Oct; 22 [5]: 4-6.)

Final adoption of the standards had been expected following the unanimous OBE vote in October of "intent to adopt" a revised draft received from the board's Standards Committee. As required by state law, the new standards were also presented to a joint meeting of the Ohio General Assembly's House and Senate Education Committees in mid-November. However, the legislature played no direct role in approving or adopting the standards. Two proposed bills introduced early in 2002 would have required votes by both houses to approve new science standards (but not standards for any other subject). These bills, which were seen by some as an attempt to influence the standards-writing process by legislators opposed to evolution, never progressed out of committee during the 2002 General Assembly session.

Opponents of evolution education worked hard all year to diminish or delete its role in the new standards, which will now form the basis on which a curriculum guide and required statewide tests will be written. The most publicly active opponents were associated with the American Family Association of Ohio, Intelligent Design Network (headquartered in Kansas), and the Discovery Institute (in Seattle). However, the great majority of the teachers, scientists, and others selected by the Ohio Department of Education to advise on and actually write the science standards were not swayed by the now-common tactics and arguments of those who lobbied either against evolution or in favor of including "intelligent design theory" (which in practice consists almost entirely of "evidence against evolution"). During the year, the OBE's Standards Committee made some minor changes to the standards which were seen by evolution supporters such as Ohio Citizens for Science as unnecessary or potentially encouraging to anti-evolutionists. Following the October OBE meeting, attention was focused on a sentence added by the Standards Committee to the 10th-grade Life Sciences section: "Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory."

Why single out evolution?

Those who follow the creation/evolution controversy know that we at NCSE are opposed to any special singling out of evolution from among other scientific theories in this way. Scientists continue to investigate and analyze critically all scientific theories, every day. Why make such a point of critically analyzing only one such theory, unless the intention is to raise doubts about evolution's central place in biology and its overwhelming acceptance among biological scientists? It is possible that such language, mentioning only evolution by name, may be taken by some in local districts as an endorsement of "evidence against evolution" or support for "teaching the controversy". These are rhetorical code phrases frequently used by anti-evolutionists.

In response to the expression of such concerns by Ohio residents following the October meeting, the Board of Education (OBE) in December amended the relevant life science indicator and benchmark to add one more sentence: "The intent of this indicator/benchmark does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design." Board member Michael Cochran, one of its most vocal questioners of evolution, was quoted in a December 11 Department of Education press release as saying, "It was never our position nor our intent to mandate the teaching of 'intelligent design'. But if a teacher or local board wants to explore alternatives to evolution, they can."

Anti-evolutionists continue to do their best to portray the Ohio standards as some sort of victory in their efforts to remove the topic from America's public schools. Somehow the single sentence "Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory" has been transmuted in some accounts into "Students will criticize evolution" (emphases added in each). Any objective reading of the entire standards document shows its clear intent of having students in science classes study and understand the natural world from a scientific perspective. This includes learning the basics of modern biology and evolution as understood by the scientific community. As always, what actually happens in individual classrooms will be a function of teacher, students, school, district, community, and so on. State standards are important in influencing the process, but hardly all-controlling. Standards are positive, not negative, documents. They do not prohibit subjects or list what will not be covered; they establish only what will be expected.

Students in Ohio and elsewhere remain free, as they always have been, to criticize whatever they wish. It is probably better, however, if they have some knowledge and understanding of a topic before embarking on criticism. Ohio students will now have the opportunity to learn about the science of evolution, thanks to the efforts of the educators, scientists, and others who wrote and supported the new standards.

Coming soon to your neighborhood?

Other states that are creating or revising science standards may expect similar attacks on evolution to occur. Check with your state department of education to find out if you may be in line behind Kansas and Ohio for a future public conflict. And please keep NCSE up to date on challenges to evolution education in your region.

About the Author(s): 
Eric Meikle
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
meikle@ncseweb.org

Remembering Stephen Jay Gould


Steve Gould wrote like no one else in our field — or in any other field. His sentences were long, erudite, and full of parenthetical phrases, allusions to classical literature, intellectual history, philosophy of science, art, music, historical personages, and baseball. His short pieces always had a moral, and usually it was about how important it is to see biology through the glass of evolution. His point was often that evolution uses what is available to form new structures and functions; it is not necessary to create structures de novo, to wait for new complexes of genes to arrive, or to pretend that such new features are impossible to evolve. In this way, he met the challenges of the adaptationists, the population geneticists, and the creationists at the same time. His lesson was that in the functional design of organisms, evolutionary history is as important as any other factor. Such a lesson could only come from a paleobiologist. But it had to be from a paleobiologist who understood history.

And Steve understood history very well, above all the history of evolutionary thought. He knew that we ourselves live in a moment of history that will later be interpreted for its intellectual values: the values that we place on previous history, how we interpret historical concepts and personages in the light of these values, how we reformulate and answer the eternal questions about evolution, form and function, process and pattern. This awareness of history is present in his earliest works, and is shown masterfully in his 1972 paper with Niles Eldredge on punctuated equilibria. Indeed, one of the first sections of that paper is entitled "The cloven footprint of theory". Even then, he tried to teach paleontologists and biologists that one cannot approach a set of data without any idea of what one expects to find.

Part of the rhetorical genius of punctuated equilibria was that it did not deny the central mechanisms of the Modern Synthesis of evolution that were assembled since the 1930s. On the contrary, Eldredge and Gould showed that the principal model of evolutionary change in populations was not a slow, gradual divergence and genetic differentiation around a geographic or ecological barrier. Rather, Ernst Mayr himself had championed the idea that it was around the edges of the total range of a species that evolutionary change could occur most quickly. This was a piece of rhetorical genius, in my view, because (for better or worse) it did not challenge the findings of other fields but rather strove to work with them. Of course, as we know, their hypothesis was not perceived in this way, but that is not their fault.

Steve was equally famous for putting into accessible words many concepts that had previously been poorly articulated or related to more general ideas. With Elisabeth Vrba he developed the concept of exaptation and other terms associated with the idea of how selection puts existing structures to new uses. With Richard Lewontin he criticized the "adaptationist program" that pervaded much Anglo-American functional and evolutionary biology — using again his favorite metaphors from ecclesiastical architecture. And his book Ontogeny and Phylogeny, published in 1977, provided the historical framework and the patterns of paleontological evidence that could bring together once more two sciences that had been separated for a century. His masterwork, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, a book on which he worked for 25 years, is the final chapter of his legacy, and it will be interesting to see how it is received.

In losing Steve, the community also loses a good friend. He was a jovial, expansive man, always glad to see a colleague, and he remembered and appreciated one's contributions. Through the years, we had many memorable discussions on all kinds of subjects. We shared a great interest in the history of evolutionary thought and how it affected the current of evolutionary research today. However, we could never come to discuss science, or even Darwin, Owen, and other historical personages, without first discussing a topic of even more important common interest: baseball. We shared this passion, and although I never got to accompany Steve to a game at Fenway or Yankee Stadium, I did have the pleasure of taking him to an Oakland A's game at the Coliseum. Steve was the only person I ever knew who referred to the New York Yankees as "we".