RNCSE 28 (1)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2008
Date: 
January–February
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 28 (1)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2008
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
2

NEWS

  1. Texas Education Official Forced to Resign Over Evolution
    Glenn Branch
    Chris Comer, a veteran state science administrator, was not sufficiently "neutral" regarding evolution and creationism.
  2. A Sorry State of Affairs
    Barbara Forrest
    Chris Comer had forwarded an e-mail from NCSE announcing a talk on ID by Barbara Forrest. The TEA reaction proves the point of her talk.
  3. The E-mail That Ended a Career
    Glenn Branch
    Hundreds of e-mails are sent from NCSE on a regular basis. Why did this one cause so much trouble?
  4. Explore Evolution: Notes from the Field
    Louise S Mead
    The newest entry in the "intelligent design" salvo is released.No surprises: both the science and the pedagogy are subpar.
  5. The German Anti-Darwin Industry: Twentieth Anniversary of a Multi-Media Business
    Ulrich Kutschera
    German anti-evolutionists celebrate the 20th anniversary of their premiere publication — now with multi-media support.
  6. Science, Evolution, and Creationism: A Welcome Defense of Evolution
    Glenn Branch
    The National Academy of Sciences releases a new, updated, and expanded version of its classic publication.
  7. A New Standard in Florida: Evolution is Fundamental
    Glenn Branch
    The process of adopting new standards for science education in Florida was contentious, but the "e-word" will now appear in the state science standards.
  8. Updates
    News from California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Texas, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

NCSE NEWS

  1. News from the Membership
    Glenn Branch
    What our members are doing to support evolution and oppose pseudoscience wherever the need arises.
  2. NCSE's New Logo
    Carrie Sager
    The familiar "squashed spider" has been replaced.

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. Reactions from the Press
    Chris Comer's forced resignation generated editorial comments across the country. Here is a sampling.
  2. Books: Stand Up for Human Evolution
    Books about the biological history of humans and other primates.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

ARTICLE

  1. The Mysterious "Spheres" of Ottosdal, South Africa
    Paul V Heinrich
    A closer examination of supposedly inexplicable objects shows that they are neither as they were described nor all that mysterious ... to a competent geologist.

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. Worlds of Their Own by Robert Schadewald
    Reviewed by David Morrison
  2. Science, Evolution, and Creationism by the National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine
    Reviewed by David C Kopaska-Merkel
  3. Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, & Evolution by Deborah B Haarsma and Loren D Haarsma
    Reviewed by Rebecca J Flietstra
  4. The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution by Sean B Carroll
    Reviewed by Louise S Mead

Texas Education Official Forced to Resign Over Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Texas Education Official Forced to Resign Over Evolution
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
NCSE Deputy Director
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2008
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
4–7
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Chris Comer, the director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency, was forced to resign after forwarding a short e-mail message announcing a presentation in Austin by Barbara Forrest. The Austin American-Statesman (2007 Nov 29) reported, "Comer sent the e-mail to several individuals and a few online communities, saying, 'FYI.'" Less than two hours later, Lizzette Reynolds, the TEA's senior adviser on statewide initiatives, complained to Comer's supervisors, writing, "This is highly inappropriate ... I believe this is an offense that calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment of responsibilities ... it assumes this is a subject that the agency supports."

The e-mail message that Comer forwarded, which was originally sent by NCSE, announced a talk by Barbara Forrest on the history of the "intelligent design" movement and her expert testimony in Kitzmiller v Dover, in which teaching "intelligent design" in the public schools was ruled to be unconstitutional. Forrest is a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and a member of NCSE's board of directors; she also is the coauthor (with Paul R Gross) of Creationism's Trojan Horse (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

The e-mail was then cited in a memorandum recommending Comer's termination, the American-Statesman noted:"They said forwarding the e-mail not only violated a directive for her not to communicate in writing or otherwise with anyone outside the agency regarding an upcoming science curriculum review, [but] 'it directly conflicts with her responsibilities as the Director of Science.' The memo adds, 'Ms Comer's e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.'" Other reasons for recommending her termination were listed in addition.

But Comer told the newspaper that she thought that the longstanding political controversy over evolution education in Texas was the main cause of her termination: "None of the other reasons they gave are, in and of themselves, firing offenses," she said. NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott suggested that Comer's termination seemed to be a warning to TEA employees. "This just underscores the politicization of science education in Texas," Scott said. "In most states, the department of education takes a leadership role in fostering sound science education. Apparently TEA employees are supposed to be kept in the closet and only let out to do the bidding of the board."

Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network, which advances a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the religious right, also expressed her concern. "It's important to know whether politics and ideology are standing in the way of Texas kids getting a 21st century science education," Miller told the American-Statesman. Alluding to previous battles over the place of evolution in Texas science standards and textbooks, she added, "We've already seen a faction of the State Board of Education try to politicize and censor what our schoolchildren learn. It would be even more alarming if the same thing is now happening inside TEA itself."

The news soon attracted further attention and comment. First to decry Comer's termination was Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which promptly called on the TEA to rehire Comer in a press release dated November 28, 2007. AU's executive director, the Reverend Barry W Lynn, remarked, "It's a sad day when a science expert can lose her job merely for recommending that people hear a speaker defend sound science ... Officials in Texas seem intent on elevating fundamentalist dogma over academic excellence and common sense."

Then, in a report dated November 29, 2007 (available online at http://www.texscience.org/reviews/tea-science-director-resigns.htm), Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science contended that the real reason that Comer was forced to resign was her defense of the integrity of science education during her long tenure at TEA. Describing Comer as a martyr of science, he added, "But she will not be a victim," predicting that scientists and science teachers in Texas will be "outraged by her treatment by a state agency that is now publicly and officially forgoing accurate and reliable science to serve the ideological and religious biases of a small minority of state public education officials."

Barbara Forrest herself was aghast at the news, telling NCSE, "In my talk, I simply told the truth — about the history of the 'intelligent design' movement, about the complete rejection of its claims by the scientific community, and about the Kitzmiller trial and my involvement in it. Maybe the TEA can't afford to take a position on what constitutes good science education — maybe it must remain neutral on whether or not to lie to students about evolution — but if so, that's just sad."

Bringing the issue to national attention was The New York Times. Ralph Blumenthal reported (2007 Dec 3):

After 27 years as a science teacher and 9 years as the Texas Education Agency's director of science, Christine Castillo Comer said she did not think she had to remain "neutral" about teaching the theory of evolution. But now Ms Comer, 56, of Austin, is out of a job, after forwarding an e-mail message on a talk about evolution and creationism — "a subject on which the agency must remain neutral," according to a dismissal letter last month that accused her of various instances of "misconduct and insubordination" and of siding against creationism and the doctrine that life is the product of "intelligent design".

"I don't see how I took a position by FYI-ing on a lecture like I FYI on global warming or stem-cell research," Comer told Blumenthal. "I send around all kinds of stuff, and I'm not accused of endorsing it." The article added, "But she said that as a career science educator, 'I'm for good science,' and that when it came to teaching evolution, 'I don't think it's any stretch of the imagination where I stand.'"

The following day, the Times expressed concern about Comer's termination on its editorial page, and in Texas, too, newspaper editorials were critical of the TEA. Additionally, the American Institute for Biological Sciences issued a press release on December 6, 2007, expressing outrage at the fact, expressed in the memorandum recommending Comer's termination, that "the TEA requires, as agency policy, neutrality when talking about evolution and creationism." "When it comes to science education, we absolutely cannot remain neutral on evolution. Evolution is the unifying principle of modern biology," asserted Douglas J Futuyma, president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences and Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University. "Within biological science, the reality of evolution is not controversial."

And Barbara Forrest herself released a statement through NCSE on December 5, 2007, deploring the situation.

In forcing Chris Comer to resign as Texas Director of Science, the Texas Education Agency has confirmed in a most public, unfortunate way the central point of my Austin presentation, "Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse", the mere announcement of which TEA used as an excuse to terminate her: the "intelligent design" (ID) creationist movement is about politics, religion, and power. ...If anyone had any doubts about how mean-spirited ID politics is, this episode should erase them. ... For the last nine years at the TEA, after twenty-seven years as a science teacher, ... Comer was doing her part, and she got fired for doing it.

The coverage continued, with details emerging about what it was like to work at the TEA. "We were actually told in a meeting in September that if creationism is the party line, we have to abide by it," Comer told the Austin American-Statesman (2007 Dec 6). Over the past year, she related, the TEA began increasingly to scrutinize and constrain the activities of its employees in the curriculum department: "We couldn't go anywhere. We couldn't speak," she said. "They just started wanting everything to be channeled." According to the newspaper, Comer maintained "that her ouster was political and that she felt persecuted for having supported the teaching of evolution in Texas classrooms." A spokesperson for the TEA was quoted by the American-Statesman as responding, "Obviously, there was a concern about the forwarding of that e-mail ... that she was supporting that particular speaker and [how] that could be construed ... as taking a position that could be misinterpreted by some people," and as contending that Comer evinced a lack of professionalism in other ways.

Comer then appeared on NPR's "Science Friday" on December 7, 2007, relating her story to the show's host, Ira Flatow. After receiving the e-mail announcing Forrest's talk, she said, "you know, I had a half minute and I said, gee, this is really interesting. And then, I looked up the credential on my computer, I Googled Barbara Forrest and I said, oh my goodness, this is quite a credential[ed] speaker. And then I thought to myself — you know, I'm telling my biology teachers almost on a weekly basis, teach the curriculum, teach the evolution curriculum because it's part of the state-mandated curriculum. And now, I should be — you know, I should be walking the talk here, and I — there's nothing wrong with this e-mail, of course."

Comer told Flatow that there were previous indications that the TEA was discouraging its employees from taking a stand on evolution. At a meeting during which employees were told that they must be careful about what they say and do, Comer recounted, she mentioned the topic of creationism:" And she said, I'm so glad you brought that up ... because it's important for us to realize that if the company line is that we endorse creationism, then that's what we have to say. I was shocked. I said, my goodness, even the president's ... own science adviser, was not held to that standard. And she said, well, I'm just telling you." Comer was apparently referring to John H Marburger III, Director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, who told The New York Times (2005 Aug 3), "Evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology," adding, "intelligent design is not a scientific concept."

The TEA's commissioner Robert Scott was interviewed by the Dallas Morning News (2007 Dec 9). He denied that Comer was forced to resign just for forwarding the e-mail announcing Forrest's talk, alluding to "other factors" that he was not able to discuss. Asked, "Was her advocacy of evolution over creationism an element in her dismissal?" he replied, "She wasn't advocating for evolution. But she may have given the impression that ...we were taking a position as an agency — not as an individual but as an agency — on a matter." "Why shouldn't the agency advocate the science of evolution? Texas students are required to study it," the reporter asked. Scott replied, "You can be in favor of a science without bashing people's faith, too. I don't know all the facts, but I think that may be the real issue here." He did not explain how Comer's behavior was supposed to constitute faith-bashing.

While on "Science Friday," Comer thanked her supporters, saying, "Science educators and rational minds have really gone to bat and have written letters, made e-mails, and sent phone messages. It's really been an incredible response." More was to come.

The Society for the Study of Evolution released a statement (available on-line at http://www.evolutionsociety.org/download/ComerLtr_RP_JS_DW.pdf) reading, in part:

Professional ethics demands that one not "remain neutral" when science is deliberately misrepresented by creationists. Chris Comer thus acted responsibly and professionally in forwarding the announcement about an educational lecture regarding "Intelligent Design" creationism. In contrast, the administrators who called for her termination and who forced her resignation acted irresponsibly and in direct opposition to the professional standards expected of those who oversee science education. Their comments, quoted above, make it clear that they have sacrificed not only a dedicated public servant but also the facts and the very nature of science to partisan political ideology. It is a sad day for Texas when TEA administrators resort to Stalinist-style purging to suppress the truth about the bankruptcy of arguments.

