Volume 28 (2008)

RNCSE 28 (1)
RNCSE 28 (1)
RNCSE 28 (2)
RNCSE 28 (2)

RNCSE 28 (3)
RNCSE 28 (3)
RNCSE 28 (4)
RNCSE 28 (4)

RNCSE 28 (5—6)
RNCSE 28 (5—6)

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

RNCSE 28 (2)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2008
Date: 
March–April
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 28 (2)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2008
Date: 
March–April

NEWS

  1. Evolution Comes to Florida's Science Standards
    Joshua Rosenau
    The progress, detours, and final destination of the new science education standards in Florida.
  2. Anti-Evolution Legislation in the Bayou State
    Eugenie C Scott and Glenn Branch
    In Louisiana, where they never seem to learn from the past,"academic freedom" anti-evolution legislation appears headed for a floor vote.
  3. A Setback for the ICR in Texas
    Glenn Branch
    When the Institute for Creation Research resettled in Dallas recently, it needed to have its graduate program reaccredited. But its master's degree program in science education was recently denied certification by Texas education officials.
  4. Updates
    News from Alabama,Arizona, California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Northern Marianas Islands, Ohio, and Texas.

NCSE NEWS

  1. News from the Membership
    What our members are doing to support evolution and oppose pseudoscience wherever the need arises.
  2. NCSE Thanks You
    Our members, friends, and supporters are generous with their money, as well as with their time and talents. A special thank you for those who gave a little extra.

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. Critical Analysis for Real
    Andrew J Petto
    Citical analysis beyond the anti-evolution slogans.
  2. Books: Dreaming of a White Kitzmas
    Books about the Kitzmiller trial and from the expert witnesses for the plaintiffs.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

FEATURES

  1. The OOPSIE Compromise — A Big Mistake
    Eugenie C Scott and Glenn Branch
    When some parents object to evolution in the science curriculum, schools are often tempted to let their children "opt out" of that portion of the course. Here is why that is a bad idea.
  2. Hacking and I
    Glenn Branch
    When a book reviewer separates today's "anti-Darwinists" from their creationist roots, Glenn Branch sets him straight.

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. A Natural History of Time by Pascal Richet
    Reviewed by G Brent Dalrymple
  2. Hollow Earth: The Long and Curious History of Imagining Strange Lands, Advanced Civilizations, and Marvelous Machines Below the Earth's Surface by David Standish
    Reviewed by Ken Feder
  3. Darwin's Gift to Science and Religion by Francisco Ayala
    Reviewed by Michael R Dietrich
  4. In the Beginning: Fundamentalism, The Scopes Trial, and the Making of the Antievolution Movement by Michael Lienesch
    Reviewed by Kevin C Armitage
  5. Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins by Carl Zimmer
    Reviewed by Pat Shipman
  6. The Wonderful Adventures of Nat Selleck and Eva Lou Shinn in Sci Fi Land: A Spoof on Evolution and Natural Selection by A Nonimous
    Reviewed by Nicolaas Rupke

Evolution Comes to Florida's Science Standards

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Evolution Comes to Florida's Science Standards
Author(s): 
Joshua Rosenau
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2008
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
4–7
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
On February 19, 2008, the Florida board of education passed new statewide science standards likely to leapfrog the state from last place in national assessments to the head of the class. Passing these standards was not easy, and even now, forces in Florida are working to undermine the state's new standards.

The old standards earned the grade of F in an assessment by the widely-respected Thomas B Fordham Foundation for many reasons. Not only was "[t]he E-word … sedulously avoided," but temperature and heat were erroneously treated interchangeably, "[t]he classification of simple machines is naïve, …[e]nergetics of phase change is presented misleadingly; treatment of electricity and magnetism, a central subject of school physics, is minimal."

To rectify these and other errors, the Department of Education assembled two teams of experts, one to frame the broad outline of world-class science standards, another to write those standards. When Lawrence S Lerner, a co-author of the Fordham report and professor emeritus of physics at California State University, Long Beach, reviewed a draft of the new standards, he was favorably impressed. In an assessment commissioned by NCSE, he wrote, "This draft is a giant step in the right direction. It is clear, comprehensive, and, most importantly, accurate." He told the writing committee, "With a little bit of extra effort, Florida could bring that up to an A."

Lerner was not the only one to offer suggestions. An on-line comment system hosted by the Florida Department of Education received nearly 21 000 comments from over 10 000 reviewers. Sections of the standards related to evolution, and human evolution in particular, were the focus of attention, especially from religious groups opposing the language of the new standards. However, newspapers from around the state praised the standards, with the Orlando Sentinel (2007 Oct 27) opining, "It's taken seven years, but Florida is on its way to developing a science curriculum for the new millennium — one that requires teachers openly and vigorously to teach about evolution," adding, "It's important that the state Board of Education and Gov Charlie Crist fully endorse these changes to ensure Florida's children can compete in the increasingly technology-driven global marketplace."

Surveying the forces arrayed against these standards, I told Wired News (2007 Dec 10), "My fear is that Florida will do something like happened in Kansas a couple years ago, with the Board of Education overruling the decisions made by the expert committee appointed to draft the new standards" (for details on the situation in Kansas, see RNCSE 2005 Jan/Feb; 25 [1]: 6–11; 2006 May/Jun; 26 [3]: 13–4). Similarly, NCSE's Glenn Branch told Education Week (2007 Nov 7), "I expect to see some of kind of organized effort [by opponents] to deprecate the standards."

Those warnings were prescient. A staffer at the Department of Education was disciplined in December 2007 for using her position to help stir up that opposition (see sidebar, p 6). She was not fired, but was instructed not to use her status in the department in arguing against the inclusion of evolution in the standards.

Opposition also came from county school boards. A dozen counties, mostly in northern Florida, passed resolutions calling for the state board to reject the new standards, or to revise them to weaken sections related to evolution. The suggested changes follow common creationist talking points, calling for evolution to be taught as "theory, not fact," for the standards to single out evolution by stressing its "strengths and weaknesses," or for "critical analysis" of that single topic. Not all such proposals were successful. The Highland County school board rejected such a resolution on February 5, 2008. And on February 12, 2008, the Monroe County school board actually passed a resolution supporting the standards as written, contending that "a scientifically educated workforce will benefit Florida's future economy," and urging the state board of education to adopt the new standards as written.

The state board also came under pressure from David Gibbs III, a lawyer with the Christian Legal Association who also represents creationist Nathaniel Abraham in his employment suit against Woods Hole (see Updates, p 16–8). Gibbs sent two memos to the Board of Education, both claiming that "the [writing] committee may have become monopolized by Fordham and other lobby-pressure groups. … We are concerned that the underlying motive driving these pressure groups might be to inject a hostility to religion into objective science." He then suggested various changes which tended to soften strong statements of results in evolutionary biology. For instance, a benchmark that students should be able to "[i]dentify basic trends in hominid evolution from early ancestors six million years ago to modern humans" would have become "[i]dentify the types of hominid fossil evidence from the estimated six million years of hominid existence, and describe the types of evolutionary changes from those classified as early hominids to modern man, as suggested by this evidence."

With help from the Discovery Institute, writing committee member Fred Cutting, an engineer, issued a report dissenting from the draft standards. Though he claimed that this represented a "minority report," like the one taken up by the Kansas Board of Education in 2005, Cutting's dissent had no official status, and seems to have no support from the other committee members. He suggested adding "[s]tudents should learn why some scientists give scientific critiques of standard models of neo-Darwinian evolution or models of the chemical origin of life," and omitting any discussion of the age of hominin ancestors, changing the benchmark about hominin evolution to state that students should "[i]dentify the types of fossil hominids species and use critical and logical thinking to explain aspects of human origins that are documented, and those that are not documented by the fossil evidence."

Opposition also emerged at public hearings, including a hastily arranged meeting on February 11, eight days before the board was to vote on the new standards. At that meeting, the St Petersburg Times (2008 Feb 12) reported that a speaker "held up an orange and said that because of evolution, he now had irrefutable evidence that an orange was 'the first cousin to somebody's pet cat' and 'related to human beings.'" Another speaker addressed the supposed moral consequences of teaching evolution, with Darwin compared with Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung. The Orlando Sentinel (2008 Feb 12) summarized, "Some speakers said they wanted creationism or intelligent design taught, while others said they just wanted what they called weaknesses in the theory of evolution talked about, too."

A number of scientists, educators, and citizens from around the state responded to the creationist complaints. A majority of the science standards writing committee itself urged the board to adopt the new set of standards, in a statement read by Gerry Meisels, a committee member and professor of chemistry at the University of South Florida. Meisels was quoted by the Associated Press (2008 Feb 11) as saying, "We are frustrated by the disproportionate publicity and the political pressure that has been brought to bear on decision makers. Yielding to these pressures would be a real disservice to Florida because it would not only seriously impede the education of our children but also create the image of a backward state." (For a longer excerpt from the statement by the writers and framers, see sidebar, p 8–9.)

Debra Walker, an archaeologist who serves on the Monroe County school board and on the writing committee, also urged the board to accept the new set of standards without tinkering. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Walker "said the current 'political meltdown over Darwinian theory' was proof that too many people had received a poor-quality science education. She noted that the school districts with some of the lowest science scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test were the ones complaining loudest about the new standards. 'Do we want these boards setting science policy in Florida? I think not.'"

Joe Wolf, president of the grassroots group Florida Citizens for Science, presented a petition signed by over 1500 supporters of the standards, describing evolution as "the central organizing concept that allows us to understand all biological sciences from medicine to forestry to entomology, and its principles are the theoretical basis that underlies major advances in all biological fields" and called on the board to accept the final draft. The Lakeland Ledger (2008 Feb 12) reported that Wolf warned the board, "It will be a sad day if Florida becomes the next Kansas" by rewriting the work of their expert committee.

In addition to the petition organized by Florida Citizens for Science, Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter encouraging the board to resist efforts to undermine the treatment of evolution in the standards. And the American Institute for Biological Sciences followed suit, telling the board, "The biologists and science educators represented by AIBS, and the scientific community as a whole, agree that there is no research supporting either creationism or 'intelligent design' or challenging the importance of evolution for explaining the history and diversity of life." The American Association for the Advancement of Science sent letters supporting the standards to the entire board, and the National Academy of Sciences sent a similarly laudatory message in response to a query from board member Roberto Martinez. (For excerpts from these statements, see sidebar, p 8–9.)

Creationists continued to lobby the board to compromise the treatment of evolution after these hearings. John Stemberger, president and general counsel for Florida Family Policy Council, complained to the Lakeland Ledger (2008 Feb 12) that critics of the standards had not been given enough chances to speak to the board directly: "We will lobby the commissioner and governor until we get our 15 minutes each before the board." According to the St Petersburg Times (2008 Feb 12), "The groups promised to bombard Gov Charlie Crist and other state officials with thousands of requests until the board says okay."

Less than a week before the final vote on the standards, it was reported that the board, bowing to pressure from the public and state legislators, had asked state commissioner of education Eric Smith to redraft the standards, inserting the phrases "scientific theory of" and "scientific law of" before mentions of evolution, plate tectonics, electromagnetism, and gravity. A spokesperson for the department told the Orlando Sentinel (2008 Feb 16) that the new version was vetted by the writing committee, but a later report in the Sentinel (2008 Feb 17) suggested that a majority of the committee opposed the changes, quoting Debra Walker as saying, "There is no scientifically sound reason to make these changes" and Gerry Meisels (a professor of chemistry at the University of South Florida) describing them as "clumsy".

Then the opponents of the standards were granted one of their wishes, when the Board of Education announced that twenty members of the public would be given three minutes each to address the board at its meeting, with ten speaking in favor of the standards, ten speaking against them. Following that comment period, the board would consider whether to adopt the standards.

Among those speaking for the standards were Jonathan Smith of Florida Citizens for Science, writing committee members Debra Walker and Gerry Meisels, Joseph Travis (the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Florida State University), and Nobel laureate Sir Harold Kroto, who also composed an op-ed for the Ft Myers News-Press (2008 Feb 16), in which he praised the medical benefits derived from evolutionary biology, and worried that if anti-evolution forces prevailed, "they will seriously impede the ability of the next cohort of young scientists to create the defenses we shall need in the fight against debilitating diseases over the next century."

During a lively debate lasting about sixty minutes, board member Donna Callaway proposed a so-called "academic freedom" amendment to the standards to counter what she described as the "dogmatic" tone of the standards with respect to evolution. The Miami Herald (2008 Feb 19) reported, "The amendment would have given teachers the explicit permission 'to engage students in a critical analysis of that evidence.'" She was unable to obtain a second to her motion, however.

Ultimately, the version of the standards edited to add "scientific theory" was adopted by a 4–3 vote. Joining Callaway in voting against the standards were evolution supporters Akshay Desai and Roberto Martinez, although for very different reasons. Martinez in particular fiercely defended the standards as drafted, brandishing the letter from the National Academy of Sciences endorsing the writing committee's version, and asking pointed questions about the development of the new version.

Martinez was quoted by the Associated Press (2008 Feb 19) lamenting, "What we have here is an effort by people to water down our standards." To judge from the reaction of creationists, however, even the new version of the standards was too much. The Associated Press also reported that the Florida Family Policy Council, disappointed in the board's vote, planned to seek legislation to ensure "academic freedom" with respect to evolution.

Supporters of accurate science education were generally positive, albeit with reservations, about the outcome. Asked for comment about the board's vote by Education Week (2008 Feb 19), Florida Citizens for Science's Brandon Haught answered, "The standards, as approved, are a huge step forward for our Florida schools ... They're light years ahead of what's been used in the state." I agreed with Haught's assessment, telling Education Week, "This is a win for science overall."

NCSE's Glenn Branch, writing for Beacon Press's blog (reprinted in RNCSE Jan/Feb 2008; 28 [1]: 9–10), observed, "Evolution is still described, correctly, as 'the organizing principle of life science' and as 'supported by multiple forms of evidence.' And the standards distance themselves from the pejorative sense of 'theory' that creationists from [William Jennings] Bryan onward like to exploit: 'a scientific theory is the culmination of many scientific investigations drawing together all the current evidence concerning a substantial range of phenomena; thus, a scientific theory represents the most powerful explanation scientists have to offer.'"

The eminent biologist Paul R Gross, lead author of the 2005 Fordham Foundation report that awarded the grade of F to Florida, was less sanguine, describing the revisions to the standards as "transparent and wacky" in the Tallahassee Democrat (2008 Feb 25). Gross argued, "The standards refer persistently to the scientific theory of evolution, so should they not at least touch upon the implied nonscientific theories of evolution? Surely we should ask, 'Are there any such theories?' No. Not for any serious scientific or any other educational purpose. What then, pray, is the point of belaboring, with the pompous prefix 'scientific theory of,' the following: evolution, cells, geology, atoms?" He added, "In fact, it provides inside Florida's new standards a perfect counter-example to the intellectual integrity the standards themselves promote."

The revisions, in any case, were obviously not enough to satisfy Florida's creationists, including board member Donna Callaway, who pressed for the so-called academic freedom amendment. The next fight may be in the state legislature: Florida House of Representatives Speaker Marco Rubio (R–District 111) told the Florida Baptist Witness (2008 Feb 21) that he thought that the House would be receptive to legislation revising the standards along the lines proposed by Callaway. The Orlando Sentinel (2008 Feb 23) editorially criticized the idea, writing, "This academic-freedom law is just an attempt to sneak creationism through the schoolhouse's back door. ... Even with the last-minute compromise, the new science curriculum is a huge improvement. Leave it alone." (As this issue goes to press, such legislation narrowly failed in both houses of the state legislature. Developments will be chronicled in a future issue of RNCSE.)

Floridians can be proud of their new standards, but this is just the first step in improving the state's science education. The inclusion of evolution in the new standards puts the state in strong position to improve classroom handling of evolution as well as the quality of textbooks and the tests which measure science education. Textbook adoption begins later in 2008, and will be finalized in 2011. The tests based on these new standards are being written now, after which they will be field tested and ultimately go into use in 2010, with a more thorough revision to be rolled out in 2013. The dozen county boards of education which passed resolutions against the standards are also of particular concern. NCSE will continue to work with grassroots groups energized by this fight to ensure that the standards are implemented fully and accurately through those statewide processes, and especially in local schools, and to build support for accurate science education in the legislature.

About the Author(s): 
Joshua Rosenau
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
rosenau@ncseweb.org

Joshua Rosenau is Public Information Project Director for NCSE.

Anti-Evolution Legislation in the Bayou State

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Anti-Evolution Legislation in the Bayou State
Author(s): 
Eugenie C Scott and Glenn Branch
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2008
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
8–11
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Senate Bill 561, styled the "Louisiana Academic Freedom Act," was prefiled in the Louisiana Senate by state senator Ben Nevers (D–District 12) on March 21, 2008, and provisionally assigned to the Senate Education Committee, of which Nevers is the chair. In name, the bill is similar to the so-called academic freedom bills in Florida, House Bill 1483 and Senate Bill 2692, which are evidently based on a string of similar bills in Alabama as well as on a model bill that the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, the institutional home of "intelligent design" creationism, recently began to promote. But in its content, Louisiana's SB 561 seems to be modeled instead on a controversial policy adopted by a local school board in 2006 with the backing of the Louisiana Family Forum.

The Ouachita Parish School Board's policy permits teachers to help students to understand "the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught"; "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning" are the only topics specifically mentioned. A local paper editorially described it as "a policy that is so clear that one School Board member voted affirmatively while adding, 'but I don't know what I'm voting on'" (Monroe News-Star, 2006 Dec 3; see RNCSE 2006 Nov/Dec; 26 [6]: 8–11).

The controversy over the policy was renewed in September 2007, when Senator David Vitter (R–Louisiana) sought to earmark $100 000 of federal funds to the Louisiana Family Forum. The New Orleans Times-Picayune (2007 Sep 22) reported that the money was intended to "pay for a report suggesting 'improvements' in science education in Louisiana, the development and distribution of educational materials and an evaluation of the effectiveness of the Ouachita Parish School Board's 2006 policy that opened the door to biblically inspired teachings in science classes." Thanks to pressure from NCSE and its allies, Vitter withdrew his proposal in the following month (see RNCSE 2007 Sep–Dec; 27 [5–6]: 9–12).

Now SB 561 echoes the central language of the Ouachita Parish School Board's policy. Contending that "the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects," the bill extends permission to Louisiana's teachers to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught."

Unlike the policy, the bill contains directives aimed at state and local education administrators, who are instructed to "endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, to help students develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues" and to "endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies." Administrators are also instructed not to "censor or suppress in any way any writing, document, record, or other content of any material which references" the listed topics.

Attempting to immunize itself against a likely challenge to its constitutionality, the bill also claims to protect only "the teaching of scientific information," adding that it "shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion." The involvement of the Louisiana Family Forum — which seeks to "persuasively present biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family through research, communication and networking" — managed, however, to provoke a careful scrutiny of the intent of the bill's backers.

Writing in the Times-Picayune (2008 Mar 30), the columnist James Gill observed that SB 561 is based on "the spurious premise that evolution is a matter of serious scientific debate and that both sides are entitled to a hearing. A lot of people have fallen for that line, including Gov Bobby Jindal, although, of course, scientists, save a few stray zealots, regard the evidence for evolution as overwhelming." He also drew attention to a particularly problematic provision of SB 561 directing administrators not to "censor or suppress in any way any writing, document, record, or other content of any material"referring to the topics covered by the bill, which he described as "a license for crackpots." Gill concluded, "The bill is of no conceivable benefit to anyone but Christian proselytizers. Besides, its genesis is plainly sectarian."

A day after the legislative session began on March 31, 2008, the sponsor of SB 561 was in the news, denying that the so-called academic freedom bill would pave the way for creationism to be taught in the state's public schools. According to the Baton Rouge Advocate (2008 Apr 1), Nevers said, "I believe that students should be exposed to both sides of scientific data and allow them to make their own decisions," adding, "I think the bill perfectly explains that it deals with any scientific subject matter which is taught in our public school system." The bill in fact specifically identifies "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning" as controversial subjects, and calls on state and local education administrators to "endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies."

Nevers acknowledged that he introduced SB 561 at the behest of the Louisiana Family Forum. A religious right group with a long history of promoting creationism and attacking evolution education in the state, the LFF claims that it "promotes 'Teaching the Controversy' when it comes to matters such as biologicial [sic] evolution"; yet it elsewhere recommends a variety of young-earth and "intelligent design" websites, including the Institute for Creation Research, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, and Kent Hovind's Creation Science Evangelism, on its own website. Unsurprisingly, then, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Reverend Barry Lynn, told the Advocate, "This is all about God in biology class."

Speaking later to the Hammond Daily Star (2008 Aprl 6), Nevers was less cautious in explaining the purpose of the bill. The newspaper reported, "The Louisiana Family Forum suggested the bill, Nevers said. 'They believe that scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin's theory. This would allow the discussion of scientific facts,' Nevers said. 'I feel the students should know there are weaknesses and strengths in both scientific arguments.'" The article itself was headlined "Bill allows teaching creationism as science."

Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University who serves on NCSE's board of directors, told the Daily Star, "If the citizens and public officials of Louisiana are serious about improving both the state's image and public schools, we cannot afford to waste valuable time and resources on legislation like SB 561. Such battles consume the energies and attention of productive citizens who must take time from their jobs and personal affairs to counteract creationist attacks on their school systems."

Before the bill received a committee hearing, the Shreveport Times (2008 Apr 14) took a firm editorial stand against it, writing, "Even though it is presented with an attractive title and couched in the newest terms, Senate Bill 561 is not in the best interest of students, educators or religious leaders. It would open the door for high school science class curricula and discussions concerning matters best left to individual faith, families and religious institutions. The bill proposes bad law that has been tried before and has been struck down repeatedly by the courts," and concluding, "Religious doctrine and the science classroom must remain separate, and SB 561 should be ditched in committee."

But it was not to be. Renamed the "Louisiana Science Education Act," the bill passed the Louisiana Senate Education Committee on April 17, 2008, despite the testimony of what the Times-Picayune (2008 Apr 18) described as "a bank of witnesses" who "blasted the proposed Louisiana Science Education Act as a back-door attempt to inject the biblical story of creation into the classroom." The Advocate (2008 Apr 18) reported that William Hansel, a scientist at Louisiana State University's Pennington Biomedical Research Center, told the committee, "nearly all scientists oppose passage of this bill," adding that if enacted, the bill "will be seized upon as one more piece of evidence that Louisiana is a backward state by those who have popularized this image of our state."

Before its passage, the bill was not only renamed but also renumbered (as SB 733) and revised, with the removal of the "strengths and weaknesses" language and the list of specific scientific topics. Even the sanitized version of the bill is likely to continue to spark controversy, owing to its creationist antecedents, from which its supporters may be unable to disentangle themselves. For example, David Tate, a supporter of the bill who serves on the Livingston Parish School Board, told the Times-Picayune, "I believe that both sides — the creationism side and the evolution side — should be presented and let students decide what they believe," and added that the bill is needed because "teachers are scared to talk about" creation.

The Advocate (2008 Apr 19) editorially agreed that the antecedents of the bill were problematic, writing, "it seems clear that the supporters of this legislation are seeking a way to get creationism — the story of creation as told in the biblical book of Genesis — into science classrooms." Acknowledging the revisions of the bill, the editorial commented, "At this point, the wording of the bill seems more symbol than substance. But its implication — that real science is somehow being stifled in Louisiana's classrooms — does not seem grounded in actual fact. This kind of rhetorical grandstanding is a needless distraction from the real problems the Legislature should be addressing."

Speaking to the Advocate (2008 Apr 20), the executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum, Gene Mills, expressed disappointment at the revisions to the bill: "We want an explicit expression," he said. "We wanted to hang out a sign that said academic inquiries welcomed." He described his support of the revised bill as now only lukewarm, even though Nevers told the newspaper that the revisions "didn't change the intent of the bill." However, Barbara Forrest commented, "The bill itself is still a very problematic bill, a stealth creationism bill," explaining, "The strategy now is to sanitize the terminology, which is what they did with the original bill and which they are doing now."

Subsequently, however, the bill was partly unsanitized. As the Advocate (2008 Apr 29) reported, "In a key change, the Senate approved an amendment by Nevers that spells out examples of those theories, including evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning. That language was removed from the bill earlier this month at the request of critics before it was approved by the Senate Education Committee, which Nevers chairs." Also added was a provision requiring teachers to use the textbook provided by the local school system; it was apparently feared that otherwise teachers might use only the supplemental textbooks that the bill would, if enacted, allow them to use "to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner." The language about "strengths and weaknesses" was not restored. The Senate passed the amended bill by a vote of 35 to 0.

SB 733 was sent to the House of Representatives on April 29, 2008, and referred to its Committee on Education. A version of the same bill, HB 1168, was previously introduced in the House on April 21, 2008, and referred to the same committee. Its sponsor, Frank A Hoffman (R–District 15) was formerly the assistant superintendent of the Ouachita Parish School System, which in 2006 adopted the controversial policy on which HB 1168 and SB 561/733 are based. The Advocate (2008 May 1) expressed editorial concern about the prospects of the legislation, writing, "The 35–0 vote on this issue suggests few senators have the inclination or will to stand up to the religious right in defense of sound science in the classroom. It's quite possible this bill also will be approved in the House and end up on [Governor Bobby] Jindal's desk."

About the Author(s): 

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

A Setback for the ICR in Texas

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
A Setback for the ICR in Texas
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2008
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
11–15
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
When the Institute for Creation Research moved its headquarters from Santee, California, to Dallas, Texas, in June 2007, it expected to be able to continue offering a master's degree in science education from its graduate school. A preliminary assessment of the ICR's facilities by a committee from the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board described the educational program as "plausible," adding, "The proposed degree would be generally comparable to an initial master's degree in science education from one of the smaller, regional universities in the state." But the state's scientific and educational leaders voiced their opposition, and at its April 24, 2008, meeting, the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board unanimously voted to deny the ICR's request for a state certificate of authority to offer the degree.

It was not the first time that the ICR's graduate school was embroiled in regulatory controversy. The ICR first began to offer graduate degrees in 1981, choosing not to seek accreditation for the program: according to Raymond A Eve and Francis B Harrold's The Creationist Movement in Modern America (Boston: Twayne, 1991), "Henry Morris thinks it would be futile to try, since higher education is controlled by evolutionists" (p 122). But it applied for, and received, approval for the program from the state superintendent of public education, which was necessary for it to award degrees in California. In 1988, when it attempted to have the approval renewed, it encountered difficulties when the then superintendent of public instruction, Bill Honig, deemed its facilities and curriculum to be below the standard of comparable accredited schools.

Faced with a revocation of its state approval, the ICR filed suit. The case was eventually settled, and the ICR's graduate school was granted a religious exemption from the usual requirements for state approval. Meanwhile, the ICR was also moving to seek accreditation from a source presumably not "controlled by evolutionists" — the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, founded in 1979. As of 2008, TRACS requires candidate institutions to affirm a list of Biblical Foundations, including "the divine work of non-evolutionary creation including persons in God's image"; TRACS's own Biblical Foundations statement, offered as a model, affirms the "[s]pecial creation of the existing space-time universe and all its basic systems and kinds of organisms in the six literal days of the creation week."

TRACS became a federally recognized accreditation agency in 1991, when Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, overruling the recommendation of his advisors, approved it as such. The decision was controversial, even eliciting a short (and now hard-to-find) book, Where the TRACS Stop Short (Ambler [PA]: Institute on Religion and Law, 1993), from the degree-mill critic Steve Levicoff. After receiving approval from the Department of Education, TRACS promptly accredited the ICR's graduate school, thus contributing further to the controversy, for the chair of the board of directors of TRACS at the time was none other than Henry Morris, the ICR's founder and then president. Despite the controversy, the ICR's graduate school continued to enjoy TRACS accreditation until it voluntarily relinquished it in November 2007.

In the October 2007 issue of the ICR's publication Acts & Facts, its president John Morris explained:
The possibility of moving to Dallas surfaced when my brother, Dr Henry Morris III, discerned that a central location would be beneficial for ICR, with several possibilities for student services at nearby affiliated colleges. The many good churches and large numbers of ICR supporters living in North Texas made it a natural fit for the ministry. ... In 2006, ICR opened a distance education effort in Dallas, as well as the hub of ICR's internet ministries. ... As additional operational functions were assigned to the new Dallas office, the Board concluded that it was in ICR's best interests to move the entire ministry.
When the ICR moved to Dallas, however, its graduate school entered a new regulatory environment. TRACS is not recognized by the state of Texas, forcing the ICR to seek temporary state certification for its graduate school while it applies for accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. As a first step toward certification, a committee of Texas educators appointed by the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board (THECB) visited the ICR's facilities in Dallas to evaluate whether the ICR meets the legal requirements for state certification. The committee's report (available on-line at http://www.texscience.org/reviews/ICR-Site-Visit-Report-and-ICR-Response.pdf) described the educational program as "plausible". (The committee members were a librarian, an educational administrator, and a mathematician; none was professionally trained in biology, geology, or physics.)

NCSE's Eugenie C Scott disagreed with their judgment, telling the Dallas Morning News (2007 Dec 15), "It sounds like the committee may have just taken at face value what the ICR claims ... There's a huge gulf between what the ICR is doing and what they're doing at legitimate institutions like ... [the University of Texas] or Baylor." Inside Higher Ed reported (2007 Dec 17; available on-line at http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/12/17/texas), "Some science groups are aghast by the idea that Texas would authorize master's degrees in science education that are based on complete opposition to evolution and literal acceptance of the Bible. And these groups are particularly concerned because the students in these programs would be people who are or want to be school teachers."

Although Patricia Nason, chair of the ICR's science education department, told the Dallas Morning News, "Our students are given both sides. They need to know both sides, and they can draw their own conclusion," the ICR's statement of faith includes the tenet, "All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the creation week described in Genesis 1:1–2:3, and confirmed in Exodus 20:8–11. The creation record is factual, historical and perspicuous; thus all theories of origins or development which involve evolution in any form are false." Similarly, applicants to the ICR's graduate school are explicitly told that their answers to the essay questions on the application help to determine "your dedication to the Lord, the Word, and teaching creation science."

According to the Dallas Morning News's article, the ICR's graduate program "offers typical education classes, teaching such fundamentals as how to use lab equipment, the Internet, and PowerPoint in the classroom. But it also offers a class called 'Advanced Studies in Creationism.' And the course Web page for 'Curriculum Design in Science' gives this scenario: 'The school board has asked you to serve on a committee that is examining grades 6–12 science goals. ... Both evolutionist and creationist teachers serve on the curriculum committee. How will you convince them to include creation science as well as evolution in the new scope and sequence?'" The ICR's graduate school's website repeatedly declares, "ICR maintains that scientific creationism should be taught along with the scientific aspects of evolutionism in tax-supported institutions."

The Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, Raymund Paredes, was initially cagey about the committee's report. He told the San Antonio Express-News (2007 Dec 19), "Because this controversy is so potentially hot, we owe it to both sides to be absolutely fair in evaluating it. ... Maybe the real issue here is to put this proposal in the right category. Maybe it's not a program in science education. Maybe it's a program in creation studies. Then we have to decide whether that is a legitimate field or not." The New York Times (2007 Dec 19) reported, "Asked how the institute could educate students to teach science, Dr Paredes, who holds a doctorate in American civilization from the University of Texas and served 10 years as vice chancellor for academic development at the University of California, said, 'I don't know. I'm not a scientist.'"

The American Institute for Biological Sciences was quick to take a stand. Its president, NCSE Supporter Douglas Futuyma of SUNY Stony Brook, wrote in a December 28, 2007, letter to the THECB:
ICR is committed to advancing Young Earth Creationism, a literal view of the Bible that contends the earth is less than 10 000 years old. Young Earth Creationism has repeatedly been shown, legally and scientifically, to be a religious belief system and not a credible scientific explanation for the history of earth or the diversity of biological systems that have evolved on earth. ... It is unacceptable for the state to sanction the training of science educators committed to the practice of advancing their religious beliefs in a science classroom. ... The THECB will ill-serve science students if it certifies a science teacher education program based on a religious world-view rather than modern science.
Subsequently, the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board, which Paredes chairs, decided to review the assessment and to request further documentation from the ICR, rescheduling its decision from January 24, 2008, to April 24, 2008. Paredes explained to Education Week (2008 Jan 2) that the preliminary assessment focused on whether the ICR's graduate school is a stable institution with adequate resources. Now, however, the THECB would consider the merits of the program itself. "Our primary objective in looking at this program is to make sure any master's degree in science education will prepare teachers who can get students in high school ready to do college-level work in science," he said. NCSE's Joshua Rosenau was dubious about whether the ICR's program qualified, telling Education Week that presenting a creationist perspective as a rival to evolution is "presenting nonscience".

As part of the review, the Austin American-Statesman (2008 Jan 10) reported, "Paredes has asked an informal panel of scientists and science educators to comment on the institute's curriculum, which is flavored with a Christian worldview." Although members of the panel were asked not to talk to the press, the newspaper inferred, "It's likely that panelists favor a curriculum free of creationist views," citing the fact that one panelist signed a letter protesting the Texas Education Agency's treatment of Chris Comer (see RNCSE 2008 Jan/Feb; 28 [1]: 4–7), who was forced to resign for not remaining "neutral" about teaching evolution. Paredes stressed, however, that his goal was "making sure both ICR and the scientific and science education community have a full opportunity to express their views on this proposal."

Paredes also reportedly floated the idea that the ICR's graduate school revise its goal to offer a degree not in science education but in creation studies, a proposal that Steven Schafersman of the grassroots pro-science group Texas Citizens for Science applauded, telling the American-Statesman, "It would be churlish to deny ICR the ability to grant a graduate degree when we allow theology schools and Bible colleges to grant graduate degrees ... What we object to is letting them grant a degree in science education. That is a prevarication." However, a spokesperson for the THECB would not confirm that the idea of a degree in creation studies was suggested, telling the Dallas Morning News (2008 Jan 11) that "no specific recommendations" have been made.

Interviewed by Inside Higher Ed (2008 Jan 16; available on-line at http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/01/16/icr), Paredes disclosed that he asked the ICR for further information regarding some specific areas of concern. He wanted to know how the ICR planned to ensure that students in the on-line program would be exposed to the experimental side of science. He also expressed concern about the ICR's curriculum — "Their curriculum doesn't line up very well with the curriculum available in conventional master of science programs here in Texas," he said. "I wanted them to either revise the curriculum or explain why it departed from the norm" — and its claims about the research conducted by its faculty members.

While the application was on hold, the THECB was inundated by e-mails. Invoking the Texas Public Information Act, both the Austin American-Statesman and the Dallas Morning News received almost 300 pages of e-mails to the THECB, supporting and opposing the ICR's application. "Many of the notes are from Texas," the Morning News (2008 Jan 23) observed. "But others come from all corners of the US and the world — from Florida to the Philippines, Nevada to Nigeria." Among the missives in opposition were "some of the state's leading physicians and scientists," the American-Statesman (2008 Jan 24) reported, "including a Nobel laureate [Robert F Curl Jr of Rice University, who won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996] who warned that Texas is at risk of becoming 'the laughingstock of the nation.'"

Curl was not the only Texas laureate to express opposition to the ICR's application. Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas at Austin, who won a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979, wrote, "it would be a blow to science education in Texas, and an embarrassment for Texas." Alfred G Gilman — a winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1994; executive vice president, provost, and dean at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School; and a Supporter of NCSE — asked, "How can Texas simultaneously launch a war on cancer and approve educational platforms that submit that the universe is 10 000 years old?" (In 2003, Gilman was active in resisting attempts to undermine the treatment of evolution in the textbooks then under consideration by the state board of education; see RNCSE 2003 Sep–Dec; 23 [5–6]: 8.)

Also weighing in was Daniel W Foster of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the president of the Academy of Medicine, Engineering, and Science of Texas, which seeks "to provide broader recognition of the state's top achievers in medicine, engineering and science, and to build a stronger identity for Texas as an important destination and center of achievement in these fields"; its members include over 200 Texas members of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Academy of Engineering. "We should only teach true science in Texas schools and universities, not pseudoscience," Foster wrote to the THECB. "It is crucially important for our students and for the state. [I]t will be a very negative thing if our state becomes labeled as anti-science." The Texas Academy of Sciences and the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study also offered their input (see sidebars, p 14 and 15).

