RNCSE 18 (3)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
3
Year: 
1998
Date: 
May–June
Articles available online are listed below.

Evolution in the 1998 Elections

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Evolution in the 1998 Elections
Author(s): 
Molleen Matsumura, NCSE Network Project Director
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
3
Year: 
1998
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
4–5
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The day after the 1998 elections, news began arriving from allied organizations and members around the country, reporting how state and local elections had affected the future of evolution education in their communities. At first glance, the news appeared to be good: many defeated candidates had been endorsed by the "Religious Right" for their support of policies designed to weaken church-state separation. However, a community may elect a creationist for one office and not another; or regional differences in a state may lead to different districts' electing representatives on both sides of the issue. Moreover, support for "creation science" crosses party lines, and some individuals' support for "creation science" proposals results from their acceptance of arguments for local control of curricula or the fairness of "teaching both sides," rather than religious beliefs. Thus it is the details of local results that give the clearest picture. Here's what we've learned so far:

Alabama's incumbent Governor Fob James, still remembered for offering an ape-imitation as an argument against evolution at the 1995 meeting of his state's Board of Education, was defeated in his bid for re-election.

While California re-elected State Superintendent of Education Delaine Eastin, who supports evolution education, results of local elections are expected to vary. Already, Bill McComas has reported that James Rogan, a Ventura County Republican who expressly supports "creation science", has been elected to the US Congress.

Just days before the election, we received email from Florida asking whether we could verify an allegation that gubernatorial candidate Jeb Bush supports teaching "creation science." We are still exploring this question, and would welcome further information, since Governor-elect Bush was endorsed by the American Family Association, which has opposed evolution education in other states.

Idaho was another state with mixed results. Idaho voters re-elected US Rep. Helen Chenoweth, who has supported a school-prayer amendment and explicitly supports "creation science"; but they rejected Anne Fox's bid for re-election as Superintendent of Public Instruction. Fox, who supported teaching "creation science", lost by a healthy 8% margin.

Writing from Kentucky, Thomas Wheeler recalled that earlier in the year, he had read a report in RNCSE that, according to the newsletter of "Operation T.E.A.C.H.", State Senator Gex Williams was willing to introduce an anti-evolution bill in the state legislature. Williams was just defeated in his bid for a seat in the US Congress.

NCSE members Kim Johnson, Dave Thomas, and Richard Talley report mixed results in New Mexico . Roger X Lenard, who has been a strong opponent of evolution while serving on the State Board of Education, lost in his race for a seat in the State House of Representatives. However, P Davis Vickers of Las Lunas, who has been pressing for "creation science" in his school district, was elected to the state House, and Rep Tim Macko, who introduced an anti-evolution bill in 1997, was re-elected.With the election of NCSE member Marshall Berman to the Board of Education, the defeat of antievolution candidates Mary Agnes Gilbert and Darl Miller, and Lenard's vacant seat soon to be filled by a new appointee, New Mexicans are hopeful that the Board will take significant steps to improve science education.

Tennessee shocked the nation with the news of the pre-election murder of Democrat Tommy Burks, a state legislator who was a key supporter of the notorious "Scopes II" anti-evolution bill in 1995. Burks' widow was elected to his seat in the state House of Representatives.

Writing from Texas, Rob Pennock also reports mixed results. Donna Ballard, known in her state as a "firebrand conservative", had worked hard to limit evolution in the curriculum during her term on the State Board of Education. Having resigned when her family moved, she ran for office in her new district, but was defeated by incumbent Rene Nunez. According to Pennock, "Religious conservatives had targeted five seats on the Board. Had they won all five they would have had a majority." They picked up one new seat, and retained one.

From Washington, Pierre Stromberg reported that in pre-election television statements Governor-elect Gary Locke made the evolution-creation controversy a campaign issue, criticizing several Republican opponents for their support of creationism and specifically mentioning the evolution disclaimer bill introduced in the state senate in January 1998.

What Genesis is Really About

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
What Genesis is Really About
Author(s): 
Conrad Hyers
Saint Olaf's College
Northfield, MN
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
3
Year: 
1998
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
15, 33
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
...When one looks at the myths of surrounding cultures, in fact, one senses that the current debate over creationism would have seemed very strange, if not unintelligible, to the writers and readers of Genesis. Scientific and historical issues in their modern form were not issues at all. Science and natural history as we know them simply did not exist, even though they owe a debt to the positive value given to space, time, matter, and history by the biblical affirmation of history.