Similarly, as the Austin American-Statesman (2007 Dec 11) reported, "More than 100 biology faculty members from universities across Texas signed a letter sent Monday to state Education Commissioner Robert Scott saying Texas Education Agency employees should not have to remain neutral on evolution." Daniel Bolnick of the University of Texas, Austin, told the newspaper, "I'm an evolutionary biologist, and I and many others simply feel that good evolution education is key to understanding biology as a whole," and his colleague David Hillis added that the Comer controversy represented "an enormous black eye in terms of our competitiveness and ability to attract researchers and technologies." The letter was signed by biologists from across Texas, at both public and private universities.

Alan I Leshner, the chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, drove the message home, writing in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (2007 Dec 11):

As Texas prepares to reconsider what youngsters statewide should know about science, the forced ouster of science curriculum director Chris Comer of the Texas Education Agency, apparently for standing up for the integrity of science education, stands as both shocking and sad. Even more disturbing, perhaps, is the official explanation for it. ... Should anyone in charge of science curriculum be expected to remain neutral regarding efforts to insert religious viewpoints into science classrooms? The answer is 'no.' ... If today's students are to thrive, education leaders cannot pick and choose which scientific facts they want to accept.

A common theme in the coverage of the Comer controversy is that it foreshadows a likely clash over the place of evolution in the science portion of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the state science standards that determine both what is taught in Texas's public school science classrooms and the content of the biology textbooks approved for use in the state. The Dallas Morning News (2007 Dec 13) summarized, "The resignation of the state's science curriculum director last month has signaled the beginning of what is shaping up to be a contentious and politically charged revision of the science curriculum, set to begin in earnest in January. ... in disciplinary paperwork [officials at the TEA] stressed that she needed to remain neutral in what was becoming a tense period leading up to the first review of the science curriculum in a decade."

In 2003, there were concerted, if ultimately unsuccessful, attempts to misuse the TEKS to compromise the treatment of evolution in the textbooks then under consideration (see RNCSE 2003 Sep–Dec; 23 [5–6]: 4–7), and it is expected that such attempts will recur — especially since the new president of the board, Don McLeroy, is himself a vocal creationist (see RNCSE 2007 May–Aug 2007; 27 [3–4]: 6–9).

Although creationists in Texas, including McLeroy, have disavowed any intention of trying to include creationism in the TEKS, there are clear signs that they will press to include language attempting to instill scientifically unwarranted doubts about evolution. Mark Ramsey, representing a group styling itself Texans for Better Science Education, was characterized, for example, as wanting "weaknesses in evolution" to be taught. (Ramsey is also associated with the Greater Houston Creation Association, as Texas Citizens for Science reported.) NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott told the Dallas Morning News (2007 Dec 13), "It all boils down to the idea that to counter evolution you teach students that evolution is crummy science in the hopes that students will reject it ... It's a way of getting creationism in without the 'C' word."

For her part, Comer told the Morning News, "Any science teacher worth [her] salt that has any background in biology will tell you there is no controversy" over the scientific status of evolution. That, she said, was her approach during her tenure at the TEA, where she frequently responded to questions about evolution education in Texas: "We have teachers afraid to teach it, parents who don't want it taught and parents who do want it taught. It comes from all different angles." She added, "For all the years I was there, I would always say the teaching of evolution is part of our science curriculum. It's not just a good idea; it's the law." But now she is not optimistic about the future of science education in Texas, lamenting, "The way things are being done these days I don't think rational minds have a chance."

About the Author(s): 

Glenn Branch
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
branch@ncseweb.org

A Sorry State of Affairs

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
A Sorry State of Affairs
Author(s): 
Barbara Forrest
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2008
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
7–9
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
In forcing Chris Comer to resign as Texas Director of Science, the Texas Education Agency has confirmed in a most public, unfortunate way the central point of my Austin presentation, "Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse," the mere announcement of which TEA used as an excuse to terminate her: the "intelligent design" (ID) creationist movement is about politics, religion, and power. If anyone had any doubts about how mean-spirited ID politics is, this episode should erase them. Texas school children depend on the adults at the TEA to protect the quality of their education. For the last nine years at the TEA, after twenty-seven years as a science teacher, Comer was doing her part, and she got fired for doing it. The children are ultimately the losers.

The fact that this current episode has happened in Texas is not at all surprising given Texas Board of Education chair and ID supporter Don McLeroy's statements in a 2005 pro-ID lecture at Grace Bible Church:
Creationists have been making these design arguments, but the birth of the "intelligent design" movement probably did start at SMU [Southern Methodist University, site of the ID movement's first conference], [in] 1992. It was here that [Phillip Johnson] and Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, and William Dembski, debated with ... influential Darwinists the proposition that neo-Darwinism [depends] on a prior commitment to naturalism. Johnson ... states, "Once it becomes clear that Darwinism rests on a dogmatic philosophy rather than on the weight of the evidence, the way will be opened for dissenting opinions [i.e., intelligent design creationism] to get a fair hearing." They hadn't got there yet. We don't have a fair hearing yet. But, we gotta keep working on it. This is not something that happens overnight. (The transcript and the audio recording of McLeroy's speech are available on-line at http://www.tfn.org/publiceducation/textbooks/mcleroy/index.php.)
With Comer's termination, the process of gaining that hearing appears to have advanced quite a bit.

The rationale given by TEA employee Monica Martinez, who wrote the memo recommending Comer's termination, is not credible. Martinez contends that "Comer's email implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral." First, Comer's merely passing along an "FYI" about a public lecture implies nothing of the sort. (For the text of the announcement from the National Center for Science Education that she sent, see http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2007/TX/950_texas_education_official_force_ 11_29_2007.asp, or sidebar, p 5.) But that point notwithstanding, since my Austin talk was about the "intelligent design" creationist movement, one wonders why TEA would even want to remain "neutral" concerning the ID movement's goal of undermining the integrity of science education in the very public schools that TEA should be protecting from that movement's efforts.

Martinez continued, "Thus, sending this e-mail compromises the agency's role in the TEKS revision process by creating the perception that TEA has a biased position on a subject directly related to the science education TEKS." But why would the TEA be concerned about being biased in favor of teaching children the truth about science? The TEA's proper role is to ensure the quality and integrity of what is taught in Texas science classes. My Austin presentation was most certainly not a threat to that role, but in fact highly supportive of it. I presented the truth about ID as established by years of scholarly research. Has the process of administering the public education system in Texas become so politicized that even the truth is a threat to people's jobs? One can only conclude that it has.

Ultimately, the TEA's firing of Chris Comer is a by-product of the relentless promotion of ID for more than a decade by creationists at the Discovery Institute. In the wake of court decisions ruling that it is unconstitutional to teach creationism in the public schools, ID creationists, a significant number of whose central figures live in Texas, launched the effort that they formalized in their 1998 "Wedge Strategy" document, which outlines their twenty-year plan to "wedge" ID into the cultural and educational mainstream. (See http://www.antievolution.org/features/wedge.html.) First Kansas, then Ohio, and most recently Dover, Pennsylvania, have experienced firsthand the attacks on their school systems that were produced, either directly or indirectly, by the Discovery Institute's campaign, as stated in that document, "to see [intelligent] design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life."

In 2003, Discovery Institute creationists tried, unsuccessfully, to influence the adoption of Texas biology textbooks. Texans should now prepare themselves for an attempt by the same people (and/or newly recruited supporters) to influence the upcoming review of state science standards. In order to be ready, the good citizens of Texas who value their public schools and the US Constitution must familiarize themselves with the ID code terms they are likely to hear, all of which signal the ID movement's attack on the teaching of evolution. ID supporters will declare that they certainly do not favor eliminating evolution or teaching intelligent design, but rather that they simply want children to hear "both sides" of the "controversy" and to learn to "critically analyze" evolutionary theory, so that they can understand the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution, and all of this will be for the sake of "fairness" and "academic freedom." (For an explanation of these ID code terms, see p 19–22 of my article, "Understanding the Intelligent Design Creationist Movement: Its True Nature and Goals," available on-line at http://www.centerforinquiry.net/uploads/attachments/intelligent-design.pdf.)

In fact, some members of the Texas Board of Education seem to have already mastered the Discovery Institute's code language. McLeroy recently stated that "Anything taught in science has to have consensus in the science community — and intelligent design does not" (Dallas Morning News, 2007 Aug 23). He added, however, that he was dissatisfied with the fact that current biology textbooks do not cover the "weaknesses" of the theory of evolution. His reference to the "weaknesses" of evolution is creationist code talk. Board vice chairman David Bradley also avowed that he would not support the teaching of ID in science classes. However, Bradley also appears to know the terminology: "I do want to make sure the next group of textbooks includes the strengths and weaknesses of evolution" (Dallas Morning News, 2007 Aug 23).

McLeroy and Bradley are overlooking the fact that evolutionary theory has survived one hundred and fifty years of scientific scrutiny for its "strengths and weaknesses," whereas ID could not survive even six weeks of legal and scientific scrutiny in a Pennsylvania courtroom. Stephen Meyer and William Dembski, who, according to McLeroy's lecture, are seeking a "fair hearing" for ID, were given a chance to present their best pro-ID arguments in that very courtroom. They just didn't show up. (See Barbara Forrest, "The 'Vise Strategy' Undone: Kitzmiller et al v Dover Area School District," available on-line at http://www.csicop.org/intelligentdesignwatch/kitzmiller.html.)

McLeroy's 2005 ID church lecture is much more instructive than his more recent comments to the Dallas Morning News. In this lecture, he declared himself to be in the "big tent" of "intelligent design": "Whether you're a progressive creationist, recent creationist, young earth, old earth, it's all in the tent of 'intelligent design'. ... And that's one thing that I really enjoyed about our group is that we've put that all in the big tent, we're all working together." (This "big tent" is the political alliance that ID leader Phillip Johnson has tried to forge among the creationists with whom McLeroy has enjoyed working.)

McLeroy then professed his wonderment that during the 2003 textbook adoption process, "all the arguments" by "all the creationist intelligent design people" speaking before the Board of Education (among whom he specifically named "our good friend Walter Bradley," a Texas resident and long-time Discovery Institute fellow) were not taken seriously by "my fellow board members who ... were not impressed by any of this. ... Amazing." McLeroy was further amazed that "all the arguments are dismissed like this here is a subversive, secret attempt to force religion into science." Now, why on earth would anyone draw that conclusion? Amazing.

The incident now involving Comer exemplifies perfectly the reason my co-author Paul R Gross and I felt that our book, Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, had to be written. By forcing Comer to resign, the TEA seems to have confirmed our contention that the ID creationist movement — a religious movement with absolutely no standing in the scientific world — is being advanced by means of power politics. In December 2005, Judge John E Jones III validated our contention that ID is creationism, thus a religious belief, when he ruled in Kitzmiller et al v Dover Area School District that the teaching of ID in public school science classes is unconstitutional. Judge Jones recognized that ID has nothing whatsoever to do with science; its proponents are merely using public education — the public education of other people's children — as the vehicle for their plan to undermine the teaching of evolution.

The one thing that should not be forgotten in this episode is that Comer herself has been injured, and Texas children have lost a valuable advocate for quality science education. I regret deeply that the TEA chose to use my work as an excuse to hurt Comer. Even more, I am incensed by it. However, what happened to her may be just the tip of the iceberg. This country has reached a sorry state of affairs when one of the largest, most prominent departments of education in the country fires a public servant for doing her job. But while I regret that the information I related in my presentation in Austin and in my book has been confirmed in such a sad way, my co-author and I have every intention of continuing our efforts as scholars and citizens to inform the American people about the threat that the intelligent design creationist movement continues to pose to public education and to the constitutional separation of church and state.

[Originally posted on December 5, 2007, on NCSE's website (http://www.ncseweb.org), and reprinted here with slight revisions.]