As the meeting of the THECB neared, the Texas Freedom Network issued a press release on April 21, 2008, reporting, "A survey of science faculty at Texas colleges and universities reveals overwhelming opposition to state approval for a master's degree in science education from a Dallas-based creationist group." The on-line survey, conducted by Raymond A Eve for the Texas Freedom Network and the National Center for Science Education, polled 881 science faculty members at fifty public and private Texas universities about whether the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board should certify a master's degree in science education from the Institute for Creation Research. Nearly 200 faculty members responded, with 185 (95% of respondents) opposed to certifying the program and 6 (3%) in favor.

"Our universities should be training science teachers who can provide a 21st-century education in Texas classrooms," said Kathy Miller, president of the TFN Education Fund. "Approving degree programs that instead promote a false conflict between science and faith would be a disservice to students and a threat to our state's reputation as a center for science and research." The press release (available on-line at http://www.tfn.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5353) contained a sampling of comments from the faculty members surveyed: for example, Matthew Rowe, a biologist at Sam Houston State University, commented, "The great state of Texas can ill-afford either the cost, or the international embarrassment, of conflating faith-based religious doctrine with scientific empiricism."

At its April 24, 2008, meeting, the THECB unanimously voted to deny the ICR's request. The board's vote accorded with a recommendation issued on April 23, 2008, by the board's Academic Excellence and Research Committee, which in turn was based on a recommendation by Paredes, the Texas Commissioner of Higher Education. According to a THECB press release issued on April 23, 2008, "Paredes based the recommendation on two considerations: 1) that ICR failed to demonstrate that the proposed degree program meets acceptable standards of science and science education; and 2) that the proposed degree is inconsistent with Coordinating Board rules which require the accurate labeling or designation of programs ... Since the proposed degree program inadequately covers key areas of science, it cannot be properly designated either as 'science' or 'science education.'"

At the committee meeting, the Dallas Morning News (2008 Apr 23) reported, Paredes said, "Evolution is such a fundamental principle of contemporary science it is hard to imagine how you could cover the various fields of science without giving it the proper attention it deserves as a foundation of science." "In insisting on a literal interpretation of biblical creation," Paredes added, the ICR's science education program "gives insufficient coverage to conventional science and does not adequately prepare students in the field of science education." Before the vote, the newspaper reported, "the board heard comment from several persons, most of whom urged rejection of the proposal. Among them was Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science (TCfS), who said the ICR was a Christian ministry rather than a science organization that was primarily interested in promoting pseudoscience." (A copy of Schafersman's testimony is available on-line at http://www.texscience.org/documents/thecb-april2008-testimony.htm.)

The Austin American-Statesman (2008 Apr 24) editorially applauded the board's decision, writing, "We applaud the board for setting this precedent in what will surely be a long series of battles involving science education in Texas. After the wars over the teaching of both evolution and intelligent design that have splintered Kansas for the past nine years, Texans can breathe at least a momentary sigh of relief. ... Paredes and the coordinating board took a correct and principled stand in denying the creationist institute's science course." Also offering plaudits was TCfS's Steven Schafersman, who told the American-Statesman (2008 Apr 24) that Paredes's recommendation was "very strong and courageous." Similarly, describing the recommendation to the Texas Observer's blog (2008 Apr 23), he said that it was a "decisive and strong decision based on sound reasoning."

Despite the board's vote, the issue is not definitively resolved yet. The ICR will now have 45 days to file an appeal or 180 days to reapply for a certificate of authority. After the committee's vote, the Dallas Morning News reported, the ICR's chief executive officer Henry Morris III "said the institute may revise its application or take its case to court. 'We will pursue due process,' he told the board. 'We will no doubt see you in the future.'" ICR's graduate school's website currently contains the explanation, "ICR is currently examining its legal options regarding how it can best serve the educational 'gaps' [sic] of Texas residents" (). For now, however, the ICR seems to be taking its case to the court of public opinion, issuing a series of press releases blaming "external pressure based on ideological biases" for the THECB's decision, complaining of viewpoint discrimination and ad hominem attacks, and bemoaning that "the state of Texas is barring some students from getting a comprehensive science education."

About the Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
branch@ncseweb.org

Hacking and I

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Hacking and I
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch, NCSE Deputy Director
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2008
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
29–30
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Writing in the October 8, 2007, issue of The Nation, the philosopher Ian Hacking reviewed five books relevant to the creationism/evolution controversy: Philip Kitcher's Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith, Michael Lienesch's In the Beginning: Fundamentalism, the Scopes Trial, and the Making of the Antievolution Movement, Michael Behe's The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, Ronald L Numbers's The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, and A Religious Orgy in Tennessee: A Reporter's Account of the Scopes Monkey Trial, a collection of HL Mencken's contemporary reportage. (His essay is also available on-line at http://www.thenation.com/doc/20071008/hacking.)

Hacking began by looking on the bright side: "The anti-Darwin movement has racked up one astounding achievement. It has made a significant proportion of American parents care about what their children are taught in school." However, he subsequently observed, "The debate about who decides what gets taught is fascinating, albeit excruciating for those who have to defend the schools against bunkum." With Kitcher, he prefers to classify creationist bunkum not as bad science or pseudoscience, but as dead science — or, borrowing a term from the philosopher of science Imre Lakatos, "degenerate" science.

"Degenerate programs paint themselves into smaller and smaller corners, skirting problems they'd prefer not to face," Hacking explained. "They seldom or never have a new, positive explanation of anything. In short, they teach us nothing." In contrast, "evolutionary theory is a living, growing, vital organism ... a blooming, buzzing, confusing delight, finding out more about the world every day." He cited debates over the phylogeny of the primates and the extant of horizontal genetic transfer as cases of genuine scientific controversies within evolutionary biology.

"Contrast that with pseudo-controversy," Hacking continued, "and take, for example, Michael Behe, a professor at Lehigh University who must be the most ingenious and prolific anti-Darwinian biologist at work today." Referring to Behe's first book, Darwin's Black Box, he wrote,"There is no give and take of explanation and counterexample, no new methodology, no new anything — just the same old question dressed up in slightly new clothes." With respect to Behe's latest book, The Edge of Evolution (reviewed by David E Levin in RNCSE 2007 Jan–Apr; 27 [1–2]: 38–40), he concluded," Once again,we get a recycled objection in slightly new packaging, and no new ideas. ... Can't they do better than that? Apparently not."

Hacking ended his essay on a theological note."Intelligent design is silly,"he remarked, despite its predecessors in the history of philosophy, and its central weakness is that "[i]t says nothing about the designer." Its silence about the nature of the designer, he argues, allows a number of variations on "the trite ad hominem observation" that the design in nature is imperfect: that the designer is evil, that the designer is insane ("obsessed with intricate details so long as they do not get too much in the way of other devices he concocts"), and — in what he described as a "more attractive thought" — that the designer chose to operate through chance and selection.

On its website, The Nation features web letters — "continually published replies we receive from real people, who sign their real names," it explains. Among them was mine, which was denoted with a star as an "editor's pick"; on the other hand, so was a letter from a self-described creationist, who praised Hacking "for showing the best that evolutionists can do is no threat to real science or to real faith in the living God: No intelligent creationist need fear the posturing glove puppet that is evolutionism." What follows is a lightly edited version of my letter (available on-line at http://www.thenation.com/bletters/20071008/hacking.)

In his generally astute review, Ian Hacking wrongly rejects the terms "anti-evolution" and "creationism" to describe those attempting to undermine the teaching of evolution in the public schools. In particular, Hacking contends, "the label 'anti-Darwin' seems the right umbrella term for creationism, anti-evolutionism — and Behe." Michael J Behe, a biochemist — not, as Hacking describes him, a biologist — is the author of The Edge of Evolution, one of the books under review. Neither of Hacking's reasons for his terminology is valid, and it is important for understanding the anti-evolution movement in the United States to understand why.

Hacking writes, "Behe says, in effect, 'Sure, I believe in evolution by natural selection — it just doesn't do all it is supposed to.'"But the late Henry Morris, founder of the Institute for Creation Research, and his fellow young-earth creationists also accept evolution by natural selection, if only within limits of the Biblical "kinds" (for instance, Genesis 1:25 [KJV]:"God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind.") Ironically,as Ronald L Numbers has observed, young-earth creationists have taken to invoking extraordinarily rapid natural selection to explain the vast amount of diversification they are forced to assume to have occurred in the 4000 years since Noah's Flood.

Hacking also writes that Behe "does not officially argue for special acts of creation." But "irreducible complexity" is clearly intended to indicate where God miraculously intervened in the biological world. Although Behe believes that the designer is God, it is true that he and his "intelligent design" colleagues generally refrain from claiming scientific warrant for that conclusion. But it is hard to avoid the conclusion that their reticence is dictated not so much by a recognition of the limitations of their arguments as by their desire to skirt the First Amendment's ban on the advocacy of religion in public school science classrooms (see the Supreme Court's decision in the 1987 case Edwards v Aguillard).

"Antievolution" in the phrase "anti-evolution movement" is a metonymy; it is not evolution per se that creationists are fighting against but evolution education. Since Behe has actively participated in efforts to compromise the quality of evolution education, from the notorious "intelligent design" textbook Of Pandas and People onward, he is unquestionably a member of the anti-evolution movement.

Famously, Behe testified for the losing side in Kitzmiller et al v Dover School Area School District et al, where he humiliated himself by admitting that "intelligent design"is just as scientific as astrology. Less famously but more revealingly, he is serving as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in ACSI et al v Stearns et al, arguing that biology classes in fundamentalist Christian schools that use youngearth creationist biology textbooks are just as good as classes in public schools that use biology textbooks presenting mainstream biology.

Hacking's preferred label "anti-Darwin" is misleading in its own right. Evolutionary theory, as he acknowledges, is not confined to Darwin's work alone, and creationists — whether of the young-earth, old-earth, or intelligent design variety — are not attacking just Darwin but anything in the entire edifice of evolutionary science that happens to offend their various religious predilections. Hacking cites the title of Behe's first book, Darwin's Black Box, to make his point that Behe is best described as anti-Darwinian. He should have looked further, to its subtitle: The Biochemical Case Against Evolution.

About the Author(s): 

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

Review: A Natural History of Time

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Year: 
2008
Issue: 
2
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
31–32
Reviewer: 
G Brent Dalrymple
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
A Natural History of Time
Author(s): 
Pascal Richet
translated by John Venerella
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. 471 pages
For centuries and lacking significant evidence to the contrary, much of the Western world thought that an omnipotent god specially created the earth and the first humans over a period of a few days. This conclusion was derived from interpretations of certain sacred texts, particularly the Bible, which was then thought to be the source of all truth about nature and the universe that surrounds us. Given these "facts", then, it was not entirely unreasonable to believe that humanity is at the center of the universe and arrived on the scene at the beginning of time, only a few thousand years ago. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, however, a few inquisitive and enterprising souls began to realize that there was a great deal of information about the history of earth and its cosmic surroundings recorded in the stars and in the rocks, and what we know today as science was born. Gradually, over the next few centuries, careful observations and rational experiments replaced myth and theology as the best source of information about the physical history of the universe. Pascal Richet, a Senior Geophysicist at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, and a distinguished scientist, guides us through the critical events of this transition.

This is not a book about the age of the earth and the cosmos. Rather, it is an accounting of the history and development of people's thinking about, and exploration of, deep time. Richet takes the reader on a grand adventure that begins at the time of ancient Egypt and ends in 1953, when Clair Patterson made the first reliable measurements of the age of meteorites and showed convincingly that the earth was probably of the same age of 4.5 billion years. Patterson's historic result, however, was not the end of the story but only a new beginning of a quest that has resulted in a rich and detailed knowledge of the history of the earth, the solar system, and the universe. The reader will have to go elsewhere for the discoveries of the past half-century, but fortunately that story is readily available in other recent texts.

In some passages of this fascinating history, Richet does not quite flesh out the story. For example, we learn all of the essentials (minus the mathematics) about Lord Kelvin's calculations based on heat flowing from the earth's crust and the effect that Kelvin's work had on the understanding of deep time for more than a half century. But Richet never really tells us enough about why Kelvin's calculations were wrong and why heat flow considerations could not (and still cannot) reveal the age of the earth, so the reader is left wondering where Lord Kelvin, arguably the most prominent physicist of his day, went wrong. In other passages, in contrast, Richet explores subjects in satisfyingly rich detail. For example, he leads the reader through the initial discovery and gradual understanding of heat and how widely ranging this new knowledge impacted not just geology but physics and other fields of science and engineering as well. One of the things I like a lot about this book is Richet's ability to show how and why seemingly unrelated discoveries in physics rapidly influenced important discoveries in geology and geophysics.

Here and there throughout the text are whimsical asides that are not only fun but also truly expand our insights about the science and the scientists of the day. My favorite can be found on pages 256–8, where Richet discusses the connection between the Big Bang theory and the Martians. He recounts the story of Percival Lowell (1855–1916), the mathematician turned businessman turned astronomer who built the Lowell Observatory on a mountain peak near Flagstaff, Arizona. Lowell was fascinated by the earlier reports of continents, seas, and canals on Mars, and spent much of his astronomical career studying that planet and writing about its presumed inhabitants. It was at the Lowell Observatory in 1912 that VM Slipher first observed the red shift in the light from distant galaxies and correctly interpreted it as evidence that the other galaxies were moving away from the Milky Way galaxy in all directions, that is, that the universe was expanding. The expansion, or more properly inflation, of the universe is one way in which the age of the universe is measured and is the original basis for the Big Bang theory. Richet concludes, with tongue in cheek, "The now classic Big Bang theory and the age of the universe thus owe something, at least indirectly, to the Martians."

For a translation, this is a surprisingly smooth read, and the rare turgid passages do not really detract from the overall quality of the prose. Overall, I found this to be a satisfying and easy read as well as an approach to the telling of a fascinating story that I have not encountered in any other book. Richet has kindly left out the mathematics of the subject and the book is devoid of complicated graphs. The result is a book that even readers with only a modest understanding of science will find easy to read, yet which is rich enough in its narrative to satisfy even the most knowledgeable specialist.

About the Author(s): 
G Brent Dalrymple
Oceanic/Atmospheric Sciences
Oregon State University
104 COAS Administration Building
Corvallis OR 97331-5503

G Brent Dalrymple, a Supporter of NCSE, is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Oceanic/Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. Author of The Age of the Earth (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991) and Ancient Earth, Ancient Skies (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), he was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2005.

Review: Hollow Earth

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Year: 
2008
Issue: 
2
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
32–33
Reviewer: 
Ken Feder
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Hollow Earth: The Long and Curious History of Imagining Strange Lands, Fantastical Creatures, Advanced Civilizations, and Marvelous Machines Below the Earth's Surface
Author(s): 
David Standish
Cambridge (MA): Da Capo Press, 2006. 304 pages.
Though I am certain that I saw every one of the 104 episodes of the Superman series that ran on television between 1951 and 1957 (and that were relentlessly rebroadcast on a local New York station throughout my childhood in the early 1960s), few of them have stayed with me as much as the two-parter about the Mole Men. Disturbed by the excavation of the world's deepest oil well, these oddly appealing creatures — looking a bit like nightmarish teletubbies — are drawn to the surface world. Naïve waifs, they are almost killed by terrified denizens of that surface only to be saved by Superman, whereupon they return to their home, deep in the core of an apparently hollow earth.

I remember being transfixed by the notion of a world beneath our own and, it turns out, I have not been the only one so intrigued. In Hollow Earth: The Long and Curious History of Imagining Strange Lands, Fantastical Creatures, Advanced Civilizations, and Marvelous Machines Below the Earth's Surface, David Standish has written a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining, and hugely informative book on the history of speculation about a world within the world. As the book's dust jacket trumpets, "Hollow Earth is for anyone interested in the history of strange ideas that just won't go away." As such, it is a wonderful case study for those interested in other "strange ideas that just won't go away," like the biblical account of the origin of the universe, the earth, life on earth, and of the human species.

To be sure, much of the book is a compendium of crackpots — some rather charming, and some not quite so — but the list of those involved in spreading the hollow earth gospel includes some of the brightest scientific luminaries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As Standish points out, Edmond Halley was an early proponent, suggesting that no fewer than three hollow, concentric spheres float independently beneath the surface on which we live, going so far as to suggest that these three spheres might actually be self-contained worlds, each with its own source of heat and light and each, perhaps, filled with living creatures. The independently rotating spheres within were viewed as providing a scientific explanation for the earth's wandering magnetic poles, but there was something just as important for Halley and those who followed. In their view, God would not have wasted all that valuable interior real estate by making the earth solid; a hollow planet provided ever so much more room for God's living creations.

When it comes to hollow earth proselytizers, however, none match the outright loopiness of John Cleves Symmes as detailed in an entire chapter of Hollow Earth. Symmes appears to have been a man of no particular distinction when, in 1818, he began distributing a circular in and around St Louis, declaring his belief in a hollow earth and pledging his life to the pursuit of its exploration. The interior of the earth was accessible, Symmes believed, through enormous openings at both poles, openings that were to be called, much to his delight, "Symmes holes". Symmes doggedly pursued support and funding for an expedition to these vast entryways to the worlds beneath.

You have to credit his chutzpah at least. Symmes (using a pseudonym) was the likely author of a novel that Standish characterizes as a detailed accounting of what Symmes believed he would actually find at the center of the earth. Though the characters in the novel are fictional, the real Symmes is an offstage member of the cast and the novel is consistently self-referential and self-reverential. The new lands found in the hollow earth are called (don't laugh) Symzonia, and Symmes the author repeatedly has characters in the novel refer to Symmes (the guy in the real world) as a brilliant scientist and philosopher, one of the great thinkers of the modern world (remember this is Symmes writing about, well, Symmes). As Standish points out, along with being a polemic in support of exploration that would lead to the entrance to the hollow earth, the book, Symzonia: A Voyage of Discovery is the first example of American utopian fiction. Symzonia is a wonderful place, far superior to the surface world. Standish's hilarious discussion of Symmes is, by itself, worth the price of admission to Hollow Earth.

Standish devotes several chapters not so much to the actual belief in a hollow earth, but to the exploitation of that concept by fiction writers, including the usual gang of suspects: Edgar Allen Poe, Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle, L Frank Baum, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Almost certainly, none of these authors believed in the validity of Symmes Holes, rotating hollow spheres, or mole people, yet all used the mysterious, unexplored frontier inside the earth as a setting, the curious stage on which their fictional dramas unfolded. In locating their lost worlds in the interior of the earth, these and myriad other authors were part of a longstanding tradition of situating invented, mysterious realms in places unattainable as a result of location and distance. Writers and movie producers have long done exactly this, from Plato who placed Atlantis in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and in a time far removed from his own to George Lucas who positions his Star Wars action "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away." For the above-mentioned late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century authors, the notion of a hollow earth was not a fixation but merely a convenient fiction, an expedient place to locate their utopias — and dystopias.

If I have one criticism of Standish's book, it would be that he devotes too much of the book (three and a half chapters out of eight) to this literary exploitation of the hollow earth concept. I would have preferred a far more extensive discussion of late twentieth- and early twenty-first–century claims concerning the reality of a hollow earth, an issue that Standish only touches upon in his final chapter.

But these are minor complaints. For the wealth of information provided and a wonderfully readable, smart-alecky writing style, David Standish's Hollow Earth belongs on the bookshelf of every scientist, historian, and fan of speculative fiction, especially those who are interested in "strange ideas that just won't go away."

About the Author(s): 
Ken Feder
Department of Anthropology
Central Connecticut State University
1615 Stanley Street
New Britain CT 06050

Ken Feder is Professor of Anthropology at Central Connecticut State University. His book Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology is now in its fifth edition (Boston: McGraw Hill, 2005)

Review: Darwin's Gift

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Year: 
2008
Issue: 
2
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
33–34
Reviewer: 
Michael R Dietrich
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Darwin's Gift to Science and Religion
Author(s): 
Francisco Ayala
Washington (DC): Joseph Henry Press, 2007. 237 pages.

In this book targeted at a general audience, Francisco Ayala brings both his theological and biological expertise to bear on the challenge of contemporary "intelligent design" creationism. Trained in a Catholic seminary in Spain and now a distinguished evolutionary biologist, Ayala sees no conflict between religion and science. Indeed, he argues that evolutionary biology provides an important solution to the theological problem of evil.

The problem of evil is a classic theological conundrum that faces Christians who believe that God is simultaneously all powerful and all good. How could such a deity allow evil to exist in the world? Ayala's solution is "Darwin's gift" of evolutionary biology. Translated into evolutionary terms, the problem of evil becomes the problem of why numerous imperfections could be allowed in a wide range of organisms if in fact they were created by an all powerful and all good deity (p 159). Why would God design human eyes with a blind spot, Ayala asks, and squid eyes without? "Did the Designer have greater love for squids than for humans and, thus, exhibit greater care in designing their eyes than ours?" (p 154). Evolution by natural selection provides the answer for these imperfections. Evolution is a tinkerer, working with what is available to make what it can, imperfections and all. To ascribe the "dysfunctions, oddities, cruelties, and sadism that pervade the world of life"to the direct agency of the Creator, according to Ayala, "amounts to blasphemy" (p 160). Ayala's advice to religious persons is to accept that evolution by natural selection saves them from this blasphemy. At the same time, Ayala counsels that science has its limits and does not exclude religion or religious understanding. For Ayala, science provides sound understanding of the natural world, while religion speaks to questions of meaning and value that simply lie beyond the domain of any scientific investigation.

Ayala's explanation of evolutionary biology in Darwin's Gift is masterful. He effortlessly explains the conceptual foundations of evolution in sections on natural selection, adaptation, and speciation. With characteristic clarity, Ayala also includes recent results from genomics and molecular biology. The result is a rich portrait of evolutionary biology that is accessible to a wide range of readers. Chapters 3 to 7 in Darwin's Gift are dedicated to a careful explanation of the basic processes of evolution and natural selection, their application to human evolution, and the relevance of new understanding drawn from the study of molecular sequences of DNA and proteins. The incorporation of results from molecular biology is especially valuable to a general audience that rarely sees the intersection of genomics, bioinformatics, and evolutionary biology.

Ayala also includes a final chapter on the history and philosophy of science. While he acknowledges that it is not necessary for the arguments he makes earlier in his book, it is a welcome introduction to ideas of evidence, inference, and change in biology.

Darwin's Gift is an masterful addition to the popular literature on evolutionary biology. Ayala does not present an exhaustive survey of now familiar creationists' objections, nor should he. Instead, he offers in clear and lucid prose an interesting and incisive critique of design based on his rich understanding of both evolutionary biology and Christian theology. Although Darwin's Gift has few imperfections itself, its advice to embrace nature's imperfections and understand them through evolutionary biology is extremely compelling.

About the Author(s): 

Michael R Dietrich
Department of Biological Sciences
Dartmouth College
Hanover NH 03755
Michael.Dietrich@dartmouth.edu

Michael R Dietrich is a historian and philosopher of biology at Dartmouth College. With Oren Harman, he edited Rebels, Mavericks, and Heretics in Biology (New Haven, [CT]: Yale University Press, 2008).

Review: In the Beginning

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Year: 
2008
Issue: 
2
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
34–35
Reviewer: 
Kevin C Armitage
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
In the Beginning: Fundamentalism, The Scopes Trial, and the Making of the Antievolution Movement
Author(s): 
Michael Lienesch
Chapel Hill (NC): University of North Carolina Press, 2007. 338 pages.
The May 20, 2007, issue of the Cincinnati Enquirer treated the opening of the so-called Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky — just a short drive from Cincinnati — with coverage that can only be described as fawning. The front page featured a red banner that framed the museum opening as a courageous new entrant in the "Creation vs Evolution" debate, followed by a large, bold headline that posed the question, "Did Man Walk Among the Dinosaurs?" The coverage continued into the Forum section under the headline "What the Lord Has Made." The newspaper did not attempt to explain any of the basic scientific facts that contradict young-earth creationist claims.

The coverage by the Enquirer points to the fact that anti-evolutionists are funding and building institutions, institutions that clearly exert, as in the case of the Enquirer, influence over other establishments of civil society. In other worlds, anti-evolutionism is not just a rejection of science or a political ideology, but a powerful social movement with its own identity, organizations and framing of political issues. It is precisely the understanding of anti-evolutionism as an abiding and powerful political movement that political scientist Michael Lienesch explores in his excellent In the Beginning.

Lienesch accomplishes this task by applying social movement theory to understand the history of anti-evolutionism. Happily, he does so in a sophisticated yet jargon-free manner that should satisfy academic and lay readers alike.

Anti-evolutionism as a movement derives from a series of pamphlets titled The Fundamentals, published and distributed for free by millionaire oilman Lyman Stewart. These pamphlets not only articulated a fundamentalist reading of biblical texts, but helped their audience forge a common character, an identity — not simply an ideology — "that formed the fundamentalist foundation on which creationism would be built" (p 9). That identity defined both Christian conservatives and their enemies, setting up the possibility that fundamentalists might be mobilized for political ends.

The mobilization was largely wrought by traveling lecturers — anti-evolutionists copied the Chautauqua circuit in this regard — who brought the fundamentalist message to both conservative and mainline denominations. Yet Christians were divided by both social and ideological factors and many remained wary of engaging the secular world. The movement needed an issue that would unite its followers and compel them to political action. In other words, the fundamentalist movement needed to frame an issue to perpetuate itself. Evolution, of course, was that issue. What social movement theorists term "framing" is the manner in which activists diagnose a malady, propose solutions, and motivate followers to ameliorative action. It was the theory of evolution — and the teaching of the theory in both university and secondary schools — that, according to fundamentalists, accounted for the growing secularity of society. Furthermore, they argued that teachers were responsible for indoctrinating naïve students into this theory, thereby displacing traditional values of home and community. Evolution, then, summarized and organized an inchoate hostility toward modern life into a specific, tangible enemy.

Yet to reach beyond their base and influence the public sphere, movements must engage in a process of "frame alignment" — the continual redefinition of issues so that they resonate with new audiences. One successful example of anti-evolutionist frame alignment was to place the creation story at the center of Christian belief. To cast doubt on a literal reading of creation meant "casting doubt on the fall from innocence, which meant denying the doctrine of the atonement, which meant eliminating any promise of salvation" (p 86). Thus not only did anti-evolutionists seize the center of Christian thought, but also cast doubt on theistic evolutionists. Controversy over teaching evolution in schools also provided a kind of built-in issue on which the anti-evolution movement could demand institutional change at the local, state and federal levels. And in "the Great Commoner" William Jennings Bryan, the movement found the perfect figure to help translate populist energy into tangible political gains. The state of Tennessee, for example, forbade the teaching of evolution in its public school classrooms.

It is a testimony to Lienesch's use of social movement theory that readers will actually see the Scopes Trial with fresh eyes. Each side believed it had won. Anti-evolutionists succeeded in "turning their cause into a conflict between irreconcilable enemies: Bryan and Darrow, creation and evolution, religion and science" (p 169). Their crusade would continue. Yet when anti-evolutionists poured their energies into the presidential campaign of Herbert Hoover — in no small part because his opponent, Al Smith, was Roman Catholic — they won a Pyrrhic victory: Hoover largely ignored them. Soon fundamentalists turned their energies to other causes, or withdrew from public life altogether. The Great Depression sapped what was left of its resources, causing many scholars to misinterpret the Scopes Trial as a crushing and irrevocable loss for anti-evolutionism.

In his final chapter — the majority of this book is about the years between World War I and the Great Depression — Lienesch shows how creationism has continually re-created itself up to the present day. Beginning in the 1930s anti-evolutionists retreated in order to regroup, but they never abandoned the institutions that sustain political movements: their publishing houses, radio communications, traveling lecturers, bible conferences and youth camps all flourished in the decades anti-evolutionism was supposedly moribund. Yet if this book has a missing link, it is that the middle of the twentieth century passes by much too quickly. I wished for greater insight into the ways anti-evolutionism maintained itself during the lean years. After all, it certainly was ready to seize the political moment when it came. As the new Christian Right became powerful in the late 1970s and 1980s, anti-evolutionists once again asserted their agenda with considerable success.

Lienesch concludes by noting the remarkable uniformity of anti-evolutionist arguments over time — and that despite setbacks to their movement, they are, as one Kansas pastor noted, "in it for the long haul" (p 239). The Creation Museum and the Discovery Institute have replaced the World's Christian Fundamentals Association, and agitators like the indefatigable William Bell Riley have given way to the likes of Phillip Johnson. This continuity is only one sign that the anti-evolution movement is not abating. It is Lienesch's considerable achievement to demonstrate exactly why that is so.

Kevin C Armitage
Department of History
Miami University
Oxford OH 45056-1879

Kevin C Armitage is currently visiting assistant professor of history at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He is the author of several essays and of a book about conservation and nature study, Knowing Nature: Nature Study, Conservation and American Culture, 1873–1923, forthcoming from the University Press of Kansas.

Review: Smithsonian Intimate Guide To Human Origins

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Year: 
2008
Issue: 
2
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
35–36
Reviewer: 
Pat Shipman
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Smithsonian Intimate Guide To Human Origins
Author(s): 
Carl Zimmer
New York: Smithsonian Books, 2005. 176 pages.

In this book, science writer Carl Zimmer sets out to give a brief overview of human evolution that is timely, accessible, and suitable for the intelligent general reader. This is a task many writers have attempted, but few have succeeded as well as Zimmer does. He strikes a superb balance between a highly readable style and a sophisticated scientific content, judging precisely when to stop and explain basic concepts essential to the larger points he is making.

Much of what will appeal to readers is the clear, jargon-free prose. Zimmer does an excellent job of writing directly and summarizing the high points of theories without "dumbing down" the content. He manages to review the history of Darwin's development of evolutionary theory in the absence of any genetic information and switches back and forth between fossil discoveries and living primates with ease.

Zimmer also provides an excellent, brief explanation of DNA and its uses in establishing the relationships among living forms as well as what DNA can and cannot say about extinct species. These can be daunting subjects, but Zimmer shows how straightforward and understandable genetics can be when properly explained.

The author emphasizes the abundant evidence that modern humans and apes shared a common ancestor while pointing out the fallacy of thinking that modern humans are descended from living apes, when in fact, both have evolved for millions of years since their divergence from a common ancestor. Since creationists and "intelligent design" advocates are still confused by this subtlety, it is heart-warming to see a book that clearly explains the difference between having a common ancestor and being descended from one another.

Zimmer recounts some of the history of fossil hominin discoveries and the evolution of different species of hominins. In one section, he discusses the seemingly contradictory anatomical evidence that early hominins were both bipedal and tree-climbing. Without attempting to force a false resolution, Zimmer presents several different lines of research. He brings in information about when living primates that are predominantly quadrupedal resort to bipedality; he considers ecological reconstructions of the landscape in which bipedalism evolved; and he presents computerized studies of the advantages and disadvantages of being bipedal with different stances and types of anatomy.

The book touches on many important developments that occurred during human evolution: tool-making, the origin of language, the appearance of art and ornaments, the origin of modern humans and our spread around the globe. The reader is given just enough fascinating information to be hungry for more.

My favorite section is the discussion of a classic experiment with Kanzi, a bonobo who was encouraged to make stone tools. A banana was placed in a box that was tied shut with a rope. Kanzi was shown how to strike a sharp-edged flake from a pebble by archaeologist and expert knapper Nicholas Toth. Kanzi was also shown how to use the flake to cut the rope and get the banana. Kanzi watched Toth with intense interest, yet was unable to remove a single flake in the fashion Toth had shown him though he tried repeatedly. Eventually, Kanzi created his own successful toolmaking technique. He hurled the stone against the floor until it smashed into sharp fragments, which he immediately snatched up to cut the rope and get the banana.

At the outset, this experiment was designed to test the hypothesis that modern apes do not make flaked stone tools because they have not been taught how to; the banana provided the motivation. Like all truly elegant experiments, the results not only answered the original question but also revealed the flaws in the experimental design. Kanzi the tool-maker showed that our interpretations of the past are hampered by the limits of our experience.

Was it a failure that Kanzi could not make flaked tools — or was it a creative success that Kanzi invented a new way to obtain sharp stone pieces to cut the rope? Clearly there is more than one way to get the banana. Chimps are not early hominins and early hominins are not simply hairy humans lacking modern technology.

A significant part of what will attract readers is the book itself. It is a good size (larger pages than a standard text but fewer than 200 of them) and it has many wellplaced color illustrations. The book looks interesting and is. I found no dead spots where general readers would roll their eyes in boredom and put the whole thing down.

The biggest failing of the book, sadly, is also in the illustrations. For example, in a section on methods of dating rocks, there is a photograph of foraminifera (very tiny water-living creatures that make shells used to date rocks about 500 million years old) and a drawing or painting of a reconstruction of a conodont (one of the most primitive vertebrates, used to date geological strata of 500 to 250 million years ago). Neither conodonts nor foraminifera are very pertinent to dating the human evolutionary record, which goes back only about 7 million years.

Troublingly, some of the illustrations do not show what they purport to show. The "gorilla skull at Down House, Charles Darwin's residence" is a female baboon skull and the "drawing of Java Man, a Homo erectus fossil" is a photograph of a chimpanzee skull. Both of these erroneously labeled illustrations came from the same photo library, which ought to be a warning to future science writers. The intelligent reader is likely to wonder why these illustrations do not jibe with information in the text.

Sadly, the illustrations are in a sense wasted space. They look lively and interesting but they do not further the readers' understanding of the subject. For example, one image shows a chimp skull and a human skull, which could be used to demonstrate the anatomical differences that make apes apes and humans humans. The caption says, "A chimpanzee skull, left, compared to a human skull." This illustration is merely wallpaper, not a means of conveying information.

Nonetheless, I would recommend this book to general readers who want to gain a greater understanding of the broad outline of human evolution and how researchers are attempting to unravel it. Zimmer has done a fine job of hitting on the main points, explaining the underlying concepts, and inserting just enough detail about new techniques or controversies to engage the reader's attention.

About the Author(s): 

Pat Shipman
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477

Pat Shipman is Adjunct Professor of Biological Anthropology at Pennsylvania State University and the author of many books, including The Ape in the Tree: An Intellectual and Natural History of Proconsul, coauthored with Alan Walker (Cambridge [MA]: Belknap Press, 2005).

Review: The Wonderful Adventures of Nat Selleck and Eva Lou Shinn in Sci Fi Land

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Year: 
2008
Issue: 
2
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
36–37
Reviewer: 
Nicolaas Rupke
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Wonderful Adventures of Nat Selleck and Eva Lou Shinn in Sci Fi Land: A Spoof on Evolution and Natural Selection
Author(s): 
A Nonimous
Claremont (CA): Paige Press, 2007. 85 pages.

Ever since Darwin's Origin of Species, the theory of evolution has been the subject of parodies. In particular the descent of humans from apes has been humorously treated in cartoons, verse, and literary sketches. An early classic of evolution parody was Charles Kingsley's description of the clash between Richard Owen and TH Huxley over the proximity between apes and humans, which clash centered on a brain structure called "hippocampus minor."In reaction to the Huxley–Owen "tournament" Kingsley wrote "a little squib for circulation among his friends," entitled "speech of Lord Dundreary ...on the great hippocampus question" in which the noble lord,who had been to Eton where he had been switched for getting his Latin wrong, "accurately" expresses the general sense of the issue by confusing a hippocampus with a hippopotamus. Some of the same material went into The Water Babies in which Kingsley created an amalgam of Owen and Huxley in the character of "Professor Ptthmllnsprts" (Putthem- all-in-spirits).

Almost a century later appeared what surely must be the all-time classic of evolution parody, Bau und Leben der Rhinogradentia (1957), published pseudonymously by Harald Stümpke.The booklet was translated into several languages, including English as The Snouters (1967; 1982). Its author, the Karlsruhe University zoologist Gerolf Steiner, invented the Rhinogradentia or "nose walkers," an order of mammals, discovered on a group of islands in the South Pacific, the Hi-Iay Islands. The animals are characterized by highly specialized nasal organs, used mainly for locomotion, but also for food gathering and other purposes. The spoof made light of certain iconic elements in the narrative tradition of Darwinism.

Half a century on, The Wonderful Adventures of Nat Selleck and Eva Lu Shinn more comprehensively takes aim at evolution theory in the form of a capricious history of evolutionary theory from Darwin till today. Concepts such as evolution and natural selection appear as real people (or gods and goddesses), disguised in word play alterations. For those who do not recognize which concept or historical person is hidden behind the name, a cast of characters at the end explains all. Few readers will have difficulty identifying Nat Selleck, Eva Lou Shinn, and Randy Verry A Shinn, nor will they be mystified by Charles Durwen, Chuck Loyall, Terrible Tom Huxtable, and Ernie Heckler. Less obvious is Lorenzo the Magnificent (Konrad Lorenz), included in the story for his promulgation of Aryan race ideology.