What did exist — what very much existed — and what pressed on Jewish faith from all sides, and even from within, were the religious problems of idolatry and syncretism. The critical question in the creation account of Genesis 1 was polytheism versus monotheism. That was the burning issue of the day, not some issue which certain Americans 2,500 years later in the midst of the scientific age might imagine that it was. And one of the reasons for its being such a burning issue was that the Jewish monotheism was such a unique and hard-won faith. The temptations of idolatry and syncretism were everywhere. Every nation surrounding Israel, both great and small, was polytheistic; and many Jews themselves held — as they always had — similar inclinations. Hence the frequent prophetic diatribes against altars in high places, the Canaanite cult of Baal, and "whoring after other gods."

Read through the eyes of the people who wrote it, Genesis 1 would seem very different from the way most people today would tend to read it — including evolutionists who may dismiss it as a pre-scientific account of origins, and creationists who may try to defend it as the true science and literal history of origins. For most peoples in the ancient world the various regions of nature were divine. Sun, moon, and stars were gods. There were sky gods and earth gods and water gods. There were gods of light and darkness, rivers and vegetation, animals and fertility. Though for us, nature has been "demythologized" and "naturalized" — in large part because of this very passage of scripture — for ancient Jewish faith a divinized nature posed a fundamental religious problem.

In addition, pharaohs, kings, and heroes were often seen as sons of gods, or at least as special mediators between the divine and human spheres. The greatness and vaunted power and glory of the successive waves of empires that impinged on or conquered Israel (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia) posed an analogous problem of idolatry in the human sphere.

In the light of this historical context it becomes clearer what Genesis 1 is undertaking and accomplishing: a radical and sweeping affirmation of monotheism vis-à-vis polytheism, syncretism and idolatry. Each day of creation takes on two principal categories of divinity in the pantheons of the day, and declares that these are not gods at all, but creatures — creations of the one true God who is the only one, without a second or third. Each day dismisses an additional cluster of deities, arranged in a cosmological and symmetrical order.

On the first day the gods of light and darkness are dismissed. On the second day, the gods of sky and sea. On the third day, earth gods and gods of vegetation. On the fourth day sun, moon, and star gods. The fifth and sixth days take away any associations with divinity from the animal kingdom. And finally human existence, too, is emptied of any intrinsic divinity — while at the same time all human beings, from the greatest to the least, and not just pharaohs, kings and heroes, are granted a divine likeness and mediation.

On each day of creation another set of idols is smashed. These, O Israel, are no gods at all — even the great gods and rulers of conquering superpowers. They are the creations of that transcendent One who is not to be confused with any piece of the furniture of the universe of creaturely habitation. The creation is good, it is very good, but it is not divine.

We are then given a further clue concerning the polemical design of the passage when the final verse (2:4a) concludes: "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created." Why the word "generations," especially if what is being offered is a chronology of days of creation? Now to polytheist and monotheist alike the word "generation" at this point would immediately call one thing to mind. If we should ask how these various divinities were related to one another in the pantheons of the day, the most common answer would be that they were related as members of a family tree. We would be given a genealogy, as in Hesiod's Theogony, where the great tangle of Greek gods and goddesses were sorted out by generations. Ouranos begat Kronos; Kronos begat Zeus; Zeus begat Prometheus.

The Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians all had their "generations of the gods." Thus the priestly account, which had begun with the majestic words, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," now concludes — over against all the impressive and colorful pantheons with their divine pedigrees — " These are the generations of the heavens and the Earth when they were created." It was a final pun on the concept of the divine family tree.

The fundamental question at stake, then, could not have been the scientific question of how things achieved their present form and by what processes, nor even the historical question about time periods and chronological order. The issue was idolatry, not science; syncretism, not natural history; theology, not chronology; affirmations of faith in one transcendent God, not creationist or evolutionist theories of origin. Attempting to be loyal to the Bible by turning the creation accounts into a kind of science or history is like trying to be loyal to the teachings of Jesus by arguing that the parables are actual historical events, and only reliable and trustworthy when taken literally as such.