About the Author(s): 
Barbara Forrest
Department of History and Political Science
SLU 10484
University Station
Hammond LA 70402
bforrest@selu.edu

Barbara Forrest is Professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, and the coauthor, with Paul R Gross, of Creationism's Trojan Horse (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). She testified for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v Dover, and she serves on NCSE's board of directors.

Explore Evolution: Notes from the Field

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Explore Evolution: Notes from the Field
Author(s): 
Louise S Mead
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2008
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
11–12
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Fieldwork, for me, used to mean putting on a pair of hiking boots and crawling through entangled masses of rhododendron in the Southern Appalachian Mountains to catch the elusive Mountain Dusky salamander. As Education Project Director at the National Center for Science Education, fieldwork looks entirely different these days. During the first weekend in August 2007, I attended the Science Teacher Symposium at Biola University in La Mirada, California, for the unveiling of Explore Evolution, a slick new supplementary textbook being peddled by the Discovery Institute. (Nick Matzke gave advance warning of it in RNCSE 2006 Nov/Dec; 26 [6]: 28–30.)

When I arrived at the symposium, I was not sure whether I should announce my association with the National Center for Science Education. The registration form asked whether applicants were teachers and where they taught. I qualified: I am a teacher, and I was then teaching an on-line course entitled "Teaching Evolution" for teachers through Montana State University.

My intention was certainly not to keep my identity secret, but it became clear quite early in the symposium that I was in an environment that was very discordant with my religious and spiritual beliefs as well as my training as an evolutionary biologist — I might add, in that order. As the symposium proceeded, the climate became overtly hostile toward people who accept evolution, and specifically NCSE, and I decided it best to keep my NCSE affiliation quiet.

The uncomfortable feeling I experienced when the symposium opened with an evening prayer to "Our Lord, Jesus Christ" might be thought to parallel those of students with religious fundamentalist beliefs who enter a biology classroom and learn that all organisms share a common ancestry. But there is a huge difference: the biology student can still believe in God and accept evolution. Evolution is a scientific endeavor dealing with natural explanations for natural phenomena; it cannot make any statements about the existence of God. That was not the attitude of the presenters at the Teacher Symposium, however; they claimed that humans do not share common ancestry with other organisms, and those scientists who have publicly expressed their belief in God and their acceptance of evolution are being dishonest about either their acceptance of evolution (for fear of retribution by the scientific community) or their faith.

Following the evening prayer, we were treated to a lecture by Jonathan Wells on "Evolution and Intelligent Design in Public Education". Kitzmiller v Dover may have been a nail in the coffin of attempts to get "intelligent design" into the public school classroom, and Wells at least acknowledged the verdict as a temporary disaster, but those on the evolution/creationism frontlines have been bracing for the next attack on science education, which will be waged beneath a banner reading "Teach the strengths and weaknesses of evolution".

Wells's talk might have been taken from the chapters of Explore Evolution, but included only the "reply" sections, which outline the weaknesses of evolution. Despite the title of his talk, "Evolution and Intelligent Design in Public Education", and the subtitle of Explore Evolution, "The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism" (emphasis mine), not once did Wells mention the overwhelming evidence, the thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers, and the statements by numerous scientific establishments in support of evolution as the best explanation we have for the diversity of life on earth. Nor did Wells address the requirements to teach evolution, clearly enunciated by the major professional associations of science teachers and outlined in all sets of state science standards receiving high ratings from the Fordham Foundation. Mike Keas, a faculty member at Biola University and organizer of the Science Teacher Symposium, argued that students should be encouraged to treat evolution as a jury would, forming an opinion given the evidence — as though a vote on the issue were an appropriate method of evaluation. Of course, neither Wells nor Keas nor the Explore Evolution text speak authoritatively or comprehensibly on the scientific evidence for evolution.

Evolution is …

What was overwhelmingly clear at the conference, although perhaps only to me given my training in organismic and evolutionary biology, was that neither Wells nor Keas understands evolution. Neither do the authors of Explore Evolution, as NCSE discovered in reviewing this new textbook that supposedly presents the arguments for and against "neo-Darwinism". The "arguments against evolution" were created by misrepresenting or misinterpreting the evidence for and predictions of evolution. For example, when asked about the whale fossil record as evidence for evolution, Wells's response was that "all whale fossils have adaptations that take them off the line of descent," which according to Wells, challenges this as an example of evolution. However, the whale fossil record is actually exactly as evolution predicts. Lineages that go extinct have combinations of traits representing adaptations no longer present in extant forms. Furthermore, it is the similarities, not the differences, that inform our hypotheses about common ancestry. Wells was able to perpetuate such anti-evolution propaganda largely because the audience could not recognize the falsity of his claims and the absurdity of his explanations. I thought about challenging Wells, but feared I might be thrown out of the symposium for my acceptance of evolution and association with NCSE — at one point called "the Gestapo" by Wells and Keas.

Wells also presented evidence for "intelligent design", which is not to be found in the Explore Evolution textbook. He claimed that ID does not rely on biblical authority or religious doctrine and does not tell us the nature of the designer, but went on to inform participants that for him, the designer is the God of the Bible. Of course the Science Teacher Symposium on Explore Evolution had absolutely "no religious agenda" — a claim continually made by Keas, Wells, and John Bloom, head of the Science and Religion Program at Biola, formerly the Bible Institute of Los Angeles.

The final piece of Wells's advice to participants was what to teach about evolution in the public school science classroom. Only a few of the thirty-odd participants in the room actually taught in a public institution, based on a show of hands. A few teachers, currently teaching at private Christian schools, were concerned about their "rights" should they teach in a public school, as though their rights might somehow include the right to instruct students in the specific doctrines of their Christian denominations. Wells's recommendations, reiterated by Keas in the next sessions of the symposium, were predictable. Teach "critical analysis", the evidence for and against neo-Darwinism, but not "intelligent design", unless at a private institution supportive of creationism.

Explore Evolution Goes to School

The remainder of the symposium was very disappointing. The organizers advertised that teachers would be supplied with curriculum materials to accompany Explore Evolution, but the materials turned out to be just two handouts and a DVD titled Investigating Evolution. The first handout included the schedule for the symposium, a section on "How to Teach Evolutionary Biology to High School Students" complete with advice to "teach the controversy" (as supposedly encouraged by the Santorum Amendment; see Glenn Branch and Eugenie C Scott, "The antievolution law that wasn't", The American Biology Teacher 2003; 65 [3]: 165–6), a list of "Resources on Neo-Darwinism and Intelligent Design" (the standard list of anti-evolution books by the usual suspects), and finally a page entitled "Tell Me More", an evaluation survey for the present symposium and an announcement for the next (yikes!) Biola Science Teacher Symposium, to be held in 2008. The second handout included a variety of documents intended to help teachers use Explore Evolution in the classroom: an "Ancillary Introduction", "Lecture Outline to Explore Evolution", "Biology Textbook and Supplement Correlation", "Sample Lesson Plans to Explore Evolution", and finally a "Test Bank to Explore Evolution", all of which simply restate the erroneous information presented in the text.

On a pedagogical note, Explore Evolution was promoted, both on the Explore Evolution website and at the symposium, as "the first inquiry-based curriculum to key aspects of Darwin's theory". Most inquiry-based learning involves encouraging students to generate open-ended questions, thereby offering them the opportunity to direct their own investigations and find their own answers. Explore Evolution fails on every front with respect to claims of being an "inquiry-based" curriculum. There are no questions, only assertions. Students do not find their own answers; they are provided with incorrect information and/or quotes from scientists taken out of context, and then asked to regurgitate the information. For example, the "Lecture Outline" asks students to fill in the blanks:
Evolution #1: _____ Over Time;
Evolution #2: _____ Descent;
Evolution #3: _____ of Change: Natural _____ acting on random _________.
This type of "fill in the blank" learning is definitely not "inquiry-based"; instead, it is an intellectual insult to students, teachers, and scientists, as is the content of Explore Evolution. In my judgment, science and science education will suffer disastrous consequences should the creationist agenda presented in Explore Evolution, and promoted at the Teacher Symposium at Biola University, be included in any science curriculum.

About the Author(s): 
Louise S Mead
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
mead@ncseweb.org

Louise S Mead is NCSE's Education Project Director.

The German Anti-Darwin Industry

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The German Anti-Darwin Industry: Twentieth Anniversary of a Multi-Media Business
Author(s): 
Ulrich Kutschera
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2008
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
12–13
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
In June 2004, a German television show focused on creationism in the United States. One episode, filmed at an anti-evolution propaganda meeting, was very impressive and revealing. Accompanied by a cowboy-hat–wearing guitarist, groups of happy American children, supported by their devoted parents, were shown singing a country song that culminated in the refrain "I don't believe in evolution, I know creation's true." A few months earlier, a German video film entitled Was Darwin nicht wissen konnte (What Darwin Could Not Have Known) was released, wherein the Munich microbiologist Siegfried Scherer rephrased the song quoted above as follows: "I don't believe in evolution, but in creation." This film is part of a series of films promoted by a small but influential group of German young-earth creationists, the Studiengemeinschaft Wort und Wissen (Word and Knowledge Society; see http://www.wort-und-wissen.de in German, and the supplementary web site http://www.genesisnet.info in German, English, and Spanish). In their first opus, entitled Hat die Bibel doch recht? Der Evolutionstheorie fehlen die Beweise (Is the Bible Right? There is No Evidence for the Theory of Evolution, 1998), the main actor is Scherer, who is supported by the geneticist Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, and claims that "there is no evidence for macroevolution". Charles Darwin and Ernst Haeckel are described as the spiritual fathers of the Nazi Holocaust; this episode is accompanied by moving scenes showing Jews in concentration camps. At the end of the film, a Bible appears and the narrator remarks: "There is a book wherein the origin of species is reliably described … all living beings were created according to their own kind." More than 50 000 copies of this award-winning film were sold. An enthusiastic laudatio, authored by John C Lennox of Oxford University, is published on the internet. Videotape and DVD versions are available in German, English, Russian, and Persian. The implicit claim of this and other German anti-evolution films is that Darwinism — "a pseudo-scientific construction" — is largely equivalent to "atheism, materialism, and Hitler's Nazi ideology" (see http://www.dreilindenfilm.de).

In addition to the Bible, a second book is promoted via these videos: Evolution — Ein kritisches Lehrbuch (Evolution — A Critical Textbook). Now in its sixth edition (Giessen: Weyel, 2006), the book was written and edited by Reinhard Junker and Siegfried Scherer, both affiliated with Word und Wissen (see RNCSE 2003 Nov/Dec; 23 [5–6]: 17–8 for details). They are supported by a team of co-authors; several are scientists at German universities, but no professional evolutionary biologists are among them. The aim of this book is summarized in the preface of the fifth edition (2001), wherein the authors point out that "there exists an alternative to the (unproven) assumption of macroevolution that is motivated by the revelations of the Bible — the theory of creation." The first edition was published two decades ago under the title Enstehung und Geschichte der Lebewesen: Daten und Deutungen für den schulischen Bereich (Origin and History of Organisms: Data and Interpretations for Biology Classes; Giessen: Weyel, 1986). In this book, aimed at teachers and pupils as target audience, a radical version of young-earth creationism is presented. In accordance with the US "intelligent design" (ID) movement, the contents of the fourth (1998) and subsequent editions were updated and a new, broader title was chosen, with explicit references to "the Designer" and the "ID theory". Earlier editions of the Junker and Scherer volume have been translated into several languages: this text, which was awarded a German schoolbook prize, has become one of the pillars of the European anti-evolution movement (see RNCSE 2004 Sep/Oct; 24 [5]: 11–2).

Throughout their book, Junker and Scherer argue against the unscriptural "atheistic belief" in macroevolution (that is, the emergence of novel body plans as documented in the fossil record; for instance, the transition of theropod dinosaurs into early birds during the Cretaceous). Then the authors propose their theistic alternative. The "Intelligent Designer" (the God of the Bible) created "Basic Types", such as horses, ducks, dogs or humans, "after their own kinds" (see RNCSE 2006 Jul/Aug; 26 [4]: 31–6 for discussion).