As the story develops, the spoof increasingly changes into an instrument of criticism of Darwin-related theories, especially when the narrative arrives at contemporary figures such as Will Edson (Edward Wilson) and Dick Dockins (Richard Dawkins) who turned to the goddess Cultura for help in the distressing situation of Homer Sapp (Homo sapiens) merely being a temporary vehicle for Selfish Gene's journey into the future. From Cultura's

ample skirts issued forth a miasma of memes ready to infect Homer Sapp's brain ... Truth to say, Homer Sapp was in parlous condition, enslaved in body and mind by imperious genes and memes. But his case was not hopeless, said Dockins. Enlightened and encouraged by Scienza, he could throw off the shackles locked on by Selfish Gene, disinfect his brain of religious fantasies and metaphysical moonbeams, and learn to behave like an English gentleman, cooperating generously and unselfishly for the common good. (p 59–60)

What is the purpose of this spoof, apart from humorous entertainment? Parodies, we know, have often functioned as means of subtle criticism. Kingsley, in his rendition of the Owen–Huxley fight over the relation of humans to apes, indicated that more than scientific disagreement was involved and that personal rivalry added much fuel to the fire. Both sides in the controversy were doused with a bucket full of irony.A similar intent seems present in The Wonderful Adventures of Nat Selleck and Eva Lu Shinn. Water gets poured over the combatants, the winners and the losers, the great and the small, the atheistic and the religious, the liberal and the conservative — although Dick Dockins and allied evolutionary psychologists get an extra dousing. The story ends with the Darwin year 2009, when a voice from heaven inquires "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth ..." (Job 38:4). Keep an open mind — the author seems to indicate — for there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in the certainties of entrenched positions.

Yet in order more precisely to understand this booklet's portent, it will be helpful to know who its author, A Nonimous, is. The reader may want to learn that he belongs to the generation of historians of science who professionalized the subject after World War II and is the author of many books, including a seminal study in the history of evolutionary biology, The Death of Adam (1959): John C Greene. Greene's importance for the subject as well as his particular approach and stance were celebrated with a festschrift in his honor, History, Humanity and Evolution (1989), edited by James Moore, who pointed out that a perennial concern in Greene's work has been the problem of constructing an evolutionary world view that does not cede the realm of human values to scientific expertise. This explains why the sarcasm of the parody is particularly biting when it treats of evolutionary psychology and Dockins's memes. The booklet is a cherry on the cake of Greene's impressive oeuvre and a welcome addition to the literary genre of scientific spoofs.

[The Wonderful Adventures of Nat Selleck and Eva Lou Shinn in Sci Fi Land is available from its publisher, Paige Press, a division of The Regina Group, PO Box 280, Claremont CA 91711, online at www.reginabooks.com.]

About the Author(s): 

Nicolaas Rupke
Institute for the History of Science
Göttingen University
Papendiek 16
D-37073 Göttingen, Germany
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org

Nicolaas Rupke is Professor of the History of Science and Director of the Institute for the History of Science at Göttingen University. His latest book is Alexander von Humboldt: A Metabiography, just released in paperback (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).

RNCSE 28 (3)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2008
Date: 
May–June
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 28 (3)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2008
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
2

NEWS

  1. Penn Kicks Off Year of Evolution
    A year-long exhibit in Philadelphia engages the resources of many science and education organizations for a bicentennial celebration of the meaning of Darwin's work for modern biology.
  2. Harun Yahya's Legal Troubles
    Taner Edis
    Like Al Capone with the IRS, this icon of Islamic creationism is in prison on charges unrelated to the activity that makes him famous.
  3. Updates
    News from Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina,Texas, Germany, and Turkey.

NCSE NEWS

  1. News from the Membership
    What our members are doing to support evolution and oppose pseudoscience wherever the need arises.
  2. NCSE Thanks You
    Our members, friends, and supporters are generous with their money, as well as with their time and talents. A special thank you for those who gave a little extra.

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. A North American Field Guide: Identifying Anti-evolutionistii stealthus
    Cheryl Shepherd-Adams
    How can we spot a candidate or public official who is trying to keep his or her anti-evolutionism "under the radar"? Cheryl Shepherd-Adams allowed us to reprint these hints from her blog.
  2. Books: Mass Extinction is Forever
    Life has not always been easy on planet earth. Read about major setbacks in the history of life.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

ARTICLES

  1. Creationism Slips Into a Peer-Reviewed Journal
    Steven L Salzberg
    When a review article in Proteomics was previewed on-line, a number of readers noticed something peculiar.There were a number of creationist re-interpretations of data as well as what appeared to be extensive plagiarism.

FEATURES

  1. Good, Bad, and Lots of Indifferent: The State of State K–12 Science Education Standards
    Lawrence S Lerner
    A number of state science education standards underwent revisions in the last few years. Some did better, some did worse, and some belong in a category all their own.

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. Teaching About Scientific Origins: Taking Account of Creationism edited by Leslie S Jones and Michael Reiss
    Reviewed by Kimberly Bilica
  2. Creation and Evolution: A Conference with Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo compiled by Stephan Otto Horn and Siegfried Wiedenhofer
    Reviewed by Daryl P Domning
  3. The Evolving World: Evolution in Everyday Life by David P Mindell
    Reviewed by Andrew J Petto
  4. Making Sense of Evolution: The Conceptual Foundations of Evolutionary Biology by Massimo Pigliucci and Jonathan Kaplan
    Reviewed by Roberta L Millstein

Penn Kicks Off Year of Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Penn Kicks Off Year of Evolution
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2008
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
4
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

On April 19, 2008, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology opened a new exhibit to celebrate the central role of evolutionary science in modern biology.The exhibit, entitled Surviving: The Body of Evidence, runs through May 2009 and is the museum's contribution to the Year of Evolution of public programs and events that coincide with the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin and the sesquicentennial of the publication of On the Origin of Species.

The University of Pennsylvania and the Penn Museum are joined by major Philadelphia cultural organizations in launching an ambitious Year of Evolution of public programs and events. These events will draw on the contributions of many outstanding educational and research institutions in Philadelphia, including the Academy of Natural Sciences, The Franklin Institute, the Philadelphia Zoo, the Mütter Museum and College of Physicians, the American Philosophical Society Museum, and the Wagner Free Institute of Science. In addition to highlighting Darwin's contribution to modern biology, the partner institutions will offer special programs on the work of Gregor Mendel, evolutionary medicine, and primate ecology and evolution, as well as featured lectures and presentation from prominent internationally known experts in evolutionary science (including NCSE Supporters Donald Johanson and Kenneth R Miller).

According to the Year of Evolution website, the exhibit and related programs provide an opportunity to reflect on the importance of Darwin's contribution to biology and the impact it has had on our understanding of the history and diversity of life:

As we approach the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the originator of the modern theory of evolution, it is a rich time to take stock of how much we've learned since On the Origin of Species was published in 1859.

To round out the celebration, there will be additional lectures, Penn Museum programs for children and families, scholarly symposia, and an evolution-focused freshman class book-reading selection at the University of Pennsylvania.

For more information, visit the exhibit's web site http://www.museum.upenn.edu/surviving.

[Thanks to Pam Kosty at the Penn Museum for the information used in this note.]

Harun Yahya's Legal Troubles

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Harun Yahya's Legal Troubles
Author(s): 
Taner Edis
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2008
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
4–5
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

The most commonly available form of Islamic creationism appears under the "Harun Yahya" brand. For the last ten years, books, articles, websites, and videos by Harun Yahya have been promoting an intellectually negligible but very postmodern and media-savvy form of creationism to a wide audience. The Harun Yahya operation is based in Turkey, but it has an international reach. Indeed, Yahya's influence goes beyond other Muslim countries and Muslim immigrant populations. Even my students, in a Midwestern university, will often stumble upon Harun Yahya web sites when researching creationism, and sometimes they do not realize that it is an Islamic rather than Christian form of creationism they have encountered.

Harun Yahya is a pseudonym, and Adnan Oktar, a Turkish sect leader and art school dropout, is said to be the person who writes all the Yahya material. Given the immense quantity of output under the Yahya label, this claim is implausible. I think of Harun Yahya as a brand, and Oktar as the public face of the brand. The details and funding sources of the organization that supports Oktar are not clear. The Science Research Foundation, BAV (Bilim Aras, tirma Vakfi in Turkish), is a group that supports creationism and boasts Oktar as its honorary president, but not much about BAV is known aside from its public activities in support of creationism and a moderate religious nationalism.

The Yahya form of creationism has been enjoying a degree of success that Protestant creationists based in the United States can only envy. But Oktar has also been embroiled in legal battles in Turkey, from long before he reinvented himself as a creationist guru. In May 2008, Adnan Oktar's legal troubles reached a new peak with the announcement that Oktar and some associates have been sentenced to three years in prison. He and a number of other defendants associated with BAV have been convicted of extortion and of forming an organization for the purpose of committing criminal acts.

The Oktar and BAV saga is far from over. There is an appeals process to look forward to, and Oktar and supporters are already calling foul and alleging that the Turkish courts have acted under political pressure. Given that Oktar has some wealthy and powerful friends — and likely some powerful enemies as well — there may be all sorts of goings-on unknown to the public. The mainstream Turkish press did not report many details on Oktar's conviction beyond the basic legal facts.

On May 10, 2008, Oktar appeared in a news conference to present his view of events. While expressing respect for the judicial outcome, he and his spokespeople described the conviction as a legal scandal and a violation of due process. In particular, Oktar and his associates attributed their legal troubles to a conspiracy, speaking at length of a Masonic plot against BAV and Oktar. Apparently the conspiracy is international, with European Freemasons behind the 2007 Council of Europe report against the teaching of creationism (see RNCSE 2007 Sep–Dec; 27 [5–6]: 20–5), which cited Harun Yahya as an example. As part of the worldwide conspiracy, Oktar's group said, Turkish Masons also oppose BAV and its work in favor of creationism and other religious, conservative, and nationalist causes. Oktar also said that he will soon have another book out, which will expose Masonic activities.

In the press conference, Oktar and his supporters emphasized the theme that the persecution they are facing right now was similar to that undergone by prophets, such as related in the story of Joseph in the Qur'an. Strong defenders of the faith should expect persecution by worldly powers, and possible jail time will be faced by true believers as a badge of honor. Oktar already interprets past episodes in this fashion, such as the time before he became a creationist figurehead when he was forced to spend time in a mental institution. This, too, was a conspiracy that only strengthened Oktar's resolve.

It is still unclear what the recent convictions mean for Oktar and the Yahya brand of creationism. Even if Oktar's appeals fail and he does time in jail, his movement may be able to turn this into a tale of martyrdom in the hands of secular powers. The prodigious output in the name of Yahya might slow down, which might give defenders of evolution in Muslim lands a respite.

But even if the Yahya brand were to vanish as a result of all these legal troubles, this would only be a minor setback for Islamic creationism. The Harun Yahya phenomenon has made it clear that the Muslim world resists evolutionary science, and that more evolution-friendly interpretations of Islam remain weak. The Yahya operation has established that there is a considerable market for an Islamic-colored version of creationism. If Harun Yahya were to fall silent, this could just be an incentive for other brands to compete for that market.

About the Author(s): 

Taner Edis
Department of Physics
Truman State University
Kirksville MO 63501

Taner Edis is Associate Professor of Physics at Truman State University and RNCSE's associate editor for physics. His latest book is An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam (Amherst [NY]: Prometheus, 2007), which discusses creationism in Islam.

Creationism Slips Into a Peer-Reviewed Journal

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Creationism Slips Into a Peer-Reviewed Journal
Author(s): 
Steven L Salzberg
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2008
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
12–14, 19
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
A strange thing happened in the scientific literature recently. A pair of creationists, who have seemingly legitimate scientific credentials, attempted to publish some creationist assertions in a peer-reviewed journal. Their effort was nearly successful, mostly because they hid their pseudoscience in the middle of the article, surrounded by legitimate scientific discussion of unrelated topics. Luckily, they were caught just in time, and it turned out that they were pretty clumsy. In fact, if they had been just a bit more clever, they might have gotten away with it.

First, let us examine the facts: the two authors, Mohamad Warda and Jin Han, submitted a review paper to the mainstream journal Proteomics. This is a well-regarded journal, with a distinguished editorial board, which focuses on novel technologies for studying the protein content (the "proteome") of a cell or a tissue sample. Virtually all scientists reading this journal are familiar with evolutionary theory, but the journal itself is not a forum for discussion of evolution. No one would expect a paper on creationism to appear here.

The paper submitted by Warda and Han was a review paper about mitochondria. The mitochondrion is an organelle contained within the cells of most multicellular life, including plants and animals. Mitochondria are often referred to as the "energy factories" of the cell, because they produce adenosine triphosphate, ATP, which is the source of much of the chemical energy that a cell uses. Of course, mitochondria do not "make" energy — they merely help to convert energy from food into another form of energy that the body can use.

Review papers are different from other scientific papers: rather than describing novel experiments and results, they review and summarize the work of others on a particular topic. Reviews do not normally contain new conclusions, but once in a while a review paper might distill many related findings into a broader result than any of the individual papers discussed in the review. The Warda and Han paper professed to be a summary of how proteins in the cell interact with the mitochondrial genome. Fair enough. It turned out, though, that Warda and Han are creationists, and their "review" was a stealth attempt to get their creationist claims into the peer-reviewed literature. This report describes what they did and how they got caught.

The paper and the "mighty creator"

Like many journals, Proteomics releases papers on-line before the official publication appears. In early February 2008, I was alerted by Andrew MacArthur, an evolutionary biologist, that there was a new paper in Proteomics that gave a "mighty creator" credit for designing the mitochondrion. The paper was titled "Mitochondria, the missing link between body and soul: Proteomic prospective evidence." Much of the paper reads like any review paper, with considerable technical detail and 239 references to the literature. However, the paper had four major red flags that the journal's reviewers and editors should have caught before accepting it for publication:
The title
The abstract
The creationist claim
The conclusions
The title. Scientific papers do not talk about the "soul", and although this could be just a clever metaphorical usage of that word, the title should raise suspicions that the paper contains something other than science.

The abstract. The very first paragraph of most papers is the abstract, a short summary of the main results. Warda and Han write that their review includes "novel proteomics evidence to disprove the endosymbiotic hypothesis of mitochondrial evolution that is replaced in this work by a more realistic alternative."

First of all, novel evidence does not belong in a review, so the reviewers should have been on the alert when they saw that. But more important, this claim should be quite startling to any evolutionary biologist. The endosymbiotic hypothesis proposes that the mitochondria found in many organisms today are the remnants of an ancient bacterium that was engulfed by an early, single-celled ancestor of eukaryotes about two billion years ago. This hypothesis dates back many decades (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endosymbiotic_theory) and has been gaining support since the 1960s; for example, see the papers by Kurland and Andersson (2000) and Gray and others (2001). The sequencing of the mitochondrial genomes of many animals and plants has greatly strengthened the endosymbiotic hypothesis. So what do Warda and Han have to offer as an alternative? The abstract does not say.

The creationist claim. The paper reviews the literature in a rather dry fashion until page 8, in a section titled "Mitochondrial integrated function disproves endosymbiotic hypothesis of mitochondrial evolution." In this section, Warda and Han do some funny things. First, they cite a number of references that have nothing to do with the findings in this section. Then they offer up the statement that attracted the most attention from the blogosphere:
Alternatively, instead of sinking into a swamp of endless debates about the evolution of mitochondria, it is better to come up with a unified assumption. ... More logically, the points that show proteomics overlapping between different forms of life are more likely to be interpreted as a reflection of a single common fingerprint initiated by a mighty creator than relying on a single cell that is, in a doubtful way, surprisingly originating all other kinds of life.
Aside from the fact that this sentence is so badly written as to be nearly incomprehensible, the phrase "mighty creator" sticks out like a sore thumb. Boiled down to its essence, Warda and Han are saying "God did it."

The conclusion. Does the article contain any more creationist assertions? After the "mighty creator" section, it just jumps back into review mode and continues like that almost until the end — until the very last paragraph. There, Warda and Han had one more surprise. They concluded that "many controversial questions still need to be answered, e.g., how signaling molecules ... precisely translocate from or to mitochondria in a matter of milliseconds while crossing a huge ocean of soluble and insoluble barriers." Perhaps this is a legitimate question, but then they wrote: "we still need to know the secret behind this disciplined organized wisdom. We realize so far that mitochondria could be the link between the body and this preserved wisdom of the soul devoted to guaranteeing life." This is simply nonsense — the mitochondria are linked to the "wisdom of the soul"? It is gibberish, and nothing in the article supported it, but somehow it slipped past the reviewers.

The plagiarism is uncovered

Thanks to the rapid action of the blogosphere, and four blogs in particular, this paper came to the attention of many scientists before the print version appeared. I first blogged on the paper on February 7, 2008 (http://genefinding.blogspot.com/2008/02/stealth-attempt-to-sneak-creationism.html). Attila Cordas (http://pimm.wordpress.com/2008/01/29/http://pimm.wordpress.com/2008/01/29/can-you-tell-a-good-article-from-a-bad-article-based-on-the-abstract-and-the-title/) and Lars Juhl Jensen (http://larsjuhljensen.wordpress.com/2008/02/10/commentary-neither-buried-nor-treasure) also blogged about it. PZ Myers mentioned it a day before I did on his widely-read Pharyngula blog (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/02/a_baffling_failure_of_peer_rev.php), and within a matter of hours a commenter named Sili asked, "has anyone yet checked to see whether this might be plagiarized?" The disjointed style was the first clue — much of the article appears technically competent, although the writing style varies, and the creationist claims are written very poorly. Within a few more hours, the first evidence of plagiarism was uncovered: an entire paragraph copied verbatim from another article.

From there, the evidence quickly snowballed. Within a few days there were dozens of examples, and it appeared that the majority of the text was simply copied wholesale from other sources. John MacDonald, a professor at the University of Delaware, compiled many of these into a document (http://udel.edu/~mcdonald/wardahan.pdf) showing that Warda and Han stole much of their article from six different articles plus a scientific website. The examples fill eight pages. In all cases, Warda and Han copied text word-for-word without attribution.

Plagiarism is a gross violation of scientific ethics. From the journal's point of view, it represents another problem: copyright violation. Because the text was taken without attribution and without permission, the authors were violating the copyright of the original authors. Ironically, the discovery of plagiarism by the bloggers gave Proteomics an easy out: because of the plagiarism, editor-in-chief Michael Dunn insisted that Warda and Han retract the paper.

The article was removed from the journal website, which now says only that the retraction is "due [to] a substantial overlap of the content of this article with previously published articles in other journals." Further adding to the irony, the article remains the fourth most highly-accessed article for the journal in the past year, no doubt because of the controversy.

The authors

Mohamad Warda and Jin Han submitted the article from Inje University in Korea, a relatively new university that as yet has little international stature for scientific research. Han has published multiple scientific articles in respectable journals; Warda was apparently working as Han's student or postdoc, and now lists his address as Cairo University in Egypt. Warda and Han had published together previously, including at least one paper in the journal Proteomics. The authors were contacted directly by James Randerson of The Guardian, who reported the incident on his blog (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2008/feb/13/thankstocjv5040forputting). Only Warda responded, and his response makes it clear that (a) he is a creationist, and (b) he cannot write English well. In an e-mail quoted by Randerson, Warda wrote:
The problem is that we described in very clear and definite way the disciplined nature that takes part inside our cells. We supported our meaning with define proteomics evidences that cry in front of scientists that the mitochondria is not evolved from other prokaryotes. They want to destroy us because we say the truth; only the truth.
And in response to a question about plagiarism, he wrote "I not burrow [sic] any sentences from others," despite the obvious evidence that he borrowed voluminously.

PZ Myers was able to get a response (see http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/02/one_author_responds.php) from Jin Han, who explained that:
I found the serious mistakes in the paper during the process of edits, which I confused between the early drafts and the latest versions: I did not check the use of the sentences in the references (more than 200 references). Finally I made serious error to make the final version. In order to rectify an error, I requested to retract the paper to the editorial office of Proteomics.
Myers pointed out, correctly, that this response does not really explain anything: not the creationist claims, nor the bizarre title, and certainly not the extensive plagiarism.

Clearly, based on their efforts to sneak false creationist claims past reviewers, Warda and Han are dishonest scientists whose work should be viewed with great skepticism in the future. Their extensive plagiarism is a second offense, and that alone would disqualify them from work in most legitimate scientific laboratories. In the United States, plagiarism is one of the few activities that can (and has, in some cases) lead to the firing of a tenured professor. Warda and Han should at a minimum be censured by their universities, but thus far there is no evidence that any action was taken.

The editor's response

I contacted the editor-in-chief of Proteomics, Michael Dunn, to find out more about what happened. Many scientists have speculated publicly that the peer review process went seriously wrong for this paper. Dunn assured me that the paper was reviewed by two "well-respected and highly competent reviewers" both of whom recommended minor revisions. For some reason, though, "neither picked up the references to creationism, nor did they recognize that sections of the text were plagiarized," according to Dunn. It is not too surprising that the reviewers missed the plagiarism, but the title and abstract should have raised huge red flags warning the reviewers that this article had questionable science. I have to conclude that the reviewers were very sloppy, incompetent, or both; at the very least they were inattentive in this case, despite the editor's claims to the contrary. And Dunn himself is not without responsibility in this case: he must have seen the reference to "the soul" in the article's title, and he should have been more pro-active. His failure to make any public statement about the creationist claims in the article also raises questions about the leadership at the journal.

Conclusion

This entire episode points out a weakness in scientific peer review that creationists and other pseudoscience proponents may try to exploit again. We only caught this attempted fraud thanks to the diligence of bloggers: the journal itself had already missed it. What is perhaps more troubling is the fact that the journal relied solely on the plagiarism to force the retraction: if not for that, the article might have been published despite its unsubstantiated creationist claims. I asked Dunn specifically about this issue, but he declined to comment. The Warda and Han paper demonstrates a new strategy that proponents of creationism might attempt again, and perhaps next time they will not be so foolish as to plagiarize their text. We can only hope that the publicity surrounding this incident will alert both reviewers and editors of scientific journals to be on the lookout for "stealth" creationist claims in the future.

References

Gray MW, Burger G, Lang BF. 2001. The origin and early evolution of mitochondria. Genome Biology 2 (6): reviews1018.1–1018.5. Available on-line at http://genomebiology.com/2001/2/6/REVIEWS/1018.

Kurland CG, Andersson SG. 2001. Origin and evolution of the mitochondrial proteome. Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews 64 (4): 786–820.

About the Author(s): 
Steven L Salzberg
Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
3125 Biomolecular Sciences Building #296
University of Maryland
College Park MD 20742
salzberg@umd.edu

Steven L Salzberg is the Director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology and the Horvitz Professor of Computer Science at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before switching to bioinformatics and genomics, his research focused on machine learning and its research applications. Salzberg and his research team develop computational gene finders and systems for large-scale genome sequence alignment and assembly, including the open-source genome assembler AMOS. In addition to his software systems, Salzberg has contributed analyses to many genome sequencing projects, using computational methods to analyze genome duplications, rearrangements, and other evolutionary phenomena in a wide range of organisms, including the first large-scale genomics study of the human and avian influenza A viruses. Salzberg has authored or co-authored two books and over 150 publications in leading scientific journals. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and a member of the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the National Institutes of Health.

Good, Bad, and Lots of Indifferent: State K–12 Science Standards

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Good, Bad, and Lots of Indifferent: The State of State K–12 Science Education Standards
Author(s): 
Lawrence S Lerner
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2008
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
19–22
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Curriculum standards have many important applications. They are used as guidelines by curriculum developers, by textbook publishers, and by examination writers, among other things. I was first asked by the Thomas B Fordham Foundation to evaluate the science education standards of every state that had them in 1997. I surveyed 36 documents — a pretty dull but (I hope) useful task (Lerner 1998).

When I did a second review in 2000 (published as part of Finn and Petrilli 2000), the number of documents had increased to 46. As in 1997, far too many were mediocre to bad. There were several general reasons for this poor quality. More often than not, a poor standards document stumbled on more than one count. But one common failing of poor standards was a poor treatment of biological evolution. Such a treatment could be badly written; or it could be confused; or error-filled, or timid, or hypocritical. It could suffer from some combination of these, or biological evolution could simply be absent. Quite often, the evolution of the earth and the universe suffered as well. With this in mind, the Fordham Foundation commissioned me to do a study focused on the treatment of evolution in K–12 science education standards, and this was published later in 2000 (Lerner 2000).

Since then, there has been a surge of public interest in accountability and evaluation in public education. And it will not be long before the No Child Left Behind Act mandates statewide testing of all students.

In response to all this activity, the Fordham Foundation commissioned a new review in 2005. By this time, the District of Columbia and every state but Iowa had published standards, and the tendency was toward longer documents. The task had become so large that it was undertaken by a six-member team of scientists, science teachers, and a philosopher of science. Each team member surveyed all the standards but concentrated on his or her specialty. Our report was published in December. Although the evaluations were based on the overall quality of the standards documents, experience dictated that we devote special attention to the treatment of evolution.

Figure 1: Assigned letter grades for 49 states and the District of ColumbiaAs I had done in the earlier reports, we used a set of criteria such as clarity, organization, sound content, rigor, and steady development of subject matter consistent with the maturation of the student. We assigned numerical scores for each criterion and used the total scores to assign letter grades A through F (Figure 1). There is a tendency for good standards to concentrate in the Southwest and Northeast. But that oversimplifies the fact that there are good and bad standards to be found in all regions. For example, South Carolina's and Virginia's standards were excellent, while New Hampshire's, Wisconsin's, were Oregon's were very poor.

Figure 2: Distribution of gradesFigure 2 shows the distribution of grades. The good news is that 19 states, where more than half of American students go to school, have excellent or good science education standards (A or B). Not so happily, 16 states scored mediocre to bad (C or D) and 15 states flunked (F). Kansas is a notorious special case to which I will turn shortly.

Figure 3: Trends in grades between 2000 and 2005 for 49 states and the District of ColumbiaCuriously, there was a lot of churning between 2000 and 2005. Some states improved and some declined. Figure 3 shows the changes. Standards quality did not change in the states shown in white. Quality improved in the gray states, and declined in the black ones. Overall there was little change, but of the 45 states (plus the District of Columbia) that were evaluated in 2000, 12 improved, 19 declined, and 15 did not change.

I do not think we can take comfort in the overall steady state, given the broad attention paid to standards in recent years. Rather, it is bad news. We might expect that the availability of good state standards written in a wide variety of styles would make it easy for those states with poor standards to make improvements. Here is a situation in which the most punctilious critic will condone cribbing!

Evolution in the standards

Turning specifically to the treatment of evolution, Figure 4 shows the results of our 2005 study. In this map, lighter colors represent better treatment of evolution. We lumped the As and Bs together as "sound," shown in the lightest gray (for example, California). The next darker shade of gray (for example, Arizona) stands for "passing" or C. The next darker shade (for example, Texas) represents "marginal" or D, and the blacks represent "failed" or F. Again, Kansas was a special case, rating a shameful F-minus.

Figure 4: Treatment of evolution in 49 states and the District of ColumbiaThere is a strong — but far from complete — correlation between good quality overall and good quality in treatment of evolution. There are a few exceptions. Maine's standards, for instance, rated B in overall quality but F in its treatment of evolution. For North Carolina, we found B overall but D for evolution. In most cases, however, the difference was at most one letter grade.

Figure 5: Treatment of evolution, 2000 and 2005Figure 5 shows the overall results for treatment of evolution in 2000 and 2005, summed over all the states. Overall, we see pretty much the same thing as for the standards as a whole. The number of states earning A or B declined from 24 to 20; C grades held steady at 7, D grades rose from 6 to 10, and F grades remained at 12. Kansas, having fluctuated wildly in the interim between reports, retained the dubious distinction of "not even failed" — F-minus.

It is interesting to note that, although there is a disproportionate concentration of ill-treatment of evolution in the Bible Belt, geography is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for such treatment. Georgia and South Carolina, for instance, treated evolution very well while New Hampshire and Wisconsin did not.

Just as in the general standards for science education, poor treatment of evolution in the standards can have several causes. In some cases, the issue is simply one of competence: the writers either did not or could not present evolution (or the life sciences in general) in a cogent, accurate manner. But more often, we see design at work (in more than one sense of the word!). The deliberate effort to ignore, minimize, or distort the central organizing principle of the life sciences has a long and varied history.

The standards exhibit a variety of strategies for finessing evolution: Mississippi, for example, follows a "what they don't know won't hurt them" or "ignorance is bliss" strategy. The Mississippi standards simply avoid the use of the dreaded "e-word" and present only bits and pieces of the underlying evidence. (One may draw a parallel between this approach and the ubiquitous "abstinence-only" sex education programs adopted by Mississippi, among many other states.)

Alabama, more aggressively, begins its science education standards document with the notorious "Alabama disclaimer," which singles out evolution as somehow less reliable than any other science:
The theory of evolution by natural selection, a theory included in this document, states that natural selection provides the basis for the modern scientific explanation for the diversity of living things. Since natural selection has been observed to play a role in influencing small changes in a population, it is assumed, based on the study of artifacts, that it produces large changes, even though this has not been directly observed. Because of its importance and implications, students should understand the nature of evolutionary theories. They should learn to make distinctions among the multiple meanings of evolution, to distinguish between observations and assumptions used to draw conclusions, and to wrestle with the unanswered questions and unresolved problems still faced by evolutionary theory.
The Fordham report cuts to the heart of this disclaimer:
Although this is focused on evolution, and it paraphrases the "critiques" of evolutionary biology currently advanced by "intelligent design" creationism, it quite effectively derogates every branch of science. (There are, for example, many basic, "unanswered questions" about the fundamental forces of nature. Do we, for this reason, warn students to be suspicious of, or to "wrestle with," the "unresolved problems" of physics?) The Alabama preface sows confusion and offers a distorted view of what science is and how it is pursued. The quoted paragraph is preceded by mention of Copernicus, Newton, and Einstein, all physicists or astronomers; it then launches into an attack by misdirection on (evolutionary) biology. (Gross and others 2005: 27)
Other school systems have mimicked Alabama, using either the language or the general approach in this disclaimer (for example, Cobb County, Georgia).

Kansas stands alone

With a history somewhere between melodramatic tragedy and low comedy, Kansas is a unique case. In 1998, when a creationist majority took control of the autonomous Kansas Board of Education, they took a workable set of science education standards and edited out all references to evolution. They went still further and deleted any subject connected to the age of the earth or the universe. This excision included such basic topics as radioactive decay (because it can be used to date objects much too old to fit a simple-minded view of the Book of Genesis) and the Big Bang (which took place long before Noah's Flood.) From this trashing of science comes the F-minus the Kansas science education standards earned in 2000.

The ensuing furor led to the voting out of creationist board members in 2000 and the re-establishment of a science-friendly majority. The new board reinstated the original standards, with slight modifications. This happened soon enough that the creationist efforts had no impact on science teaching.

In the following two elections, however, a creationist majority was reestablished. The new board took a somewhat more subtle tack than their predecessors; they adopted an "intelligent design" creationist approach, but did not stop there. They formally redefined all of science to include inquiry into the supernatural. This direct attack on science as a whole is even more blatant than the indirect attack that inheres in a mistreatment of biological evolution. These grotesque distortions stand today and have earned Kansas a brand-new F-minus. Many Kansans, including the governor, the university communities, and the great majority of the science teachers, were dismayed. In the 2006 state school board elections, those in favor of keeping evolution in the standards became a 6–4 majority of the board (see http://ncseweb.org/news/2006/08/pendulum-swings-kansas-00814).

Conclusions

In conclusion, let me put science education standards in a broader context. Good standards are only one step toward quality education. It is a long way, after all, from the Department of Education in a state capital to the small rural schoolhouse in the mountains or the plains. And standards can be and have been used as a basis for writing undemanding exams, at least in language arts and mathematics. Many other matters need to be considered as well. Among these are finding and using quality textbooks, making sure teachers have adequate preparation in their subjects, and finding enough money to attract quality personnel to every aspect of public education. But if the standards are poor, it is difficult to assure quality education in all the schools of a state (an exception may be in schools in affluent neighborhoods, where well-educated parents raise well-prepared children).

With respect to the teaching of evolution in particular, poor, absent, or counterfeit treatments in science education standards are practically a guarantee that evolution will vanish from state exams, textbooks, and from many classrooms as well. There are plenty of creationists, "intelligent-design" or otherwise, who are eager to make this happen. In our day, as in the days of Scopes — or Galileo, for that matter — science needs its defenders.

References

Gross PR, Goodenough U, Haack S, Lerner LS, Schwartz M, Schwartz R. 2005. The State of State Science Standards 2005. Washington (DC): The Thomas B Fordham Institute.

Lerner LS. 2000. Good Science, Bad Science: Teaching Evolution in the States. Washington (DC): The Thomas B Fordham Foundation.

Finn CE Jr, Petrilli MJ, editors. 2000. The State of State Standards 2000. Washington (DC): The Thomas B Fordham Foundation.

Lerner LS. 1998. State Science Standards: An Appraisal of Science Standards in 36 States. Washington (DC): The Thomas B Fordham Foundation.

[For copies of any of the above publications, visit the Fordham Foundation's website, http://www.edexcellence.net, or call the Fordham Foundation at 888-823-7474.]

About the Author(s): 
Lawrence S Lerner
College of Natural Science & Mathematics
California State University, Long Beach
1250 Bellflower Boulevard
Long Beach CA 90840
lslerner@csulb.edu

Lawrence S Lerner is Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy at California State University, Long Beach, and a nationally recognized authority on state science education standards.

[Adapted from a presentation given as part of "Dispatches from the evolution wars," a colloquium at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching in 2006.]

Review: Teaching about Scientific Origins

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Year: 
2008
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
23–25
Reviewer: 
Kimberly Bilica
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Teaching about Scientific Origins: Taking Account of Creationism
Author(s): 
Edited by Leslie S Jones and Michael Reiss
New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2007. 217 pages.

Teaching about Scientific Origins: Taking Account of Creationism is a patchwork of thoughtful essays on evolution and creationism from some prominent voices in science education and philosophy. According to the editors of the volume, the aim of the book is to "address the challenges of teaching about scientific origins in the context of religious concerns" (p ix). This text is an excellent contribution to the Counterpoints: Studies in the Postmodern Theory of Education series because of its polyvocal representation of the evolution/creationism controversy.

Polyvocality is a postmodern textual representation that showcases multiple, often non-convergent, viewpoints (Guba and Lincoln 2005). The aim of a polyvocal text is to highlight the complexity of an issue by problematizing rather than resolving. Traditional texts offer solutions; polyvocal texts ask questions. The editors of Teaching about Scientific Origins prepare the reader for a polyvocal style by stating: "It needs to be stressed that there is not a single account of how the authors in this book see the relationship between science and religion nor of how we envisage that that relationship should be taught, if it is to be taught at all" (p 8).

Even without the projection of a single metanarrative, twelve of the thirteen chapters are written from the scientific consensus position, as supported by National Science Education Standards (National Research Council 1996) and by science organizations (AAAS 1990, 1993), that evolution is the cornerstone of the biological sciences and that teaching biology without evolution is a mismanagement of the science curriculum.

The first third of the book looks at the history, sociology, and politics of teaching evolution as viewed from outside of the classroom. The second third of the book shifts argumentation. Here the authors either present an argument for a particular position, such as teaching creationism or evolution, or they dissect the arguments that others have employed. Within this second portion of the book is a chapter presenting a creationist perspective on teaching evolution, notably the only chapter not reflecting the views of national and international science organizations. Finally, the last third views the professional and personal nature of the evolution/creationism controversy through the lens of teacher and student. These chapters describe the impact of the controversy in classrooms and recommend ways of dealing with it, such as insisting on respectful interpersonal relationships, particularly with students who may have creationist beliefs.

Beginning the first third of the book, Randy Moore and Michael Ruse examine the historic politics that led to the modern controversy. Moore describes the social discord between evolution and creationism as it was expressed in the late 19th century and in early 20thcentury politics. In the second half of the chapter, he answers some questions that teachers have about the legal boundaries to teaching evolution (or creationism) in public schools.

Ruse writes specifically about "Christianity" and "Darwinism," emphasizing the contrasting epistemologies that define the modern evolution/creationism controversy. He challenges contemporary polarized debates about science and religion, referring to such conflicts as remnants of the 19th century. Using Richard Dawkins, a biologist and vocal atheist, as a focus, Ruse describes how arguments from the extreme ends of the belief spectrum — such as arguments between evolutionary dogmatists and fundamentalist creationists — anchor science and religion to a common, confrontational center point.

Chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7 shift the reader’s attention toward the argumentation tactics used in the broad conflict between science and religion as well as strategies used by proponents within specific domains, such as creationists. David Mercer conducts a highly philosophical examination of the conflict between science and religion, criticizing the tendency to oversimplify the nature of both science and religion. Media sources and public science particularly are chastised for giving such oversimplified representations. Mercer recommends that we talk about science and religion in a more humanistic way that is representative of the manner in which the controversy is lived and that we think about the science curriculum through an inclusive social context that he calls "science studies" (p 53).

Robert Pennock traces the emergence of "intelligent design" (ID) creationism in schools and specifically focuses upon the ID proponents’ argument to "teach the controversy" of biological evolution in science classrooms, dissecting, by way of example, a video developed by ID advocates intended to show teachers how to legally "teach the controversy about Darwin." Pennock describes the ID argument as "smoke and mirrors," contending that the ID argument intentionally and strategically neglects science in order to promote its non-scientific goals. In the concluding remarks, his perspective on the debate is clear: teach real science.

Michael Poole unpacks and redistributes what he calls "areas of difficulty" between science and creationism, where meanings are in conflict when considered from creationist versus scientific perspectives. They include understandings about the age of the earth, chance, atheism, naturalism, explanation, reification, and evolutionism. Poole develops the essay by first making a statement of conflict and then examining it from scientific and religious perspectives. For example, he examines ideas that connect science and atheism by discussing the statement "Science is often presented as an atheistic activity that makes no place for God" (p 83). I particularly appreciate how Poole resolves the conflict about science and atheism with a description of how the omission of religion from science is not a denial of religion: "It need be no more surprising to the religious scientist not to find God mentioned in science texts than to find that Henry Ford is not mentioned in the instruction booklet of that make of car" (p 84).

Shaikh Abdul Mabud argues that evolution, as it is taught in schools and represented in selected British textbooks, is treated as "fact" and does not provide science students with a balanced perspective, offering arguments for and against evolution. A creationist from the Islamic faith, he uses many of the arguments found in other creationist literature, such as challenges to homology, complex biochemical events, and natural selection. Mabud is the only strong anti-evolution voice in the text, but the inclusion of this chapter shows how polyvocal texts break from authoritarian truth notions.

The next five chapters examine the evolution/creationism controversy from the perspective of teacher and/or student. Several authors tell personal stories about their experiences with the evolution/ creationism conflict in the classroom. Wolff-Michael Roth presents a discourse analysis of conversations with a high school physics student who deliberated on his personal conceptions of science and religion. Roth’s analysis untangles some of the complex and multifaceted relationships between self, science, and religion, providing insight into how science and religion interact in lived experience. The chapter concludes by encouraging teachers to consider the complexity of human understanding of science and religion and recommending that teachers find ways to discuss what Roth calls the "different life domains" (science and religion) with students in the hope that such conversations will translate into students’ having a personal understanding of how different domains interact in their own lives (p 122).

David L Haury emphasizes the role of curriculum in the evolution/ creationism controversy. Observing that human evolution has been overlooked in science standards documents and biology curricula,Haury blames the human evolution gap in American biology curricula on the prevalence of creationist ideology and goes on to describe several concepts that, combined, serve as a rationale for teaching human evolution. These concept — which include the nature of science, evolutionary theory, human family, ecological identity, worldview, and spirit of discovery — mediate dichotomous arguments such as science versus religion (or evolution versus creationism). Like many of the other authors in this portion of Teaching about Scientific Origins, Haury’s approach is scientifically grounded while remaining considerate of students’ beliefs.

Lee Meadows explains that conflict management, rather than conflict resolution, is an appropriate instructional aim in biology classrooms. Meadows explains that conflict management shows respect for religious students who are likely to experience conflict with evolution. After a discussion of clashing religious and scientific worldviews, Meadows offers five recommendations for teachers who wish to adapt their teaching aims to incorporate conflict management: 1. Respect your students’ religious beliefs, 2. Present evolution as an undeniable scientific understanding; 3. Model the difficult process of facing biases and conflicts of belief; 4. Consider teaching evolution as a case study in the nature of science; and 5. Don’t push religious students who may not have the emotional maturity to deal with the conflicts between their religious beliefs and their science learning.

David F Jackson recounts his personal experiences as a teacher educator who moved from the liberal northeastern US to more conservative Georgia where many, if not most, of his students are practicing Christians. Jackson discusses the overlap and conflict that science teachers feel within "the personal and the professional" aspects of themselves. His approach to mediate controversy within the classroom is to be sympathetic to students’ beliefs but maintain scientific integrity. Additionally, he encourages science teachers who are Christian to give voice to their own life experiences, exposing and exploring the personal and professional selves.

Co-editor Leslie S Jones presents a personal reflection on the impact of the evolution/creationism controversy in her college biology courses. Jones shares how she came to a deeper understanding of the conflict by learning about students whose creationist backgrounds have taught them to distrust science. By having personal conversations with her students, she was able to gain trust and open the door to learning evolution. Jones's essay shows how important it is for teachers to make a distinction between belief and understanding, especially when teaching topics that potentially challenge students' beliefs.

In the concluding chapter, "Teaching about origins in science: Where now?", coeditor Michael Reiss synthesizes the first twelve chapters and identifies three themes that ran through many of the essays — teaching the nature of knowledge, teaching about controversial topics, and consideration for the personal significance of the controversy. Reiss offers insights into the relationship between controversy and uncertainty, explaining that naïve students assume that evolution is uncertain because of its association with controversy. By teaching about the relationship between science and religion, educators can inform students about the controversy without unnecessarily introducing a conflict between science and religion.

The controversy surrounding science and religion (and evolution and creationism) is a resilient social and political conflict. The many perspectives involved in this controversy make the arguments complex, highly emotional, and often deeply personal to individuals, regardless of their position on the controversy. Teachers, as intermediaries between science and the public, have a responsibility to develop their own understanding of the controversy's complexity. Well-informed teachers realize that absolutist notions of "right" and "wrong" are blurred by the chance to engage in dialog. This approach to teaching about evolution is a marked shift from more dogmatist approaches to teaching science in areas where belief and truth claims may come into conflict. Although a dogmatic approach to teaching science is not scientifically inaccurate, the approach could be insensitive to students' beliefs.

While Teaching about Scientific Origins may not be appropriate for use in a K–12 science classroom and does not offer any narrow, prescriptive directives for teaching evolution, the text provides valuable insights into the science–religion controversy, examining its complexity from a variety of educational vantage points. I think that diverse perspectives, such as those presented in this book, lubricate conversations, opening up safer spaces for us to discuss the otherwise hidden conflicts that educators and students experience with regard to creationism and origins.

References

[AAAS] American Association for the Advancement of Science. 1990. Science for All Americans. New York: Oxford University Press.

[AAAS] American Association for the Advancement of Science. 1993. Benchmarks for Science Literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Guba EG, Lincoln YS. 2005. Paradigmatic controversies, contradictions, and emerging confluences. In: Denzin NK, Lincoln YS, editors. The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks (CA): Sage Publications. p 191–215.

National Research Council. 1996. National Science Education Standards. Washington (DC): National Academy Press.

About the Author(s): 

Kimberly Bilica
Department of Interdisciplinary Studies
and Curriculum & Instruction
University of Texas at San Antonio
One UTSA Circle
Main Building 2.228
San Antonio TX 78249

Kimberly Bilica is Assistant Professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Review: Creation and Evolution: A Conference with Pope Benedict XVI

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Year: 
2008
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
25–27
Reviewer: 
Daryl P Domning
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Creation and Evolution: A Conference with Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo
Author(s): 
compiled by Stephan Otto Horn and Siegfried Wiedenhofer
San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008. 210 pages.
Awaited with curiosity since initial news reports of this meeting, this book proves doubly disappointing. It is regrettable that top Catholic leaders seem drawn toward "intelligent design" (ID); but it is disturbing that they seem not even aware of relevant and better thinking within their own church.

As a former theology professor, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) has for the last thirty years met annually with his former students to discuss current theology and philosophy. This book, on the timely topic of evolution, documents for the first time the discussions of such a session, the one held September 1–3, 2006. It was first published in German as Schöpfung und Evolution (Augsburg: Sankt Ulrich Verlag, 2007), as noted in RNCSE 2006 Nov/Dec; 26 (6): 8.

This well-produced hardback English edition (from a right-wing Catholic publisher) merits attention not only for showcasing the views of the present pope, but even more those of Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who made a stir with an essay favorable to ID in The New York Times (2005 Jul 7). Schönborn seems to have dominated the 2006 discussion, and his opinions, more outspoken than the Pope's own, may reveal more about the thinking in Vatican inner circles.

The book comprises a foreword by Schönborn, papers read by four participants (including Schönborn), an edited and augmented transcript of the ensuing discussion, and an appended essay by theologian Siegfried Wiedenhofer, plus biographical and bibliographical notes. Its philosophical arguments are not always easy to follow, but deserve close attention because they constitute a version of ID now deeply entrenched at the top of one of the world's most influential organizations.

About 70% of Schönborn's foreword consists of quotes from earlier writings on evolution by Ratzinger, the Catholic Church's longtime monitor of orthodoxy. This anthology of the Pope's views is welcome, especially since he contributed relatively little to the discussion recorded later in the book. As quoted by Schönborn, he expresses himself in moderate, nuanced, even progressive-sounding terms, apparently embracing a mainstream view of theistic evolution, and rejecting philosophical materialism that erroneously claims to be the only view compatible with science: "The theory of evolution does not invalidate the faith, nor does it corroborate it" (p 16). Ratzinger's quarrel is only with evolutionism as a materialistic worldview and universal explanation of reality.

Or so it seems at first glance. But he also reveals in passing a doubt about macroevolution (p 19), and then adopts the conventional false dichotomy between the world as a "meaningless" product of "chance and necessity" and as the product of "the creative power of [divine] reason" (p 20). As becomes clearer later on, he and his friends have not taken into account the insight of contemporary Christian "evolutionary theology" (see Domning 2002a, 2002b) that divine reason can employ that very "chance and necessity" (such as Darwinian selection) in order to create.

The first and longest formal paper, by chemist and Austrian Academy of Sciences president Peter Schuster, is an able and uncompromising exposition of "the state of the art in the theory of evolution." Schuster stoutly defends the efficacy of Darwinian processes. He reviews with clear diagrams the basics of molecular genetics; explains the phenomenon of self-organization as illustrated by cellular automata; and details the most important steps in macroevolution, citing Maynard Smith and Szathmáry (1995), whom Ratzinger had earlier misinterpreted. He emphasizes the "tinkering" aspect of evolution, and the important role of gene duplication. He concludes that evolution "goes on according to natural laws and needs no external intervention. Furthermore, the natural scientist at present is making not one single observation that could be explained compellingly only by the interference of a supernatural being, nor is one necessary for the extrapolation of our present knowledge to the interpretation of events in the past" (p 58). Only in regard to the narrow range of cosmological constants and planetary environments that is permissive of life does Schuster concede that there might "be room for a bridge ... between theology and natural science" (p 59). This sophisticated briefing paper could have fruitfully served as the basis for the whole discussion; too often it met instead with skepticism and incomprehension.

Next, philosopher Robert Spaemann argues that integration of the natural sciences with the humanities is still premature, but that only the idea of creation unifies these two worldviews — science and our human self-understanding. That is, the same divine will accounts for both evolution and evolution's producing an intelligent being who acknowledges his Creator. Science can explain in Darwinian terms how humans and other species have evolved, but this does not exclude a separate explanation for the true, the good, and the beautiful.

The third essay is by Paul Erbrich, a Jesuit priest and professor emeritus of natural philosophy. Like the others, he concedes the fact of evolution and the efficacy of "Darwin's mechanism of chance and natural selection" (p 71; emphasis in original) as a "mechanism of optimization"; but with the reservation that this "presupposes something to be optimized": namely, "an innovation that must have come about in some other way" (p 72). For Erbrich, "evolution as a whole is goal-oriented .... For phylogenesis is an orthogenesis, a development toward a higher level ... an ever greater emancipation from the constraints of the environment, certainly not for every species of living thing, but for the front-runners in the evolutionary crowd" (p 74). He cites the emancipation of amphibians and reptiles from water, amniotes' evolution of climbing and flight, adaptation to cold climates, and human intelligence. These advances he credits to true teleology, "purposefulness in the living things that are ... selected", which makes competition possible — not a mere teleonomy or mechanical simulation of goal-seeking (p 72–3). Because "if there is purposefulness, then there is no more compulsion [for scientists] to keep appealing to chance" (p 76).

Erbrich infers a "leap" (from inorganic to organic) that he thinks evolutionists try to gloss over with the idea of self-organization. He doubts that "[a] really original totality could ... come into being through composition": for example, fusion of egg and sperm "would not be the origin and first cause of a living thing," but only a prerequisite for "a new foundation in a radical sense," that is, a creation of God (p 83). Evolutionary theology would allow instead that "composition" is simply a way that creatures participate in God's creative act — no longer a shocking notion to many Christians, but one not easily grasped by this traditionalist strain of philosophy.

In his own essay, Schönborn takes up the same theme, with quotes from Isaac Newton attacking Cartesian materialism and deism and arguing for God's active governance of the world as inferred from "the appearances of things." For Schönborn, Newton's arguments contain in a nutshell "the essential questions that are still at issue today ... between science, reason, and faith" — particularly in Schönborn's New York Times article (p 86). Unfortunately, he disregards the post-Newtonian answers to these questions; so what follows lags disappointingly behind where today's discussion ought to be.

Schönborn sets out "to release Darwin from Darwinism, free him from the ideological fetters" of a materialist worldview (p 90), which he says can only be done on the level of metaphysics. He explicitly disavows the "creationist" position, which is "based on an understanding of the Bible that the Catholic Church does not share" (p 91). "The possibility that the Creator also makes use of the instrument of evolution is admissible for the Catholic faith." He rejects Gould's "non-overlapping magisteria," insisting there must be "intersections" between theology and science, though "not every variation on the theory of evolution is consistent with faith in creation" (p 92). So far, so good: his objection is to atheistic evolutionism à la Dawkins, and I would agree.

But then he quotes with approval the view that origin of life from "blind matter ... is incompatible with the Christian doctrine of creation," and argues that the strictly methodological materialism of science "cannot do justice to the whole of reality" because, as an intellectual act, it "presupposes reason, will, and freedom" (p 93). Of course, a methodological (rather than a philosophical) materialist would not claim that science can address the whole of reality. But in asserting that intellectual acts "cannot be the effect of forces that are of a purely material sort" (p 94–5), the cardinal reveals how deeply his thought, like much Christian philosophy, is tainted by the Gnostic heresy — which denies that anything good, let alone spiritual, can come from mere matter.

Schönborn affirms that there is "purpose" throughout nature, but at the cost of denying any real independence of internal natural laws (which are really the workings of an externally imposed divine design). He sees Aristotelian "substantial forms" as the underlying reality of things (for example, species), and strongly hints that it is the business of science today, as in Newton's time, "to read God's traces in creation" (p 100–2). These views are needlessly at odds with today's understanding of evolution and science in general.

Schönborn has plainly learned his biology from creationist sources. He parrots the canards that "the 'missing links' ... simply do not exist"; reptiles could not have been rebuilt into birds by "innumerable small mutations"; "survival of the fittest" is problematic because survival is often a matter of luck; and therefore acceptance of evolution must be dictated by ideology (p 103). Only because he has no good explanation of suffering, and wants to spare God the blame for it, does he concede that "we should not be over-hasty about trying to point out 'intelligent design' everywhere" (p 105). But his commitment to a version of ID is clear.

The ensuing discussion consists largely of Schuster's answering objections to his account of biology, and rebutting views such as those of Erbrich about "leaps" and "goal-oriented activity" (p 144–52). One response by him is an apt summation: "people look for gaps in the science so as to hide in them subjective things that are inaccessible to natural science" (p 131).

When the Pope finally joins the discussion, he betrays a surprisingly weak grasp of how science works: "to a great extent the theory of evolution cannot be proved experimentally"; it "is still not a complete, scientifically verified theory" (p 162). Yet he also acknowledges that disorder and "the terrible element in nature" (for which he admits he has no philosophical solution) are problems for the notion of design (p 173). He gives the impression of being slightly less committed to the ID critique than Schönborn, and more open to modern theistic evolution if properly presented; or he may just be more guarded in his speech.

These critics of Darwin simply repeat the philosophy they were taught: a textbook of their time (Phillips 1948, ch 18) embodies the views and even the polemical tone adopted by Schönborn. Strikingly, they consider only the polar alternatives of materialism and divine intervention (today's ID) — altogether ignoring noninterventionist theistic evolution with its concept of a truly autonomous, "purposeless" creation that nonetheless accomplishes the purposes of its Creator. This is an idea that, in these minds trained in Scholastic philosophy, simply does not compute.

No new ground was broken at Castel Gandolfo. Ratzinger, Schönborn, and the other exponents of the Church's traditional philosophy are the rear guard, not the vanguard, of Catholic evolutionary thinking. Among these prelates and their conservative followers, the ancient Aristotelian/ Scholastic notion of unchanging "essences" of things is still in vogue, and almost precludes a grasp of the evolutionary paradigm. The term "emergent properties" appears nowhere in this book, nor do contemporary Catholic evolutionary theologians such as John Haught and Denis Edwards (see Domning 2002a). Seemingly unaware of other forms of theistic evolution, the Pope's associates are pushed toward ID because the pro-evolution side is dominated by atheists like Richard Dawkins. This is understandable, but tragic, because theologians in their own church offer better solutions to these problems than the ones they learned in school, or borrow from the relatively alien ID movement.

References

Domning DP. 2002a. Evolutionary theology comes of age. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 21 (3–4): 34–7.

Domning DP. 2002b. Doing Without Adam and Eve: Sociobiology and Original Sin by Patricia A Williams [review]. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 22 (4): 31–2.

Maynard Smith J, Szathmáry E. 1995. The Major Transitions in Evolution. Oxford: WH Freeman, 1995.

Phillips RP. 1948. Modern Thomistic Philosophy: An Explanation for Students. Vol. I. The Philosophy of Nature. Westminster (MD): Newman Press.

About the Author(s): 
Daryl P Domning
Department of Anatomy
Howard University
Washington DC 20059
ddomning@howard.edu

Daryl P Domning is a paleontologist at Howard University specializing in sirenian evolution. His book Original Selfishness: Original Sin and Evil in the Light of Evolution was published by Ashgate in 2006.

Review: The Evolving World

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Year: 
2008
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
27–28
Reviewer: 
Andrew J Petto
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Evolving World: Evolution in Everyday Life
Author(s): 
David P Mindell
Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 2006. 341 pages.
The Evolving World was a book that needed to be written and ought to be read by everyone — but particularly those of us who promote evolution education to the general public. The main message for this audience is that other scientific theories, such as germ theory and heliocentrism, that are now widely — though perhaps not universally — accepted among the general public took much longer to gain acceptance than has evolution — at least so far. This conclusion may be a little skewed, since public access to published information and the variety of media options clearly worked against rapid dissemination of, say, heliocentrism even among members of the research community. Still, the point is well made in several examples: new scientific theories take time to get accepted, and this happens more readily when the new theories connect to issues and concerns that the general public has in everyday life.

The first 190 pages of this book make this point well with a variety of examples, and supporters of evolution education would do well to become familiar with these. They show the direct impact of evolutionary science on things that matter to everyday life: health and disease, food production, conservation, forensics, and more. Mindell argues that the resistance to evolution, when it occurs, happens at the most personal level and often derives from cultural narratives that purport to inform us about the meaning and purpose of life. And this is why it is so important for supporters of evolution education to find how the evolutionary sciences affect the issues that people find most important in life.

The next section of the book deals with other common usages of the word "evolution" in the sciences and in general discourse. This is useful in a way, because it shows that, like the word "theory", the e-word has a number of meanings, and that different people — and even different scholarly disciplines — may favor different ones. Part of the reason for the proliferation of meanings is what Mindell calls the "evolution metaphor" — the idea that Darwin's basic concept of differential success in various biological structures under different environmental conditions could be extended metaphorically to human cultural institutions as well. This section is helpful for making that point, but sometimes it is less clear that the extension of evolutionary ideas into these realms is metaphorical.

There are a few specific inferences that could generate significant disagreement. For example, Mindell suggests that evolutionary science has helped "to free religions of the burden of literalism" (p 245) because the evolutionary metaphor of cultural developments allows us to identify how religions change as a result of changes in human history rather than through divine intervention. However, it is evident that the move away from literalism did not depend on modern science for its engine. Theological traditions that eschew literalism usually do so for theological, not scientific reasons, though it is clear that scientific discoveries do make certain factual claims difficult or impossible to sustain as they are written in Scripture; for example, there are no "waters above the firmament" (which contains the stars and planets) as reported in Genesis 1:7. In contrast, the move of the mainline Christian churches away from strict literalism occurred long before there was any significant evolutionary science, and this view of Scripture was — and remains — a major complaint of reformed denominations. So the extent to which scientific discoveries about the material world affected interpretation and application of tenets of religious traditions — or rather the mutual influence of the intellectual evolution in science and theology, since it is clear that it was not a one-way street — would make a very interesting, and perhaps informative, discussion. However, it is difficult to justify non-literal theology as primarily caused by the application of the evolutionary metaphor.

Aside from such concerns, this is a book that would be very useful to anyone who needs to explain to a member of the general public why evolution matters. It matters because it reaches into many aspects of our everyday lives; and not just in a metaphorical way, but in a tangible way.

About the Author(s): 
Andrew J Petto
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
PO Box 413
Milwaukee WI 53201-0413
ajpetto@uwm.edu

Andrew J Petto is Senior Lecturer in Anatomy and Physiology in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin– Milwaukee. He also serves as RNCSE editor and a member of the NCSE board of directors. He is co-editor with Laurie R Godfrey of Scientists Confront Creationism: Intelligent Design and Beyond (New York: WW Norton, 2008).

Review: Making Sense of Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Year: 
2008
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
28–29
Reviewer: 
Roberta L Millstein
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Making Sense of Evolution: The Conceptual Foundations of Evolutionary Biology
Author(s): 
Massimo Pigliucci and Jonathan Kaplan
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. 300 pages.
Making Sense of Evolution is an ambitious book synthesizing the views of a practicing biologist (Massimo Pigliucci) with those of a practicing philosopher of biology (Jonathan Kaplan). It begins with central concepts in evolution that are referred to throughout the book, and then moves on to such topics as how to measure natural selection, the debate over the units or "levels" of selection, adaptationism, functions, testing adaptive hypotheses in human evolution, and the concept of species.

Readers of Reports of the NCSE may be familiar with Pigliucci's Denying Evolution (2002); however, this book has a very different audience in mind — graduate students and professionals in biology and philosophy of biology. Indeed, laypersons who pick up Making Sense of Evolution based on the title alone are likely to walk away disappointed; it is replete with technical terms from both biology and the philosophy of biology. That being said, the authors do an admirable job in explaining much of the jargon; boxes and diagrams, although occasionally overused (as when they span multiple pages), are extremely helpful in highlighting key points and concepts.

I cannot help but remark that this is exactly the sort of book that creationists exploit, given its stinging criticism of contemporary evolutionary practice. The authors are aware that their words could be taken out of context and misused, but say that they seek to provide a more accurate picture of science as it really is: nuanced and provisional. Although I applaud and agree with this general sentiment — neither philosophers of biology nor biologists should hold back when there are criticisms to be made — in this case the authors are overly critical. Our current evolutionary models and methods are limited in various respects, and Pigliucci and Kaplan are right to point out these limitations. However, they deemphasize the utility of these models and methods. To give one simple example, it is true that some evolutionary models do not work well for making long-term predictions; however, these same models work quite well for short-term predictions. Pigliucci and Kaplan acknowledge this, but suggest that it is long-term predictions that we really care about. Yet that is far from obvious; indeed, it could reasonably be argued that the models of population genetics were intended to apply primarily to short-term predictions, so that the apparent limitation is not really much of a limitation at all. Someone who is not fully conversant with the models and methods in question might get the impression that evolutionary biology is in much worse shape than it actually is, whereas someone who is more familiar with these practices is likely to feel that the full story has not been told.

The picture of contemporary philosophy of biology that emerges is also somewhat misleading. Citations to key sources are spotty, so that a reader who wanted to follow up on the issues would have a difficult time doing so. For example, the view that natural selection is a "force" is introduced without a citation to Elliott Sober, evolution is described as a historical science without citations to Ernst Mayr and Stephen Jay Gould, and underdetermination is discussed without a citation to Pierre Duhem. To anyone who is familiar with the literature, these omissions are almost akin to discussing the development of the theory of natural selection without citing Charles Darwin. More substantively, some of the concepts that are used throughout the book — concepts that are supposed to provide clarification and insight into more complex issues — are unclear and not fully defended. For example, Pigliucci and Kaplan introduce two concepts of fitness, one at the level of individuals and one at the level of ensembles of populations, and, correspondingly, two concepts of natural selection. However, it is unclear why natural selection should not be seen simply as one kind of cause with corresponding effects at the level of ensembles of populations. And again, following the citations will be of little help — in this case, because Pigliucci and Kaplan have misinterpreted the position of the authors credited with developing these concepts, Matthen and Ariew (2002), who hold that natural selection is a statistical summation at the level of populations.

Another central concept, random genetic drift, is similarly ill-treated. We are told that the many biologists who think they are comparing the outcomes of selection and drift are confused, because drift is not a "force," a "cause," or a "process". Yet no argument is given; the authors simply take one definition of drift ("a name we give to certain outcomes that are at a particular place in the statistical distribution of likely outcomes") and point out that on this definition, it makes no sense to talk of drift as a process. But that definition ignores the fact that biologists identify "drift" with a number of biological processes — most commonly, the "random" (or more accurately, "indiscriminate") sampling of gametes in the process of fertilization; in such cases, heritable differences between gametes are causally irrelevant to which gametes are successfully joined (see Beatty 1984 and Millstein 2002, which are cited but not discussed). On this alternative definition, one need not reach the conclusion that generations of biologists are simply confused about what it is that they are doing.

Even though at times I found this book to be a frustrating read — for example, we are supposed to think that it makes no sense to talk of developmental constraints simply because development makes selection possible (as though that which enables cannot simultaneously constrain) — I do think that there is some value in it. In particular, I applaud the authors' joint venture — certainly there is much to gain from collaborations between biologists and philosophers of biology — and their overall theme emphasizing the need for models and methods that reveal the causal processes underlying statistical patterns. We can be so dazzled by our statistical methods that we forget their limitations, and if representing nature is a goal of our science, retooling our models and methods to uncover the causes at work will help us achieve that goal. Nonetheless, conceptual and methodological clarity will have to wait for another day. But then again, this just means that evolutionary biology and its philosophical analysis are ongoing rather than static; this should be no surprise to anyone who is familiar with the true nature of science.

Acknowledgments

I thank Ayelet Shavit and Vadim Keyser for reading this book with me. My understanding of the issues at stake is very much in debt to their helpful comments and insights.

References

Beatty J. 1984. Chance and natural selection. Philosophy of Science 51: 183–211.

Matthen M, Ariew A. 2002. Two ways of thinking about fitness and natural selection. The Journal of Philosophy 99: 55–83.

Millstein RL. 2002. Are random drift and natural selection conceptually distinct? Biology and Philosophy 17 (1): 33–53.

Pigliucci M. 2002. Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates.

About the Author(s): 
Roberta L Millstein
Department of Philosophy
University of California, Davis
One Shields Ave
Davis CA 95616
RLMillstein@UCDavis.edu

Roberta L Millstein is an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of California, Davis. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in the history and philosophy of biology and the philosophy of science (including the "debates" over creationism wherever she can) and publishes in journals such as Philosophy of Science and Biology and Philosophy.

RNCSE 28 (4)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2008
Date: 
July–August
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 28 (4)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2008
Date: 
July-August
Page(s): 
2

NEWS

  1. Louisiana Enacts a New Creationist Law
    Joshua Rosenau
    A perspective on the history of and major players behind the so-called Louisiana Academic Freedom Act.
  2. MnCSE Honors Ken Hubert
    Randy Moore
    A state organization supporting science education honors a teacher who stepped up to oppose creationism in the public school classroom.
  3. Polling Creationism in Canada
    As in the US, about half of respondents seem committed to an evolutionary explanation of life on earth, but there are significant differences compared to polls taken south of the border.
  4. Updates
    News from Arizona, California, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota, and Texas.

NCSE NEWS

  1. News from the Membership
    What our members are doing to support evolution and oppose pseudoscience wherever the need arises.

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. Ask About Evolution Before Election Day
    Stan Braude
    From local school boards to federal nominees, positions on science, and particularly evolution, should be a part of the public record. Too often, concerned citizens simply neglect to ask the candidates.
  2. Books: The Evolutionary Reference Desk
    Where to go for comprehensive resources on evolution and anti-evolutionism.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

ARTICLES

  1. From the World-Wide Flood to the World Wide Web: Creationism in the Digital Age
    Stephen C Burnett
    When people want to learn about evolution, the first stop is often a search engine that identifies websites with appropriate information. While the situation has improved somewhat, these searches often return creationist sites when a user searched for information about evolution.

FEATURES

  1. Evolution in the Sunshine State:The Fight over Evolution in the State Science Education Standards
    Brandon Haught
    Before final approval, the Florida State Board of Education inserted the phrase "scientific theory of" before the word "evolution" in its science education standards. Evolution is now a part of the Sunshine Standards, but it was not without a struggle.
  2. Calvin Meets the Hominins: A Brief History of Creationism in South Africa
    LW Retief
    Although it shares conservative theological roots with its North American counterpart, creationism in South Africa is also flavored by colonial history and political movements.

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design by Thomas Woodward
    Reviewed by Jason Rosenhouse
  2. Secularism & Science in the 21st Century edited by Ariel Keysar and Barry A Kosmin
    Reviewed by Lawrence S Lerner
  3. Beyond the Firmament: Understanding Science and the Theology of Creation by Gordon J Glover
    Reviewed by Stephen Matheson
  4. Intelligent Design Versus Evolution edited by Louise Gerdes
    Reviewed by Michael K O'Sullivan

Louisiana Enacts a New Creationist Law

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Louisiana Enacts a New Creationist Law
Author(s): 
Joshua Rosenau
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2008
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
4–10
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Anti-evolution legislation flourished this year, inspired by a creationist movie featuring Ben Stein. While the bills failed in most states, the effort in Louisiana succeeded based on years of effort by local creationists. They had been laying the groundwork for a major legislative assault since Edwards v Aguillard overturned the state's Balanced Treatment Act in 1987. They regrouped, organized, and enacted a bill that invites, but does not force, teachers and school districts to breach the constitutional separation of church and state.

Senate Bill 561, styled the "Louisiana Academic Freedom Act," was prefiled in the Louisiana Senate by state senator Ben Nevers (D–Bogalusa) on March 21, 2008, and assigned to the Senate Education Committee, of which Nevers is the chair. In name, the bill was similar to the so-called academic freedom bills then pending in Florida and other states. Those bills in turn are based on a string of similar bills in Alabama as well as on a model bill that the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, the institutional home of "intelligent design" creationism, recently began to promote in conjunction with the producers of Ben Stein's Expelled (to be discussed extensively in a future issue of RNCSE). But in its content, Louisiana's SB 561 was also modeled on a controversial policy adopted by a local school board two years ago.

Backed by the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF) — a religious right group with a long history of promoting creationism and attacking evolution education in the state — the Ouachita Parish School Board's policy was laced with creationist language. The policy, passed in 2006, declares that students should understand "the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught";"biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning" are the only topics specifically mentioned (see RNCSE 2006 Nov/Dec 26 [6]: 8–11).

LFF has a long history of promoting creationism and attacking evolution education in the state; its website "promotes 'Teaching the Controversy' when it comes to matters such as biologicial [sic] evolution". It recommends a variety of young-earth and "intelligent design" websites, including the Institute for Creation Research, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, and Kent Hovind's Creation Science Evangelism, on its own website (http://www.lafamilyforum.org/site100-01/1001014/docs/4-1originssciencewebsites.pdf). Of particular concern, LFF distributes "textbook addenda" which they hope teachers and students will use to correct purported errors in standard scientific textbooks. The "addenda" cite the flood geology of young earth creationist Jonathan Woodmorappe and even the writings of geocentrist Malcolm Bowden. The LFF was also the object of an aborted earmark by Senator David Vitter (RLouisiana) for studying various suggesting "improvements" in science education in Louisiana (see RNCSE 2007 Sep–Dec; 27 [5–6]: 9–12).

THE ORIGIN OF THE LOUISIANA BILL

The central language in the Ouachita Parish School Board's policy surfaced in SB 561. The bill extended permission to Louisiana's teachers to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught." The bill added directives aimed at state and local education administrators, instructing them "to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, to help students develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues" and "assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies." (See a detailed account of the bill's origin and political history in RNCSE 2008 Mar/Apr; 28 [2]: 8–11.) Despite attempts to conceal its intentions by inserting a disclaimer borrowed from model legislation distributed by the Discovery Institute — the bill "shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion" — it is difficult to reconcile these assurances with LFF's stated mission: "to persuasively present biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family through research, communication and networking." The Reverend Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, cited LFF's involvement when confidently telling the Baton Rouge Advocate (2008 Apr 1), "This is all about God in biology class," a contention bolstered by bill sponsor Nevers's admission to the paper that he introduced the bill at the behest of the LFF. While denying that the bill would pave the way for creationism to be taught in the state's public schools, Nevers said, "I believe that students should be exposed to both sides of scientific data and allow them to make their own decisions," adding, "I think the bill perfectly explains that it deals with any scientific subject matter which is taught in our public school system," even though the bill singles out evolution, the origin of life, global warming, and human cloning for special attention.

Despite advice from a broad spectrum of opponents, the Senate Education Committee stripped out only a little of the bill's objectionable language in a hearing on April 17, 2008. Senator Nevers, according to the Advocate (2008 Apr 18), "denied that his proposal was a bid to promote creationism," saying, "This bill does not promote religion or ask to introduce religion in any classroom" — a protestation he, LFF, and the Discovery Institute repeated often and unconvincingly throughout the legislative process.

In order to mollify its opponents, the bill was amended to remove instructions that "students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught" along with the list of scientific topics to be critiqued. The bill was also renamed the Louisiana Science Education Act and renumbered SB 733. The bill now required the state's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) merely to "allow and assist"teachers and administrators to "create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied." BESE was charged with providing "support and guidance for teachers regarding effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review [the] scientific theories being studied." The bill's emphasis now lay in a provision encouraging teachers to use "supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the city, parish, or other local public school board."

Speaking to the Advocate (2008 Apr 20), the LFF's executive director expressed disappointment at the revisions to the bill, describing his support of it as now only lukewarm, even though Nevers assured the paper that the amendments "did not change the intent of the bill." Barbara Forrest, the co-author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, a member of NCSE's board of directors, and a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, remained concerned. "The bill itself is still a very problematic bill, a stealth creationism bill," she explained. "The strategy now is to sanitize the terminology, which is what they did with the original bill and which they are doing now."

The Advocate (2008 Apr 19) editorially acknowledged that "it seems clear that the supporters of this legislation are seeking a way to get creationism ... into science classrooms," but, "[a]t this point, the wording of the bill seems more symbol than substance. But its implication — that real science is somehow being stifled in Louisiana's classrooms — does not seem grounded in actual fact."

THE BILL PASSES

Shortly after the Senate bill cleared its committee in amended form, a bill containing the original Senate text was introduced in the House. House Bill 1168 was introduced in the Louisiana House of Representatives on April 21, 2008, and dubbed by its sponsor the "Louisiana Academic Freedom Act." That sponsor, Frank A Hoffman (R-District 15), had been the assistant superintendent of the Ouachita Parish School System when it passed the district's controversial policy.

While HB 1168 awaited its committee hearing, SB 733 was unanimously passed by the Louisiana Senate on April 28, 2008. The full Senate restored the list of supposedly controversial topics before sending the bill to the House. The move appeased the LFF, and sponsor Nevers told the Associated Press (2008 Apr 29) that he restored the list because without it the bill was too vague. Speaking earlier to the Hammond Daily Star (2008 Apr 6), Nevers was anything but vague about the bill, in effect acknowledging that its intent is to ensure that "scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin's theory."