If one really wishes to appreciate more fully the religious meaning of creation in Genesis 1, one should read not the creationist or anticreationist diatribes but Isaiah 40. For the theology of Genesis 1 is essentially the same as the theology of Deutero-Isaiah. They are also both from the same time period, and therefore part of the same interpretative context. It was a time that had been marked, first, by the conquest of most of Palestine — save Jerusalem — by the Assyrians under Sennacherib (ca. 701 BC). And a century later the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar had in turn conquered the Middle East, Palestine, and even Jerusalem.

The last vestige of Jewish autonomy and Promised Land had been overrun...

Given the awesome might and splendor and triumphs of Assyria and then Babylon, was it not obvious that the shepherd-god of Israel was just a local spirit, a petty tribal god who was hardly a match for the likes of Marduk, god of Babylon? Where was this god... ? Yet despite the littleness and powerlessness of a conquered people a prophet dared to stand forth and declare what Genesis 1 in its own way also declares:
... It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, ...and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.(Isaiah 40:21-23)
Had there been a controversy in the Babylonian public schools of the day — and had there been Babylonian public schools — these would have been the issues in debate.

Excerpted and reprinted with permission of the author from "Biblical literalism:constricting the cosmic dance", in Roland Mushat Frye (ed) Is God a creationist? The religious case against creation-science. NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1983: 100-104. Prof. Hyers explores this matter in detail in his book, The Meaning of Creation: Genesis and Modern Science, John Knox Press, 1984.

Acknowledgement

NCSE thanks James Moore for bringing this essay to the editor's attention.

The 1998 International Conference on Creationism

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The 1998 International Conference on Creationism
Author(s): 
Robert Schadewald
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
3
Year: 
1998
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
22–25, 33
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The 1998 International Conference on Creationism (ICC98) was held at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, August 3 through 8, 1998. Organized every four years by the Pittsburgh Creation Science Fellowship, the ICCs are the most ambitious of creation conferences. ICC98 was organized in two tracks, the Technical Symposium and the Educators' Symposium. The former ran the full six days and included 47 papers; the latter ran Thursday through Saturday with an even dozen presentations. Also, a plenary session was held every evening. Total attendance was probably around 400.

Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, a town of about 10,000, is roughly 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Geneva College is a small school run by the tiny Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, whose publishing arm originally brought forth Henry Morris's Genesis Flood. The campus is very beautiful, with lots of trees, flower beds, and old-fashioned stone buildings. The dorms are not air-conditioned, unfortunately, and everyone sweltered at night. The cafeteria food was a pleasant surprise, especially in comparison with Duquesne in Pittsburgh, site of the three previous ICCs (1986, 1990, and 1994).

I have attended all four ICCs and six other major creation conferences, beginning in 1983. (It is sobering to think that I have spent more than two months of my life at creation conferences.) During that period, attendance by skeptics has varied from about a dozen at ICC86 to yours truly at ICC94. This year, Frank Lovell, a long-time creationist-watcher from Louisville, Kentucky, also attended the entire conference. Astronomer Francis Graham, who defended Copernicanism in a formal debate against geocentrists at the 1985 National Creation Conference, attended ICC98 on Tuesday. Tom McIver drove up from Cleveland on Saturday. The notes that follow are my own impressions of the conference, tempered throughout by conversations with Frank Lovell.

The conference is not easily summarized, other than to say that it was a far cry from the National Creation Conferences that the old Bible-Science Association used to sponsor. For example, I heard only two speakers mention that old creationist chestnut, the thickness of dust on the moon. One said that it is no problem for the conventional view, but it is a bit of a problem for young-Earth creationists, because at the current influx rate there is far too much moon dust for a 10,000-year scenario. The other noted that Snelling and Rush thoroughly debunked the moon dust argument in Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal some years ago.

In other words, this was not your father's creation science.

The opening presentation on Monday morning was entitled "Blotting Out and Breaking Up: Miscellaneous Hebrew Studies in Geocatastrophism" by David Fouts and Kurt Wise, both of Bryan College. Fouts, who teaches Hebrew and Old Testament, did the actual presentation. The authors argued that the Hebrew of the Flood story requires the "blotting out" of life on Earth by waters of the "great deep" exiting through both oceanic and terrestrial fountains or springs. The language does not, however, require obliteration of signs of life on Earth, and the existence of fossils is consistent with (if not required by) the text. The paper tended to provide scriptural validation for global Flood models that depend on terrestrial water sources.