It must be acknowledged that the authors refer to and describe the contents of a selection of recent key publications on molecular and organismic evolution. However, due to their firm Bible-based belief, they misrepresent and re-interpret biological facts to such an extent that a web of science and religious dogmas is woven that is difficult to entangle. To the chagrin of most biologists, this flagship of Euro-ID creationism has been mistaken by non-specialists for a serious textbook on evolution. For instance, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, referred to the Junker and Scherer book in a published lecture delivered on November 27, 1999, at the Sorbonne in Paris. In this speech, Ratzinger quoted from the preface of the fourth edition (1998) and summarized some of the standard arguments "against macroevolution" that it presents.

The twentieth anniversary edition (2006) is accompanied by a new website that provides supplementary information free of charge for students and teachers (see http://www.evolutionslehrbuch.info; in response to this novel propaganda instrument of the German creationists, I established a counter-website (see http://www.evolutionslehrbuch.com) where I describe my own textbook on evolutionary biology. The 2006 version of the ID textbook will again cause trouble in public schools, where copies of previous editions of this book, submitted as a gift by members of Word und Wissen, have already been deposited in the libraries. In encounters similar to creationist activism in the US, religiously motivated pupils in Germany have confronted their biology teachers with this "academic weapon against Darwinism". Moreover, at some high schools in Germany, this book is used as a supplement to a conventional biology text. But at this point, the real impact of this colorful Bible of the European ID movement is unknown. If the evidence in the form of internet and print journals that look like scientific periodicals and professional video productions tells us anything, it is that creationism made in Germany is an ongoing success story.

About the Author(s): 
Ulrich Kutschera
Institute of Biology
University of Kassel
Heinrich-Plett-Strasse, 40 D-34109
Kassel, Germany
kut@uni-kassel.de

Ulrich Kutschera is Full Professor of Plant Physiology and Evolutionary Biology at Universität Kassel, Germany; he was recently a visiting scientist at the Carnegie Institution and the Department of Plant Biology at Stanford University. He is the author of seven textbooks and about 140 scientific publications.

Science, Evolution, and Creationism

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Science, Evolution, and Creationism: A Welcome Defense of Evolution
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
NCSE Deputy Director
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2008
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
14
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

The National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine recently released Science, Evolution, and Creationism, a book designed to give the public a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of the current scientific understanding of evolution and its importance in the science classroom. In a January 4, 2008, press release, National Academy of Sciences President Ralph Cicerone was quoted as saying, "Science, Evolution, and Creationism provides the public with coherent explanations and concrete examples of the science of evolution. The study of evolution remains one of the most active, robust, and useful fields in science."

As its title suggests, the book also addresses creationism in its various forms, including young-earth, old-earth, and "intelligent design" creationism, and concludes, "No scientific evidence supports these viewpoints." Observing that "[c]reationism in its various forms is not the same thing as belief in God because ... many believers as well as many mainstream religious groups accept the findings of science, including evolution," Science, Evolution, and Creationism also quotes both leading scientists of faith (including Francis Collins and NCSE Supporter Kenneth R Miller) and religious leaders and groups (including the late Pope John Paul II and the over 10 000 signatories of the Clergy Letter Project), who see no conflict between their faith and science.

Science, Evolution, and Creationism takes a decidedly firm line on the necessity of including evolution in science education, warning, "Many teachers are under considerable pressure from policy makers, school administrators, parents, and students to downplay or eliminate the teaching of evolution. As a result, many US students lack access to information and ideas that are both integral to modern science and essential for making informed, evidence-based decisions about their own lives and our collective future. ... Given the importance of science in all aspects of modern life, the science curriculum should not be undermined with nonscientific material."

This third edition is twice as long as the second edition, issued in 1999. The current book was written by a committee including a number of NCSE Supporters and members and chaired by NCSE Supporter Francisco Ayala, the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, and the author most recently of Darwin's Gift (Washington [DC]: Joseph Henry Press, 2007).

After its release, stories about Science, Evolution, and Creationism appeared in such major media outlets as The New York Times (2008 Jan 4), Reuters (2008 Jan 3), ScienceNOW (2008 Jan 4), United Press International (2008 Jan 4), and the Associated Press (2008 Jan 3), which noted, "Josh Rosenau, a spokesman for the California-based National Center for Science Education, which supports the teaching of evolution, said the new report is important because the debate over evolution in school is not going away."

Both NBC and ABC ran segments about the book on their nightly newscasts on January 3, 2008. Robert "Mac" West, a paleontologist and museum consultant who serves on NCSE's board of directors, told ABC's Dan Harris, "We don't want to be in the position of misleading our youngsters about what science is and what it can tell us about how the world works." NCSE's deputy director Glenn Branch told NBC's Pete Williams, "This is a definitive statement from a leading scientific authority about the scientific bankruptcy of intelligent design creationism."

The journal Nature offered three cheers on the publication of Science, Evolution, and Creationism in its January 10, 2008, editorial, remarking, "The document succinctly summarizes what is and isn't science, provides an overview of evidence for evolution by natural selection, and highlights how, time and again, leading religious figures have upheld evolution as consistent with their view of the world," and also citing Kevin Padian's testimony in Kitzmiller v Dover as "a more specific and also entertaining account of evolutionary knowledge."

In its January 12, 2008, editorial, New Scientist also praised the book, focusing on its avoidance of portraying science as opposed to religion ("The US is a religious country and, as Glenn Branch of the advocacy group National Center for Science Education points out, if the issue was 'God versus science' many Americans would choose God") and its emphasis on the practical applications of evolutionary theory ("understanding evolution is critical to agriculture, medicine and specifically to tackling viruses such as SARS and HIV").

Newspapers across the country took the opportunity presented by the publication of Science, Evolution, and Creationism to reaffirm their editorial commitment to the integrity of science education, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (2008 Jan 6), the Tuscaloosa News (2008 Jan 6), the St Louis Post-Dispatch (2008 Jan 7), and the Toledo Blade (2008 Jan 9), which wrote, "Regrettably for American students caught in the middle, education on evolution could be watered down unless the National Academy of Sciences and others without a religious ax to grind get the last word."

Copies of Science, Evolution, and Creationism are available from the National Academies Press (call 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242; or visit the National Academies Press's website), for $12.95; a PDF version is also available for free download at the National Academies Press's website (http://www.nap.edu/sec).

About the Author(s): 

Glenn Branch
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
branch@ncseweb.org

NCSE's New Logo

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
NCSE's New Logo
Author(s): 
Carrie Sager
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2008
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
23
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

This issue marks the first appearance of NCSE's new logo in RNCSE. In July 2007, NCSE's board of directors decided to consider replacing or re-imagining our logo. NCSE invited our members and other interested individuals to submit designs for a new logo for the board's consideration.

To give the widest scope for the creativity of our participants, we gave only a very general set of guidelines. We asked that entries not contain misleading motifs, such as the image of marching hominins (evolution is a branching process). We also asked participants to try to avoid images that are overused, like dinosaurs, and warned that skeletons in general evoke the image of death for many people and are thus unsuitable. However, these were guidelines, not rules; one submission used both dinosaurs and a skeleton, and it was selected as a finalist.

Submissions ranged from abstract symbols to photographic montages. Several people submitted re-imaginings of our old logo; DNA and trees of life were other popular themes. A number of people submitted logos with apples, presumably to represent education; unfortunately, the apple also has certain biblical implications that we would rather avoid!

The winning entry is by graphic artist Andrew Conti. He described his entry as follows:

I have taken Charles Darwin's original notebook sketch of the tree of life and reworked it with rounded and more organic lines. By doing so, it is my intention to give a sense of open-minded and creative playfulness, while at the same time tying a direct link to the science and history of scientific understanding that is the focus of the NCSE.

All of us in the NCSE family extend our gratitude to Conti and our deepest thanks to all our participants for their continuing support of NCSE and science education.

About the Author(s): 

Carrie Sager
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
sager@ncseweb.org

The Mysterious "Spheres" of Ottosdal, South Africa

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Mysterious "Spheres" of Ottosdal, South Africa
Author(s): 
Paul V Heinrich
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2008
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
28–33
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Cut face of Ottosdal concretion showing typical radial fibrous internal structure of these objects. Like some of the Ottosdal concretions, this specimen consists of two intergrown concretions. This specimen is 6.2 cm wide.

INTRODUCTION

The "Ottosdal objects" are spherical and subspherical objects that were found in 3.0 to 3.1 billion-year-old (Precambrian) pyrophyllite deposits in South Africa (Jackson 1992). The objects have been the subject of much attention and speculation by various fringe groups, including Christian and Hindu creationists and advocates of "ancient astronauts". These fringe groups argue that the objects are either actual or possible "Out-of-Place Artifacts" (OOPARTs), which are supposedly direct evidence of a civilization that existed either billions of years ago or before the Biblical Flood. Advocates of "ancient astronauts" further speculate that the Ottosdal objects were manufactured by intelligent extraterrestrials.

The oldest known article that advocates an artificial origin for the Ottosdal objects is Barritt (1979). This article appears in the October 2, 1979, issue of the National Enquirer as a short version of Barritt (1982), which repeats and adds much additional material to the descriptions and discussion presented in Barritt (1979).

Barritt (1982) was published in the June 11, 1982, issue of Scope Magazine. In 1982, this magazine was well known for its sensational stories and photographs. In addition to comments by an anonymous Wonderstone "mine official", Barritt (1982) includes comments from Brenda Sullivan, a South African representative of the Epigraphic Society of Arlington, Massachusetts, and Roelf Marx, Curator of the Klerksdorp Museum. According to this article, Sullivan speculated that the objects were artifacts and clear evidence of "a higher civilisation, a pre-flood civilisation about which we know virtually nothing." Barritt (1982) noted that Marx and JR McIver, a professor in the Department of Geology of the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, South Africa, lacked a satisfactory explanation for the origin of the objects. Barritt (1982) also quoted Marx as allegedly stating that a specimen of the Ottosdal objects slowly rotated on its axis while locked in a "vibration-free" Klerksdorp Museum display case.

Later, Jochmans (1995), a young-earth creationist, included the Ottosdal objects in his list of "top ten outof- place artifacts" and described the objects as being composed of "manufactured metal" and a "nickel-steel alloy which does not occur naturally." He clearly claims that these objects are artificial in origin. In his short discussion of the objects, Jochmans (1995) repeats the claim, possibly taken from Barritt (1979, 1982), that Marx had observed one of the objects slowly rotating on its axis while locked in a "vibration-free" display case. Inspired by Jimison (1982) — whose 1982 article appeared shortly after Barritt's and may have been derived from it — Hindu creationists Cremo and Thompson (1993, 1999) published a short description of the Ottosdal objects after corresponding with Marx. They argued that the Ottosdal objects are a possible example of artifacts having been found in geologic strata as old as 2.8 billion years. They discounted the identification of these objects as limonite concretions made by AA Bisschoff, a geologist at the University of Potchefstroom, because the objects were supposedly harder than steel, had grooves that appeared unnatural, and did not have the form and other characteristics of concretions.

On February 25, 1996, the National Broadcasting Company, a US television network, broadcast "The Mysterious Origins of Man" (for a description, see BC Video, 1996). The program contained a short segment on the Ottosdal objects. It described these objects as "metallic spheres" with fine grooves encircling them. The program claimed that anonymous "lab technicians", later revealed by Cremo as working for the Emerald City Metallurgical Engineering Company, could not find any explanation for the grooves. BC Video (1996) confused the Klerksdorp Museum with the Ottosdal pyrophyllite mines by stating that the objects were found in mines at Klerksdorp. The "Stratographic Column" [sic] web page (BC Video 2003) stated: "Perhaps the oldest artifacts ever discovered are these metallic spheres found in Klerksdorp, So. Africa."