After the bill passed the Senate, Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, wrote to the New Orleans Times-Picayune (2008 May 6), observing, "proponents offer deceptive arguments about encouraging students to think critically. But Louisiana's education standards already do that. The real intent is to introduce classroom materials that raise misleading objections to the well-documented science of evolution and offer a religious idea called intelligent design as a supposed alternative."

On May 21, 2008, the House Education Committee took up the issue. It set aside the House's version of the bill, and passed SB 733 unanimously, in slightly amended form. The Associated Press reported (2008 May 21) that, over the course of a hearing that lasted close to three hours, "[s]cience teachers called Senate Bill 733 a veiled attempt to add religion to science classes." Critics pointed out that the bill's stated goals are already covered by policies set by the state's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Tammy Wood, a science teacher from the Zachary, Louisiana, school district, told the committee:"There is absolutely no need for this bill," and added, according to the Advocate (2008 May 21), "I am begging you here today to kill this bill."

Opponents cited the presence and testimony of out-of-state "intelligent design" advocates Caroline Crocker, CEO of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center and Discovery Institute staffer Casey Luskin as evidence that the bill would open classrooms to creationism. Committee chairman Don Trahan (R–Lafayette) responded by proposing an amendment allowing BESE to forbid certain supplementary materials. Barbara Forrest told the committee that even the amended version was too broadly written. "Anything could get into the classroom," the Associated Press reported her telling the committee.

The bill, with Trahan's amendment in place, proceeded to the House floor. Then, as the Advocate (2008 Jun 12) explained, "[i]gnoring threats of a lawsuit, the Louisiana House" passed the bill, which "failed to generate a single question, passed 94–3 and appears poised for final approval."

"If this new law is used to promote religion in Louisiana public schools, I can guarantee there will be legal action," said Barry Lynn in a press release from Americans United (2008 Jun 12). Reminding legislators that the US Supreme Court overturned a Louisiana law requiring that evolution be balanced by creationism, Lynn added: "Louisiana students deserve better, and Louisiana taxpayers should not have their money squandered on this losing effort."

In an interview with the Christian Post (2008 Jun 12), John West, a vice president at the Discovery Institute, responded, "The proposed Louisiana law expressly states ... that it 'shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.'" In an interview with the Washington Times (2008 Jun 12), Jason Stern, LFF's vice president, insisted "It's not about a certain viewpoint. It's allowing [teachers] to teach the controversy."

Louisiana Coalition for Science, a grassroots group recently founded to advocate for accurate science education, decried the vote in a press release (2008 Jun 11). Barbara Forrest, who helped establish the group, compared the legislative fight to the tactics used to pass the Balanced Treatment Act: "The Discovery Institute, a national creationist organization, and the Louisiana Family Forum are using the same old tricks, but with new labels. ... Despite their denials, even the bill's backers know that SB 733 is a creationist bill written in creationist code language." She thanked Patricia Haynes Smith, Jean-Paul Morrell, and Karen Carter Peterson, the three representatives who opposed the bill, and closed on an optimistic note: "Now that the House has passed the bill, the Senate has one more chance to do the right thing. The entire country is watching. They should reject this bill and let teachers do their jobs."

Given the bill's unanimous Senate passage, the only sticking point would have been the amendment allowing BESE to veto certain books. The Associated Press reported (2008 Jun 12), "Nevers said he will ask the Senate to approve the amendment. He stressed that the amendment does not require BESE to review all the materials. The state board would only step in if someone raised a question about whether the material was appropriate." In the remaining two weeks of the session, legislators were also struggling with controversial issues, including the next year's budget, a voucher proposal for New Orleans public schools, and an unpopular legislative pay raise.

ON THE GOVERNOR'S DESK

Even before the bill passed the Senate, there had been questions about how Governor Jindal would respond. The Washington Times reported (2008 Jun 12), "A spokeswoman for Republican Gov Bobby Jindal would not say whether he will sign the bill, saying only that he will review it when it gets to his desk." Given that Jindal supported teaching "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution during his campaign, a veto was seen as a long shot.

His remarks in an appearance on CBS's Face the Nation on June 15, 2008, did not clarify matters. Host Chris Reid asked Jindal about his views on "intelligent design". In response, Jindal opposed using state power to impose creationism, but also endorsed the basic creationist framing of the issue: "I do not think this is something the federal or state government should be imposing its views on local school districts. ... I think local school boards should be in a position of deciding ... what students should be learning. ... Some want only to teach 'intelligent design', some only want to teach evolution. I think both views are wrong, as a parent." The Center for American Progress reacted to Jindal's statements by noting (2008 Jun 16) that Jindal's position "effectively giv[es] school boards carte blanche to teach scientifically inaccurate ideas, just like Kansas did in 2005, when it rewrote standards to cast doubt on evolution."

On June 16, 2008, the Louisiana Senate approved the bill as amended by the House of Representatives; this sent the bill to the governor, and bill opponents to the barricades. Will Sentell of the Advocate reported (2008 Jun 17) that those "[o]pponents [were] mostly outside the State Capitol," since "the Senate voted 36–0 without debate to go along with the same version of the proposal that the House passed ... 94–3."

Opponents spoke forcefully against the bill; Jindal had twenty days to veto the bill or it would automatically become law, just as if he had signed it. Barry Lynn of Americans United told Sentell that the bill "is clearly designed to smuggle religion into the science classroom, and that's unwise and unconstitutional." In an open letter to Governor Jindal posted on its website (see sidebar 1), LCFS urged Jindal to veto the bill, calling it "a thinly disguised attempt to advance the 'Wedge Strategy' of the Discovery Institute (DI), a creationist think tank that is collaborating with the LA Family Forum to get 'intelligent design' (ID) creationism into LA public school science classes" (http://lasciencecoalition.org/2008/06/17/jindal-veto-sb-733).

One of Jindal's college professors lent his voice to a press release announcing the LCFS's open letter. Arthur Landy taught Jindal genetics at Brown University. He reminded Jindal, "Without evolution, modern biology, including medicine and biotechnology, would not make sense. In order for today's students in Louisiana to succeed in college and beyond, in order for them to take the fullest advantages of all that the 21st century will offer, they need a solid grounding in genetics and evolution. Governor Jindal was a good student in my class when he was thinking about becoming a doctor, and I hope he does not do anything that would hold back the next generation of Louisiana's doctors." Barbara Forrest added," The governor has a moral responsibility to Louisiana children to veto this bill."

Others calling for Jindal to veto cited his training in biology. The New York Times, in a June 21, 2008, editorial, added that the bill "would have the pernicious effect of implying that evolution is only weakly supported and that there are valid competing scientific theories when there are not. In school districts foolish enough to head down this path, the students will likely emerge with a shakier understanding of science," and concluded, "If Mr Jindal has the interests of students at heart, the sensible thing is to veto this Trojan horse legislation."

The AAAS repeated its opposition to the bill in a letter dated June 20, 2008 (see sidebar 2). "The bill disingenously implies that particular theories, including evolution, are controversial among scientists," wrote AAAS's chief executive officer, Alan I Leshner. "Asserting that there are controversies about these concepts among scientists — when in fact there are not — will only confuse students, not enlighten them," he added. "I urge you to protect the future of science education in your state by rejecting this bill." A coalition of nine scientific societies led by the American Institute for Biological Sciences pointed out the added danger that "[i]f SB 733 is signed into law, Louisiana will undoubtedly be thrust into the national spotlight as a state that pursues politics over science and education."

Political conservatives joined the call. John Derbyshire wrote an essay at National Review Online, calling on Jindal to "Veto This Bill!" Like many observers, Derbyshire worried that "The entire effect of this law ... will be that one cartload of Louisiana taxpayers' money will go to the Discovery Institute for their mendacious 'textbooks', then another cartload will go into the pockets of lawyers to defend the inevitable challenge to the law in federal courts, which will inevitably be successful, as they always are, and should be." This echoed earlier complaints by the Advocate's editorial board, which wrote (2008 May 21) that the bill will "provide a full-time living for dozens of lawyers in the American Civil Liberties Union. They will have a field day suing taxpayerfunded schools as groups use Nevers' language to push Biblebased texts in the schools. That's unconstitutional, and we can see the taxpayer paying — and paying, and paying — for this policy in the future."

THE BILL BECOMES LAW

That concern was widely echoed when it was revealed that Jindal had signed the bill on June 25. Jindal's approval of the bill was buried in a press release announcing 75 bills he signed in previous days. Bill Barrow of the Times-Picayune broke the story on June 27, 2008, observing that the bill "attracted national attention and strongly worded advice" for Jindal. Jindal did not return media calls for comment.

"The possibility of the introduction of 'wacko' theories of the origins of life worries Carencro High School science teacher Warren Sensat," reported the Lafayette Daily Advertiser (2008 Jun 26). Sensat told the newspaper, "When you open the door to bring in unapproved curriculum, you can bring in some wacko stuff." Other teachers were less worried. Tim Tate, a science curriculum supervisor for the Lafayette Parish schools told the Advertiser that "he's not worried about teachers using inappropriate materials. He expects teachers to only focus on the state curriculum, but acknowledges that different ideas will always be brought into the classroom." Speaking to WWL-TV (2008 Jun 24), Louisiana ACLU Executive Director Marjorie Esman was less sanguine. "I think there's a lot of room for things to get sneaked into the classrooms that should not be there," she said.

Science education advocates are ready for action. "We're known for suing school boards when we need to do so and we will not shy away from doing that if that's what we need to do this case," the ACLU's Esman told WWL-TV (2008 Jun 24). Barry Lynn of Americans United took a firm stance in a press release (2008 Jun 27): "Let me state clearly and up front that any attempts to use this law to sneak religion into public schools through the back door will not be tolerated. ... I call on all concerned residents of Louisiana to help us make sure that public schools educate, not indoctrinate."

Discovery Institute vice president John West insisted that the bill would not be used for such purposes. West told the Times-Picayune, "Someone who uses materials to inject religion into the classroom is not only violating the Constitution, they are violating the bill." But when the LFF's Gene Mills was asked by New Scientist's Amanda Gefter (2008 Jul 9) "whether the new law fits with the organisation's religious agenda," he answered: "Certainly it's an extension of it." Gefter predicted that the new law's proponents are preparing to take advantage of its advocacy of supplementary textbooks: "The LFF is now promoting the use of online 'add-ons' that put a creationist spin on the contents of various science texts in use across the state, and the Discovery Institute has recently produced Explore Evolution, a glossy text that offers the standard ID critiques of evolution."

The LCFS website thanked its fellow defenders of the integrity of science education "in keeping with our southern tradition of good manners," but promised, "We intend to hold [supporters of the bill] to [their] public assertions that no creationist materials will be used in our children's science classes and that no religious concepts will be presented to our children as science" (http://lasciencecoalition.org/2008/06/27/thank-you-from-lcfs). LCFS also urged parents and students to keep an eye out on the materials being introduced in classrooms, asking them to contact LCFS and NCSE if their schools are introducing creationism. Like LCFS, NCSE is watching Louisiana, and we both intend to hold the bill's proponents to their public assertions that no creationist materials will be used in science classes and that no religious concepts will be presented to children as science.

Sidebar 1

LOUISIANA CITIZENS FOR SCIENCE OPEN LETTER TO GOVERNOR JINDAL

June 16, 2008

Dear Governor Jindal:

SB 733, recently passed by both houses of the legislature, purports to enable teachers to help students "develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues."This is a seemingly noble-sounding but deceptive goal.

SB 733 is a thinly disguised attempt to advance the "Wedge Strategy" of the Discovery Institute (DI), a creationist think tank that is collaborating with the LA Family Forum to get intelligent design (ID) creationism into LA public school science classes. John West, associate director of DI's Center for Science and Culture, has even presumed to interpret SB 733 on DI's website so as to favor his group's agenda.... According to one Louisiana news account, West indicated that DI hopes to see its own creationist textbook, the deceptively titled Explore Evolution, used in our science classes as one of the supplements that SB 733 will permit teachers to use (Opelousas Daily World, 6/16/08). DI apparently has a financial as well as a religious and political interest in this legislation.

Creationism,which includes both young-earth creationism and ID, is not science but a sectarian view based on the Bible.Young-earth creationism is based on Genesis, and ID is based on the Gospel of John, as was established in federal court in the case of Kitzmiller et al v Dover Area School District (2005). The Bible was never intended to be a science textbook. Evolution has long been accepted by the Catholic Church and most other mainstream churches. The late Pope John Paul II said in 1996 that "new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis" (Truth Cannot Contradict Truth, October 22, 1996). As the pope recognized and other mainstream religions also recognize, there is no conflict between teaching children the scientific fact of evolution in school and providing religious instruction at home and in church. Millions of Americans lead committed religious lives while fully accepting modern science.

Since you hold a biology degree from Brown University, one of the nation's most prestigious schools, you certainly appreciate Theodosius Dobzhansky's famous insight, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." You also surely understand that there is no scientific controversy over the fact of evolution. The current controversy is a political one, manufactured nationally by the Discovery Institute and here in Louisiana by the LA Family Forum, which does not represent the majority of Louisiana's citizens but would impose its agenda on our entire state, even our children.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution is violated when the government endorses a sectarian doctrine, as SB 733 would do, despite denials by the bill's supporters. The section of SB 733 stipulating that the bill "shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion" actually comes from the DI's own model academic freedom act. If SB 733 were truly about teaching science, no such disclaimer would be needed.

If SB 733 becomes law, we can anticipate the embarrassment it will bring to the state, not to mention the prospect of spending millions of taxpayer dollars defending the inevitable federal court challenge. Consider also that federal courts have uniformly invalidated every effort to attack the teaching of evolution in public schools, including, among others, (1) Edwards v Aguillard, a 1987 case that Louisiana lost in the U.S. Supreme Court; and (2) Kitzmiller et al v Dover Area School District, a 2005 Pennsylvania federal court case in which a conservative Republican judge appointed by President George W Bush thoroughly examined and rejected a school board policy that presented ID to students as an alternative to evolution.

With our state still recovering from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, does Louisiana need the expense and embarrassment of defending — and losing — another lawsuit in federal court? What image will this legislation convey to high-tech companies and skilled individuals who might consider locating here? On your "Workforce Development" website, where you tell readers that "I am asking you to once again believe in Louisiana," you acknowledge that because of a "skills gap," the "training and education of our citizens does not meet the requirements of available jobs."You state that "the lack of economic mobility discourages many Louisianans, including thousands of young people who have left our state in search of greater opportunities."You also highlight Louisiana's low educational ranking as one cause of the "workforce crisis in LA": "In a 2007 national Chance-for- Success Index, Louisiana ranks #49 in the nation based on 13 indicators that highlight whether young children get off to a good start, succeed in elementary and secondary school, and hit crucial educational and economic benchmarks as adults." SB 733 will degrade the quality of science education just when the state is so working hard to improve public schools.

Surely you agree that SB 733 sends the wrong message to the nation if we want to develop additional high tech companies such as the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, LIGO, and other research universities and centers across the state. SB 733 will sacrifice the education of our children to further the political and religious aims of the LA Family Forum and the Discovery Institute, an out-ofstate creationist think tank whose only interest in Louisiana is promoting their agenda at the expense of our children.

You have repeatedly stressed your commitment to making Louisiana a place where our young people can build families and careers.You can help to make Louisiana that place by proving that you support the hundreds of science teachers and thousands of students in the public schools and universities across the state.You can demonstrate your commitment to improving both Louisiana's image and our educational system by vetoing SB 733.The state and the nation are watching.

We call upon you to veto SB 733 in the best interests of our children and to protect the reputation of our state.


Sidebar 2

AAAS'S ALAN I LESHNER'S LETTER TO GOVERNOR JINDAL

June 20, 2008

Dear Governor Jindal:

Recently you told CBS's Face the Nation that "the way we're going to have smart, intelligent kids is exposing them to the very best science."At the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world's largest general scientific society,we wholeheartedly agree.That is why we urge you to veto Senate Bill 733, the Louisiana Science Education Act, which appears designed to insert religious or unscientific views into science classrooms.The bill disingenuously implies that particular theories, including evolution, are controversial among scientists.

You called the scientific process exciting because scientists can "find facts and data and test what's come before you and challenge those theories."This is certainly true for the science of evolution. It involves multitudes of facts and data. Its principles have been tested and retested for decades. And yes, it has been subjected to scientific scrutiny—which has served to reinforce how fundamental evolution is.The science of evolution underpins all of modern biology and is supported by tens of thousands of scientific studies in fields that include cosmology geology, paleontology, genetics and other biological specialties. It informs scientific research in a broad range of fields such as agriculture and medicine,work that has an important impact on our everyday lives.

In short, there is virtually no controversy about evolution among researchers,many of whom, like you, are deeply religious.

What about intelligent design, which you addressed in your recent interview? Because it is not science, but a concept based on a religious belief, intelligent design might be an appropriate topic for a course on philosophy or world religions. But it has no place in a science classroom. From a scientific perspective, there is simply no way to test for the presence or absence of God or another "designer."From a legal perspective, intelligent design comes from a single religious viewpoint, and a federal judge appropriately ruled that teaching it in science class is unconstitutional.

In 1987, the US Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a Louisiana "creation science" law. Rather than step backward, look to the future by seeking to provide Louisiana students with a firm understanding of evolution and other essential scientific concepts so they can compete for high-skill jobs in an increasingly high-tech world economy. Asserting that there are controversies about these concepts among scientists — when in fact there are not — will only confuse students, not enlighten them. I urge you to protect the future of science education in your state by rejecting this bill.

[Alan I Leshner is the chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.]


About the Author(s): 

Joshua Rosenau
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
rosenau@ncseweb.org

Joshua Rosenau is NCSE's Public Information Project Director

MnCSE Honors Ken Hubert

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
MnCSE Honors Ken Hubert
Author(s): 
Randy Moore
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2008
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
10
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

On June 20, 2008, the Minnesota Citizens for Science Education (MnCSE) sponsored Evolution 101, a day-long workshop to help K–12 teachers teach evolution more effectively. The workshop was attended by approximately 150 attendees and was held at the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum of Natural History as part of Evolution 2008. At the workshop, MnCSE honored Ken Hubert of Faribault, Minnesota, whose insistence that biology teachers in his school teach evolution ultimately led to LeVake v Independent School District #656. Deciding this lawsuit, the court affirmed that teachers cannot teach their own curriculum — in this instance, that Hubert’s colleague and fellow biology-teacher Rodney LeVake must teach evolution and could not teach creationism in his biology course. (See RNCSE 1999 Nov/Dec; 19 [6]: 8–9; 2000 Jan–Apr; 20 [1–2]: 13–14; and 2000 Sep/Oct; 20 [5]: 8–9 for background.) The recognition of Hubert also included a letter of commendation from NCSE. For more information about MnCSE, see http://www.mnscience.org.

About the Author(s): 

Randy Moore
Department of Biology
University of Minnesota, MCB 3-104
420 Washington Avenue SE
Minneapolis MN 55455
RMoore@umn.edu

Randy Moore is the HT Morse-Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor of Biology at the University of Minnesota. A former editor of The American Biology Teacher, he received NCSE’s Friend of Darwin award in 2004. His latest book, coauthored with Mark D Decker, is More than Darwin: An Encyclopedia of the People and Places of the Evolution–Creationism Controversy (Westport [CT]: Greenwood Press, 2008).

Polling Creationism in Canada

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Polling Creationism in Canada
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2008
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
10–11
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Among Canadians, 58% accept evolution, while 22% think that God created humans in their present form within the last 10 000 years, and 20% are unsure,according to a new poll from Angus Reid Strategies (available on-line at http://www.angusreid.com/polls/view/31446/canadians_choose_evolution_over_creationism. The poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1007 Canadian adults interviewed on-line on July 29 and 30, 2008, and its margin of error is +/- 3.1%. The results are virtually unchanged from a 2007 poll, in which 59% of the respondents accepted evolution, 22% accepted creationism, and 19% were unsure.

A press release (available online at http://www.angusreid.com/uppdf/2008.08.05_Origin.pdf) noted a number of additional findings: "Men [were] more inclined than women to believe in evolution (69% versus 48%); women [were] more prone to believe in creationism (28% versus 16%) ... Males (69%), younger adults (67%) and those with at least one university degree (71%) [were] more inclined to believe in evolution ... [and] Albertans (40%) and Conservative Party supporters (29%) [were] more likely to think humans were created by God."

Comparing these results with poll results in the United States is not straightforward, since the question that the Gallup Organization has used since 1982 offers two versions of a pro-evolution response: "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process" and "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process." The corresponding Angus Reid response — "Human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years" — omits any mention of God.

According to a useful summary (available on-line at http://www.gallup.com/poll/21814/Evolution-Creationism-Intelligent-Design.aspx), in the latest Gallup poll using the question, conducted in May 2008, 50% of respondents preferred the pro-evolution responses, with 44% preferring "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10 000 years or so," and with only 5% volunteering a different response or declining to answer. It might seem,then,that Canadians are not as much supportive of evolution as they are dismissive of creationism, compared to their American counterparts.

As the political scientist and polling expert George Bishop observed ("Polls apart on human origins," RNCSE 2007 Sep–Dec; 27 [5–6]: 35–41), however, minor changes in the wording of poll questions about creationism and evolution can make a substantial difference in poll results, so it would be premature to jump to any conclusions. Over the years, RNCSE has carried a variety of reports and analyses of such polls, including Otis Dudley Duncan and Claudia Geist's "The creationists: How many, who, and where?" (2004 Sep/Oct; 24 [5]: 26–33).

From the World-Wide Flood to the World Wide Web: Creationism in the Digital Age

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
From the World-Wide Flood to the World Wide Web: Creationism in the Digital Age
Author(s): 
Stephen C Burnett
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2008
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
17–18, 23–27
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

INTRODUCTION

Recent research has shown strong support for science among the public in the US (National Science Board 2006). At the same time, this research shows that this same public is generally not well-informed about scientific issues (National Science Board 2006). In fact, the NSB report concludes that “the public’s lack of knowledge about basic scientific facts and the scientific process can have far reaching implications” (National Science Board 2006). This problem is not limited to adults, as tests of scientific literacy rate US students below the level of their counterparts in many other countries (National Science Board 2006). In particular, understanding of evolutionary biology is especially poor among Americans (Miller and others 2006), and it seems to be an issue from grade school (Michigan House Civics Commission 2006) to college (Holden 2006a). While this issue exists in other countries, the United States is the arguably the developed nation where the problem is most severe (Lazcano 2005; Miller and others 2006). Clearly, public perception of evolutionary biology is out of line with the actual state of science, and efforts to correct this should be a high priority.

One potential source of help is the World Wide Web, a venue that allows the dissemination of information to a wide audience quickly and cheaply. By any measure, the growth of the Web has been explosive (Zakon 2005) resulting in the ability of an individual to put up a site dedicated to any topic. Due to this growth, the current generation of students has grown up with the Web as a major part of their lives (Day and others 2005). In fact, with the advent of search engines, the Web has become the place to begin finding information on just about any topic (Barrie and Presti 1996; Underwood 2004). As access to the Internet has increased, particularly in schools, the Web has come to be used more and more as an educational resource, where students will turn to find the answers to questions on exams, term papers, and class assignments (Day and others 2005). Because the Web can be a cheaper way to disseminate and access material compared to traditional forms of publishing (Ciolek 1997), it has become mandatory that any group with information to share should have a presence on line.

As in other areas, the controversy between those who subscribe to various forms of creationism and those who support evolutionary science has moved onto the Internet. While the most visible area of the creationism/evolution (C/E) debate is the ongoing struggle to use political or legal action to disrupt the teaching of evolution in classrooms (Pew Forum nd; Associated Press 2004; Mervis 2005; Annas 2006; Bhattarcharjee 2006; Holden 2006a), a large part of the ideological debate is presented on the Web as well. The purpose of this paper is to develop a basic understanding of the state of the C/E debate on the Internet and make some observations as to how the Web portion of this debate has changed in the last several years. The vast amount of information available on the Internet and its constantly changing nature make a complete review of the state of the Web fruitless. Instead, my purpose is to examine what a naïve individual might find when searching for information on creationism or evolutionary biology. For this reason, there is no content analysis of particular sites to rate their accuracy or objectivity; this would not be something that a naïve individual would be able to ascertain. Given the political nature of this debate, the individuals involved on either side are unlikely to be swayed by opposing arguments, but the information presented on-line could become the basis for an individual’s developing a better (or worse) understanding of the nature of evolutionary science. For that reason, I have focused on the websites that would be found using particular queries that students might use at the beginning of a search for information. These methods were first applied in 1999 and then repeated with minor changes in 2005. This paper will focus on the results from 2005, but I will also discuss comparisons between the results from the two years.

METHODS

All searches were run using the Metacrawler internet search engine because it engages several different search engines to provide hits from a larger proportion of websites than would be possible with a single search engine (Lawrence and Giles 1998). Today’s more-popular Google.com™ has existed in one form or another since 1998, (Google, Inc 2006), but searches on Google often return million of hits for a search, while Metacrawler returns a much smaller number. For example, a Google search for “Charles Darwin” generated approximately 11 400 000 hits, while Metacrawler listed only 96. Furthermore, the search algorithm used by each search engine and its particular method of ranking and reporting hits to each search introduce bias into the results, making a direct comparison nearly impossible: there is no way to determine exactly what methodology a search engine uses. Therefore, these data should not be taken as a representation of the “true” state of the Internet. Instead, these results should be taken as a sampling of information that could be found when searching the Web — as someone unfamiliar with evolutionary science might experience.

After running each query, the first results page was saved to allow me to browse the sites in it. Only the first 20 sites listed by each query were examined both to decrease the number of sites to examine and to get a list of sites that were the easiest to find (and most relevant to the experience I was trying to simulate). I conducted searches on a number of different search terms that consisted of phrases that relate to the C/E debate as well as the names of prominent individuals on both sides (Table 1). The search terms were chosen arbitrarily, but an attempt was made to include the basic terms that apply (for example, “creationism”and “evolution”) as well as finding sites that were specifically related to teaching these concepts (such as, “teaching creationism”). The search engine was told to report a match only if the exact phrase in the query was found. Many of the results potentially overlapped, as a site found for one query might also be listed in response to several others. Because search engines rate and order the sites that match the query based on a variety of factors, including the number of times the search term is found on the page and the proximity of multiple search terms, there is no guarantee that closely related searches would identify the same sites as the top 20.

All 20 stored hits for each query were examined to classify them into a number of different categories. The classification system I used reflects my own impressions, but as much as possible, I used the information provided by each site to choose its classification. The primary division was into pages that were either “for” or “against” one side of the debate. Specifically, I defined a site as “pro-creationism” if it either rejects evolution entirely or requires that evolution be guided by an intelligent force — this includes young-earth creationists, “intelligent design” proponents, and some theistic evolutionists (for example, Malina 2006). A “pro-evolution” page is one that accepts the evidence in support of the theory of evolution and supports the scientific method as a mechanism for increasing our understanding about the world without trying to include non-scientific ideas. The important factor in the classification was how authors described how the world works. The question of religion was not intended to be a factor in this study, but due to the fact that religion is the driving force behind creationism, it is not possible to ignore religion completely when discussing the results. This classification system did not require that a pro-evolution site espouse atheism, because a page that only tried to prove what could be supported by scientific evidence was still classified as pro-evolution, regardless of the religious beliefs of the author (for example, Morton 2000).

The next category I used to classify web pages was based on the individual(s) responsible for producing and maintaining the websites. A “professional” site was one that was produced by an organization that (in whole or in part) deals with issues of the C/E debate. This is contrasted with “personal” web pages that were developed by individuals without the site’s being officially associated with an organization. This classification was not based on the credentials of the page author, but on the association between the author and any organization that might be supporting the website. For example, a web page written by a practicing biologist could be classified as a personal page if it were not representing the official view of a particular organization. This distinction was difficult to make in some cases due to the fact that the “stance” of the page and the identity of the author were not always clearly identified on the page retrieved by the search. To be conservative, I took the claims of the page author at face value, because an individual who knew nothing about the C/E debate would have no other way to decide on the stance of particular sites. These two classifications were suitable for the majority of pages that I found, but a few required additional categories. In many cases, a page was developed by a group of authors as a sideline to their regular occupations. In this case, I used a category called “collaborative” to indicate a page that is developed by several different authors to address these issues without being the primary job of any of them. The best example of this is the Talk. Origins archive, which includes writings that have been posted to the newsgroup of the same name by different authors over the course of many years (Talk.Origins 2006). While work has clearly been expended to produce a page that has a consistent interface (including a search engine) the majority of information is based on postings from the newsgroup. A similar sort of site is found at About. com, which is a collection of articles and links moderated by individuals referred to as “guides. ”This site displays many of the characteristics that would be associated with a professional page, but given the wide-ranging attitudes of the different moderators and the mission of About.com (About.com 2006) I felt that the site as a whole is more collaborative. Three additional categories were used as well: 1) “library” sites were sites that allowed users to look up reference information on any topic, 2) “links” described pages that consisted solely of a list of hyperlinks to information on the topic, but having no content of their own, and 3) “encyclopedias” included websites (such as Wikipedia.org) that serve as a collection of information about many topics. My initial inclination was to exclude these types of sites, but in my experience as an educator, these are among the most common reference sites that students use in their online searches.

When classifying sites, I wanted to avoid skewing the results by counting the same site multiple times. There are two ways that this could occur, which I called “duplicated”and “repeated”sites. A site was considered a duplicate if it was found multiple times within a single search. In general, one would not expect the same page to be reported as a hit in the same search, but given the fact that most websites consist of a single home page with multiple subpages, it is easy to see how several pages on a single site might be listed as hits for a single query. In this case, only one of the hits would be counted for that search due to the fact that once a particular page on a site is found, it is generally easy to get to the home page for that site, leading to all the different pages it might contain. A repeated site was one that was found by different searches. For each repeated site, only one hit was counted in the final classifications because the classification would only need to be done once, regardless of how many different searches returned that particular site. Thus the number of sites in the final classification was further decreased to count each site only once, no matter how many queries linked to that site. After removing duplicate and repeated sites, I examined the remaining sites to eliminate those that were not relevant to the C/E debate. Search engines have improved their ability to provide results relevant to a user’s queries, but they often still provide results that are not suited to the user’s needs. The presence of a particular search term on a given page is no guarantee that the page actually contains useful content. For that reason, I further narrowed the list of websites by excluding those that were not appropriate using a variety of criteria.

Any site that was not related to the topic of evolution or creationism was removed entirely from the results. There were a number of different reasons why such sites would not be useful for the purpose of this study. The largest single cause for a site’s exclusion was that its main purpose was raising money as opposed to providing information. This includes sites such as Amazon. com and other sites that may sell material related to the C/E debate, but are not involved directly. Because the purpose of this study was to describe the information that would be available to someone who knows little about this debate, it was my judgment that it is unlikely that a commercial site would itself be a primary source of information on the C/E debate.

Sites that primarily provided news reports were also rejected, because the purpose of these sites was not usually to inform readers about the scientific issues within the C/E debate. Due to the timing of my web searches, the majority of the news articles dealt with two issues. First, a report released in April 2005 by the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life (40% of news pages addressed this report). Because this dealt with public opinion polling on a variety of issues concerning politics and religion, and because it only discussed public opinions on evolution or creationism, I felt that these sites were of limited use to someone seeking to learn about the facts of the C/E debate. The second set of reports dealt with ongoing political issues in school systems around the country including decisions by many school districts to challenge the accuracy of evolution in biology classes (40%). Again, these would be of interest to someone seeking information on public opinion and political issues, but these reports provided little or no factual information on the topics. In addition, many of these sites used reports from wire services, meaning that their text was identical or nearly so. The remaining 20% of the news reports linked to sites that were no longer available or required a subscription to access them. Based on this breakdown of sites, it seemed better to exclude them all to focus on other areas where someone researching the C/E debate could find more substantive information.

Similarly, lecture transcripts, interviews, biographies, book reviews, or discussions of the political or social views of the particular individuals named in the search queries were removed from consideration as well, unless they were part of a larger website about the C/E debate. A number of websites that function as discussion boards on various issues were excluded, because they were sites that listed the opinions of the various authors on many topics, not providing specific information on the C/E debate.

Additional difficulty arose due to the ease of publishing on the Web and the lack of oversight on the quality of the information (Barrie and Presti 1996). Due to this fact, some sites were excluded for poor quality information. Such sites might claim to address the C/E debate, but often seemed to be tracts on metaphysics instead of biology. These sites were usually accompanied by esoteric philosophical discourse without having a realistic understanding of the scientific process (for example, Davis 2005; Mamas 2005). Last, between the time I ran the queries and finished checking the web pages, some of the pages that were listed in the search were no longer accessible, a common problem when dealing with websites (Dellavalle and others 2003), so their content could not be examined and those sites had to be excluded. Once the final set of sites was determined, the remaining pages were examined to classify them.


Query 1999 2005 Change from 1999 to 2005
Teaching creationism 55 91 +65.5%
Teaching evolution 59 43 -27.1%
Creationism 61 88 +44.3%
Creation science 57 99 +73.7%
Evolution 55 11 +83.6%
Darwinism 49 83 +69.4%
Young earth creationism 55 74 +34.5%
Intelligent design N/Aa 94 N/A
Irreducible complexity 51 79 +54.9%
Anti-evolution 37 86 +32.4%
Charles Darwin 53 96 +81.1%
Richard Dawkins 51 79 +54.9%
William Dembski N/Ab 85 N/A
Duane Gish 54 N/Ac N/A
Stephen Jay Gould 54 92 +70.4%
Michael Behe 38 35 -7.9%
Phillip Johnson 50 96 +92.0%
Total # of hits 779 1321 +69.6%

TABLE 1:

Summary of search results for each query. Only the first 20 hits for each query were examined. These numbers indicate the total number of hits for each query, without regard to duplicates, repeats, or the appropriateness of a particular web page.
aIn 1999 the top 20 hits for this search all dealt with the design of computer networks, so this search term was discarded.
bBecause Dembski’s first work on the C/E debate was published in 1998, he was not included as a search term in 1999.
cDue to the increase in the importance of ideas about “intelligent design” and a concomitant decrease in the importance of young earth creationism, Gish was not used as a search term in 2005. This is also due to the decrease of his importance as new creationists are taking up the battle.

RESULTS

In 1999, 779 hits were reported for 15 searches, and that number had expanded to 1321 hits for 16 searches in 2005. Only the first 20 hits were examined for each query giving a total of 300 sites in 1999 and 320 sites in 2005.

After duplicates were eliminated, so that each site was included for a particular search only once, there were 249 sites in 1999 (17. 0% duplicates) and 207 in 2005 (35. 3% duplicates). Further excluding repeated sites so that each site was only counted once resulted in 212 sites in 1999 (14. 9% of non-duplicate sites were repeated) and 140 in 2005 (32. 4% were repeated sites). When applying the criteria that were used to exclude sites that were not appropriate for the purposes of this study, a total of 138 sites (65. 1% of the remaining sites) were excluded in 1999 while 39 were excluded in 2005 (27. 9%). Of particular interest in 2005 was the large number of commercial sites (including on-line retailers and auction sites) because most of these sites did not seem to have any relationship to evolution at all. It is not clear why these sites ended up in the top 20 results for some of the queries. The end result of this process was to give 74 “acceptable” sites in 1999 and 101 in 2005. Because only the first 20 hits were examined, the analysis is properly restricted to examining trends between the two samples. For example, there is a general trend for an increase in the number of responses to the queries. As Tables 1 and 2 show, the number of hits for individual queries, as well as the total set for all queries, significantly increased between 1999 and 2005. There was an increase of 69. 6% for the total number of hits and an increase of 36. 5% when only examining the acceptable hits for each search. This increase in the number of sites is not particularly surprising, given the growth of the Web in the same time (Zakon 2005). In addition, for both years the total number of pro-creationist sites was higher, due to the fact that the number of professional pro-creationist sites is significantly higher than professional pro-evolution sites.


Type of Web Page 1999 2005 Change From 1999 to 2005
Personal Web page
– pro-creationist
9 8 -11.1%
Personal Web page
– pro-evolution
9 17 +88.9%
Collaborative Web page
– pro-creationist
0 1 N/A
Collaborative Web page
– pro-evolution
3 4 +33.3%
Professional Web page
– pro-creationist
37 37 0%
Professional Web page
– pro-evolution
12 16 +33.3%
Library 2 3 +50.0%
Links page 2 3 +50.0%
Encyclopedia 0 12 N/A
Total 74 101 +36.5%

TABLE 2:

Classification of Web pages after removing duplicated, repeated, and inappropriate sites.