Also on Monday was "Numerical Simulation of Precipitation Induced by Hot Mid-Oceanic Ridges" by meteorologist Larry Vardiman of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). Vardiman obtained the source code for a weather modeling tool developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and modified it to run on a microcomputer. Using this model, he investigated what would have happened to global precipitation just after the Flood if the mid-oceanic ridges, being newly-formed and very hot, heated the waters above them to 30º C, 50º C, or even 70º C. Needless to say, the hotter the ocean surface, the greater the evaporation, and what goes up must come down, lots of it in the polar regions. Could this explain the — as in one — Ice Age?

On Tuesday morning, T. Fritsche presented a paper entitled "The Impact at the Cretaceous/Tertiary Boundary." Fritsche gave quite a nice summary of the history of the impact hypothesis, the broad range of evidence supporting it, the challenge of the competing volcanic eruption hypothesis, and the apparent triumph of the impact scenario. Frank and I didn't notice any significant omissions or distortions here. I was anxiously awaiting Fritsche's explanation of how the dust cloud blasted into the atmosphere by the impact managed to penetrate the Flood Mud and form a worldwide layer of clay just below the Tertiary deposits. (Most creationists believe the Flood waters then were carrying essentially all of the Tertiary sediments in suspension.) Alas, Fritsche never mentioned this. Strangely enough, I've never heard any other creationist try to account for it, either.

I also attended a Tuesday presentation by Robert H. Brown of the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Geoscience Research Center. Brown's paper, "Meteorites and a Young Earth," was somewhat similar to one he gave at the first ICC in 1986. This time, he focused on the Asuka meteorite, which has been dated by six different radiometric techniques. All give the same date within a few percent. A nuclear physicist by training, Brown carefully explained the logic underlying radiometric dating and argued that the concordant dates have to mean something. At the end of his presentation, he suggested that the Genesis creation story seems to deal primarily with events involving Earth, and creationists should at least consider the possibility that some of the creation already existed. During the question period, John Baumgardner, a geophysicist at Los Alamos National Laboratories, sharply attacked Brown for this bit of alleged heresy. Baumgardner accused Brown of not being a real young-Earth creationist and of deceiving the conference organizers to get on the program. The elderly Brown handled the ugly situation with poise and dignity. I half expected someone to stand up and tell Baumgardner to sit down, but no one did. The charge of deceit was especially unfair; Brown has spoken at every ICC, and the organizers knew his views from the beginning.

On Tuesday evening, philosopher of science Paul Nelson gave a presentation on "Understanding the Logic of Design." Nelson is one of the few who are firmly established in both the young-Earth creationist and Intelligent Design camps. According to Nelson, the logic of Design comes down to this: Science as conventionally practiced deals with natural causes and excludes intelligent causes. In the real world, however, we appeal to intelligent causation all the time. Detectives, for example, do not demand natural causes in murder cases. They look for intelligent causes. It is absurd for science to demand natural causation and exclude intelligent causation. And so on, through many examples.

When Nelson finished, the first question came from Paul Ackerman, a psychologist at Wichita State University. Ackerman argued that the problem with Nelson's approach "is the distinction between natural causes and intelligent causes. Any psychologist would say that intelligent human behavior is a natural cause." He went on to suggest that the proper distinction would be supernatural creation or supernatural design versus evolution. I was intrigued to hear a creationist make exactly the same objections I would have made.

Nelson's response was revealing. "I'm going to have to resist that move," he said, "because I do not think that the best way to make the analytical cut is between natural and supernatural. If you let them make the distinction between natural and supernatural, you will never be able to crack methodological naturalism."

Indeed! The claim that "natural" and "intelligent" somehow are opposites is fundamental to Intelligent Design. By promoting a false dichotomy, by equivocating with the words "natural" and "intelligent," Intelligent Design advocates hope to smuggle miracles into scientific explanations without facing up to the questions David Hume raised more than two centuries ago.