In a web site, which briefly appeared on the Internet (Anonymous 2001), a three-grooved Ottosdal object was promoted as an alien artifact called the "Cosmos". In addition to rehashing material from a number of other sources, this web page offered the opinion of Elizabeth Klarer, a South African psychic and UFO enthusiast. She proposed that this Ottosdal object had been placed in the pyrophyllite by an "advanced race" and has an "optic disc", which "contains secrets of the universe". She predicted that a "chosen person" would open the optic disc and use its "secrets" to save the earth. Most importantly, the "Cosmos"web site (Anonymous 2001), contained several close-up photographs of a three-grooved Ottosdal Object from various angles.

For a brief period of time, a Klerksdorp Museum web page (Klerksdorp Museum 2002), contained the text from a letter from John Hund of Pietersburg, South Africa. This letter provided an account, which remains unsubstantiated, of the alleged results of an examination of an Ottosdal object by the California Space Institute, a multi-campus research unit of the University of California. The letter stated that scientists at the California Space Institute tested an Ottosdal object and concluded that its balance "... is so fine, it exceeded the limit of their measuring technology ..." and "... to within one-hundred thousandths of an inch from absolute perfection ..." This implication of these alleged findings is that no known natural process can explain the formation of the Ottosdal object. The letter also stated, by way of further qualifications, that the California Space Institute was the organization that made gyroscopes for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Numerous other web pages and message boards have discussed the Ottosdal object after Klerksdorp Museum (2002). Typically, they consist of rehashed, quoted, or paraphrased material from Cremo and Thompson (1993, 1999), Jochmans (1995), Govradhan Hill Publishing (1996), Heinrich (1996), Klerksdorp Museum (2002), or some combination of these sources. However, little of what is on these pages represents any new or better information.

SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF THE SPHERES

Discussion of the physical nature and origin of the "spherical" objects by conventional scientists is limited to Nel and others (1937) and popular articles by Cairncross (1988), Pope and Cairncross (1988), and Heinrich (1996, 1997). Nel and others (1937), who first described the geology and physical characteristics of the pyrophyllite deposits, simply report the occurrence of pyrite concretions within them. In response to Barritt (1982), another article, and an episode of a 1980s South African Sunday television program called "50-50", Cairncross (1988) and Pope and Cairncross (1988) argued that the Ottosdal objects are natural concretions. Cairncross (1988) noted that the grooves on these objects are often exhibited by concretions and reflect the layering of the sediments in which they grew. In an internet report on these objects, Heinrich (1996) speculated that the objects were possibly of metamorphic origin. Firsthand observations of specimens of the Ottosdal objects by Heinrich (1997) noted that these objects are neither the "perfectly round"nor "singular"objects as claimed by creationists and other fringe groups. To demonstrate the true nature of these objects, it is necessary to examine both the objects and the literature that has grown around them systematically.

METHODOLOGY

To investigate the physical nature and origin of the Ottosdal objects, the pertinent literature was reviewed. This review included studying popular articles, books, and web pages, and various scientific papers on the geology of the Precambrian strata containing them, relevant mineralogy, concretion formation, and various other topics. Additionally, attempts were made to verify the various opinions and observations, which had been posted to various web pages, for example at the Klerksdorp Museum (2002).

I was also able to examine the actual specimens of the Ottosdal objects to determine their physical properties. Susan J Webb of the University of the Witwatersrand and Allan Frazier of Online Minerals acquired five Ottosdal objects for me to examine. After being photographed, three of these specimens were sliced on a trim saw. A sample from one specimen was analyzed using petrographic techniques. Samples from two specimens, Ottosdal-2 and Ottosdal-4, were analyzed using X-ray diffraction techniques. In addition, a sample of pyrophyllite taken from the same mine as the objects was analyzed with petrographic and X-ray diffraction techniques.

Two images. Examples of concretions from the Ottosdal pyrophyllite quarries showing variations in size and morphology. A shows sub-spherical Ottosdal concretion with poorly developed longitudinal groove. This is the same concretion whose internal structure is shown in the first image. B shows disk-shaped Ottosdal concretion composed of hematite.

OCCURRENCE

Barritt (1982) shows a photograph exhibiting the empty spaces left by Ottosdal objects in the face of a cut in the pyrophyllite quarry. The photograph shows that the objects are not randomly scattered through the pyrophyllite, but occur as a very narrow layer, perhaps in volcanic deposits that were later metamorphosed to pyrophyllite.

SHAPE AND SIZE

A number of sources describe the Ottosdal objects as being spherical. Barritt (1982) initially describes them as having three longitudinal grooves and being "... so perfectly made that they look though they were cast from a mould". Barritt (1982) quotes both Marx and Sullivan as referring to these objects as "spheres". Pope and Cairncross (1988) describe the objects as being "almost perfect spheres", while Cairncross (1988) simply described them as being "round." Cremo and Thompson (1993, 1999) and Govradhan Hill Publishing (1996) further claim that the Ottosdal objects are "metallic spheres" and are "isolated and perfectly round". They state that at least one of these objects exhibits three grooves. They show a photograph in which it appears spherical. BC Video (2003) and John Hunt, as quoted in Klerksdorp Museum (2002), simply described the objects as "metallic spheres".

Two images. C shows Specimen composed of individual Ottosdal concretions intergrown like soap bubbles. D shows Ottodsal concretion with single longitudinal groove. This specimen is composed of wollastonite.

In contrast, various sources also describe the Ottosdal objects as having shapes that are neither true spheres nor "perfectly round". For example, a photograph on the last page of Barritt (1982) shows a three-grooved Ottosdal object that is clearly an ellipsoid. Barritt (1982) also gives the dimensions of a specimen in the Klerksdorp Museum as being "exactly" 3.3 cm (1.3 inches) high and 4.0 cm (1.6 inches) long. Barritt (1982) further contradicts himself and other fringe publications by quoting an anonymous mine official as stating that all of these objects are "oval" in shape. Jochmans (1995) also contradicts himself by describing them as "... metallic spheroids look [sic] like flattened globes ..." Finally, Roelf Marx (personal correspondence in 1996, including an "information sheet" on Ottosdal objects) notes that the Ottosdal objects, which he has observed, are not all spheres, but "some" of them are "oblong in form". From these descriptions, it is apparent that the authors have either greatly exaggerated the spherical nature of these objects or have been very careless in their descriptions of their shapes.

As shown in photographs that were once posted to the Cosmos web page, Anonymous (2001), the Ottosdal object exhibiting three grooves is not perfectly spherical as various authors claim. Judging from the photographs, this three-grooved object appears to consist of two Ottosdal objects that have closely intergrown together. Additional photographs of another grooved Ottosdal object in the Klerksdorp Museum, which were sent to me by van Heerden (personal correspondence, including an article, an "information sheet," and pictures of Ottosdal objects, in 2007), also clearly show that the object is not perfectly spherical.

Hund, as cited in Klerksdorp Museum (2002), claimed that an Ottosdal Object examined by the California Space Institute was balanced "... so fine, it exceeded the limit of their measuring technology ..." and "... to within one-hundred thousandths of an inch from absolute perfection ..." In personal correspondence in 2002, Arnold, who works at the California Space Institute, indicated that he remembered examining an Ottosdal Object, that Hund had loaned them. However, Arnold denied that anyone told Hund that the object had the extraordinary properties described in the letter as quoted by Klerksdorp Museum (2002). He suggested that there was "some error in transmission" and that Hund had completely misunderstood what had been told him. In addition, Arnold noted that the claim made by Hund that the California Space Institute makes gyroscopes for NASA is completely false. Judging from my correspondence and from personal examination of actual Ottosdal objects, the claim that the California Space Institute found them to be perfectly balanced and shaped spheres lacks any substance and credibility.

A careful examination of the Ottosdal objects demonstrates the imaginary nature of the "perfectly spherical" descriptions given by various authors. As first noted by Heinrich (1997), the Ottosdal objects, which were collected from the Wonderstone mines by Webb and Frazier, exhibit a wide range of shapes including spheres, flattened spheres, discs, and clusters of two to four spheres grown together like soap bubbles. Although three specimens are roughly spherical, they definitely are not "perfectly round"as various fringe group authors claim. All of these Ottosdal objects, including the "Cosmos" illustrations by Anonymous (2001), are well within in the range of shapes exhibited by natural concretions.

The size of the Ottosdal objects varies over a relatively small range. Cairncross (1988) notes that these objects vary in size from a few millimeters to several centimeters. Barritt (1979, 1982) reports that they are as large as 10 cm (4 inches) in diameter. Marx (personal correspondence in 1996) reports that these objects vary in size from 3 to 5 cm (1.2 to 2 inches) in diameter. The five specimens that were studied for this paper varied from 3.6 to 8.5 cm (1.4 to 3.3 inches) in length and 1.3 to 5.2 cm (0.5 to 2.0 inches) in height. The ratio of height to maximum length of the five objects studied varied from 0.30 to 0.83.

COMPOSITION AND INTERNAL STRUCTURE

A variety of descriptions of the composition of the Ottosdal objects have been published. For example, Jochmans (1995) claims that the Ottosdal objects are composed of a "... nickel-steel alloy, which does not occur naturally ..." The source of this claim is unknown, although it might be an imaginative elaboration of the descriptions by Barritt (1982), where they are described as "metal spheres". According to Barritt (1979, 1982), an anonymous mine employee reported that there were two types of Ottosdal objects. The employee described the first type as being solid all of the way through and composed of a bluish-white "metal" having a reddish tinge and embedded flecks of white "fibres". The second type was hollow with a thin skin and was more common. Barritt (1979, 1982) adds that this "skin" is about 0.5 centimeter (0.2 inch) thick with a sponge-like whitish center. Descriptions of these objects given by Cremo (1993, 1999) and Govradhan Hill Publishing (1996) appear to be a summary of the descriptions given by Barritt (1982). Marx (personal correspondence in 1996) reports that the Ottosdal objects have a hard concentric shell that exhibit "perfectly concentric grooves" that surround either a spongy substance or material resembling charcoal. Cairncross (1988) describes two types of Ottosdal objects. One type exhibits a brassy metallic color and the other exhibits a dark earthy brown color. Based only upon visual inspections, Cairncross (1988) speculated that the former might be composed of pyrite (an natural iron sulfide mineral) and the latter of siderite (natural iron carbonate). According to Marx (personal correspondence in 1996) and Cremo and Thompson (1993, 1999), Bisschoff concluded that the specimens, which he examined, consist of limonite. The color of the five specimens of Ottosdal objects that were studied by the author were dark reddish-brown, red, and dusky red as defined by the color chart of the Munsell Color Company (1975).

The internal structure of three Ottosdal objects, specimens Ottosdal-1, Ottosdal-2, and Ottosdal-4, was determined by cutting them open with a trim saw. All three of these objects exhibit a spectacular radial structure, which breaks into concentric shells. They are clearly natural concretions. Internally, the concretions were found to be both porous and friable. One of two noticeably "grooved spheres"which was cut on the trim saw exhibited faint ghosts of flat laminations cross-cutting its radial structure. A prominent internal lamination was specifically associated with the external groove. The cut surface also failed to support the claim that grooves had been artificially cut into the specimen.

The analysis of two Ottosdal objects, specimens Ottosdal-2 and Ottosdal-4, by X-ray diffraction techniques revealed that they consist of two different minerals. As confirmed by petrographic and two X-ray diffraction analyses, specimen Ottosdal-2 consisted of hematite, a common naturally occurring iron oxide. Xray diffraction analyses by MA Holmes of the Geosciences Department at the University of Nebraska (personal correspondence in 2007, including X-ray diffraction data and diagrams) demonstrated that specimen Ottosdal-4 consists of wollastonite (CaSiO3), a common metamorphic mineral, along with minor amounts of hematite and goethite, a hydrated iron oxide. Holmes also confirmed that Ottosdal-2 consisted of hematite.