DISCUSSION

The general increase in the number of hits to the various queries is probably affected by a number of factors, including the general growth of the Web, the expansion of C/E sites onto the Web, and changes in search engines. There were both an increase in the number of acceptable sites and also those that were excluded as unacceptable. The fluid nature of the Web makes any analysis on particular searches at particular times inexact, but the differences between the two samples make some qualitative trends discernible.

The first is the greater number of duplicate and repeated sites reported in the top 20 hits in 2005. This could have been due to consolidation among these websites so that there are fewer sites available to find. Another possibility is that there has been no change in the sites, but that there has been a change in the search engines, so that the sites they report are giving a different representation of the Internet. In fact, these options are not mutually exclusive, and it may well be that both the websites and the search engines are changing to produce this trend. When looking at sites that were not duplicated or repeated, there were more acceptable sites in 2005 (101, which is 31. 6% of the 320 sites that I originally recorded) than 1999 (74, which is 24. 7% of the 300 recorded), which may indicate that the sites that were being reported were in fact more useful than those that had been reported in 1999.

When examining the acceptable sites, there was a greater number of creationist sites in both years, but in 1999 there were roughly twice as many pro-creationist sites as pro-evolution sites. By 2005, there were four pro-evolution sites for every five pro-creationism sites. This is an encouraging trend because it suggests that there has been a general increase in the number of pro-evolution websites or at least an increase in the likelihood that these sites will be found by the search engines. This may mean that people searching the web will find more evolution sites than they would have in the past. Of particular interest is the fact that the total number of pro-creationist websites that were found did not change between the two years while the number of pro-evolution sites increased.

While more sites were reported to the queries in 2005, the actual usefulness of the queries is affected by the presence of repeated sites. In 1999, 57 sites were only found by one of the search queries, while the remaining sites were reported by as many as six different searches. Of the repeated sites, the vast majority were found by two or three queries. In 2005, the majority of the sites were also only found once, but one site (Wikipedia) was repeated for every search while another site (Talk.Origins) was repeated 10 times. These results are probably due to the fact that these particular sites both consist of large collections of pages that cover many of the topics that were used as search queries. The remaining sites were repeated no more than six times. This difference between the two years might be a result of changes in the makeup of the websites, or it could be due to the fact that the search engines classified the pages differently in the two years. It is also affected by the fact that Wikipedia wasn’t online until 2001, so that the results for that site cannot be compared between the two years.

I had particular interest in hits that resulted to queries that included “teaching” as part of the search term because they would seem to address the idea of providing instruction as opposed to simply refuting the opposing side of the debate. A number of sites included teaching materials that could be used to teach in schools or as part of a home schooling curriculum. In both the case of pro-evolution (National Academy of Sciences 1998; WGBH Educational Foundation 2001) and pro-creationist sites (Answers in Genesis 2006a; Let Us Teach Kids 2002), the teaching material available on the web often included general curricula and study guides as well as online videos and/or DVDs that can be used in the classroom. Overall, there was a larger total number of creationist sites, due to the large number of pro-creationism websites that were classified as professional. As might be expected, most of these sites are associated with organizations that have an explicit religious agenda, such as Answers in Genesis (Answers in Genesis 2006b) and the Institute for Creation Research (Institute for Creation Research 2006). Since 1999, however, there has been an increase in sites that attack evolution but claim to do so without reference to a particular religious belief (for example, Access Research Network nd; Discovery Institute nd). These organizations are most likely to be attacking evolution using the ideas of “intelligent design”. As this is the form of creationism that is popular at this time (Mervis 2005, 2006; Bhattarcharjee 2006) it comes as no surprise that there are many sites devoted to this topic. Given recent events favoring evolution over “intelligent design” (Bhattarcharjee 2006; Mervis 2006), it would not be surprising if the anti-evolution sites were espousing a new idea in a few years. Another interesting observation was the number of personal websites dealing with this issue. There was a large number of personal pro-evolution sites in 2005 that helped balance the greater number of professional pro-creationist web pages. While these “personal” sites are maintained by individuals without any ties to an organization, these sites often provided content that matches or exceeds what is available on some of the professional pages (for example, Babinski 2005). Unfortunately, given the financial resources available to many creationist organizations, it is unlikely that personal pages will be able to match professional creationist pages, but such personal pages still provide a useful way to cover the C/E debate. Another important development was the introduction of Wikipedia in 2001 (Wikipedia 2006). This is a website that serves as an encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone with Internet access. Because the content of Wikipedia is determined by consensus among many individuals, that material can change without warning (Fisher 2005). At the current time, Wikipedia contains over 1 million articles in English and thousands more in other languages. This site is easy to search and contains information on the ideas of creationism and evolution. Unfortunately, the ability of anyone to edit these pages also means that they are of varying quality. While browsing the hits to my queries that came from Wikipedia, I found them to be fairly accurate, which matches results of a study published by the journal Nature (Giles 2005), but there is no guarantee that this will be maintained in the future. Given the opinion among a majority of Americans that creationism is equal or superior to evolution (Associated Press 2005), the modification of Wikipedia in consensus with majority opinion could easily lead to it containing incorrect information (Fisher 2005).

FUTURE STUDIES

This study has examined only the hits produced by the search engine and not the appeal or utilization of the sites themselves. A further analysis of this aspect of the search results could serve to improve the presentation of evolutionary biology on the Web so that we can be more effective at reaching those who are seeking information. While it is unlikely that any change in presentation will convince someone who has already determined which “side” he or she supports, it might still serve to convince those who have not made such a determination.

Due to the visual nature of the Web, sites that present the material in a way that is visually appealing may be more likely to attract the attention of someone looking for information (Zhang 2000; Becker and Mottay 2001; Lindgaard and others 2006). Obviously, it would be best if all sites present information accurately, but the methods used to present that information may be as important as factual accuracy. Good web design is becoming more important because Web users are coming to expect certain characteristics if a website is going to keep their attention (Skaalid 1999; Nielsen 2006). If some sites are more pleasing to view, then they may get more attention from users, leading to the impression that they have more validity. For this reason, future research should be directed at analyzing the sites to determine which designs are more effective.

Because this issue is a debate between two polarized camps, it should not come as a surprise that some sites specifically aim themselves at attacking the opposing viewpoint (for example, Discovery Institute nd, attacking evolution, or New Mexicans for Science and Reason nd, attacking creationism). A recent study showed that attacking false claims may actually increase how strongly people believe them (Schwartz and other 2007). Refuting creationism is a natural outgrowth of explaining how evolution works, but if too much time is spent attacking anti-evolutionary ideas, it can give the impression of being defensive, suggesting that evolution is a weaker idea. Given the generally low level of scientific literacy of the American public, there should be more online material that makes learning evolution easier (for example Brain nd), as it is imperative that people be educated about scientific methodology as a necessary step towards becoming informed citizens (Nowotny 2005).

Fortunately, it is possible to present information in an interesting and appealing way that still preserves its scientific integrity, otherwise, the books of Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond, and Stephen Jay Gould would not be as popular as they are. Scientists need to be sure that we are working to make science more accessible while also defeating creationist ideas. If we spend excessive time refuting creationism, we may find that the time has been wasted, because resisting one form of creationism is a short-term benefit. Like Hercules facing the hydra, for every brand of creationism that is defeated, a new one develops. The recent successes in Kansas (Bhattarcharjee 2006) and Pennsylvania (Mervis 2005, 2006) have dealt a setback to the proponents of anti-evolutionary ideas, but it would be foolish to believe that the fight is over.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. I would also like to thank Andrea Wolfe and the students from EEOB710 for helpful discussions during the initial portion of this project.



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About the Author(s): 
Stephen C Burnett
Department of Natural Sciences
Clayton State University
2000 Clayton State Blvd.
Morrow GA 30260
sburnett@clayton.edu

Stephen Burnett is an associate professor of biology at Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia. He teaches courses in evolution, vertebrate anatomy, animal behavior, and general biology. His research interests include public education and various aspects of animal behavior.

Evolution in the Sunshine State: The Fight Over Evolution in the State Science Standards

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Evolution in the Sunshine State: The Fight Over Evolution in the State Science Standards
Author(s): 
Brandon Haught
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2008
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
28-31
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

It is educational and exciting to witness firsthand the evertwisting plot that arises in battles over evolution education. I joined with other Florida Citizens for Science (FCS) members and our associates in the Florida capital, Tallahassee, February 19, 2008, when the board of education met to decide the fate of a brand new set of state science education standards (see RNCSE 2008 Mar/Apr; 28 [2]: 4–7). There is nothing quite like sitting elbow to elbow in a room packed with your friends, your opponents, and more television cameras than can be found at a Britney Spears court appearance.

This final clash had been a long time coming. The last time the science education standards had been revised was 1996. Evolution education had been hit-or-miss because those standards referred to evolution only as “changes over time”. John Winn, Florida’s Education Commissioner in 2005, issued a statement explaining the 1996 version’s phrasing choice:

While the standards for science do not specifically mention evolution, the Grades 9–12 standards do include concepts embraced by the theory, such as natural selection and mutation. The actual term “theory of evolution” was not used as it was felt “biological change over time” was both more accurate and acceptable (Florida Department of Education news release, October 11, 2005).

That opinion was contested by the Thomas B Fordham Foundation, which in 1998 and then again in 2000 and 2005, blasted Florida’s science education with an F each time.

Would Florida rise from the muck in 2008 and shake off the shame of being at the bottom of the class? State government was pushing hard to attract new science- based industry to the southern sunshine — particularly biotech; companies such as Scripps and Burnham set up shop here. So science education would seem essential for an adequate workforce. Spokesman Russell Schweiss explained then-Governor Jeb Bush’s position somewhat in 2005: Evolution “is a scientific theory and he’s not opposed to it being taught in classrooms, ” Schweiss said. “But he does not think it should necessarily be dictated in the standards” (St Petersburg Times 2005 Dec 25).

Later, fears of a Kansas-style disaster were stoked when Bush filled the position of Florida’s K–12 chancellor with Cheri Yecke. Yecke had angered science educators in her previous job as Minnesota education commissioner as that state was revamping its science education standards (see RNCSE 2007 Sep- Oct; 27 [5–6]: 20–4). By the time Florida’s science education standards review process finally got out of the starting gate, both Bush and Yecke were gone. But apprehension still clouded the air. All but one of the state’s seven board of education members were appointed by Bush. Would they hold the same views as their benefactor? An anxious public would have to wait to find out.

THE PROCESS BEGINS

A committee of 31 “framers”met in May 2007 to begin the process of developing the new standards. The Office of Math and Science (OMS) — a branch of the Florida Department of Education — assembled science educators, business leaders, and private citizens to lay out what should be in the new document. The “framers” heard from nationally recognized experts and examined national and international research. They then created guidelines for the group of 37 “writers”to use in creating the first draft of the new science education standards, which was completed in October 2007. During this process, there were some signs of opposition to evolution’s future role in the standards. Fred Cutting, a retired aerospace engineer, was a framing committee member who stated his objections to evolution. He had no significant impact during the writing process, but he would pop up again in later months as the standards moved closer to a final vote by the Board of Education.

The draft was a significant improvement over the 1996 version in many ways. The subject matter was divided up and presented as “big ideas” that could be explored in depth (in contrast to the old standards’ method of presenting a wide range of scientific concepts that could only be given superficial treatment in the curriculum). One highlight was that evolution was among the standards’ “big ideas”. Various experts, including reviewers who had evaluated Florida’s previous standards for the Fordham Foundation, praised the draft as a huge step forward. So far, the science education standards revision process had moved along smoothly.

OMS posted the draft standards on a website and allowed public comment for 60 days. When the comment period ended in mid- December 2007, the website had logged 262 524 responses (compared to about 43 000 for the recently completed math education standards). Additionally, public hearings were held in Tallahassee, Orlando, Jacksonville, and Miramar. The first ones were relatively quiet and did not attract too much attention. However, the final meeting in February 2008 attracted more than 70 citizens eager to voice their opinions. Despite the fact the new draft of the science education standards covered every aspect of science education in the public schools, all 70 speakers focused just on evolution. News reports estimated that at least 45 speakers opposed evolution.

The real shocker came when several district school boards tried to influence the standards approval process. The first hint of trouble popped up in Polk County when school board member Kay Fields told her local newspaper that she would consult with her superintendent about what their district could do. “There needs to be intelligent design as well, ”Fields said. “You need to show both sides” (Lakeland Ledger 2007 Nov 13). A follow-up story in the paper polled all of the school board members and found that a majority supported Fields’s views (Lakeland Ledger 2007 Nov 20). The issue eventually fizzled out there, with no action taken.

Meanwhile, in the northern reaches of the state, other school boards did take action. In January, Taylor County Superintendent Oscar Howard mentioned at one of the standard’s public hearings that his and several other counties were sending official resolutions to the state board of education encouraging it either to de-emphasize evolution or allow alternatives to be taught. Howard claimed that hundreds of parents threatened to pull their kids out of public schools if the standards were accepted in their current form. Many of the county school boards tried not to make a public fuss over their resolutions. FCS members uncovered these resolutions only after checking numerous local weekly newspapers and board meeting archives. At least 12 counties — the majority in the northern and panhandle areas of the state — passed similar resolutions with nearly identical wording, as illustrated in this resolution approved 5–0 by the Baker County School Board:

Now therefore, be it resolved by the Baker County School Board of Baker County, Macclenny, Florida, that the Board urges the State Board of Education to direct the Florida Department of Education to revise the new Sunshine State Standards for Science such that evolution is not presented as fact.

Another phenomenon in north Florida was a small group of women who, despite their playing up a “we’re just concerned moms” demeanor, obviously knew how to work the system and were well connected. Kim Kendall, a former air traffic controller from Jacksonville, got quite a bit of coverage in local newspapers. She secured spots at several public hearings and forums; even when she was turned away from a hearing in which the standards were not on the agenda, she parlayed it into news coverage.

Among Kendall’s connections were the Florida Family Policy Council and the Florida Baptist State Convention’s newspaper, the Florida Baptist Witness. The Witness gained notoriety in the evolution fight when it broke the news in December 2007 that state board of education member Donna Callaway was opposed to how evolution was presented in the science education standards. Callaway was quoted as saying, “I agree completely that evolution should be taught with all of the research and study that has occurred. However, I believe it should not be taught to the exclusion of other theories of origin of life. ” The article then wrapped up with Callaway commenting: “My hope is that there will be times of prayer throughout Christian homes and churches directed toward this issue. As a SBOE member, I want those prayers. I want God to be part of this. Is not that ironic?” (Florida Baptist Witness 2007 Nov 30).

With one state board member’s opinion finally revealed, a few others also let the public know on which side they stood. Linda Taylor went on the record as sympathetic to the inclusion of alternative theories alongside evolution. “I think kids should have the opportunity to compare different theories, ” she said. Board member Roberto Martinez firmly planted his flag on the pro-evolution side when he said: “I’m a very strong supporter of including evolution. And I think it’s long overdue” (St Petersburg Times 2007 Dec 6).

That two-to-one vote hung in the air for nearly two months until Akshay Desai evened up the score in early February 2008. He publicly supported evolution, but wound up being the last to do so before the February 19 vote. The three other votes remained shrouded in mystery.

THE HEAT BUILDS

The nationally known religious organization Focus on the Family joined the battle in November 2007, encouraging its sympathizers to push the state board of education to include “intelligent design” in the standards. In response, FCS initiated its “All I Want for Christmas is a Good Science Education” campaign. FCS encouraged citizens to send Christmas cards to the state board of education that included short notes in support of good science including evolution.

Evolution reared up in regional politics, too. Bill Foster, a former St Petersburg councilman with aspirations to higher office, sent a letter to his local school board warning against the evils of evolution. “Evolution gives our kids an excuse to believe in natural selection and survival of the fittest, which leads to a belief that they are superior over the weak, ” he wrote. He also connected evolution to Hitler and the Columbine high school shooting (St Petersburg Times 2008 Jan 12).

It seemed that opposition to evolution in the science education standards was overwhelming. But even though the anti-evolution crowd had impressive networking capabilities and could stir up tremendous support from the general public, evolution supporters had resources of their own. Among the organizations that gave support were the National Academy of Sciences, the National Center for Science Education, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the Florida Academy of Sciences, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Florida members of the Clergy Letter Project. Perhaps more important, the writers and framers did not just walk away when the draft was done. They continued to advocate for the draft standards.

As the issue snowballed, FCS members worked tirelessly to stay out in front. Much of the support for the science education standards was only loosely organized. FCS wound up being the focal point of the coordination effort, but through its activities built an amazing foundation. An FCS petition effort gathered more than 1700 signatures both on paper and on the internet, and attracted many present and past Florida university presidents, prominent scientists, and even the director of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. The FCS leadership built and maintained networks of evolution supporters, and FCS members wrote letters, made phone calls, and helped spread the word. The commitment to sustain so much volunteer effort for more than a year was awe-inspiring.

THE FEBRUARY HEARING

Months of suspense finally were coming to an end as the state Board of Education vote neared. But more plot twists were still to come. Fred Cutting, the member of the standards framing committee opposed to evolution, submitted a “minority report” in which he claimed that evolution was being taught “dogmatically”; he recommended several changes, though he had no support from any of the other standards’ framers or writers.

Activist Kim Kendall also reappeared with a last-minute surprise. Not satisfied with the 60- day comment period on the internet or the five public hearings held around the state, she dogged the state board of education members relentlessly for a chance to speak directly to them. The board had made it clear that there would be no public input at the February meeting, but the week before it finally bowed to the pressures and agreed to allow 20 people to speak for three minutes each. Half could sign up to speak in favor of the draft standards and the other half in opposition. Those speakers would have to arrive the morning of the meeting and sign up for the slots first come, first served.

Adding to the stress in the final stretch was a surprising 11th-hour proposed change to the standards. Department of Education officials were nervous that the board would never approve the standards against so much opposition to evolution, so they rushed together a compromise the week before the February 19 meeting and officially announced the modified version on the afternoon of Friday, February 15. Hoping to appease the anti-evolutionists, the board inserted the phrase “scientific theory of” into the standards wherever “evolution” appeared and also in any other mention of scientific theories in the standards (see RNCSE 2008 Mar/Apr; 28 [2]: 4–7). Thus, when the board met, it had three options: (1) to approve the standards as originally written; (2) not to approve the standards at all; or (3) to approve the lastminute “scientific theory of” compromise.

Before the sun even dawned on February 19, I gathered with fellow supporters of the science education standards at the locked doors of the capitol. When the doors were finally opened and we eagerly dashed inside, we were surprised to see opponents of evolution already waiting in line. Despite our asking them about it, they refused to reveal how they got there before the building was opened. All 120 seats were quickly filled, and plenty of people were left standing. Reporters and television cameras packed the room.

Shortly after 9 AM, board chairman T Willard Fair opened with a short speech, which seemed to be aimed at the anti-science crowd. Sometimes he even spoke directly to Kendall, who was sitting in the front row because she was on the list of speakers. He made it clear that the standards public review process was done openly and fairly with several opportunities for everyone to have input. However, Fair said, as he looked right at Kendall, some people wanted to speak directly to the board. He mentioned that Kendall had spoken to some board members in person over the previous few weeks.

The anti-science speakers tried to pull off a “Hail Mary” play by introducing the “academic freedom” ploy — a gambit new to the Florida evolution debate. They presented a proposal to the board that would permit teachers to cast doubt on evolution under the guises of free speech and critical thinking. A document they handed to the board members contained the following suggested wording:

Evolution is [a] fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence and teachers should be permitted to engage students in a critical analysis of that evidence. (As reported in a Florida Family Policy Council news release, 2008 Feb 9).

The word “a” in brackets replaces the word “the” in the original, and the “critical analysis” language was new. Having evolution “dogmatically” alone in the standards stifles critical thinking, they said; it has nothing to do with religious beliefs. Mixed in with the academic freedom push were the standard creationist talking points: gaps in the fossil record, discrimination against some scientists who do not “believe in” Darwin, evolution as a theory in crisis; and macroevolution’s having never been observed. John Stemberger of the Florida Family Policy Council said, “Yet we look at the fossil record and we find rats, and bats, but no transitional forms of “rat-bats. ” Throughout all of their speeches, the main spotlight was on academic freedom, though. Evidence against evolution must be taught!

After a short break, the Office of Math and Science gave a presentation about the standards writing process. Toward the end of that presentation, pro-evolution board member Roberto Martinez seized an opportunity to go on the offensive. He grilled Education Commissioner Eric Smith about the timing and reason for adding “scientific theory of” throughout the document (this version was referred to as Option B). Martinez made it clear that he knew that the changes were made to placate people who oppose evolution in the standards. He asked if the original writers and framers had been consulted. Smith said that an e-mail was sent out to them on Friday afternoon (before the three-day holiday weekend). About 38 of the 68 responded; 29 (76. 3%) opposed Option B, two grudgingly accepted Option B if it were the only way to get the standards approved, and 7 (18. 4%) approved. Martinez was relentless, going on to question if Option B had been vetted by any scientific organizations in the same way the original draft had. The answer was no. “Then why are we even considering them, commissioner?” Martinez asked.

Callaway interrupted the developing debate, pointing out that no motion had been made by the board yet to approve the standards, so this discussion should not be taking place. After a motion to approve Option B was made and seconded, Martinez once again took the lead. He hammered home his point that efforts to undermine evolution have a long history. “No matter how much the current strategy may have evolved over the last 20 years, the DNA is the same with its common ancestor: creationism, ” he said.

Finally, Callaway could not take any more. She asserted that despite her strong religious identity that her stance had nothing to do with religion, but was based on her extensive research. She lamented that the presentation of evolution is too dogmatic, denying students their right to explore the issue for themselves. Option B did not address her concerns, but the “Academic Freedom Proposal” given to the board that morning was the perfect solution. Thousands of people do not agree with evolution, and kids need to be made aware of that.

As other board members stated their opinions, the shape of the debate finally took form. Kathleen Shanahan, Phoebe Raulerson, and Linda Taylor favored Option B. Desai did not like Option B, but was receptive to academic freedom. Fair was the only person to stay completely out of the debate.

Callaway’s academic freedom push never gained traction. But the debate did feature her and Martinez coming to verbal blows toward the end. Martinez insisted that Option B’s whole intent was to single out evolution. “Scientific theory of evolution as opposed to what other theory?” he asked. “No matter how the issue is cloaked, we know what this is really about. ” Callaway responded: “I take issue with the fact that you say you know where that’s all coming from. I have not heard from a single person who is advocating creationism or intelligent design at all. ”

Martinez would not be swayed, though, pressing the question of what alternative theory was out there. Callaway answered by trying once again to sell academic freedom. Kids need to explore the issue because there are such great differences of opinion about evolution in the world. “If they come up with another theory, so be it. So be it. ” She then seized on Martinez’s insistence that there were no other theories, trying hang him with his own words, which she seemed to think would show him to be dogmatic and against critical thinking. She failed. “Respectfully, Donna, it is not a point of debate or controversy in the mainstream scientific community, ”

Martinez said, getting in the final jab of the duel as his supporters in the crowd erupted in loud applause, drowning out whatever Callaway tried to say in response. Fair then stepped in to scold the audience for its outburst.

THE FINAL VOTE

While Martinez and Callaway cooled off, Fair wisely cut short further discussion and called for a vote. Fair, Taylor, Shanahan and Raulerson voted yes to Option B, resulting in the adoption of the “scientific theory of” language. Ironically, Martinez and Desai joined Callaway in opposing the option. Florida now had a new set of science education standards. Martinez and Desai had voted no as a protest against Option B. They both believed that the original version, written and vetted by experts, was better. Option B watered down the standards for no valid scientific or educational reason. FCS and many educators and scientists agreed. But it is worth keeping in mind that the new science education standards are still a huge improvement over the 1996 version. Florida schools and students had won the day.

Callaway voted no because her whole mission had been to get the “Academic Freedom Proposal” on the table. But her efforts floundered. No one can say for sure why; maybe because academic freedom arrived too late on the stage. Perhaps other board members found the proposal distasteful because it was so obviously focused solely on evolution. Whatever the reason, it can be said with a sigh of relief that Florida dodged a bullet. Sound science would be taught in the Sunshine State.

Unfortunately, Tallahassee was right back in the crosshairs a month later. Picking up where Callaway had left off, state lawmakers took up two proposed “academic freedom” bills aimed boldly and squarely at evolution. FCS was forced to get right back to work, and these bills failed to pass in the 2008 session (see here, and a report in a future issue of RNCSE). There is no doubt, however, that this saga is to be continued.

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

Brandon Haught is the communications director for Florida Citizens for Science. His day job is that of a spokesperson for a sheriff’s office, but he is also attending college at night with the hope of becoming a science teacher a few years down the road.

Calvin Meets the Hominins: A Brief History of Creationism in South Africa

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Calvin Meets the Hominins: A Brief History of Creationism in South Africa
Author(s): 
LW Retief
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2008
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
32–34
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

The history of South African creationism from the 20th century onward is inextricably intertwined with the political course of the country. The Netherlands established a colony at the southern tip of Africa in 1652. The settlers, spreading northwards, were followed first by French Huguenots and later by the British. The British largely retained their language and customs, unlike the Dutch and French who had been more cut off from their native countries. By the 1930s, this mix produced a uniquely South African language and culture. Armed conflict with the indigenous populations was temporarily resolved and Europeans occupied what is now known as South Africa. The Afrikaans language evolved from Dutch and a great divide (now faded) developed between English- and Afrikaansspeaking South Africans. Most of the latter were farmers or frontiersmen who had little time or inclination for the niceties of philosophical debate, and they were united by a common language and a strict form of Calvinism. The Bible was accepted as literal truth, and black South Africans, illiterate and with customs strange to the European settlers, were regarded as heathen and inferior.

Two independent Dutch-speaking republics (Transvaal and the Orange Free State) were established during the latter half of the 19th century, while the Cape Province and Natal remained British colonies. Parallels were drawn by the citizens of European descent in these republics between themselves and the Jews of antiquity who, against all odds, obtained their independence from an imperial power by struggle, perseverance and belief in God.

It is unlikely that Calvinist doctrine would have allowed evolution to be accepted in those republics but as far I am aware, it was never really a bone of contention at the time. During the Second Anglo- Boer War (1899–1902), Transvaal and the Orange Free State were conquered by Britain, and the whole of South Africa was united as a British colony. The defeat of the two republics had a seminal influence on the subsequent course of South African history.

The inhabitants of the two Boer republics felt, with some justification, that their language, culture and religion — the very fabric of their identity — was under threat. The British High Commissioner for South Africa, Lord Milner, instituted a program of Anglicization that, among other things, enforced the use of English as the sole language of instruction at school.

The predictable result was that Afrikaans-speaking South Africans were drawn closer together, their language, religion, and culture serving as rallying points. The three main Afrikaans churches played a prominent role in fostering Afrikaner identity: the Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church or DRC, the most powerful as far as membership and political influence was concerned), the Gereformeerde Kerke van Suid-Afrika (Reformed Churches of South Africa or RCSA), and the smaller Hervormde Kerk (Reformed Church). The churches soon made their influence felt in almost every sphere of Afrikaner life and together with the Afrikaner Broederbond (Afrikaans Brotherhood, a secret society at its founding) kept a close watch on the school curricula and textbooks, which had to be freed of English “liberal” influence and any reference to evolution (van den Heever 1999).

A sense of exclusivity grew from this religious outlook, and Calvinism was adapted to the “national differences in aptitudes, temperament, national character, history and circumstances” which “[protected] us as a nation during the previous century against Anglicization on the one hand and bastardization on the other” (Erasmus 1946). It was unthinkable that South Africans of European descent could share a common evolutionary ancestry with people of color, because that relationship would have been too close for comfort. It was much easier to accept a divine fiat for the separation of the races as read in the stories of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and the Tower of Babel.

That is not to say that there was not some disagreement within Calvinist circles. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Johannes du Plessis, an important figure in the DRC Theological Seminary at the University of Stellenbosch, became a political and theological liberal, stating that the Genesis account should not be taken literally. Du Plessis’s highly qualified evolutionary views, however, were cut from cloth weaved by Wallace and not Darwin. For this and other stated opinions he was initially suspended and later discharged from his post. The Western Cape Synod of the DRC had declared evolution a heresy. Du Plessis took the DRC to court and won the case, but in winning the battle he lost the war. He never taught at the seminary again and died an embittered man in 1935 (Lever 2002; van den Heever 1999).

The effect of the synod’s decision was to stifle all discussion of evolution in Afrikaans religious and educational circles for a considerable time. While at least some scientists at universities quietly researched and published on evolution, this work was done mainly (but not exclusively) at English-language institutions.

The more-or-less official viewpoint espoused then and until recently by the three Afrikaans churches will be well known to readers in the USA: the earth is approximately 6000–10000 years old, everything we know was created by divine fiat in a period of six 24-hour days, and all living forms were created separately with humans as the pinnacle of creation. A world-wide flood devastated the earth some thousands of years ago, and only a few humans, together with representatives of most animals, survived to give rise to the fauna and flora we know today. Species are immutable, and at most one can hope for micro-evolution within “kinds”. No proof of evolution exists.

No mention was made of evolution in school textbooks. A well-known theologian wrote: “In Biblical creation the order of the ‘genera’… is completely correct. No-one dare … call Genesis a story in this regard any more. Moses was either the most famous gambler in history or an inspired, infallible prophet” (Deist 1994).

The National Party and Official Anti-Evolutionism

In 1948 the National Party came to power. Afrikaners had been gaining political and economic influence during the preceding decades and the NP was the Afrikaner political party par excellence — strongly Calvinist, politically conservative with pronounced authoritarian tendencies. Somewhat more than lip service was paid to the concept of democracy (providing that the voters were “white”), but at least some theologians considered a form of theocracy to be the ideal kind of government (Deist 1994).

The national education policy under the NP became officially “Christian” (that is, Calvinist). Developed some decades before, the curriculum was designed to foster a love for culture, for country, and above all for religion. The concomitant contempt that this policy instilled in some students towards non-European cultures may or may nor have been planned, but the policy resonates with a racialist interpretation of Genesis 9:25–10:32. Furthermore, textbooks paid much attention to South African history, but contained little or no mention of the region’s history before the arrival of the Dutch settlers. Evolution was not discussed in biology textbooks; it was simply ignored. One rather gets the impression that the authorities hoped that the whole theory would vanish into thin air if it was not mentioned. In 1981 a DRC theologian stated that school and university textbooks were scrutinized to ensure that evolutionary ideas did not slip through the net (van den Heever 1999). Their attempts were not entirely successful. I well remember finding (and devouring) both On the Origin of Species and the Descent of Man in my town library when in high school.

One may well ask whether any South African creationists were actively involved in any sort of scientific research (in parallel to the Creation Research Society or Institute for Creation Research in the USA). Information on this is extremely meager, but considering that very few creationists elsewhere in the world have carried out any meaningful scientific work this is not surprising. The only name I have been able to find is that of JJ Duyvene de Wit, Professor of Zoology at the University of the Orange Free State during the 1950s and 1960s. He was active in creationist circles, but a cursory search failed to find any reference to published papers of his supporting creationism. An important figure in his circles at the time, he has since fallen into well-deserved obscurity. Most other scientists researching evolution at Afrikaans institutions seemed to have kept their heads below the firing line and merely published their scientific papers without attracting too much public notice. Now and then, a museum exhibit on evolution caused some controversy, but there are no formal studies on the number, scope, and public or official reaction to these exhibits. This state of affairs persisted into the late 1980s.

Transition to Democracy

South Africa became involved in a low-intensity war on its borders from the late 1960s onwards. The government’s opposition at that time, mostly the African National Congress, was to a large extent backed by communist regimes, which, of course, afforded a perfect opportunity for the then powerful state propaganda apparatus to foster a myth about a so-called “total onslaught” by subversive communist agencies which promoted humanism, equal rights, and, of course, a belief in evolution. As international and local opposition to apartheid mounted, the government of the time desperately attempted to draw all South Africans together into a united front against the common enemy. Evolution, while not a major target of the state propaganda apparatus, was as undesirable as ever. During this period, as more books and television programs on evolution and on science in general reached the public, the unexpected happened, not only on the scientific front but also the political: opposition to the official policies on evolution came not only from outside the borders but also from within Afrikaner ranks.

Against all expectations a peaceful transition of power took place, due, among others, to the then president of South Africa, FW de Klerk. It is perhaps significant that de Klerk is a member of the Reformed Churches of South Africa. This church had slowly been mounting opposition to the apartheid policy since the 1950s when it was, in South African terms, extremely politically incorrect to do so. Their motivation was purely scriptural, in comparison to the more powerful DRC which wholeheartedly supported apartheid (again on scriptural grounds) and which was often called, mockingly, the National Party at prayer.

Primer on Calvinism


Martin Luther’s success opened the way for several movements in the Protestant Reformation of 16th-century Europe. The followers of John Calvin (1509–1564) defined their position within the Reformation as distinct from the Lutheran tradition (and others) in a five-point summary that today goes by the acronym TULIP (see www.reformed.org/Calvinism). Perhaps the one concept most associated in the public mind with Calvinist theological thinking is the doctrine of predestination. This was a logical outcome of two positions: (1) the generic idea in Reformation traditions that salvation is attained by grace (or faith) only, and not by “works” (that is, nothing that one can do will assure salvation simply by virtue of these actions); and (2) the specific (Calvinist) idea that Christ died for the elect and not for all people. The conclusion drawn from these two positions is that one’s future salvation (or damnation) was known by God and predetermined at the beginning of time.

 

Within ten years, South Africa had undergone a sea change due to pressure from inside the once seemingly unbreachable ranks of the Afrikaners as well as from outside. Evolution will soon be established as part of the school biology curriculum and while many parents still object to this, many or perhaps most members of the younger generation of South Africans simply do not regard this as a problem any more. The DRC, previously a staunch supporter of apartheid, has made a major about-turn and freely admitted its role in past injustices; it now, in general, does not regard evolution as a heresy, although many of its older members still contest this position.

Does this mean that the battle is won? Unfortunately not. The three Afrikaans churches have been losing members at a remarkable rate to the relatively new (in South African terms) charismatic churches, many with American roots. These churches are much more fundamentalist in outlook than the Afrikaans churches ever were. A reason for this may be that fundamentalism offers certainty. The social and political upheavals of the last decade or so has shifted the ground under the feet of the white population; moral, political, and economic certainty are no longer taken for granted and many have turned to churches where a perceived certainty can be obtained.

There is also a deep irony embedded in the stances of the DRC and the RCSA towards evolution. The DRC had supported apartheid and opposed evolution, basing its views on biblical interpretation but has changed their views radically. The Reformed Churches rejected apartheid on scriptural grounds; it has now, for the same reasons, rejected evolution. A recent National Synod of the RCSA decried the teaching of evolution at school and requested Christian teachers not to present evolution as a fact in the classrooms (Anonymous 2003).

The University of Potchefstroom, an institution historically strongly influenced by the RCSA, issues a book on science studies, a mandatory course for students in the natural sciences, pharmacy and engineering (Geertsema and others 1996). One of its authors, WJ Ouweneel, is a member of the Institute for Creation Research. The book, strongly Calvinist in nature, contains very little science as such, nor does it give an overview of science as an intellectual discipline — the few chapters actually dealing with science advocates an old-earth creationist scenario by superficially reviewing what creationists see as major problems with the theory of evolution. PH Stoker, Emeritus Professor of Physics at that university, wrote:

Because of his sinful nature man exalts the laws, connections and regularities he finds in his science to laws according to which nature operates. In doing this he removes God not only from his science but also from his creation, because the dynamics of nature then progresses according to ‘laws’ he discovered. God is then not necessary for maintenance and guidance. The implementation of evolution in school curricula means that evolution is read into nature as a law of the biological sciences. Thus God is removed from biological nature, just as He was removed by physical laws from the physical sciences. (Stoker 2001)

Admittedly this is the only university in South Africa where students are taught creationism, and it must be added that this is by no means the viewpoint of many of its staff members. Political power has largely slipped from the hands of the reformed churches, but the banners of creationism are now in the hands of the charismatic churches who, with their growing numbers, may well pose a threat in future.

References

[Anonymous]. 2003 Jan 14. Sinode ontevrede oor evolusieleer [Synod unhappy about the theory of evolution]. Die Volksblad. Afrikaans.

Deist F.1994. Ervaring, Rede en Metode in Skrifuitleg [Experience, Reason and Method in Scriptural Exegesis]. Pretoria: Council for the Human Sciences. Afrikaans.

Erasmus DF. 1946. Ons eie Calvinisme. Die Gereformeerde Vaandel [The Reformed Banner] 14 (11): 11–2.Afrikaans.