Phillip W Dennis is an industrial research physicist with publications in quantum field theory and invariant methods in special and general relativity. On Wednesday morning, Dennis gave the first half of his presentation on "Probability and Quantum Mechanics: A Christian Theistic Interpretation." A hard-shell Calvinist, Dennis believes that absolutely nothing is truly random. As he put it, "There is not one contingent electron floating around in the universe." Everything is foreordained. (Later, I gratefully learned that it was foreordained that Dennis would loan me change for the Coke machine when I was dying of thirst.)

In his two-part presentation, Dennis argued two points. First, he argued that probability can and should be put in a Christian framework. Every event in the universe has meaning and purpose. "Probability is attributable to a correlation between the limited knowledge of man and the external objective state of affairs again arranged according to the eternal decree of God." Secondly, Dennis argued against the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics and reviewed numerous alternatives proposed by others. Without claiming to have solved the problem, he suggested an approach for a Christian realist interpretation of quantum mechanics.

On Wednesday afternoon, Dean H Kenyon, a biophysicist at San Francisco State University, presented a paper entitled "Hierarchical Information Content, Linguistic Properties and Protein-binding Oligomers in Coding and Noncoding DNA Sequences." Kenyon noted that up to 97% of the DNA in mammalian genomes doesn't code for anything. Some of it has a regulatory function, but most of it is introns with no known function. He argued that the "texture" of noncoding DNA differs significantly from that of coding DNA. The introns have many more repeats and quasi-periodic sequences, as he demonstrated with striking slides. What could this mean? Kenyon characterized his work as an exploration, a search for ways to test hypotheses about whether genetic systems show Intelligent Design.

Kenyon was followed by Andrew Snelling, a geologist with the Australian branch of Answers in Genesis, and John Woodmorappe, speaking on "The Cooling of Thick Igneous Bodies on a Young Earth." Earth's crust contains many large blobs of granitic rock that rose from the interior in a molten state and then cooled and solidified. Some of these plutons are several kilometers in diameter. According to the conventional view, some of them took hundreds of thousands or even millions of years to cool, mostly by conduction. This view is incompatible with a young Earth as defined by the authors (6000 to 7000 years old rather than 4.55 billion). The authors argued that a high water content can reduce the melting point of a magma, and magma can absorb up to 24% water by weight at a depth of 100 km. Escaping water can carry away a lot of heat. Moreover, water percolating through cracks and pores in the surrounding country rock and the plutons themselves could carry away more heat by convective cooling. By maximizing favorable variables and invoking every known and conceivable mechanism, the authors claimed to answer "yet another objection to the young-Earth creationist position." Don't hold your breath waiting for this one to survive conventional peer review!

Danny Faulkner, an astronomer at the University of South Carolina (Lancaster), is perhaps the world's only young-Earth creationist astronomer with a secular academic appointment in astronomy. On Wednesday morning, Faulkner reviewed the states of conventional and creationist astronomy. I don't recall any strong assertion about the former that a conventional astronomer would dispute. He also said that, although creationists have partial and/or hypothetical alternatives to some of the conventional ideas, the fact is that no creationist astronomy model exists. (For more on Faulkner's astronomy, see "Yet Another Young Sun Apologetic", this issue)

On Friday morning, Kurt Wise gave a presentation on creationist systematics entitled, "Is Life Singularly Nested or Not?" Wise is noted for telling his students and others trying to construct creation models to "think weird." By this, he means to think outside the box preferably, way outside the box. And he takes his own advice. In this presentation, Wise noted that both evolutionists and creationists take some sort of hierarchy of life, some sort of nesting scheme, for granted. But what if it ain't so? Many familiar concepts and objects can be grouped into multiple, equally valid categories. Consider table utensils. Obviously, one can group forks into one category, spoons into another, and knives into another. But it is equally valid to categorize table utensils as silver, stainless steel, plastic, and so on. Can life forms also be rigorously classified in multiple ways? Wise argued that examples of problematica, chimeromorphs, horizontal gene transfer, cladistic observations of unresolved multichotomies, and numerous other lines of evidence suggest multiple nesting. He argued that creationists ought to consider a multiply nested scheme for classifying living things above the level of the "baramin" (created kind).