HARDNESS

Marx (personal correspondence in 1996), Cremo and Thompson (1993, 1999), and Govradhan Hill Publishing (1996) also claim that some of the Ottosdal objects are harder than steel. Marx further implies that this hardness is typical of all, not just one or some, of the Ottosdal objects. An examination of the five Ottosdal objects collected for this study found none of them to be harder than 4.0–5.0 on the Mohs scale (a rating of 7–8 is typical of hardened steel). Marx, who openly admits to having "no geological training", and Cremo and Thompson (1993, 1999), and Govradhan Hill Publishing (1996), whose source for the hardness claim was apparently Marx, are clearly mistaken about these objects' being harder than steel.

POWER OF ROTATION

In correspondence sent to Bruce Cairncross (1988) and me, Marx stated that a reporter had falsely quoted what he had said about the rotation of the objects. According to him, it was true that the Ottosdal objects had rotated in their museum cases. However, he unequivocally stated that the claim by Barritt (1979, 1982) that the Klerksdorp Museum display cases were free of outside vibrations is completely false. According to his correspondence, Marx clearly told the reporter that vibrations from underground blasting in local gold mines regularly vibrated the museum's display cases and caused the Ottosdal objects to rotate. Judging from Marx's firsthand accounts, it is clear that the claim that these objects rotated under their own power is completely false.

DISCUSSION

The descriptions of the physical characteristics and properties of the Ottosdal objects found in the literature of fringe groups badly distort reality. They also show a profound lack of expertise by fringe authors in making basic observations concerning the physical characteristics of the objects that they are discussing.

The first-hand evidence indicates that the Ottosdal objects are composed largely of hematite, wollastonite, pyrite, or some combination of these minerals. Trained geologists, Nel and others (1937) and Cairncross (1988), concluded that the Ottosdal objects are composed of pyrite within the pyrophyllite deposits. The presence of Ottosdal objects composed of hematite and wollastonite is proven by X-ray diffraction and petrographic analyses. Given the difficulty of identifying fine-grained minerals from visual inspection alone, it is understandable that Cairncross (1988) confused either hematite or wollastonite with siderite. In addition, hematite and geothite are often called "limonite" when they occur as a massive earthy mass lacking any observable crystals. Thus, the identification of some of these objects as consisting of limonite by AA Bisschoff is a general specimen description for these minerals when detailed mineralogical analyses are lacking.

The internal structure of the hematite Ottosdal objects indicates that they are natural concretions that are pseudomorphs after original pyrite concretions. It is well known that limonite, goethite, and hematite will form such pseudomorphs in these situations. This transformation occurs when oxidizing chemical reactions transform pyrite into limonite, goethite, or hematite while keeping the external shape of the pyrite. The porous and friable nature of the hematite concretions is likely the result of a decrease in the volume of the concretions as they were transformed from pyrite to hematite.

The Ottosdal object composed of wollastonite is also readily explained as a natural concretion. The Wollastonite often forms as the result of the interaction of silica-rich fluids with calcium carbonate during the metamorphism of volcanic deposits to pyrophyllite, which also silicified adjacent beds of lava (Nel and others 1937). The relict structure of the object is also typical of natural deposits.

In contrast to the various observations provided by the fringe-group literature, the sizes and shapes of the Ottosdal objects fall within the range of shapes observed for natural concretions. The intergrown nature, which some of the objects exhibit, is quite typical of natural concretions. The observed and reported sizes of these objects fall well within the size range of concretions, which can vary from a few millimeters to over 6 meters (up to 18 feet) (Dietrich 1999; Raiswell and Fisher 2000).

The longitudinal grooves exhibited by some of the Ottosdal objects, as noted by Cairncross (1988), were caused by sediment laminations. The grooves in the concretions represent individual laminae within the host sediments. These laminae were slightly finergrained than overlying and underlying sediments. As the concretion grew within the sediments, it grew at a slightly slower rate within these laminae than in adjacent layers, which resulted in the formation of the grooves. How this process can produce longitudinal grooves and ridges on spherical and subspherical concretions is well illustrated by innumerable iron oxide concretions found within the Navajo Sandstone of southern Utah called "Moqui marbles" (Chan and others 2004). The longitudinal ridges and grooves exhibited by these concretions are more pronounced and irregular than those in Ottosdal objects because the sediment in which they grew is coarser than the sediments in which the Ottosdal objects formed.

It is also clear from this investigation that the fringe-groups literature contain blatantly incorrect information about the physical character of these objects. For example, the various claims that the Ottosdal objects are perfectly round are refuted by both direct observation of the actual specimens and published photographs of them. In addition, the supporters of these objects are non-natural in origin are completely wrong in their claims that the objects rotate in "vibration-free" cabinets, are "perfectly balanced," "are hard as steel", and are composed of a "... nickel-steel alloy, which does not occur naturally ..." Jochmans (1995) even incorrectly noted that the objects were found in a silver mine. It is quite clear that the those who argue for an artificial origin for these objects have based their interpretation on misconceptions and misinformation about the physical characteristics of these objects. As a result, they completely failed to make a credible case that these objects are anything other than interesting, but completely natural, geological concretions.

Finally, the case of the Ottosdal objects is not unique. It appears that lay people often mistake concretions of various shapes for intelligently designed and manufactured artifacts. For example, the Moeraki Boulders of New Zealand, which are natural "cannonball" concretions, have been mistaken for the sail weights of Chinese junks. Natural concretions found by explorers on Seymour Island, Antarctica, were misidentified as artifacts. Concretions from the bottom of the Bay of Cambay (Khambat) have also been mistaken for ancient artifacts (Heinrich 2002). In a similar case, Kuban (2006) argues that an alleged shoe print mentioned by Cremo and Thompson (1993, 1999) and other fringe archaeologists and creationists, as having been found in Triassic strata within Nevada, is "... most likely a broken ironstone concretion ..."

CONCLUSION

An examination of the Ottosdal objects indicates that they and their grooves lack any indication of being artificial. They are just another example of how concretions have been mistaken for intelligently designed and manufactured objects. The misidentification of natural objects as the by-products of "intelligent design" is an important lesson that needs to be learned by many fringe group members.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I thank Allan Fraser, Susan J Webb,and Desmond Sacco for their successful efforts at obtaining specimens of Ottosdal objects for my study. I also thank H van Heerden for pictures of Ottosdal concretions currently on display in the Klerksdorp Museum and Roelf Marx and Frans Waanders for giving copies of hard-toget handouts and articles concerning these concretions. Finally, I thank Kevin R Henke for taking the time and trouble to review this article for me.

References

Anonymous. 2001. Welcome to the South African Grooved Sphere Controversy — COSMOS. Available on-line at http://www.groovedsphere.com/welcome.htm. Last accessed April 30, 2002.

Barritt D. 1979 Oct 2. South African miners find new evidence of intelligent life on earth billions of years ago. National Enquirer.

Barritt D. 1982 Jun 11. The riddle of the cosmic cannon-balls. Scope Magazine.

BC Video. 1996. The Mysterious Origins of Man. Available on-line at http://www.bcvideo.com/bmom31.html. Last accessed April 1, 2008.

BC Video. 2003. Stratographic Column [sic]. Available on-line at http://www.bcvideo.com/mom6.html Last accessed April 1, 2008.

Cairncross B. 1988. "Cosmic cannonballs": A rational explanation. The South African Lapidary Magazine 30 (1): 4–6.

Chan MA, Beitler BB, Parry WT, Ormo J, Komatsu G. 2004. A possible terrestrial analogue for haematite concretions on Mars. Nature 429 (6993): 731–4.

Cremo M, Thompson RL. 1993. Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race. Badger (CA): Torchlight Publishing.

Cremo M, Thompson RL. 1999. The Hidden History of the Human Race. Badger (CA): Torchlight Publishing.

Dietrich RV. 1999. Carbonate concretions [part 1]. Rocks and Minerals 74 (4): 266–9.

Govradhan Hill Publishing. 1996. Grooved spheres from South Africa (Precambrian). Available on-line at http://nersp.nerdc.ufl.edu/~ghi/spheres.html. Last accessed March 13, 2007.

Heinrich, PV. 1996. The mysterious origins of man: The South African grooved sphere controversy. Available on-line at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/mom/spheres.html Last accessed April 1, 2008.

Heinrich PV. 1997. Mystery spheres[letter]. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 17 (1): 34.

Heinrich PV. 2002. Artifacts or geofacts? Alternative interpretations of items from the Gulf of Cambay. Available on-line at http://members.cox.net/pyrophyllite/geofact.html. Last accessed April 1, 2008.

Jackson MC. 1992. A review of the late Archean volcano-sedimentary Dominion Group and implications for the tectonic setting of the Witwatersrand Supergroup, South Africa. Journal of African Earth Sciences 15 (2) 169–86.

Jimison S. 1982 Jul 27. Scientists baffled by space spheres. Weekly World News.

Jochmans JR. 1995. Top ten out-of-place artifacts. Atlantis Rising 5:34–5, 52, 54.

Klerksdorp Museum. 2002.The riddle of the rotating spheres — Stones baffle NASA scientists.Available on-line at http://klerksdorp.org/navigation/30.htm Last accessed on December 12, 2002.

Kuban GJ. 2006. Nevada shoe print? Available on-line at http://paleo.cc/paluxy/nevada.htm. Last accessed April 1, 2008.

Munsell Color Company. 1975. Munsell Soil Color Chart. Newburgh (MD): Munsell Color Company.

Nel LT, Jacobs H, Allen JT, Bozzoli GR. 1937. Wonderstone. Geological Survey of South Africa Bulletin 8.

Pope C, Cairncross B. 1988."Cosmic cannonballs": A geologic explanation. ARIP [Association for the Rational Investigation of the Paranormal] View. 1: 5–6.

Raiswell R, Fisher QJ. 2000. Mudrock-hosted carbonate concretions: a review of growth mechanisms and their influence on chemical and isotopic composition. Journal of Geological Society of London 157: 239–51.

About the Author(s): 

Paul V Heinrich
9887 Kinglet Drive
Baton Rouge LA 70809
inselberg@cox.net

Review: Worlds of Their Own

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Year: 
2008
Issue: 
1
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
34–35
Reviewer: 
David Morrison
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Worlds of Their Own: A Brief History of Misguided Ideas: Creationism, Flat-Earthism, Energy Scams, and the Velikovsky Affair
Author(s): 
Robert Schadewald, edited by Lois Schadewald
Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2008. 240 pages.
It is a pleasure to recommend this book by Robert Schadewald, who died several years ago at age 57, before he was able to publish these essays together. Schadewald, a free-lance technical writer by profession, was an avid student of pseudoscience and advocate for a more rational world. The publisher describes this book as a distillation of a lifetime of research into why some people extend their views of reality beyond the evidence, or deny the common reality and create their own.

Bob's sister, Lois Schadewald, complied this book from a variety of sources. Many chapters are previously published essays, spanning 30 years. She also found notes for unfinished books on the subjects of alternative science, perpetual motion, scientific creationism and flat earth theories. She organized this diverse material and wrote short introductions to each section. The result thus does not present a unified perspective or consistent outlook in time, and some sections seem dated. But no matter; these essays express the unified vision of Bob Schadewald, and that is what matters.

The book deals with four examples of pseudoscience. The early chapters are devoted to Immanuel Velikovsky, including the last interview with Velikovsky a week before he died. Next is a detailed historical review of perpetual motion machines, both those put forward by honest, if confused, inventors who just have not quite made their machines work, and those with hidden batteries or motors built to defraud potential investors. The third topic, discussed in more detail in the following paragraphs, is flat-earth theories. Finally, there are several interesting chapters on "scientific creationism", providing useful background for current debates on "intelligent design".