Geertsema JC, Reinecke CJ, Ouweneel WJ. 1996. Wetenskapsleer vir Natuurwetenskappe, Farmasie en Ingenieurswese [Science Studies for Natural Sciences, Pharmacy and Engineering]. Potchefstroom (South Africa): Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education Central Publishing Office. Afrikaans.

Lever J. 2002. Science, Evolution and Schooling in South Africa. Africa Human Genome Initiative Series. Cape Town: HSRC Press.

Stoker PH. 2001. Evolusieleer in skole, musea en op radio-en TV-programme [Evolution in schools, museums, and on radio and TV programs]. Die Kerkpad. Available on-line at home.mweb.co.za/ke/kerkpad/jan2001/onderwys2.html. Last accessed August 23, 2008. Afrikaans.

van den Heever J. 1999 Oct 15. Kerk moet duideliker standpunt oor kreasionisme inneem [The church must take a clearer stand on creationism]. Die Burger. Afrikaans.


About the Author(s): 
LW Retief
5N Agapanthus Avenue
Welgedacht, Bellville 7530, South Africa
leonr@iafrica.com

After obtaining a master’s degree in biochemistry, LW Retief studied medicine and now practices in Bellville, near Cape Town. He is an Afrikaansspeaking agnostic happily married to a devoutly Catholic English-speaking South African. Apart from studying creationism and evolution his other hobbies are opera and motor sport.

Review: Darwin Strikes Back

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Year: 
2008
Issue: 
4
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
35–36
Reviewer: 
Jason Rosenhouse
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design
Author(s): 
Thomas Woodward
Grand Rapids (MI): Baker Books, 2006. 224 pages

In Darwin Strikes Back, Thomas Woodward presents himself as an arbiter between evolution and “intelligent design” (ID). His verdict is that scientists have responded to ID with heat and venom, but have not effectively refuted ID claims.

There are three general types of difficulty with Woodward’s book:

  • He presents an inaccurate and caricatured version of evolutionists’ arguments.
  • He does not reference the most scholarly refutations of ID arguments, but focuses instead on short book reviews and popular- level articles.
  • When he discusses the scientific details, he routinely gets important things wrong.
Here are some specific examples.

Chapter five discusses Michael Behe’s notion of “irreducible complexity.” Behe argued that many biological systems were such that if any of their parts were removed the resulting system would cease to function. It followed, Behe claimed, that they could not have evolved gradually by natural selection.

Scientists offered two main replies. First, Behe’s logic was simply wrong. That every part is needed in the present does not imply that the system could not have formed gradually. You can see the basic principle in everyday life. Desktop computers are absolutely indispensable today. But in the 1970s and early 80s they were a luxury. Their indispensability evolved gradually over time. Likewise in biology. You could have a part in a system that was not essential when it first appeared, but became essential after further evolutionary changes. This is one of several possibilities.

So the first line of response to Behe was to point out that there are a variety of well-known, observable biological mechanisms through which a supposedly irreducibly complex system could have evolved gradually. Since Behe was the one making grand claims about what was possible and what was not, it was for him to explain why these scenarios, which were drawn from actual scientific research, were impractical.

The second line was to point to specific biochemical systems, some of Behe’s favorites among them, and refer to professional research explaining how they evolved. There is a huge literature on blood clotting evolution, or immune system evolution, or eye evolution, to pick a few famous examples. So it is not just that evolution can, in principle, explain complex systems (though that alone would be enough to refute Behe), it is that evolution has done so repeatedly in practice.

Woodward tells a different story. He lists three different approaches he claims scientists have taken towards Behe’s argument. First, he claims, they merely attacked Behe’s analogy of a mousetrap for illustrating irreducible complexity, rather than the concept itself. It is true that scientists have (rightly) pointed out that Behe’s analogy is inapt, but this is hardly the main line of criticism.

Second, Woodward says that scientists have resorted to the “unexplained does not mean unexplainable” defense. Once again, scientists do (rightly) make this point. Certainly there are plenty of complex systems with murky origins. But there are many others that have been so explained, and that is enough to show that there is no fundamental problem here for evolution.

It is only in the third part of his chapter that Woodward moves away from straw men and mentions some of the main arguments raised against Behe. However, he does a thoroughly inept job of it. He gives no clear explanation of the anti-Behe arguments, basing himself almost entirely on popular-level writing. Reading a few book reviews or exchanges on the internet is not adequate.

Woodward also devotes a chapter to Jonathan Wells’s book Icons of Evolution (Washington [DC]: Regnery, 1999). Wells claimed that many of the standard textbook examples of evolution were false or misleading and chose ten examples to make his case. Scientists responded in the most direct way possible. They showed at length that in every case it was Wells’s version of things that was wildly inaccurate and that any charges of fraud were far more plausibly leveled at him than at scientists.

Woodward again ignores the serious, lengthy refutations written by professionals, instead relying almost entirely on short book reviews that appeared in popular-level venues. And when Woodward does discuss actual science, he usually gets it wrong. For example, on pages 103–4 of his book, Woodward discusses the Cambrian explosion. As Woodward tells the story, the critters we find in the Cambrian rocks (among the oldest rocks containing animal fossils) show phylum-level differences. Modern organisms placed in different phyla show profound anatomical differences. Humans, oysters, and spiders are all in different phyla.

In stressing these phylum-level differences, Woodward implies that the animals found in the Cambrian fossils were as wildly different from each other as, say, humans and spiders are today. If this were true, it would be a serious problem for evolutionists.

Sadly, Woodward has simply garbled a fairly basic point of taxonomy. Phyla are classifications used for modern organisms. Applying them retroactively to long-extinct creatures is problematic. When paleontologists place Cambrian fossil X in one phylum and Cambrian fossil Y in a different phylum, they are not saying that X and Y are as different from one another as humans and spiders (for example) are today. They are saying simply that X shows some feature that in modern organisms is associated with one phylum while Y shows some feature that is today associated with a different phylum.

The Cambrian explosion is a problem for evolutionists only in the sense that there are many possible explanations for it, but too little data for coming to a firm conclusion. Woodward shows little awareness of the actual state of scientific play.

This is merely a taste of all that is wrong with this book. Woodward makes much of the fact that scientists use strong rhetoric in denouncing the arguments of ID folks. Of course they do. Woodward and his ilk run around the country accusing scientists of the crassest sort of ignorance and incompetence. The ID literature asserts that the common wisdom in every branch of the life sciences, whether in genetics, evolution, paleontology, anatomy, biochemistry and so on, is simply wrong. People study for years to become experts in any one of these disciplines, and then they have to put up with people bearing obvious religious and political agendas completely distorting everything about their subject. Is it surprising that they respond with anger?



About the Author(s): 
Jason Rosenhouse
Department of Mathematics and Statistics
James Madison University
Harrisonburg VA 22807
rosenhjd@jmu.edu

Jason Rosenhouse is Associate Professor of Mathematics at James Madison University. He offers commentary on the endless dispute between evolution and creationism on his blog at www.scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/.

Review: Secularism & Science in the 21st Century

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Year: 
2008
Issue: 
4
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
36–37
Reviewer: 
Lawrence S Lerner
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Secularism & Science in the 21st Century
Author(s): 
Edited by Ariela Keysar and Barry A Kosmin
Hartford (CT): Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture, 2008. 213 pages.

The Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC) at Hartford's Trinity College engages in a wide spectrum of scholarly activities in the areas implied in its name.Among these activities, a workshop on science education and secular values was held in May 2007.This collection of essays (also available for download free of charge via http://www.trincoll.edu/secularisminstitute) though not a conference proceedings, clearly grew out of that workshop.

The eleven essays in the volume address the warfare against science — and particularly against science education — waged from both the left and the right. I am not sure that this was the main intent of the editors,but the issue emerges clearly. The essays are divided and ordered — rather arbitrarily, I think — into three related areas: the evolution–creation conflict, teaching science, and scientific literacy and public policy.

Jon Miller and Robert Pennock set the stage in the first essay.They present a summary of surveys, mostly by Miller and his associates, of public attitudes toward science, technology, and religion, with special emphasis on evolution. There is nothing surprising here: Americans think well of science, and see at least potential conflict between science and faith. They accept or reject evolution about half and half, with more rejecters than in any other country except Turkey. This the authors attribute to minimal knowledge of both the facts and the methods of the sciences — a view that is far from new. In their conclusion, they argue "[The public] need to know how the different sciences are interconnected in such a way that one may not simply choose to disbelieve some particular scientific conclusion in isolation" (p 30). Few will disagree.

The second essay, Daniel Blackburn's "The creationist attack on science and secular society," gives a very brief history of creationism since the 1925 Scopes trial. Most significantly, Blackburn notes that creationism is not an isolated movement. Rather, it "can be seen as the vanguard of a theocratic movement, and its attack on public school curricula part of an explicit assault on secular society, free inquiry, and academic freedom ... the most public manifestation of a broad-based and well-financed effort to replace secular society with a theocratic state" (p 44).

The first essay in Part II is William Cobern's "The competing influence of secularism and religion on science education in a secular society." It amounts to an exposition of a Religious Right position on education, thinly veiled as middle-of-the-road for its perceived audience. Predictably, Cobern begins with an account of the decay of traditional morality: "There were the Kinsey Institute reports, ... Playboy appeared on the newsstands everywhere, ... sex education in the public schools became a foregone conclusion.... Engel v Vitale (1962) and Abington v Schempp (1963) ended legal sponsorship of prayer and Bible devotionals. And court-ordered busing for school desegregation in the late 1960s severely weakened the local control of schools" (p 91–2).

Cobern reserves his real venom for Richard Dawkins and the authors of similar best-sellers, such as Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris.They are "in the throes of apoplexy" because atheism has not swept the country, and their books are "hysterical pleadings." Cobern's dilemma lies in his departure from most of his coreligionists in his adherence to real science and to evolution in particular. By linking evolution to atheism, he argues, Dawkins and others dispose the broad middle of religious Americans to creationism.

Using a term mined from the works of Paul Tillich, Cobern redefines religion, generalizing it to mean "ultimate concern." It follows that everyone — Dawkins included — is religious.Having thus defined religion into meaninglessness, Cobern argues that Christians can find a congenial meeting ground with others in what he calls methodological secularism. This he distinguishes from philosophical secularism, which, I suppose, is the fractious stance of Dawkins.

From all this, Cobern extracts four rules for teaching science:Teach science, not scientism; teach for sound understanding, not belief; teach the evidence; and give students time to explore their own ideas. None of these ideas is novel or controversial, and none really requires Cobern's peevish preliminaries for its genesis.

David Henderson's essay, "Implementing methodological secularism," merely expands on Cobern's, and needs no discussion here.

Philosopher Austin Dacey proposes a counterargument to Cobern's and Henderson's jeremiads. He argues, in oddly tentative terms, that Dawkins and others may actually soften the science– religion conflict by defining an opposite extreme to creationism. Given these extremes, the middle, where science and religion are in harmony, may be seen as such by the general public. This he calls the Dawkins Effect.

Biochemist Juan Antonio Aguilera Mochón presents a Spanish perspective in his essay. In Spanish schools, "religion is taught alongside science as part of the general curriculum" (p 137). Religion teaches the possibility of miracles — supernatural interventions in the natural world. As Victor Stenger did in his God: The Failed Hypothesis (Amherst [NY]: Prometheus, 2007), Aguilera argues that this leads to inevitable conflict. "Religious instructors ... very rarely admit that evolution was and is a purely natural process. ... Therefore, most Spanish children learn in school to make the two subjects and approaches compatible through a variety of ways of 'double thinking.' ... this confusing situation is not unique to Spain" (p 147). Aguilera concludes, "[A]n indoctrination that is based on faith and belief and miracles is incompatible with a scientific education that is based on evidence and critical thinking" (p 147).

In Part III, agricultural ethicist Jeffrey Burkhardt takes a postmodernist," left-wing" position. With an illconcealed antipathy for what he calls the "Science Establishment,"Burkhardt makes a series of questionable arguments. One is that the apparent unity of the sciences and their methodologies is illusory; that "what science really is is a collection of disparate epistemic and moral cultures ..." (p 164). Next, he argues that scientific literacy is a chimera. And in the spirit of true postmodern relativism he concludes that "A modernist believer in Truth and The Good must respect the right of others to believe in Creationism, astrology, Scientology, and the like, even if these are all — scientifically speaking — wrong" (p 169).

In their essay, Barry Kosmin and Juhem Navarro-Rivera argue quite the opposite: "[C]ontrary to Burkhardt's opinion, the goal of science education is ... to have a rational public that understands, at a basic level, the costs and benefits of implementing such policies"(p 181). The antiscientific stances of both the postmodern left and the religious right are neatly summarized thus:

[The concept of] science as a common good embodying valueneutral knowledge has come to be disputed by certain communities that feel threatened by the implications of scientific research for their own worldviews. In the academy, a fashionable relativist and postcolonial outlook belittles the achievements of science and instead values 'local knowledge' grounded in indigenous or ancient conceptual categories. More importantly, science had come under challenge from a resurgent religious fundamentalism,which above all seeks to protect young people from being taught scientific ideas that seem to threaten religious beliefs. (p 176)

Taken as a whole, this book does not appear to break any new ground. It does present arguments for and against teaching science unfettered by ideology and does so at one remove from the specifics of arguments over creationism, stem-cell research, global warming, and so on. But although I surely wish ISSSC success in its endeavors, I don't see much to attract the non-specialist reader.

About the Author(s): 

Lawrence S Lerner
College of Natural Science & Mathematics
California State University, Long Beach
1250 Bellflower Boulevard
Long Beach CA 90840
lslerner@csulb.edu

Review: Beyond the Firmament

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Year: 
2008
Issue: 
4
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
37–38
Reviewer: 
Stephen Matheson
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Beyond the Firmament: Understanding Science and the Theology of Creation
Author(s): 
Gordon J Glover
Chesapeake (VA): Watertree Press, 2007. 228 pages

We all know the story already. Evangelical Protestant Christians, by sizable majorities, reject biological evolution and embrace a view that is crudely described as "creationism." Whole ministries and "institutes" work tirelessly to discredit evolutionary science, churning out propaganda that ranges from the sublimely mistaken to the ridiculously dishonest. Evangelicals are repeatedly offered the choice between evolution and creation, beset by creationist apologetics on one hand and atheistic triumphalism on the other, both well-girded for culture war. When the characters move out of range of parody, it is almost funny, but war is hell, and this is war.

Now suppose you are a reader of RNCSE, and you want to be a hero, to rescue an evangelical friend from this grim battlefield and its damaging crossfire. What now? There is the science education approach: help your friend understand basic geology and evolutionary biology, so that he or she can get past the nonsense dispensed by the folk science networks. That is important work, and your rescue attempt might fail without it. But it is likely that a given evangelical’s biggest hurdle is not ignorance of genetics and biogeography, or even enthusiasm for incredulity-based design arguments, but the sense that evolutionary accounts of natural history are theological poison. The barrier is the Bible, specifically the creation accounts in Genesis, and standard evangelical approaches to understanding them.

Many would have you believe that this task is impossible, that in fact the evangelical understanding of Genesis is clearly at odds with an ancient biosphere characterized by common ancestry and that your evangelical friend must either continue to take fire from scientific naturalism or repent of his evangelical ways and embrace a view of Genesis that is "figurative" or "non-literal" or something like that. Gordon J Glover, in his superb book Beyond the Firmament, would beg to differ.

And who is this Gordon Glover? Well, he is not a creationist (though he used to be), he is not an academic scholar, and he is not a wuss. He is a former Navy deep-sea diver and engineer, and he is a hard-nosed evangelical Christian. (He even looks like an evangelical. ) He reads a lot and thinks a lot, but he is not a pointy-headed academic, and that (along with a keen wit and a generous sense of humor) is one of his clearest assets. Because in all likelihood, your struggling evangelical friend needs fellow evangelicals, whom he can trust, to help him get out of the crossfire — the theologians and the scientists might have to come later. Beyond the Firmament represents an opportunity for your friend to sit down with someone who gets it, who knows what is at stake and why everyone is so worried, and who sees the way forward.

So is this one of those lame attempts at concordism, where the author pounds the square pegs of Genesis into the round holes of natural history? Hardly; indeed, Glover is deliciously scornful of such exercises, in sections of the book that should make most readers laugh out loud. (On the claims of one prominent Christian apologist regarding biblical support for an expanding universe:"I’m sure this news comes as a big relief to those whose faith was hanging on whether or not the cosmic expansion taught by the Bible was in agreement with the latest CMBR data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe" [p 136]. ) No, Glover’s project is more ambitious than that.

The heart of Glover’s book, it seems to me, is chapter 3, "The context of creation." Glover summarizes the ancient Near Eastern origin of the Genesis creation accounts, demonstrating that the narratives are, cosmologically speaking, adopted completely from the creation myths of the time. The differences are profound, but they are entirely theological. Cosmologically, according to Glover, Genesis clearly indicates that the earth is "a great big table sitting over a watery abyss and lying under a solid firmament" (p 63). He explains that this cosmology was nothing special in its time. That firmament, which was always understood to be a solid dome of some kind, akin to a giant planetarium, is what he calls "the smoking gun, " the clear link between the biblical creation account and its pagan counterparts. Reflecting on this relationship, Glover makes this observation:

Rather than seize the opportunity to overturn the commonly held view of the universe which was riddled with theological and cosmological error, God seems to hijack the popular cosmogony and use it as a vehicle to set the theological record straight, leaving the cosmological record intact. (p 63)

The move that Glover makes in this section is one that I and many other evangelicals believe to be central to any honest approach to Genesis. While affirming the Bible to be infallible, and even inerrant, he is flatly stating that the cosmology of Genesis is wrong. Not just "figurative, " but wrong. (Glover then concludes that the cosmological narrative, because it is plainly inaccurate, cannot be intended to provide an accurate description of the physical universe. ) This is a serious step for any evangelical, and Glover’s handling of the section is masterful. It could get your friend out of harm’s way.

With similar clarity and wry humor, he covers basic scientific principles (emphasizing uniformity), and nicely discusses areas of modern science (the age of the cosmos and the earth, and common descent) of concern to evangelicals. His comments on miracles, intervention, and the sovereignty of God should be helpful to many confused Christians. The book is full of brilliant metaphors and timely jokes, and it’s fun to read.

Beyond the Firmament is clearly written for evangelical Christians, and many of its rough spots arise from this somewhat narrow focus. Science is repeatedly referred to as a "mission field, " and many of Glover’s complaints about "creation science" deal with the barriers it erects between scientists and (evangelical) Christian faith. Some of the best jokes (if you raise questions about the "waters above the sky-dome" you’re likely to "end up at the top of somebody’s prayer list" [p 63]) are aimed specifically at evangelicals. Many themes that some readers will find obvious or simplistic are revisited a little too often. Glover’s jaunty, conversational style will help many readers, but the footnotes are barely adequate and there is no index. A section on materialism and morality struck me as simplistic and unnecessary.

But many of these weaknesses are indications that the book is a perfect tool for its intended purpose: a serious examination of creation and science, for serious evangelical laypersons who sense that Christian folk science is (and has ever been) a failure. It might just save your friend’s faith, and win a friend for science in the process.



About the Author(s): 
Stephen Matheson
Biology Department
Calvin College
1726 Knollcrest Circle SE
Grand Rapids MI 49546-4403
smatheso@calvin.edu

Stephen Matheson is Associate Professor of Biology at Calvin College (and Steve #763 in NCSE’s Project Steve). He blogs on issues of science and Christian faith at sfmatheson.blogspot.com

Review: Intelligent Design Versus Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
18
Year: 
2008
Issue: 
4
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
38–39
Reviewer: 
Michael K O'Sullivan
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Intelligent Design Versus Evolution
Author(s): 
Edited by Louise Gerdes
Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2008. 126 pages.

The At Issue series from Greenhaven Press has become a standard in many public high school libraries, due primarily to the pro/con, point/counterpoint, balanced approach it takes with any controversial issue or topic. The introduction of each volume is used to give readers a historical and current perspective on the issue, and an overview essay from a previously published source is used to present the controversies surrounding the issue.

The introduction to this volume attempts to cover the history of this controversial topic from Charles Darwin's publication of his evolutionary theory in 1859 to the Scopes "monkey" trial in 1925 and up to the machinations taken by the Kansas state board of education in 2005 when it redefined science and opened the door to supernatural explanations in its classrooms, and its reversal in 2007, when it returned to the more mainstream scientific definition of evolution. Missing from this introduction and the overview essay, however, is the Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District decision from 2005, in which a federal district judge ruled that this Pennsylvania school district violated the Constitution by requiring the presentation of "intelligent design" in its science curriculum. This court decision does appear later in the book, but does not receive adequate or fair coverage.

The essays compiled by the editor for this publication are reprinted with permission from a variety of publications, including newspapers, magazines, professional journals,and books. It should also be noted that these essays have been edited to meet certain publication requirements. Prominent and not so prominent spokespersons from both sides of the issue are featured in this volume. If you have followed this battle for any length of time, you will recognize several of the names of the commentators with essays included in this edition. Two of the more outspoken commentators included in this volume are William Dembski and Richard Dawkins.

Following the point/counterpoint style of the At Issue series, the book presents a piece arguing that "intelligent design" is based on science, not religion, and then a piece countering that "intelligent design"is religion, not science. A third perspective also is offered: "intelligent design" is neither religion nor science. This particular essay, written by John Derbyshire, a journalist and author who writes for conservative political newsmagazines, originally appeared in the conservative magazine National Review. Evolution is then addressed by Dawkins in his essay entitled, "Evolution is an accepted fact," and is countered by Dembski's attempt to compare evolution to alchemy.

Considering this volume is primarily targeting high school students, the biggest problem with Dembski's article "Evolution is a flawed theory",which is reproduced in its entirety, will be the difficulty high school students will have in following and comprehending Dembski's meandering discussion of how evolution resembles alchemy more than science. For example, I wonder how many students would comprehend his conclusion, "The lesson of alchemy should be plain: Causal specificity cannot be redeemed in the coin of metaphysics, be it Neoplatonic or materialistic" (p 56). The selection of this essay to counter Dawkins's argument was a poor editorial choice. I am sure that there are plenty of other pieces the editor could have selected that would have been more age-appropriate and readable for high school students.

The tactic of incorporating "intelligent design" in the science curriculum by "teaching the controversy" also is addressed. Jonathan Witt, a fellow at the Discovery Institute, takes the point of view that "Critical analysis of evolutionary theory should be taught in the public schools." Alan Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, counters with the obvious point that the science classroom should be used for the teaching of science. Leshner summarizes, "At a time when the United States faces increasing global competition in science and technology, public school science classrooms should remain free of ideological interference and dedicated to the rigor that has made American science the envy of the world" (p 66).

This volume provides a further legitimate rebuttal to the "teach the controversy" argument, with an essay entitled "Intelligent design should be taught in religion classes, not science." It is in such classes, according to Michael Ruse, professor of philosophy at Florida State University, that beliefs such as "intelligent design" can be debated along with other "faith-based" beliefs. As previously mentioned, one area where this book significantly fails is in its coverage of the Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District decision. The book does not fairly or adequately cover this major judicial decision.The only article that addresses this case, "Outlawing discussion of intelligent design in schools is a violation," is written by John Calvert, an attorney who serves as managing director of the Intelligent Design Network, and counsels school boards, school administrators, and science teachers regarding the teaching of what he calls origins science.

Calvert misrepresents the judge's findings in the Dover decision, calling it "twisted", and claiming it effectively establishes a state sponsored ideology. He even claims that the court "inserted a religious bias into science, while purporting to remove one" (p 73). Unfortunately this book does not provide a counterargument to Calvert's interpretation, so the average student, with a limited or no awareness of this judicial decision, will be left with a highly skewed interpretation of what even the media described at the time as a very thorough and comprehensive ruling. Unless a science teacher or a high school librarian selecting this book has stayed current on the issue of "intelligent design", this shortcoming in the book will be easily overlooked.

This book, as part of the At Issue series, does a fairly thorough job of presenting both sides of the various arguments surrounding the "intelligent design" versus evolution battle. However, the content of several of the articles, as previously mentioned, will require some introductory knowledge and understanding of evolution.

One would hope that books like the At Issue series will encourage critical thinking and analysis among high school students, as they are designed to do.However, it has been my experience as a high school librarian that many students approach controversial topics with a preconceived opinion. Students picking up this book, or even going into the publisher's on-line version (Opposing Viewpoints), will migrate to the point of view that supports their belief, while ignoring the opposing viewpoint. This is not the fault of the publisher or the editor in their choice of articles, unless they neglect to include articles from a certain perspective. Encouraging students to review and analyze viewpoints critically is the role of the teacher or the media specialist. As teachers, we need to encourage students to approach controversial issues with an open mind and to be receptive to different points of view. Students looking for arguments to support a particular point of view in the "intelligent design" versus evolution debate will not be disappointed in this volume.

About the Author(s): 

Michael K O'Sullivan
Rosemount High School
3335 142nd Street West
Rosemount MN 55068
michael.osullivan@district196.org

Michael K O'Sullivan is the Instructional Media Coordinator at Rosemount Senior High School in Rosemount, Minnesota. He is coauthor, with his wife Connie O'Sullivan, of "Monkey business: The intelligent design war has come to the school library" (School Library Journal 2005 Nov; 51 [11]: 42–5) and "Selection or censorship: Libraries and the intelligent design debate" (Library Review 2007 Mar; 56 [3]: 200–7).

RNCSE 28 (5—6)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2008
Date: 
September–December
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 28 (5-6)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2008
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
2

NEWS

  1. Updates
    News from California, Louisiana, North Carolina, Northern Marianas,Texas, and abroad.

NCSE NEWS

  1. News from the Membership
    What our members are doing to support evolution and oppose pseudoscience wherever the need arises.

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. Does Expelled Belong in the Science Classroom?
    Kevin Fisher
    Now available on DVD, should Expelled be used as a supplement in science classes?
  2. Books: Biological Lives
    Read about key players in scientific discoveries, evolutionary theory, and the advancement of knowledge about the natural world.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  1. A Rude Introduction to Expelled
    Eugenie C Scott
    When asked to appear in a film, NCSE's executive director usually accepts. But this time, there was a twist.
  2. Bait and Switch: Expelled's Questionable Interview Tactics
    Anne D Holden and Eugenie C Scott
    And it turns out that the producers of Expelled were less than forthcoming with other evolution advocates they sought for the film.
  3. Marketing Expelled
    Anne D Holden and Eugenie C Scott
    Opening weekend box office numbers are important to the success of a film. How Expelled's producers pulled those numbers up.
  4. Expelled Tanks at the Box Office After Big Start
    Eugenie C Scott
    The first weekend was strong, but then ... not so much.
  5. Expelled's Copyright Woes
    Glenn Branch
    Some "borrowed" segments caused legal headaches.
  6. Ben in His Own Words
    Excerpts from interviews with narrator Ben Stein.
  7. Trouble Ahead for Science
    Kenneth R Miller
    This pale imitation of science will not prepare US students to make future progress in health, agriculture, technology, engineering, or conservation.
  8. Expelled and the Reviewers
    Glenn Branch
    The movie may have sold a lot of tickets, but only 10% of independent reviewers had anything positive to say about the film.
  9. Creationists' Culture Wars: Hollywood Style
    Robert T Pennock
    Expelled is another front on the attack on science. "Academic freedom" bills are the most recent weapons.
  10. Meet the Martyrs: Caroline Crocker
    Carrie Sager and Andrea Bottaro
    She claims she was "fired", but she kept on teaching.
  11. Meet the Martyrs: Guillermo Gonzalez
    Carrie Sager
    The astronomer was denied tenure.Was it more than just involvement in ID?
  12. Meet the Martyrs: Richard Sternberg
    Carrie Sager and Eugenie C Scott
    He resigned before he allowed a controversial paper in print, then claimed persecution.
  13. Meet the Martyrs: Robert Marks, Pamela Winnick, Michael Egnor
    Carrie Sager
    Their professional lives ruined? Not by Big Science!
  14. Expelled Errors: Challenging Science
    Carrie Sager and Joshua Rosenau
    The real story of how science treats dissenters.
  15. Expelled Errors: Evolution
    Joshua Rosenau and Eugenie C Scott
    The film's errors in describing evolutionary science.
  16. Expelled Errors: "Intelligent Design"
    Eugenie C Scott and Joshua Rosenau
    One would expect the film at least to get this right.
  17. Expelled Errors: Science and Religion
    Eugenie C Scott and Peter MJ Hess
    If evolution equals atheism, why do so many religious denominations accept it?
  18. Expelled Errors: Hitler and Eugenics
    Joshua Rosenau and Susan Spath
    Hitler did not need evolution to support his ambitions.
  19. Divergence over Expelled
    Glenn Branch
    Who liked it; who didn't. And why?
  20. Why Re-Invent the Crystal?
    Gary Hurd
    The film avoided asking anyone whose research actually focuses on the relationship between inorganic crystals and early life.

A Rude Introduction to "Expelled"

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
A Rude Introduction to Expelled
Author(s): 
Eugenie C Scott
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2008
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
11–12
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

I meet a whole lot of creationists in my job, as one might expect. Some are confrontational or even rude; most are civil; a few are cordial — sometimes a bit too cordial, like the fellow who offered to take me out for dinner and dancing the next time I happened to be in his town. It is all part of the routine. But when they flat-out lie to me about what they are doing, I get angry.

In early 2007, I received a request from a representative of Rampant Films, asking to interview me for a documentary entitled Crossroads: The Intersection of Science and Religion. Judging from the producer’s description, its approach was going to be objective and reportorial. I agreed to the request, and spent several phone calls, e-mails, and the better part of a day chatting on camera about the creationism/evolution controversy.

I thought nothing more about it until the summer, when NCSE received a tip about a forthcoming creationist movie, called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The movie was reported to be arguing that a dogmatic scientific establishment was fiercely suppressing the evidence for “intelligent design” and ruthlessly punishing — “expelling” — those who dared to challenge the orthodoxy.

Standard creationist fare, of course. But big money was evidently behind the effort. Expelled was going to have a major theatrical release — unheard of for a creationist film — and its production company, Premise Media, enlisted Motive Marketing, the company that successfully used viral marketing techniques to promote The Passion of the Christ to fundamentalist Christians.

So we were prepared to take Expelled seriously. Imagine my surprise, though, when we discovered that I was already involved! Rampant Films turned out to be a front for Premise Media, and the person who interviewed me was in fact the associate producer of Expelled. I had been lied to. And so had a lot of people who were interviewed, including my friends Michael Shermer, PZ Myers, and Richard Dawkins.

As I told The New York Times (2007 Sep 27), which ran a story about the interviews, “I have certainly been taped by people and appeared in productions where people’s views are different than mine, and that’s fine.” I added that I probably would have appeared in the film anyway, even if the producers had been candid about their intentions: “I just expect people to be honest with me, and they weren’t.”

Perhaps just as revealing as who was interviewed is who was not. Myers and Dawkins were interviewed because, in addition to being lucid expositors of evolution, they are also both outspoken atheists. A spokesperson for Expelled later divulged to Scientific American that people of faith who accept evolution, such as NCSE Supporter Kenneth R Miller, were not interviewed for the movie because they “would have confused the film unnecessarily.”

What kind of film is it that is confused by telling the truth? That’s right: a propaganda film. There are only two ways of dealing with propaganda: ignoring it and refuting it. Because of the potential influence of Expelled over a mass audience, we decided that it was not safe for NCSE to ignore its claims. Instead, we took on the massive task of debunking it — carefully, thoroughly, and authoritatively.

Expelled Exposed:
The NCSE response

As we prepared, we identified four central points likely to form the core message of Expelled: that “intelligent design” is a scientifically credible alternative to evolution, that proponents of “intelligent design” have been persecuted by the scientific establishment, that evolution is intrinsically atheistic, and — most outrageously — that acceptance of evolution was responsible for historical atrocities such as the Holocaust.

We decided to devote a separate website, Expelled Exposed (), to debunking Expelled. NCSE’s staff, especially Carrie Sager and Josh Rosenau, labored long and hard at designing the website and writing its content. We even commissioned four short videos to accompany — and draw traffic to — the website, on such topics as the forced resignation of Chris Comer (see RNCSE 2008 Jan/Feb; 28 [1]: 4–7) and the evolution of complex structures such as the eye.

It was a lot of hard work. But it was worth it. When Expelled opened — in over one thousand theaters across the country — our website was already live, receiving tens of thousands of visitors every day. NCSE’s allies in the scientific, educational, and civil liberties communities updated their websites to link to it. Reviewers, journalists, and bloggers availed themselves of its resources, too.

At the end of the day, Expelled was a critical failure — “a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry ... an unprincipled propaganda piece that insults believers and nonbelievers alike,” wrote the reviewer for The New York Times (2008 Apr 18). And despite a seemingly impressive box office tally, it is likely to have lost money for its producers and failed to reach beyond a small audience (see p 15 and 17).

NCSE’s efforts were not the only cause of Expelled’s failure. The ignorance, arrogance, and incompetence of the film, its producers, and its spokesperson, actor and pundit Ben Stein, were invaluable assets — to our side (see p 21). And Scientific American, the Skeptics Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Dawkins, Myers, Shermer, and a host of bloggers all played their parts.

I think that it is fair to say, however, that NCSE’s contribution to the response to Expelled was indispensable. As the only national organization focused exclusively on defending the teaching of evolution, NCSE was in a unique position to coordinate, as well as provide the bulk of, the response, both through Expelled Exposed and through one-on-one communications with reporters, reviewers, and bloggers.

But Expelled is not going away. It was released on DVD on October 21, 2008, and creationists are sure to be screening it from now till kingdom come. For that reason, we decided to devote a special issue of RNCSE to Expelled. Much of the content comes directly from Expelled Exposed, although we took the opportunity to correct and update a few details where necessary.

The limitations of our discussion should be acknowledged. For some topics, such as why Guillermo Gonzalez was not granted tenure at Iowa State University (see p 34), or whether Premise Media was guilty of plagiarism in developing the animations of the cell it used (see p 19), it is impossible for us to know exactly what happened and why — although it is still possible to tell that Expelled and its producers are not reliable guides to the events in question.

For other topics, such as Expelled’s charges that evolution instigated the Holocaust (see p 50) or that evolution is incapable of accounting for complexity in nature (see p 43), a complete discussion would have been neither feasible nor, given the attention span of the typical internet browser, desirable. Here, too, we do not pretend to have done more than highlight the more obvious ways in which Expelled misleads, errs, and flatly lies.

More than one critic of Expelled took note of the ironic suitability of its subtitle, No Intelligence Allowed: Arthur Caplan wrote, for example, “There is not a shred of intelligence on display in this just released ‘documentary’ purporting to be a careful examination of the fight over teaching creationism and evolution in America” (MSNBC 2008 Apr 23). I am sure that you will agree that the same cannot be said of NCSE’s rebuttal.

About the Author(s): 
Eugenie C Scott
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
scott@ncseweb.org

Eugenie C Scott is NCSE’s executive director.

"Expelled" Tanks at the Box Office After Big Start

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Expelled Tanks at the Box Office After Big Start
Author(s): 
Eugenie C Scott
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2008
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
17–18
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed had one of the best opening weekends of any documentary, according to data on the Box Office Mojo website (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/). But Ben Stein’s attack on science and evolution faltered fairly quickly and was out of theaters after a brief run of 56 days (eight weeks). The total gross reported by Box Office Mojo was $7 690 545 — almost 40% of it obtained during that highly successful opening weekend.

Expelled opened in 1052 theaters, opening on more theaters than any other documentary on Box Office Mojo’s list of the top 100 documentaries. Most documentaries start out in a handful of theaters, and as word of mouth spreads, the number of theaters increases. The number two documentary, March of the Penguins, for example, opened on only four screens, but eventually was shown on 2506 screens (grossing $77 437 223). The top–grossing documentary, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, perhaps because of Moore’s drawing power, opened on a whopping 868 screens and topped out at 2011 theaters (grossing $119 194 771). Part of the reason for most documentaries’ beginning their runs in a more modest number of theaters is the expense of producing and distributing films to theaters: each print costs upward of $1500–$2000 (according to ). Expelled’s big opening weekend was therefore a pricey venture.