On Friday afternoon, Steven A Austin of ICR and Andrew A Snelling of Answers in Genesis gave a presentation entitled "Discordant Potassium-Argon Model and Isochron 'Ages' for Cardenas Basalt (Middle Proterozoic) and Associated Diabase of Eastern Grand Canyon, Arizona." It is well-known that rubidium-strontium and potassium-argon (K-Ar) radiometric dates for the Cardenas basalt disagree. The usual explanation for the discordance is argon loss. Based on published dates and analyses of their own samples, the authors concluded that conventional explanations for the discordance fail. They reviewed three alternatives, each having major problems of its own. Nevertheless, the authors concluded, "All three explanations offered as alternatives to the argon loss models invalidate using the K-Ar system as conventional geochronology would assume."

Saturday afternoon, speaking on "A College Creation Curriculum" at an Educators' Symposium (nontechnical) session, Wise presented an impressive review of global plate tectonics, hitting most of the highlights and pointing out the consilience between several independent lines of evidence. He told the audience that evolution is a powerful theory, and that anyone who claims otherwise simply doesn't understand evolution. He said point blank that if it weren't for his religious beliefs — if he had only the scientific evidence — he would accept evolution himself.

Saturday evening, Wise gave the closing presentation for the conference, and among other things, he reviewed the state of the creation model in various fields. Astronomy? No creation model exists. Biology? Same. Paleontology (his own field)? Same. He thinks a couple of other fields, such as the development of a Flood model, are making slow progress.

Despite this seemingly gloomy summary, Wise sent people away fired up. His message was that creationists have an enormous amount of work to do, and it is time for them to get cracking. He appealed to everyone present to pitch in and do whatever they could. One prominent creationist told me later that he thought the Wise windup was the best presentation of the conference.

It is hard to overstate the influence of Kurt Wise in shaping modern creationism as it is practiced at its higher levels. I first met Kurt at NCC85 in Cleveland (the conference that ended with a formal debate over the relative merits of heliocentricity and geocentricity). Kurt then was still a graduate student at Harvard studying paleontology under Stephen J Gould. He immediately impressed me with his candor in dealing with the evidence, but it didn't really sink home until the following year, when I heard him give a presentation at ICC86 entitled "How Geologists Date Things." The talk was absolutely straight Geology 101, except for a few debunking asides. ("You know how creationists often claim that geologists use circular reasoning, that the rocks date the fossils, and fossils date the rocks? Well, that's wrong." And he explained why.) That was 12 years ago. Since then, Kurt has labored tirelessly, in public and private, by example and persuasion, to convince his creationist colleagues to face the facts and find new ways to interpret them.

Credit also is due to the Pittsburgh Creation Science Fellowship (CSF), organizer and sponsor of the ICCs. Bob Walsh and Henry Jackson III of CSF were at NCC85 in Cleveland to promote the conference they were planning for the next year. They told me then that they intended to set a higher standard. ICC86 was indeed a significant improvement, but it still was largely evolution-bashing. Besides the technical and educational tracks, ICC86 featured a "basic creationism" track whose menu included dishes such as Walter Brown's Hydroplate Model (some creationists privately referred to it as the "wacky track"). The second ICC, held in 1990, was marginally better, but evolution-bashing and "wacky track" nonsense still were abundant. Following ICC90, CSF established a refereeing system that essentially eliminated outright shoddiness. Meanwhile, Wise and other Young Turks, especially philosophers Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds, had convinced the powers that be at CSF that evolution-bashing never has advanced and never will advance a real "creation model." As a result, ICC94 was dramatically better.

At ICC98, the transformation sought by the Young Turks was virtually complete. A speaker or two may have aimed the occasional cheap shot at conventional science, but nothing remotely resembling a Gishian performance was on the program. Period. For better or worse, most presentations tried either to advance a model in some way or at least to honestly review the evidence that needs explaining. This requirement was stated in the call for papers and enforced in the refereeing process, and I didn't see a significant breakdown. Anyone whose only exposure to creationism is a Gish Gallop would not have recognized a single presentation at ICC98.