Schadewald provides an illuminating perspective on creationism by exploring its 19th-century predecessor, flat-earth theory. Characteristically, he includes the human history, narrating the story of the "proof" of the sphericity of the earth conducted by Alfred Russel Wallace in 1870 at the Old Bedford Canal, and visiting the century-old flat-earth oasis of Zion, Illinois. The Old Bedford test was simple: to observe with a small telescope the marks on three poles, each the same height above the water, along a 6-mile straight stretch of the canal, to ascertain if they define a straight line. Simple, perhaps, but Wallace almost lost the £500 wager, because the criteria for judging the experiment were not precisely defined in advance. As Schadewald writes, "The naïve and idealistic Wallace assumed his opponent was rational and a gentleman, so he began losing points immediately."

Schadewald himself assumes that many pseudoscientists are, if not rational, then gentlemen. One of the strengths of his book is the way the author related personally to so many people with whom he disagreed. One such honorable opponent was Charles K Johnson, president of the International Flat Earth Research Society. Johnson explains that his beliefs are grounded in the Bible. He says that the Bible describes a flat earth under a dome or vault (what the King James Bible calls the firmament), and like many creationists he asserts that we can have no moral purpose outside literal acceptance of this written word of God.

Unlike many ancient religious texts, the Bible does not describe its cosmology. However, Schadewald shows how consistently the Bible assumes the Babylonian cosmology of an immobile, flat earth under a low, solid dome of the sky. Thus we have "He has fixed the earth firm, immovable" and "Thou didst fix the earth on its foundation so that it can never be shaken." The creation story in Genesis states that the earth was created on the first day, and the vault on the second day to divide the waters above from those below. Only on the fifth day were the sun, moon, and stars created, and they were placed in, not above, the vault. In Job we note that God beat out the vault of the skies, hard as a mirror of cast metal, and that God walks to and fro on the vaulted roof, where he looks down on the stars. Schadewald quotes biblical references to the ends of the earth and to windows though which wind and rain can penetrate the vault. He also explores more explicit descriptions of the Hebrew cosmology in the first century bce Ethiopic Book of Enoch, in which the author (with an angel as guide) visits the ends of the earth on which the heavens rest and views "the storerooms of the sun and the moon, from what place they go out and to which place they return."

Twenty-first–century creationists make the same case that their moral and ethical foundations require the literal truth of the Bible, yet they generally accept a spherical earth and heliocentric cosmology. This book makes a compelling case that the flat earth is better grounded in biblical literalism than is creationism, that Copernicus is a greater challenge to literalists than Darwin. If one puts the literal meaning of the Bible first, then the earth is flat as well as young, and God sits on a throne atop the solid dome of the sky.

Schadewald became a board member of the NCSE in 1986, and he devoted his talents and energy increasingly to combating creationism. Velikovsky and flat-earthers and the purveyors of perpetual motion machines are well recognized as cranks, and no one is arguing that their ideas should be taught in public school. In a 1982 letter, he wrote, "I consider Velikovskyism a relatively harmless delusion. The same cannot be said for the pernicious "scientific creationism". I will return to [other pseudosciences] when the creationists have been driven back into their caves." That objective seems more elusive now than it did two decades ago.

Most creationists receive little sympathy from Schadewald, who is especially hard on those who willfully distort scientific data and "lie for God". He writes that "[c]reation scientists ... behave much like ordinary cranks. Like secular cranks they ground their beliefs in exaggerated self-esteem and plot theories and maintain them by mangling logic and ignoring evidence." He calls scientific creationism "the best organized movement in the history of American pseudoscience, and thus the most dangerous." He provides an excellent summary of the differences between science and pseudoscience and concludes that true dialog between them is all but impossible.

Because of its diverse sources and the long time span over which the essays were written, this is perhaps not the most coherent introduction to crackpot science. However, it is a great book for readers of Reports of the NCSE and others embroiled in the evolution/creationism controversy. Schadewald provides us a valuable perspective on the nature of pseudoscience and its advocates, including the creation science of 30 years ago.

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

David Morrison is the senior scientist at NASA's Astrobiology Institute. He was awarded the Carl Sagan Medal in 2004 by the Division for Planetary Sciences in recognition of his success at communicating science to the public.

Review: Science, Evolution, and Creationism

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Year: 
2008
Issue: 
1
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
35–36
Reviewer: 
David C Kopaska-Merkel
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Science, Evolution, and Creationism
Author(s): 
The National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine
Washington: National Academies Press, 2008. 88 pages.

Science, Evolution, and Creationism is the latest offering from the National Academy of Sciences in an ongoing program to inform the public about evolution. The book first discusses the nature of science in the context of evolution and then considers evidence for biological evolution. This is followed by an analysis of creationism, a brief conclusion section, and supporting materials.

Chapter 1 presents as good an explanation of the nature of science and the relationship between science and religion as I have seen. For example, from a discussion of genetic distances among species: "... some genes that control the production of biochemicals or chemical reactions ... essential for cellular functioning show little variation across species ..." Scientists involved with education and many science educators will have seen all this before in similar forms (Cartwright and others 2000; Pojeta and Springer 2001). One notable addition is an extensive discussion of Tiktaalik, the fish/amphibian transitional fossil discovered a few years ago in the Canadian Arctic. Many "intermediate forms" have been discovered, but this is one of the most important. Because it is new, its addition to the book is valuable. I could wish that the explanation included a graphic comparing the limb bones of lobe-fin fish, Tiktaalik, and amphibians.

Chapter 2 does a significantly smoother and more comprehensive job of presenting evidence than other similar publications I have read. Each line of evidence is clearly developed, so a literate reader should easily follow the argument. The authors avoid the laundry-list approach of briefly presenting a lot of information in superficial detail. Instead, very nice explanations of methods, such as radiometric dating, and particular examples, such as human evolution, make a compelling case by showing enough of the evidence and inference that lies behind the modern theory of evolution to give a flavor of its richness. There are a couple of minor errors. The scope of origin of sedimentary rocks is misrepresented. Some sedimentary rocks, like rock salt, form in place and are not made of particles deposited from fluids. The book also states that the sun is the center of the solar system. The sun's displacement from the center is quite significant for orbital dynamics and, ultimately, for the earth's climate.

Chapter 3 concerns creationism. Evidence supporting the theory of evolution is contrasted with the observation that young-earth creationists reject any facts that contradict their interpretation of the Bible. Because the theory of evolution is open to falsification by contradictory evidence (if any were to be found), whereas creationism must be accepted on faith, evolution is scientific and creationism is not. In response to the often-made claim that "no one has seen evolution", the authors refer to the regular emergence of resistant strains of microorganisms: evolution in action. This is a strong point, but it could be even stronger if they mentioned the development of polyploid plant species in historical time, and the evolution of the HIV virus, a macroevolutionary jump that took place in the 1970s or early 1980s.

"Intelligent design" is demolished even more effectively. "Intelligent design" assumes that scientific questions can have only two possible answers: undirected evolution or design. However, failure of scientists to identify a specific mechanism for evolution of a complex structure like the vertebrate eye does not automatically validate "intelligent design". In addition, there is still no evidence to support any "intelligent design" assertions, and all of this is made very clear in this chapter. Chapter 3 concludes with a reminder that the courts have consistently ruled that creationism (including "intelligent design") is religion and therefore not allowed in a science classroom.

The rest of the book consists of a brief conclusions section, a list of frequently asked questions, additional readings, biographies of committee members, and an index. The conclusions are simply a succinct summary of the first three chapters. The FAQ list will be more valuable, because most of the questions are the sort that creationists feed to their listeners, and the answers are clear and apt. Most of the additional resources are articles from the scientific literature and books written at a popular level, so they will be more accessible to the nonscientist. They are organized into broad subject categories, such as "books on evolution" and "books on the origin of the universe and the earth." Most of the books listed are less than ten years old; some older classics (such as Gould 1980) are included as well. The reader is referred to the National Academies of Sciences website for a list of science education and evolution websites. Many of these links are already broken, but the links to government websites and to reputable organizations such as NCSE should be stable.

Any open-minded reader will become convinced that evolution is the only persuasive scientific explanation of the diversity of life ceron earth. The difficult work that faces scientists and science educators consists in reaching those who do not want to listen. I have become convinced over the years that books like this one are necessary but far from sufficient tools. Their greatest value is in informing willing teachers of the strong arguments and evidence supporting the theory of evolution. This book also will help youngsters educate themselves and give them the evidence and arguments they need to challenge the dogma of their peers.

In conclusion, Science, Evolution, and Creationism results from no macroevolutionary leap. It is the sympatric daughter species of its predecessor (NAS 1999). Larger, more versatile, and better adapted to its sociopolitical environment, this book should do well in a shifting landscape.

References

Cartwright P, Kaesler RL, Lieberman BS, Melott AL. 2000. A Kansan's Guide to Science: An Introduction to Evolution and the Nature of Science, Including Origins of the Universe and the Earth and the History of Life. Lawrence (KS): Kansas Geological Survey.

Gould SJ. 1980. The Panda's Thumb. New York:WW Norton.

[NAS] National Academy of Sciences. 1999. Science and Creationism. 2nd ed. Washington: National Academy Press.

Pojeta J Jr, Springer DA. 2001. Evolution and the Fossil Record. Alexandria (VA): American Geological Institute.

About the Author(s): 

David C Kopaska-Merkel
1300 Kicker Rd
Tuscaloosa AL 35404
jopnquog@gmail.com

David C Kopaska-Merkel earned his PhD in geology from the University of Kansas. He works as a geologist, and writes science fiction, fantasy, and poetry on the side.

Review: Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, & Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Year: 
2008
Issue: 
1
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
36–37
Reviewer: 
Rebecca J Flietstra
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, & Evolution
Author(s): 
Deborah B Haarsma and Loren D Haarsma
Grand Rapids (MI): Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2007. 255 pages.
During my first semester as a freshman at a Christian college I was exposed, for the first time, to a positive description of evolution. For some reason, this unexpected defense of Darwin's theory did not disturb me, but instead piqued my curiosity. Shortly after that initial lecture, I sought out my professor to find out more. Several discussions later I found myself embracing what I had previously regarded as an evil theory. Interestingly, the more I learned about evolution — the more I got excited about the grandness of the theory — the deeper my faith grew in a divine, awesomely creative Creator.

Of course, not all of my classmates, nor the college's constituency, appreciated such advocacy for evolutionary theory. During my years as an undergraduate at Calvin College (in Grand Rapids, Michigan), a physics professor by the name of Howard Van Till published The Fourth Day: What the Bible and the Heavens Are Telling Us About Creation (Grand Rapids [MI]: Eerdmans, 1986), a book that discussed evidence for an old universe. Although Van Till's book focused on the inanimate, avoiding an in-depth analysis of biological evolution, it still stirred up the wrath of parents, donors, and members of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), the sponsoring denomination of Calvin College. Although Van Till kept his job, he endured years of ugliness.

Two decades later, two physicists at my alma mater, Deborah and Loren Haarsma, have published Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, & Evolution. Although some evangelical and fundamentalist Christians will certainly reject their message, this book will probably not create the stir that Van Till's book did. For, although creationism remains strong in the United States, evolutionary theory is no longer big news at many Christian colleges, including Calvin. While evolution is still a taboo subject at some Christian schools, evangelical students at many schools are more accustomed to hearing about evolutionary theory than they were even twenty years ago. Many can recognize that, even if they personally reject evolutionary theory, this issue need not define and divide Christians. One must be careful, therefore, not to lump all Christians, or even all evangelicals, together.

The Haarsma and Haarsma book is intended for use as a textbook in Christian classrooms, particularly for schools within the Reformed tradition. The authors are very frank about the particularity of their belief system and how it affects their scholarship and understanding of the world. This particularity serves both as a strength and as a limitation. By speaking from a very specific location within Christianity, they can set up specific criteria for critiquing various positions. But this specific position also limits their audience. Not only are they Reformed, they are Christian Reformed — drawing on specific rulings by the denomination and referring to specific persons and historical incidents. Unless one is part of the community (or grew up in it), much of the dialog will feel like an eavesdropped conversation.