Expelled’s producers apparently were willing to gamble on a big opening weekend because they believed they had a successful strategy for box office success (p 15). Motive Entertainment, the marketer for Expelled, claims credit for building up interest in Mel Gibson’s 2004 Hollywood movie The Passion of the Christ through “viral” word-of-mouth marketing, including private screenings in churches and parish halls, among other promotions. Similarly, for several months before its theater release, Expelled was shown to religious conservatives in churches and rented theaters, and heavily promoted on-line. The intent in the marketing of both films was to excite conservative Christians about the movies and to encourage them to show up on the opening weekend. Large crowds on opening weekend create a buzz for a movie that can carry it through several weeks’ tenure in the theaters, increasing the box office and — for a documentary with a mission, like Expelled — ensure it a wide audience. The plan worked very well for The Passion of the Christ, which opened on Ash Wednesday on 3006 screens and collected more than $125 000 000 by the end of the following weekend. Walt Ruloff, Expelled’s executive producer, clearly placed a great deal of confidence in this strategy; he suggested to the Los Angeles Times (2008 Apr 18) that the movie might top Fahrenheit 9/11’s opening weekend of $23.9 million!

Things did not go quite that well for Expelled, although the movie had a very successful opening weekend, April 18–20, 2008. Patrons at those 1052 theaters contributed $2 970 848 to the total gross, which was enough to put Expelled into the top ten grossing movies opening that week. For a documentary, those numbers were stunning. I must say, we at NCSE were dismayed at this successful beginning, but we hypothesized that the audiences probably were composed primarily of conservative Christians who had seen the movie or heard of it through their churches, and that the general public might be less enthusiastic about it in future weeks.

Our hypothesis appeared to be confirmed: after scathing reviews (see p 24) and apparent public indifference beyond its conservative Christian base, Expelled quickly sank from the top ten; by its second weekend in the theaters, it had dropped to 13th. By the third weekend, only 656 theaters were carrying the film — about a 40% drop. By the fourth weekend, only 402 theaters were still showing the film, and the average gross/theater had dropped from a high on opening day of $1149 to a dismal $300. Within a few more days, the average gross/theater had dropped to around $100; by the end of May, the producer had ceased reporting statistics to Box Office Mojo (personal communication from website staff). The reported close date for Expelled was August 7, 2007. The total reported gross from Expelled’s theatrical release is $7 690 545. The successful opening weekend accounted for 38% of this gross, suggesting a lack of “legs” for this film.

A good point of comparison is the Bill Maher documentary Religulous, which is sharply critical of the Abrahamic religions and opened October 1, 2008. The production budget of Religulous was roughly $2.5 million, 30–40% lower than that of Expelled, and it opened in less than half as many theaters. Yet it grossed $3 409 643 on its opening weekend, about 15% higher than Expelled’s opening weekend gross of $2 970 848. Whereas the number of theaters showing Expelled had steadily and rapidly decreased from its opening weekend, Religulous was actually shown in more theaters in its second and third week (568 and 540, respectively) than its first (502). By its seventh week, according to the website The Numbers (http://www.the-numbers.com/), Religulous was still showing in 238 theaters, with a gross per theater of $968. Box Office Mojo’s most recent numbers show its total gross at $12 572 995 — 61% higher than that of Expelled’s entire theatrical run! Despite Expelled’s higher production budget and wider distribution, Religulous has surpassed it by virtually every measure of box office success. Expelled’s website continues to call it the “#1 documentary of 2008”, but that is clearly no longer the case.

Expelled’s successful opening weekend at least provided bragging rights. According to Box Office Mojo, Expelled is the fifth most successful political documentary (after three Michael Moore films and An Inconvenient Truth), the twelfth most successful documentary (between Hoop Dreams and Tupac: Resurrection), and the twelfth most successful Christian film (between Facing the Giants and Megiddo: The Omega Code II). But those rights did not come cheap: Premise Media’s Logan Craft told the Dallas Morning News (2008 Apr 27) that nearly $4 million was spent on producing the movie and “a multiple of that” in distribution and marketing so far. So it is unlikely that the producers have recouped their investment.

Not all viewers will have paid for a ticket to see Expelled. Its producers were encouraging visitors to book a theater and rent the movie for a special showing, and it is not known whether they got many takers. Additionally, the producers have released the movie in DVD form on October 21, 2008. We can anticipate that Expelled will have a future in living rooms and in church basements, even if it had a short life on the big screen. NCSE and its allies will have to remain vigilant to ensure that the movie or segments from it are not taught in public schools because of its religious message. Even without the religious message, however, the anti-science message of Expelled is sufficient to keep it from classroom use (see p 27).

Update on DVD sales


As of July 2009, data from The Numbers indicate that consumers have bought approximately 109 000 Expelled DVDs, spending just under $2 million to do so. Sales have leveled off at roughly 250–400 DVDs per week for the last three months.

By comparison, An Inconvenient Truth has sold 1.66 million DVDs, Michael Moore's Sicko has sold 1.03 million, and Religulous — which was released on DVD roughly four months after Expelled — has sold 372 000. (All data are for standard-format DVDs only; The Numbers does not track sales of HD or Blu-Ray DVDs.)

It appears that Expelled has been no more successful in the home market than at the box office, and it remains unlikely that the producers have recouped their expenses. However, if DVD sales remain steady for some time in the future, even at this modest level, Expelled may eventually turn a profit.


About the Author(s): 
Eugenie C Scott
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
scott@ncseweb.org

Eugenie C Scott is NCSE’s executive director.

"Expelled" and the Reviewers

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Expelled and the Reviewers
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2008
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
24–25
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

The creationist propaganda movie Expelled was anything but a critical favorite, with the Rotten Tomatoes movie review website reporting that only 10% of reviews (4 of 40) were favorable and summarizing the critical consensus as “Full of patronizing, poorly structured arguments, Expelled is a cynical political stunt in the guise of a documentary” (www.rottentomatoes.com/ m/expelled_no_intelligence_allowed/).

Not surprisingly, reviewers who were already familiar with, or took the time to investigate, the “intelligent design” movement and its claims saw through Expelled. Reviewers who took the film on its own merits were generally unimpressed, although they sometimes worried that there might be a grain of truth in the complaints of the “martyrs” featured in the movie. And, of course, reviewers who were predisposed to accept the claims of Expelled were effusive in their praise.

A summary of the reviews would be lengthy and repetitive, but there are a few reviews that deserve special notice — because they were particularly informative and complete, or because they appeared in particularly influential publications, or because they were particularly fine examples of the same rhetorical excess in which Expelled indulged. (Not included here are organizational statements about or reactions to Expelled, whether favorable or unfavorable; for these, see p 52).

Informed reviews

Dan Whipple was perhaps the first journalist to review Expelled, having been invited (“probably by mistake,” he wrote) to a preliminary screening. His preliminary review appeared in Colorado Confidential (2007 Dec 16; available on-line via www.coloradoconfidential.com/tag.do?tag=Expelled), and he continued to keep his eye on Expelled, publishing a detailed review in Skeptical Inquirer (2008 May/Jun; 32 [3]: 52–3).

After attending a preliminary screening in Minneapolis, Richard Dawkins, who was himself interviewed for Expelled under false pretenses (see p 24), discussed the screening and the film in a post on his website (2008 Mar 23; available on-line at richarddawkins. net/article,2394,Lying-for-Jesus,Richard-Dawkins) with his characteristic brio: “Quite apart from anything else, it is drearily boring, the tedium exacerbated by the grating monotony of Stein’s voice.”

Most extensive, and most impressive, was Scientific American’s package of reviews and commentary (available on-line at www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=sciam-reviews-expelled). At its center was a lengthy review by Michael Shermer, who like Dawkins was interviewed for Expelled under false pretenses. Also included were a review by Scientific American’s editor John Rennie and a lengthy, and revealing, discussion with Expelled’s associate producer Mark Mathis.

Lauri Lebo, a journalist who covered Kitzmiller v Dover for the York Daily Record and then wrote a book, The Devil in Dover (New York: The New Press, 2008), about the trial, reviewed Expelled for AlterNet (2008 Apr 24; available on-line at www.alternet.org/movies/83427/), writing that it is “a slick misleading piece of shrill propaganda. ... It exploits both the concept of democracy and the victims of the Holocaust.”

Mainstream reviews

Time’s reviewer Jeffrey Kluger (2008 Apr 10; available on-line at www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1729703,00.html) was intrigued by the tales of martrydom (“if there’s anything to it at all, it’s a matter well worth exposing”) and critical of evolutionary biologists espousing “sneering, finger-in-the-eye atheism,” but dismissive of the movie’s scientific claims and even more so of its attempt to link Darwin to euthanasia, abortion, eugenics, and Nazism.

Variety’s review (2008 Apr 11; available on-line at www.variety.com/review/VE1117936783.html?categoryid=31&cs=1) began unpromisingly — “There’s an intelligent case to be made for intelligent design” — but was critical of the film’s style and claims, especially regarding its attempt to link evolution and the Holocaust, which it described as offensive and fatuous. The review added, slangily and punningly, that the film “will be a natural selection for Christian audiences.”

The New York Times’s reviewer Jeanette Catsoulis (2008 Apr 18; available on-line at movies.nytimes.com/2008/04/18/movies/18expe.html) hit the nail on the head: “One of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry ... the only expulsion here is of reason itself.”

The Los Angeles Times’s Mark Olsen was dismissive in his review (2008 Apr 18; available on-line at articles.latimes.com/2008/apr/18/entertainment/et-expelled18), recommending that Expelled be viewed as “a tiresome ideological bludgeon, an attempt to deceive audiences into believing it is one thing when it is, in fact, quite another.” “As a work of nonfiction filmmaking it is a sham,” he concluded, “and as agitprop it is too flimsy to strike any serious blows.”

Favorable reviews

Tom Bethell, a veteran anti-evolutionist, wrote in the American Spectator (2008 Feb; 41 [1]: 54–5; available on-line at www.spectator.org/dsp_article.asp?art_id=12759) that Expelled “is surely the best thing ever done on this issue, in any medium. At moments it brought tears of joy to my eyes. I have written about this controversy for over 30 years and by the movie’s end I felt that those of us who have insisted that Darwinism is a sorry mess and that life surely was designed are going to prevail.”

In World (2008 Apr 5; 23 [7]; available on-line at www.worldmag.com/articles/13903, Marvin Olasky wrote that Expelled “is perfect for adults and children of middle-school age or above: It should be rated R not for sex or violence but for being reasonable, radical, risible, and right,” and endorsed the claim that “Darwinism bulwark[ed] Hitlerian hatred by providing a scientific rationale for killing those considered less fit in the struggle for survival.”

In the Baptist Witness (2008 Apr 18; available on-line at www.bpnews.net/BPFirstPerson.asp?ID=27872, “intelligent design” proponent William Dembski acknowledged that the scientific establishment is not likely to be convinced by Expelled, but added, “The unwashed masses, in which I place myself, will love the film.” He concluded, “When future intellectual historians describe the key events that led to the fall of ‘Darwin’s Wall,’ Ben Stein’s Expelled will top the list.”

Writing in the California Catholic Daily (2008 Apr 26; available on-line at www.calcatholic.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?id=38c958af-e3dd-4c92-b28b-f8db9ba4c172), Matthew Lickona and Ernie Grimm discussed the film, with Grimm wholeheartedly endorsing its claims and going beyond: “The Darwinists even have their own Gestapo in the National Center for Science Education led by a modern day Heinrich Himmler named Eugenie Scott.”


About the Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
branch@ncseweb.org

Glenn Branch is NCSE’s deputy director.

"Expelled"'s Copyright Woes

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Expelled's Copyright Woes
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2008
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
19–20
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Adding to the controversies around Expelled were two separate allegations that the film infringed on the copyright of The Inner Life of the Cell (a video produced by XVIVO for Harvard University) and of "Imagine" (the 1971 song by John Lennon). These allegations involve contentious matters both of fact and of law, and it is not easy to ascertain to what extent they are valid, especially because neither was ever fully tested in a court of law. But the allegations certainly contributed to the view that the producers of Expelled were less than scrupulous — although they may also have reinforced the view that Expelled tried so hard to foment, that the proponents of "intelligent design" are the victims of systematic persecution.

"The inner life of the cell"

In the course of claiming that the complexity of the cell bespeaks design, Expelled uses a segment of computer-generated imagery of various cellular processes. PZ Myers, who obtained a promotional DVD for Expelled at the showing from which he was excluded (see p 15), argued in a March 23, 2008, post on his blog (available on-line at www.scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/03/about_that_cell_video_in_expel.php) that the segment on the DVD was clearly derived from "The Inner Life of the Cell":

they both have roughly the same layout and the same elements in view; this is a remarkable, umm, coincidence, since these are highly edited, selected renderings, with many molecules omitted … and curiously, they've both left out the same things.

He added:

I previously criticized the Harvard video for a shortcut. That kinesin molecule is illustrated showing a stately march, step by step, straight down the microtubule. Observations of kinesin show it's more complex, jittering back and forth and advancing stochastically. That's a simplification in the Harvard video that is also present in Expelled's version.

Also leveling the charge of plagiarism against Premise Media was Abbie Smith, in a series of rambunctious blog posts at [http://www.endogenousretrovirus.blogspot.com] (she now blogs at www.scienceblogs.com/erv ).

Responding in part to the blogospheric attention to the promotional DVD, David Bolinsky and Michael Astrachan of XVIVO sent a letter (dated April 9, 2008; available here) to the chairman of Premise Media, Logan Craft, stating:

... promotional material for the Expelled film ... clearly shows in the "cell segment" the virtually identical depiction of material from the "Inner Life" video. Among the infringed scenes, we particularly refer to the segment of the Expelled film purporting to show the "walking" models of kinesic activities in cellular mechanisms. The segments depicting these models in your film are clearly based upon, and copied from, material in the "Inner Life" video." ... We have also obtained legal advice that your copying, in virtually identical form, of material in the "[I]nner Life" video clearly meets the legal test of "substantial similarity" between the copied work and our original work.

And they warned that they would pursue legal action if the segment was not removed from Expelled before its scheduled commercial release and if all copies of the "Inner Life" video were not returned to XVIVO.

Premise Media responded first with a note denying the charge posted on the Expelled blog on April 11, 2008, and then with a lawsuit filed on April 14, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. In the filing, Premise Media asserted that the promotional DVD contains a different segment than is contained in the final version of Expelled, that both segments were created independently of the XVIVO video, and that even if the segments relied in part on the XVIVO video, the reliance would have been permissible as fair use, as a de minimis use, and as implicitly permitted by XVIVO's making the video available on-line for educational use. Premise Media thus sought a declaratory judgment that neither Expelled nor the promotional DVD "infringe any copyright or other claimed intellectual property rights XVIVO may have, if any, in the Inner Life Video or otherwise." The lawsuit ended uneventfully on June 23, 2008, when the parties agreed to dismiss the case with prejudice (meaning that a lawsuit on the same charges cannot be filed); as part of the settlement, XVIVO agreed not to file suit over the alleged copyright infringement.

Interestingly, a leading light of the "intelligent design" movement was previously accused of misusing "The Inner Life of the Cell". After William Dembski spoke at the University of Oklahoma on September 17, 2007 (see RNCSE 2007 Sep–Dec; [5–6]: 7–8), Abbie Smith noted that his presentation featured portions of The Inner Life of the Cell. She later wrote in a November 20, 2007, post at the Panda's Thumb blog (available on-line at www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/11/diexpelled-for.html) that in the version shown by Dembski in Oklahoma:

Harvard/XVIVO[']s narration, all of the science, is whisked away and replaced with a "surrealistic [L]illiputian realm" — "robots", "manufacturing", "circuitry", "nano motors", "UPS labels". Maybe they think it is "okay" because they turned all of Harvard's science into "Magic"! ... From my point of view, as a virologist and former teaching assistant, this isn't just copyright infringement. This is theft and plagiarism.

Smith alerted XVIVO and Harvard University about the possibility of copyright infringement on Dembski's part, and apparently they took action, for in a November 26, 2007, post at his blog (available on-line at www.uncommondescent.com/molecular-animations/news-release-harvards-xvivo-video/, Dembski announced that he was no longer going to use the film in his presentations, although he admitted no wrongdoing.

"Imagine"

A snippet — about fifteen seconds — from John Lennon's 1971 song "Imagine" is on the soundtrack of Expelled, playing as images of Joseph Stalin and the Chinese Red Army are shown along with a verse from the song: "Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion too." Writing on the Huffington Post blog (2008 Apr 14, available on-line at www.huffingtonpost.com/james-boyce/yoko-ono-sells-out-john-1_b_96527.html), James Boyce sharply criticized Lennon's widow for allowing Expelled to use the song: "I guess that the $20 million plus the estate earns every year isn't enough for Yoko Ono." Boyce was forced to retract his criticism on learning that in fact Ono had not given her permission; the Wall Street Journal (2008 Apr 16) reported, "Ms Ono's lawyer ... said in an interview Wednesday: 'It was not licensed.' With respect to the filmmakers, he says: 'We are exploring all options.' It is not clear what remedies if any may be available to Ms Ono." In a written statement, the producers of Expelled admitted that they failed to seek permission, but they called the snippet used "momentary" and claimed that the usage was "protected under the fair use doctrine of free speech."

On April 23, 2008, Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, Julian Lennon, and EMI Blackwood Music — who own the song "Imagine" — filed a lawsuit against Premise Media in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Noting that Expelled's producers sought permission for other music used in the film, the filing contended that "Defendants have intentionally and willfully used the Song without authorization because they knew that they would likely be unable to secure permission from Plaintiffs and/or because they wished to avoid the costs associated with lawfully licensing these works and paying royalties" and that "Defendants have also intentionally and willfully used the Song in a fashion that suggests to the public that such use was authorized, endorsed or sponsored by the Plaintiffs." EMI Records and Capital Records — which own the recording of "Imagine" used in Expelled — also filed a lawsuit against Premise Media in the New York state court system. Assisting Premise Media in its legal defense was the Stanford Center for Internet and Society's Fair Use Project, which seeks "to provide legal support to a range of projects designed to clarify, and extend, the boundaries of 'fair use' in order to enhance creative freedom."

In both cases, the plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction prohibiting the continued distribution of the movie, and in both cases, they were unsuccessful. On June 2, 2008, the judge hearing the federal case wrote that the plaintiffs "have not shown a clear likelihood of success on the merits because, on the basis of the current record, defendants are likely to prevail on their affirmative defense of fair use. That doctrine provides that the fair use of a copyrighted work for purposes of criticism and commentary is not an infringement of copyright." (The ruling is available on-line at ). On August 2, 2008, the judge hearing the state case noted that to succeed the plaintiffs would have had to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits, a danger of irreparable injury, and a balance of equities in their favor; he ruled that they failed on the first, succeeded on the second, and failed on the third. (The ruling is available on-line at cyberlaw.stanford.edu/system/ files/EMI+v.+Premise+PI+Order.pdf.) The defendants, however, lost a motion for dismissal of the case because they failed to meet their burden of showing that the plaintiffs could not prevail even if the facts were exactly as the plaintiffs allege.

Although the plaintiffs appealed the ruling in the federal case, they also showed signs of being ready to abandon the case, filing a motion on September 5, 2008, for the case to be dismissed with prejudice and without costs or attorney fees, primarily on the grounds that the film was already released with "Imagine" included, and secondarily on the grounds that "the Defendants may lack the financial resources to satisfy a potential judgment." Then, in a press release issued on October 6, 2008 (available on-line at cyberlaw.stanford.edu/node/5876, the Fair Use Project announced that "all of the plaintiffs in both cases have now withdrawn their claims and dismissed their cases"; the Wall Street Journal (2008 Oct 8) confirmed with announcement with Yoko Ono's spokesperson and EMI's lawyer. The Fair Use Project lamented, "There should never have been any doubt the filmmakers who were sued here had every right to use a short segment of a song for the purpose of criticizing it and the views it represents. But the right result came far too late." Why? Because "[t]he mere pendency of these cases caused the film's DVD distributor to shy away from releasing the full film — the version that includes the Imagine segment."

About the Author(s): 
Glenn Branch

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

Glenn Branch is NCSE's deputy director.

Divergence over "Expelled"

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Divergence over Expelled
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2008
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
52–53
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Organizations with a stake in the creationism/evolution controversy reacted to Expelled in a variety of ways. Thanks in part to a zealous campaign on the part of the film’s producers, creationist organizations generally lauded and even helped to promote the film — although there was a conspicuous and honorable exception in the old-earth creationist ministry Reasons to Believe. On the other side, it was generally understood among the scientific, educational, and civil liberties organizations with which NCSE works to defend the teaching of evolution in the public schools that NCSE would take the lead in responding to the film: there is no point, it was agreed, in reinventing the wheel. Groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the National Science Teachers Association were thus able to refer enquiries to NCSE and provide links to Expelled Exposed. Additionally, a handful of organizations issued welcome statements of their own denouncing the film.

Creationist organizations

There was not a major effort to publicize Expelled on the part of the traditional creation science organizations. The Institute for Creation Research featured a piece, “Intelligence expelled” (Acts & Facts 2008; 37 [4]: 9), which uncritically touted the film, and the ICR’s John Morris later invoked Expelled in a complaint about Texas’s denial of certification to its graduate school (“Academic censorship, round two,” Acts & Facts 2008; 37 [6]: 3), writing, “What a strange coincidence for Texas to be caught in the act of censorship and institutional bias just after the blockbuster exposé Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed hit the theaters,” but that seems to have been the extent of its efforts. The Creation Research Society, which focuses on creationist scholarship, seems not to have taken notice of Expelled except for a brief mention in its newsletter Creation Matters, where a footnote refers to the Expelled website for further information about Guillermo Gonzalez (2007 Nov/Dec; 12 [16]: 11–2).

In keeping with its brasher approach to creation evangelism, Answers in Genesis hyped Expelled relentlessly, even while warning that the film emphasized “intelligent design” (which the ministry generally criticizes for not being sufficiently biblical) and neglects its favored version of creationism. According to a March 13, 2008, post on the AiG website (www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2008/03/13/meeting-of-minds), AiG’s Ken Ham met with Expelled’s star Ben Stein at the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters, where “Ken pledged AiG’s strong promotional support to Mr Stein, indicating that AiG will use its multiple outlets to spread the word about his excellent film.” The same post described Stein as “actor/economist/lawyer/presidential speechwriter/science observer — a 21st-century Einsteinian figure.” Ham lived up to his promise: AiG published articles lauding Expelled on its website and in its print publications, and encouraged its supporters to attend the film, lobby theater owners to screen it, and spread the word.

Creation Ministries International — formerly the Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa branches of Answers in Genesis, before the 2005 schism (see RNCSE 2006 Nov/Dec; 26 [6]: 4–7) — welcomed Expelled with a February 15, 2008 post on its website (available on-line at creationontheweb.com/content/view/5626): “The controversial movie, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, is a documentary that will expose how the Darwinist hierarchy has closed ranks against the rise of intelligent design, a theory that opposes evolution and says that a Designer is responsible for life.” CMI subsequently featured a discussion with Expelled’s associate producer Mark Mathis and a glowing review of the film by D Russell Humphrey (who commented, “But the movie made me realize that our God-ordained right of free thought and speech is under systematic and increasing attack”) With little presence in the United States, where the bulk of the screenings occurred, however, it seems unlikely that CMI was as influential in promoting Expelled as was AiG.

The Discovery Institute, the de facto institutional home of “intelligent design” creationism, enthusiastically promoted Expelled, even devoting a section of its website (www.discovery.org/expelled/) to doing so. Its enthusiasm was no surprise, since a number of the people featured in the film are associated, in one way or another, with the Discovery Institute. A major project was attempting to rebut criticism of the film, especially on the blog Evolution News & Views (www.evolutionnews.org), which specializes in complaining about negative media coverage of “intelligent design” — “The misreporting of the evolution issue is one key reason for this site,” it explains, apparently oblivious to the unintended reading. But the Discovery Institute also used the film in connection with the so-called academic freedom bills it was promoting in 2008, and it recently was soliciting donations in order to send DVD copies of Expelled to “key policy makers, opinion makers and leaders throughout the country.”

A refreshing contrast to the general creationist embrace of Expelled was the response from the old-earth creationist ministry Reasons to Believe, headed by Hugh Ross. Asked to endorse or promote Expelled, RTB issued a statement reading, in part, “In Reasons [t]o Believe’s interaction with professional scientists, scientific institutions, universities, and publishers of scientific journals we have encountered no significant evidence of censorship, blackballing, or disrespect. ... Our main concern about Expelled is that it paints a distorted picture. It certainly doesn’t match our experience. Sadly, it may do more to alienate than to engage the scientific community, and that can only harm our mission.” A subsequent clarification expressed sympathy for “the pain and discrimination suffered by those scientists featured in the movie” but stood by the assessment of the film’s inaccuracy. (The statement and clarification are available on-line at www.reasons.org/resources/apologetics/expelled.shtml).

Non-creationist organizations

The American Scientific Affiliation, a group of evangelical Christians working in the sciences, commissioned Jeffrey Schloss, a professor of biology at Westmont College, to review Expelled. The result — entitled “The Expelled controversy: Overcoming or raising walls of division?” (available on-line at www.asa3.org/ASA/resources/Schloss200805.html) — runs over 17 000 words, but its conclusion suggests the tone:

Sadly, the film contributes to an approach that has raised rather than lowered walls between Christians and the surrounding culture. Sadly, it raises the already growing walls of suspicion about any scholarly attempts to explore the relationship between science and faith. Sadly, it raises walls that don’t protect but constrain the spiritual growth of our students, if they are driven to believe they must choose between God and evolution. And most sadly, it is raising all these walls unnecessarily, along a border that is never demonstrated to have been accurately surveyed, much less to be in need of defending.

Schloss’s review ought not to be taken as reflecting the ASA’s official position: according to its website, “the ASA does not take a position when there is honest disagreement between Christians on an issue”; in particular, “the ASA has no official position on evolution; its members hold a diversity of views with varying degrees of intensity.” Its official neutrality apparently extends to Expelled: its website (www.asa3.org) contains links to both the Expelled website and NCSE’s Expelled Exposed website, as well as to commentary from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Discovery Institute, and Reasons to Believe. In addition to Schloss’s review, there are also briefer assessments from Randy Isaac, the executive director of the ASA, and Frank Percival, a biology professor at Westmont College. And Richard Weikart, a historian and fellow of the Discovery Institute, attempts to rebut Schloss’s review’s claims about the supposed connection of Darwinism and Nazism.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general interest scientific society, issued a statement on April 18, 2008 (available on-line at www.aaas.org/news/releases/2008/media/0418aaas_statement.pdf) decrying “the profound dishonesty and lack of civility” of Expelled, which it described as “grossly unfair to millions of scientists in the United States and worldwide who are working to cure disease, solve hunger, improve national security, and otherwise advance science to improve the quality of human life.” The statement also emphasized the efforts of the AAAS and religious leaders to “build a constructive bridge between scientific and religious communities.” Accompanying the statement was a brief film (available on-line at www.youtube.com/watch?v=58UDTq3kaZM) on “Evolution, education, and the integrity of science”, featuring the AAAS’s Alan I Leshner and Jo Ellen Roseman, Francis S Collins, and two biology teachers (Rob Eshbach and Jennifer Miller) from Dover, Pennsylvania.

Focusing on Expelled’s outrageous claims about evolution as a cause of the Holocaust, the Anti-Defamation League issued a press release on April 29, 2008 (available at www.adl.org/PresRele/HolNa_52/5277_52.htm):

The film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed misappropriates the Holocaust and its imagery as a part of its political effort to discredit the scientific community which rejects so-called intelligent design theory. Hitler did not need Darwin to devise his heinous plan to exterminate the Jewish people and Darwin and evolutionary theory cannot explain Hitler’s genocidal madness. Using the Holocaust in order to tarnish those who promote the theory of evolution is outrageous and trivializes the complex factors that led to the mass extermination of European Jewry.

Peter McKnight, a columnist for the Vancouver Sun (2008 Jun 21), later asked Stein for his reaction to the statement; Stein instructively replied, “It’s none of their f—ing business.”

Finally, the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences issued a press release on May 21, 2008 (available on-line at ctns.org/news_050908.html), declaring, “Evolution and Christian Theology are Compatible, Scientists and Theologians Say,” and adding, “Ben Stein’s New Movie Expelled Ignores Years of Constructive Dialogue.” Citing Francisco Ayala, Francis Collins, and Martinez Hewlett as examples of scientists who have affirmed the compatibility of evolution and the Christian faith, the press release also quoted Robert John Russell, the Ian G Barbour Professor of Theology and Science at the Graduate Theology Union, as saying, “The movie Expelled does a disservice to religious believers and scientists alike by failing to offer a constructive alternative to conflict.”

About the Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
branch@ncseweb.org

Glenn Branch is NCSE’s deputy director.

Why Re-Invent the Crystal?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Why Re-Invent the Crystal?
Author(s): 
Gary Hurd
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2008
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
54–55
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Creationists attack the question of the origin of life because few scientists are sufficiently familiar with the current research to explain it. The movie Expelled further obscured the issue by dishonest reporting.

The contribution of inorganic crystals to the formation of complex organic molecules has been an important part of origin-of-life research for over four decades. When interviewed by Ben Stein, Michael Ruse said that life could have originated by molecules binding to crystals. The scene cuts to an old movie clip of a fortune-teller with a crystal ball, and Stein has a sneering laugh at Ruse’s expense. The derision heaped on the idea that crystals contributed to the origin of life is an excellent example of scientific ignorance’s being exploited by the producers of Expelled.

The role of crystalline minerals in the origin of life was proposed by JD Bernal over forty years ago. Bernal, following Aharon Katchalsky, pointed out that the clay montmorillonite’s surface readily bound simple organic molecules (Bernal 1967). Most clays are plate- or lath-shaped micro-crystals made of silicon, oxygen, and aluminum, interspersed with other elements (commonly iron, calcium, or sodium) which can replace the major elements. These substituted metals alter the electric charge on the crystal’s surface, providing locations where organic molecules can attach. The structure of the clay crystal provides stability and organization essential for the origin of life (for example, Wang and Ferris 2005; Hanczyc and others 2003; Saladino and others 2002).

Leslie Orgel (1973) coined the now famous term “specified complexity” to distinguish between crystals, which are organized but not complex, and life, which is both organized and complex. He was well aware then of the potential role of crystalline minerals in the origin of life. Twenty-five years later, Orgel demonstrated the thermodynamic favorability of polymer formation on grains of the mineral apatite, or hydroxylcalcium phosphate (see Ferris 2002 for a “reader-friendly” account).

Consider for a moment: our teeth contain calcite — a crystal of calcium carbonate. Our bones are made from calcite, and marine shells are made from calcite coupled with aragonite (both crystals). Those bones and our teeth also need another crystal: apatite, or hydroxylcalcium phosphate. Marine shells are made from calcite and aragonite (both crystals). Plants, particularly grasses, need silicon crystals called phytoliths to exist. The bodies of diatoms are mostly crystal silicon. Silicon or calcium crystals are found in nearly all life on earth. Crystals made of iron oxide (magnetite [Fe3O4]) or its sulfide counterpart (griegite [Fe3S4]) are found in many life forms on earth, from bacteria to vertebrates — including humans. These crystals are chemically indistinguishable from those formed abiotically — that is, produced entirely from the normal actions of physical processes on earth without any input by a living organism. Since we must have crystals to live at all, it is only reasonable to ask what role crystals may have played in the origin of life.

Studies of pre-biotic chemistry shows that interactions between mineral crystals and naturally occurring molecules leads to increased complexity, and more abundant yields from abiotic synthesis. Here again we see an important role for the mineral calcite. Robert Hazen has studied the binding of amino acids to surface of calcite crystals and discovered that they are aligned in a way that favors one structural form — the “left-handed” isomer — over others (Hazen 2005; Hazen and others 2001). The isolation of these amino acids was an important step in the origin of life (the “bias” of life for left-handed forms when the laws of physics would predict equal proportions of right- and left-handed forms is a strident creationist objection to most origin-of-life scenarios). Crystals in another group, the borates, stabilize the naturally forming sugar ribose, which is an important molecule needed to form the cellular workhorse RNA (Ricardo and others 2004).

Finally, the most common creationist objections to origin of life research is the insistence that the famous Miller-Urey experiment was a failure. This 1953 experiment was the first to demonstrate that a simple energy source, an electrical spark, could induce the spontaneous formation of amino acids from a mixture of gases. Creationists from the Discovery Institute to the young-earth creationists of Answers in Genesis all claim that the gases used by Miller could not have been found on the early earth. Whether or not this objection is true, Stanley Miller’s last paper (published posthumously in 2008) demonstrated that the presence of the crystal calcite and the iron crystal pyrite in the preparation leads to high yields of amino acids even from neutral gas mixtures (Cleaves and others 2008).

Are there traces of these ancient events found today? Yes, as evolutionary theory suggests that there must be. We see that inorganic crystals common in the ancient earth are part of all living things. First of all, we remember that these “complex” minerals found in living organisms are in fact mostly identical to the inorganic crystals we find in rocks today; biominerals are merely smaller. We also see that all living things — from bacteria to mammals — utilize chemical reactions and pathways that interact with these crystals. There are numerous enzymes and proteins that are part of a cell’s chemistry that operate to build up or break down these crystals.

One example found in all vertebrates is osteocalcin. Recent research related osteocalcin to other vitamin K-dependent proteins that control calcium metabolism, including in bacteria (Berkner 2005). Finding this enzyme in bacteria confirms that the use of dissolved minerals and crystal surfaces was a part of the earliest forms of life on earth — and one that has been maintained and passed along to successive branches in the tree of life.

Is it then silly, or irrational, to think that these essential crystals were part of the origin of life? Not at all! Only the ignorant will be fooled by the derisive scoffing of Stein in his propaganda movie into thinking that Ruse’s comments were just grasping at straws to avoid a theistic solution to life’s origin. While the exact relationship of crystalline minerals to the first complex organic molecules is incompletely understood, it is an active and productive area of scientific research — in stark contrast to the sterility of “intelligent design” creationism.

References

Berkner KL. 2005. The Vitamin K–dependent carboxylase. Annual Review of Nutrition 25: 127–49.

Bernal JD. 1967. The Origin of Life. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1967.

Cleaves HJ, Chalmers JH, Lazcano A, Miller SL, Bada JL. 2008.A reassessment of prebiotic organic synthesis in neutral planetary atmospheres. Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres 38 (2): 105–15.

Ferris JP. 2002. From building blocks to the polymers of life. In: Schopf JW, editor. Life’s Origin. Berkeley, University of California Press. p 113–39.

Hanczyc MM, Fujikawa SM, Szostak JW. 2003. Experimental models of primitive cellular compartments: encapsulation, growth, and division. Science 302: 618–22.

Hazen RM. 2005. Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origin. Washington (DC): Joseph Henry Press.

Hazen RM, Filley TR, Goodfriend GA. 2001. Selective adsorption of L- and D-amino acids on calcite: Implications for biochemical homochirality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 98 (10): 5487–90.

Orgel L. 1973 The Origins of Life: Molecules and Natural Selection. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Ricardo A, Carrigan MA, Olcott AN, Benner SA. 2004. Borate minerals stabilize ribose. Science 303: 196.

Saladino R, Crestini C, Ciambecchini U, Ciciriello F, Costanzo G, Di Mauro E. 2004. Synthesis and degradation of nucleobases and nucleic acids by formamide in the presence of montmorillonites. ChemBioChem 5 (11): 1558–66.

Wang KJ, Ferris JP. 2005. Catalysis and selectivity in prebiotic synthesis: initiation of the formation of oligo(U)s on montmorillonite clay by adenosine-5’-methylphosphate. Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres 35 (3): 187–212.

Additional reading

Deamer DW. 1997. The first living systems — a bioenergetic perspective. Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews 61 (2): 239–61.

Fry I. 2000. The Emergence of Life on Earth: A Historical and Scientific Overview. New Brunswick (NJ): Rutgers University Press.

Schopf J, editor. 2002. Life’s Origin: The Beginnings of Biological Evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Smith JV. 1998. Biochemical evolution. I. Polymerization on internal, organophilic silica surfaces of dealuminated zeolites and feldspars. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 95 (7): 3370–5.

Smith JV, Arnold FP, Parsons I, Lee MR. 1999. Biochemical evolution III: Polymerization on organophilic silica-rich surfaces, crystal-chemical modeling, formation of first cells, and geological clues. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 96 (7): 3479–85.

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

Gary Hurd received a doctorate in social science (emphasis in anthropology) from the University of California, Irvine, in 1976. He was a medical researcher and professor of psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia in 1986 for ten years before returning full-time to archaeology. He became active in resisting the creationist attack on education working at a small natural history museum. His contributed chapter to Why Intelligent Design Fails (edited by Matt Young and Taner Edis; New Brunswick [NJ]: Rutgers University Press, 2004) was cited in the decision in Kitzmiller v Dover.