One result of the higher level of ICC presentations seems to be a higher-level audience. The deep-denial school of creation science the "absolutely no evidence for evolution," dust-on-the-moon, salt-in-the-sea, evolution-is-Nazism, geomagnetico-thermoapologetic ICR parrots were mostly silent, though not entirely absent. Consequently, the level of hostility toward Frank and me was minimal, and our interactions with the creationists invariably were cordial or better. Frank and I always ate together in the cafeteria, and we had company more often than not. Some of our mealtime companions were friends from previous creation conferences, and others were new acquaintances. Questions were many, and we tried to give straight answers to all. In return, we got straight answers to questions of our own. We both felt that these exchanges were the best part of the conference.

On one point we found complete agreement: precious little of the ICC-style creationism has filtered down to the grassroots level. Duane Gish, Gary Parker, Kent Hovind, Walter Brown, Donald Chittick, and others still spout the same old stuff in seminars and debates, and it is endlessly regurgitated at Sunday schools, Bible clubs, and on the Internet. The new-generation creationists are painfully aware that most of the popular creationist literature is dreck. Although they cannot (and should not) prevent anyone from publishing anything, a move is afoot to establish some sort of clearinghouse that will award a seal of Clean Creation Science (or whatever) to books that meet the new standards. Moreover, they intend to commission someone to write an up-to-date replacement for Henry Morris's The Genesis Flood , which they hope then will go mercifully out of print, along with the equally valuable works it spawned. Even with a serious effort by dedicated people, it will take decades to purge the nonsense, and it may not be purgable at all.

Helping Schools to Teach Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Helping Schools to Teach Evolution: What Scientists Need to Know
Author(s): 
Donald Kennedy
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
3
Year: 
1998
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
26
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
In the August 7, 1998 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Donald Kennedy, President Emeritus of Stanford University, explained why the National Academy of Science had produced a handbook for K-12 teachers on "Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science" (see article this issue). After discussing the importance of evolution education and the pressures that prevent the teaching of evolution, Kennedy went on to describe the lessons he learned from media and public reaction.

... The publication was front-page news and the subject of editorials in several daily newspapers.I was asked to discuss the booklet on radio talk shows, in television interviews, and even in a debate on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer.

I am now more worried about the chilling effect of creationism on teachers than I am about explicit bans by states or local school boards on teaching evolution. When I participated in a talk show on Wisconsin Public Radio, a high-school teacher called in to say that, although he wasn't proud of his actions, he had decided to duck the whole issue by leaving evolution out of his course. He had a family, he told me, and they had to get along in a small community. Other callers spoke of trying to combine good teaching with a respect for the situations that many of their students were facing outside the classroom. I am full of admiration for most teachers and impressed, at the same time, with the seriousness of the problems they have to overcome.

The News Hour with Jim Lehrer presented the issue as a debate: two biologists versus two creationists.One creationist was a very thoughtful young teacher from a Christian high school, who professed admiration for the booklet and said that he had no problem with crediting small biological changes to evolution, but that he thought that evolutionists hadn't given satisfactory accounts of big biological changes.The other creationist, a dean at a fundamentalist Christian university, insisted on a literal biblical interpretation of creation and said that evolutionists were "brainwashing" their students while supported by tax dollars.I found particularly telling his charge that many evolutionary biologists are atheists; the claim that scientists (and thus science) are inherently antireligious is a perennial feature of the creationist case.

Perhaps the most useful lesson of these and other discussions is how important it is for scientists to treat religious conviction with respect — in particular, not to suggest, even indirectly, that science and religion are unalterably opposed. Most major religions have found ways to reconcile evolution and theology; a papal decree accepting evolution has made this absolutely clear for Catholics, for example. Indeed, the conflict between science and religion has surfaced only in one or two countries besides the United States. More important, most scientists have been able to combine their personal religious convictions and their work in science without difficulty. Obviously, some scientists have no formal religious commitments and do not worship. But others do, including colleagues of mine who engage the subject of evolution in their work — and they find no difficulty whatever in reconciling their beliefs with their science.

Scientists at colleges and universities have an important stake in the resolution of the conflict between creationism and evolution. Alabama — the state that gave us EO Wilson, perhaps the most important evolutionary biologist of his generation — recently refused to distribute the NAS's booklet to teachers in its schools. In many other states, students also are entering college with little knowledge of evolution, and thus an incomplete understanding of the natural world. Unless those of us in higher education begin to take an active role in shaping what elementary and secondary students learn about science — and in assisting local teachers who must walk a tightrope in even introducing the topic — a determined minority will continue to deprive our future students of one of the foundations of scientific literacy.

