RNCSE 28 (4)

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

Print Edition Contents: 28 (4)

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

NEWS

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

NCSE NEWS

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

MEMBERS' PAGES

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

ARTICLES

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

FEATURES

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

BOOK REVIEWS

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

Louisiana Enacts a New Creationist Law

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

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

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

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

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

THE ORIGIN OF THE LOUISIANA BILL

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

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

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

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

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

THE BILL PASSES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON THE GOVERNOR'S DESK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE BILL BECOMES LAW

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

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

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

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

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

Sidebar 1

LOUISIANA CITIZENS FOR SCIENCE OPEN LETTER TO GOVERNOR JINDAL

June 16, 2008

Dear Governor Jindal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sidebar 2

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

June 20, 2008

Dear Governor Jindal:

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the Author(s): 

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

Joshua Rosenau is NCSE's Public Information Project Director

MnCSE Honors Ken Hubert

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

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

About the Author(s): 

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

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

Polling Creationism in Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

METHODS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

TABLE 1:

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

RESULTS

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

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


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

TABLE 2:

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

DISCUSSION

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

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

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

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

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

FUTURE STUDIES

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

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

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

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

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE PROCESS BEGINS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE HEAT BUILDS

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

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

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

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

THE FEBRUARY HEARING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE FINAL VOTE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The National Party and Official Anti-Evolutionism

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

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

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

Transition to Democracy

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

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

Primer on Calvinism


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Review: Darwin Strikes Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Review: Secularism & Science in the 21st Century

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author(s): 

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

Review: Beyond the Firmament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Review: Intelligent Design Versus Evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author(s): 

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

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