The authors have further assumed an audience of undergraduates who are not majoring in the sciences. As such, their language and arguments are quite basic and easy to follow. Each chapter has a number of sidebars that typically offer internet links for further discussion and research. At the end of the each chapter they list some "Questions for Reflection and Discussion" (that is, homework assignments) and a list of additional resources. The book thus can serve as a launching pad for a more in-depth exploration of the creationism/ evolution dialog.

I've used the term "dialog" deliberately. Although the authors recognize and describe the faith-vs-science wars, and offer various arguments in support of evolutionary theory, they tend to assume the accuracy of evolutionary theory. Instead of spending most of their energy defending evolution, they instead take for granted the reality of natural selection and evolutionary theory. Thus, with both God and evolution as "givens", they have no choice but to believe that these two realities will not ultimately conflict.

In each chapter the Haarsmas offer various options for reconciling different aspects of evolutionary theory and Christian belief. They begin with discussing the worldviews that shape how persons understand both their faith commitments and their scientific interpretations. "A worldview," state the authors, "is defined as a belief system that a person uses to answer the big questions of life." In many ways, a worldview is similar to a scientific paradigm — it's the overarching context for interpreting life's data. Although the authors mention a number of non-Christian belief systems, their discussions focus on just two worldviews: Christian and atheistic. Although this approach helps to streamline the discussion, it sometimes appears as if the authors have parceled out all persons into these two categories.

After exploring alternate ways of interpreting Scripture, the authors move to discuss the age of the universe, evolution by natural selection, "intelligent design", and human evolution. The Haarsmas seek to be as even-handed as possible, presenting each reconciliation strategy in a positive light, even as they critique each position. They openly admit that they are not fully satisfied with any of the strategies, but they are still seeking reconciliation. For them, the process of discussion and seeking is more important than absolute certainty.

At the same time, there appear to be limits to the Haarsmas' seeking. At the beginning of this review, I mentioned that Origins will most likely not be as controversial as Van Till's book was twenty years ago. In some academic Christian circles, evolution is not as startling or threatening as it once was. Human evolution, however, remains a touchy subject. As employees at a denominational school, the Haarsmas are bound by denominational rulings. They thus admit in Appendix B that they have been careful not to advocate pre-human ancestry, which would be a violation of church statements. Instead, the Haarsmas are very careful in the human evolution chapter to speak theoretically about the various options Christians have chosen, including the acceptance of a more extensive family tree. Maybe in another twenty years this too will change.

About the Author(s): 
Rebecca J Flietstra
Biology Department
Point Loma Nazarene University
3900 Lomaland Drive
San Diego CA 92106-2899

Rebecca J Flietstra is Professor of Biology at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Review: The Making of the Fittest

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Year: 
2008
Issue: 
1
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
37–39
Reviewer: 
Louise S Mead
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution
Author(s): 
Sean B Carroll
New York: WW Norton, 2006 (paperback 2007). 288 pages.

Just as fossils provide a window into the past, evolution leaves a footprint on DNA. In The Making of the Fittest, Sean Carroll explains some of the overwhelming evidence for evolution provided in DNA, bringing to life new examples from sequences of DNA that once coded for genes no longer used, remnants of ancestral lives, and evidence of evolutionary change. As Carroll explains, "every evolutionary change between species, from physical form to digestive metabolism, is due to — and recorded in — changes in DNA" (p 14). Using this forensic evidence of evolution, Carroll reveals how these relics provide new "sources of insights into traits and capabilities that have been abandoned as species evolved new lifestyles" (p 16). Carroll also deals a blow to the claim that evolution occurs completely at random, and that order and complexity of nature are surely outside the realm of random processes. The descriptions offered in The Making of the Fittest provide powerful examples of how evolution actually works, and why evolution matters. A few are discussed below, but definitely read The Making of the Fittest, and evaluate the data for yourself.

HOW THE ICEFISH LOST ITS BLOOD

Carroll's first example, of bloodless fishes in the Antarctic, shows the wonderful way science operates. An unconfirmed observation of bloodless fishes living in the cold waters of the Antarctic challenged the working hypothesis that all vertebrates must have red blood cells, contingent on their requirement for the oxygen-carrying molecule hemoglobin. Years passed, with no verification of these strange fish. However, eventual proof of the actual existence of bloodless fishes — which turned out in fact to have blood that lacked red blood cells and hemoglobin — then fueled more empirical work. Scientific research, in the form of actual observations, data, and facts, provided an explanation of how these fishes came to exist without hemoglobin, in a story that is a much more awesome and compelling than any just-so story that could be written.

The evolutionary explanation, described by Carroll, shows, in uncontestable detail, how bloodless icefish have evolved in response to "opportunity and necessity". This evolutionary narrative takes place over the past 55 million years, during which temperatures of the Antarctic Ocean have dropped, from about 20° C to less than 0° C in some locales. A cold environment presents challenges to living organisms, which have to adapt in response: for example, since fluids like blood move much more slowly in colder temperature, animals in such environments compensate by evolving less viscous blood and/or increasing the surface area for oxygen exchange.

The protagonists of our evolutionary narrative are fishes of the teleost suborder Notothenioidei, commonly known as icefish, which dominate the fish fauna of the freezing coastal regions of the Southern Ocean. Notothenioid fishes in the Antarctic have either much lower hematocrit percentages (that is, a lower percentage of red blood cells in their blood) or no hemoglobin-containing red blood cells in their blood (and are therefore considered bloodless). The bloodless icefish have relatively large gills and scaleless skin with unusually large capillaries. Modifications in the heart and gills facilitate the transfer of oxygen from water to tissue. Icefish also synthesize antifreeze glycoproteins (AFGP1–AFGP8) that inhibit growth of ice crystals and therefore prevent freezing of tissues.

Enter DNA ... providing a window into the past and evidence of change. Bloodless icefish in the Antarctic have genes for hemoglobin, but the genes have accumulated mutations, and are now functionless. The presence of relict hemoglobin genes points to an ancestral way of life, no longer followed by the fish, and provides evidence for descent with modification. Moreover, the DNA sequence of the antifreeze glycoprotein (AFGP) informs us how the evolutionary change occurred. The notothenioid AFGPs (a family of at least eight different isoforms — various forms of the same protein) are composed of a simple glycotripeptide repeat, (Thr-Ala/Pro-Ala)n, with the disaccharide galactose-N-acytylglactosamine attached to each Thr, and the dipeptide Ala-Ala at the N terminus (Chen and others 1997). The smallest AFGP isoform consists of four repeats; the largest of 55 repeats. Variation abounds among these isoforms, and AFGP polyprotein precursors contain various combinations of these isoforms. Additionally, there are multiple genes and multiple AFGP copies per gene, which contribute to high levels of circulating proteins and suggest extensive duplications gave rise to this protein family (Chen and others 1997).

The first AFGP gene characterized was from the Antarctic notothenioid Notothenia coriiceps (Hsiao and others 1990), and a search of Genbank found that the 3' flanking sequence of the Notothenia coriiceps AFGP gene, starting from the termination codon to about 100 nucleotides downstream, to be about 80% identical to the coding sequence of the C terminus (50 residues) of the trypsinogen cDNA of Atlantic plaice, providing a potential pathway for evolution of the antifreeze protein from a digestive protein. Analysis of both the AFGP gene and the trypsinogen gene from the giant Antarctic notothenioid Dissocstichus mawsoni showed 4–7% sequence divergence (Chen and others 1997). And, as can only be predicted and tested within an evolutionary framework, a transcriptionally active chimeric gene that encodes both the AFGP polyprotein and the trypsinogen protease was found (Cheng and Chen 1999). Evolution works "by tinkering with materials that are available — in this case a little piece of another gene's code — rather than by designing new things completely from scratch" (p 26). The Making of the Fittest is full of similar descriptions of evolution in action. Mutation, heritable variation, and differential survival in a changing environment provide an explanation of evolutionary change that is overwhelmingly consistent with, and supported by, our observations across all major groups of organisms.

THE RANDOM DOUBTERS

A common misconception about evolution is that it proceeds by random chance, and many creationists use this myth to discredit evolution. Carroll dismisses this misconception, offering a clear and understandable description of the mathematical power of evolution to produce change. Carroll uses everyday examples — winning the lottery, dying in various kinds of accidents, and saving money — to address commonly held misconceptions about the probability of evolution, specifically the potential for random events to generate complexity and the ability of selection to cause significant change. Critics of evolution want people to believe that mutations cannot lead to new information. Carroll clearly shows where these arguments fall apart. He first points out that while mutations are random, selection determines what chance occurrences are retained." Given enough time identical or equivalent mutations will arise repeatedly by chance and their fate (preservation or elimination) will be determined by the conditions of selection upon the traits they affect" (p 155). Carroll also draws an analogy between the power of natural selection and that of compounding interest, explaining that "small differences among individuals, when compounded by natural selection over time, really do add up to the large differences we see among species" (p 43). Understanding the power of selection as an analogy to the practice of compounding interest could better prepare everyone for an age of global climate change as well as a global economy.

BEYOND NATURAL SELECTION

Carroll states, quite rightly, that "DNA decisively confirms [Darwin's] picture of evolution" (p 16), and shows how molecular data continue to inform our understanding of how natural selection operates as a mechanism of evolutionary change in his discussions of the distribution of color vision and olfactory sensitivity in groups of mammals, population responses to environmental change, microbial resistance to antibiotics, and sicklecell trait in humans. Expecting natural selection to explain all evolutionary change, however, would be terribly near-sighted, ignoring much of the results of research in evolutionary biology, population genetics, and molecular biology over the last 150 years. Development, mutation, gene duplication, gene rearrangement, and genetic drift must be incorporated into a complete understanding of evolutionary change.

Carroll has two other books (Carroll and others 2001; Carroll 2005) that address some of these topics in more depth. It is unfortunate that, in a time when evolutionary biology forms the backbone of so much research into medical advances and provides a greater understanding of the genetic components of human health and disease, Carroll felt the need to include a chapter on discussing creationism, including "intelligent design". The chapter is, however, sadly needed, as antievolution groups continue to undermine sound science education. Critics of evolution continually disregard the predictive power of evolutionary explanations, which, as Carroll clearly shows, explain how icefish evolved from ancestors with the capacity to synthesize hemoglobin, later lost as they adapted to living in freezing cold water. To be sure, those voicing dissent will not be satisfied until every nucleotide substitution and gene duplication event is historically identified and mapped, and in the interval will insist that we reject the entire evolutionary explanation in favor of a supernatural explanation with no evidence at all. Believing that the adaptations of icefish were designed by an intelligent agency is about as scientific, and intellectually satisfying, as Kipling's explanation of how the leopard got its spots.

The scientific evidence for evolution provided by Carroll will probably not enlighten those who refuse to accept the nature of scientific investigation and oppose Darwinian evolution. But The Making of the Fittest should be required reading for those teetering on the edge of accepting evolution, as well as anyone interested in learning more about the great epic of life. Its appeal to a wide audience also makes the book of great value to teachers who can mine the text — available in a quite affordable paperback version, happily — for opportunities to teach students about the nature of science and fresh and exciting examples of how evolution works.

References

Carroll SB. 2005. Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo. New York: WW Norton.

Carroll SB, Grenier JK, Weatherbee SD. 2001. From DNA to Diversity: Molecular Genetics and the Evolution of Animal Design. Malden (MA): Blackwell.

Chen L, DeVries AL, Cheng C-HC. 1997. Evolution of antifreeze glycoprotein gene from a trypsinogen gene in Antarctic nothenioid fish. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 94: 3811–6.

Cheng C-HC, Chen L. 1999. Evolution of an antifreeze glycoprotein. Nature 410: 443–4.

Hsiao KC, Cheng C-HC, Fernandes IE, Detrich HW, DeVries AL. 1990. An antifreeze glycopeptide gene from the Antarctic Cod Notothenia coriiceps neglecta encodes a polyprotein of high peptide copy number. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 87: 9265–9.

About the Author(s): 

Louise S Mead
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
mead@ncseweb.org

Louise S Mead is NCSE's Education Project Director