Quantifying the Importance of Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Quantifying the Importance of Evolution
Author(s): 
Molleen Matsumura, NCSE Network Project Director
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
3
Year: 
1998
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
27
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Recently a concerned parent asked NCSE for advice because her child's science teacher planned to skip the textbook chapter on evolution in order to avoid conflict with a creationist student who was very vocal about his views. Besides offering the teacher support for teaching evolution, this parent wanted to provide the teacher with solid information about how to teach evolution well, and the reasons it is important to teach evolution.

As many readers of RNCSE know, leading scientific and educational organizations have all developed science curriculum guidelines that strongly emphasize the importance of evolution as a unifying principle. For example, the National Science Education Standards released by the National Academy of Science in 1996 list five "Unifying Concepts and Processes" underlying all scientific disciplines:

Systems, order, and organization
Evidence, models, and explanation
Change, constancy, and measurement
Evolution and equilibrium (italics added)
Form and Function
(National Academy of Science, 1996)

Standards developed by the National Science Teachers Association and the American Academy for the Advancement of Science emphasize evolution just as strongly, and all these documents have helped tremendously with efforts to assure that evolution is included in state science guidelines.

Still, for a classroom teacher who is being pressed not to teach evolution, it may be necessary to give a very concrete, practical answer to the question, "What harm is done if my child doesn't study evolution?" And the answer is, "S/he can't possibly score well on the College Board biology exams," (also known as "subject SAT tests".)

In describing each of the tests in biology, College Board literature not only states the importance of evolution, but quantifies it. It says of the Biology Subject Test, "Skills Needed ... Ability to recall and understand the major concepts of biology and to apply the principles learned to solve specific problems in biology," and reports that 10% of the questions cover "Classical Genetics" and 11% cover "Evolution and Diversity." For the Biology E/M (Evolutionary/Molecular) Subject Test, which was first offered in 1997, each student takes a number of core questions, then elects to take either the "evolutionary" or molecular" portion of the test. The College Board states that, "[The] Purpose [is] To assess the student's understanding of core topics in general biology. Special emphasis is placed on either ecology or molecular biology, with recognition that evolution is inherent in both" (emphasis added). The specialized questions comprise 25% of the test, and core questions devoted to biology comprise another 11%.

The Advanced Placement test, which is based on "college curriculum surveys of introductory biology courses for biology majors," devotes 25% of questions to "Heredity and Evolution." The Board says of one other biology test, "The Subject Examination in General Biology covers material usually taught in a one-year biology course at the college level." The proportion of the test devoted to "Population Biology" makes up 33% of a student's score, and includes questions on "Principles of evolution: History of evolutionary concepts, Lamarckian and Darwinian theories; Adaptive radiation; Major features of plant and animal evolution; Concepts of homology and analogy; Convergence, extinction, balanced polymorphism, genetic drift ; Classification of living organisms; Evolutionary history of humans." Related concepts - about Mendelian and modern genetics, for example - are included in other portions of the test. (All the foregoing quotations are excerpted from test descriptions at the College Board Online web site at www.collegeboard.org).

Even students who don't intend to major in science in college must respect the needs of classmates who will take qualifying exams in which roughly 20%-36% of the questions require an understanding of evolution. But that is not the only concern the emphasis on evolution in these examinations also reflects the fact that an understanding of evolution is a crucial element of scientific literacy. The "harm" in excluding evolution is the denial of an education that includes a fundamental scientific concept - and that can't be quantified. What price ignorance?

References

National Academy of Sciences. National Science Education Standards 1996. Washington, DC, National Academy Press. (Also available on the World Wide Web at http://www.nap.edu/readingroom/books/intronses

College Board Online, www.collegeboard.org (Note: Information about various examinations was found by using the search engine on the top page. Because one of the resulting URLs is 267 characters long, we suggest you find these tests by using the search engine on the top page. Simply click on the "store" check box so that this portion of the site will not be searched, type the word "biology" in the search box, and click the search button. Then use the appropriate links from the results generated by the search engine. Site last accessed November 5, 1998.