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).