RNCSE 29 (1)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2009
Date: 
January–February
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 29 (1)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2009
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
2

NEWS

  1. Moves and Countermoves in Texas
    Glenn Branch
    Texas is one of the largest "textbook adoption" states, and its curriculum choices can have profound effects on what is available in texts throughout the nation. The Texas science education standards are being revised — but not without controversy!
  2. Updates
    News from California, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Malta, and elsewhere.

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. Selected Works of Charles Robert Darwin
    This much abbreviated list illustrates Darwin's scientific contributions to a wide variety of important questions of his time.
  2. Books: Happy Birthday!
    These books celebrate Darwin's work and its lasting impact on modern science. Every purchase supports NCSE.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

ARTICLES

  1. Charles Darwin: Botanist
    Sara B Hoot
    Not only was Darwin's career about more than evolution, his work with plants revealed him to be both a first-rate botanist and a first-rate scientist.

SPECIAL FEATURE

  1. People & Places: Siccar Point
    Randy Moore
    Just as Darwin was about more than evolution, there is much more to evolution than Darwin. This is the first in a series of short notes that will examine the history of evolutionary science by visiting significant places and meeting littleknown people who contributed to our current understanding.

FEATURES

  1. Evolution Learning Community Encourages Dialog on Evolution at UNC Wilmington
    Dana Fischetti
    Learning communities provide a variety of opportunities for students and faculty to exchange ideas. The Evolution Learning Community at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, engages the fundamental idea underlying all biology.
  2. Briscoe Geology Park
    Len Eisenberg
    Can a group of community volunteers turn an old school yard into an interactive exhibit of the history of life? You bet!

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. More than Darwin: An Encyclopedia of the People and Places of the Evolution–Creationism Controversy by Randy Moore and Mark D Decker
    Reviewed by Glenn Branch
  2. Darwinian Detectives: Revealing the Natural History of Genes and Genomes by Norman A Johnson
    Reviewed by Rebecca L Cann
  3. Negotiating Darwin: The Vatican Confronts Evolution, 1877–1902 by Mariano Artigas, Thomas F Glick, and Rafael A Martínez
    Reviewed by Peter MJ Hess
  4. Darwin and the Bible: The Cultural Confrontation edited by Richard H Robbins and Mark N Cohen
    Reviewed by Andrew J Petto

Briscoe Geology Park

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Briscoe Geology Park
Author(s): 
Len Eisenberg
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2009
Date: 
January-February
Page(s): 
24-25
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

A typical fourth grader can rattle off the names of the planets, but does not know the names of the geological chapters of earth history, how old the earth is, when dinosaurs lived, or much else about the history of earth and the life on it. One common excuse for this gap in science education is that these topics are too complicated; but the real reason is the conflict with traditional beliefs — either those of the teacher or of the parents the teacher does not wish to offend. In Ashland, Oregon, the Briscoe Geology Park was built to help students, residents and visitors better understand how our planet and life have changed dramatically through time and how local geology fits into the picture.

In fall 2006, community volunteers proposed to the Ashland School District the construction of a geology park in an unused corner of a closed elementary school. Permission was granted, and with the help of Ashland Parks and Recreation Department, volunteers built the Briscoe Geology Park. The park is designed to operate on multiple levels of ability, such that local university students as well as elementary school students can find it a friendly place to learn a complex subject.

Three "time walks" at the park explain how earth and life have changed through time (Figure 1).Figure 1Figure 1 Each time walk is divided into geologic eons, periods or epochs, as appropriate. The time walks are clearly labeled in tile and of an appropriate length. Hand-made tiles set into the concrete walkways (Figure 2) show animal and plant species representative of each time interval. Figure 2Figure 2Other tiles, placed at appropriate points along the time walks, note local geologic events, mass extinctions, ice ages, and human and planetary events. Tracks of trilobites, tetrapods and dinosaurs show how these animals moved (Figure 3), and tile plate tectonic maps depict continental drift through time.

Figure 3Figure 3

The Earth Time Walk describes the entire 4600-million–year history of earth, and one step along this 20-meter–long path covers about 150 million years. The Life Time Walk covers from the start of the Cambrian Period, 542 million years ago, when multicellular life blossomed, to the present, and each step along this 60-meter–long path covers about five million years. The Human Time Walk describes the most recent 50 000 years of earth history, and one step along this 8-meter path covers about 4000 years. An introductory sign and guideposts introduce visitors to geologic time and the features of the park, and help them navigate between the different time scales of each walk. Other signs note plant species used in the landscaping, and provide information on local rock types. There are also four large interpretive signs, one each to explain local geology, mass extinctions, plate tectonics, and evolution (Figure 4).

Figure 4Figure 4

Landscaping along the Life Time Walk follows the evolution of land plants. Along the Cambrian and Ordovician sections the landscaping is bare rock, because land plants (except perhaps for algae) had not colonized the land at that time. Mosses and liverworts, representing the first land plants, appear along the Silurian part of the walk, followed, at appropriate points, by club mosses, horsetails and ferns, cycads, conifers, ginkgo, flowering plants and grasses. In addition, boulders of local rock types are laid out in stratigraphic order across the park, tilted slabs of rock are placed to mimic outcrops of anticlines and synclines, and fossils and interesting rock types are incorporated into retaining walls.

A 20-page color brochure is available at the park for extra-curious visitors. In it detailed descriptions of major events and interesting organisms are provided for each geologic interval. Extra information on plant evolution, mass extinctions, biological evolution, local geology, and plate tectonics is also included. For students, a two-part educational program has been set up by the North Mountain Park Nature Center. First a docent visits the classroom and explains geologic time and how to use the scale bar on a tile to determine the size of the animal depicted. This is followed by a field trip to the park, during which students use information at the park to discover earth history. Discovery is helped along by multi-page activity sheets that students fill out at the park. There are three sets of activity sheets, one each for elementary, middle and high school grade levels. A 55-page teacher's guide gives educators detailed information on all aspects of the park.

Reaction so far has been very positive from the schools and the community. We hear that the artwork of the tiles, the lush landscaping, high quality rock work, and the interpretive signs combine to make the Park a pleasure to visit and the science fun and interesting to learn. Readers are cordially invited to visit Ashland and the Briscoe Geology Park.

About the Author(s): 
AUTHOR'S ADDRESS:

Len Eisenberg
223 Granite Street
Ashland OR 97520
erdelei@opendoor.com

Len Eisenberg is an independent geologist living in Ashland, Oregon, with his wife Karen and daughter Jane. Len's BS and MS degrees are in geology from San Diego State University, and he has spent most of his professional career with Chevron working on petroleum exploration and production projects in Angola, Morocco, Kenya, Somalia, Croatia, Australia, and Papua New Guinea. He now teaches and consults part-time. His current research interest is evidence for giant floods and long-lived lakes in Jurassic eolian sandstones in Utah. He volunteers in Ashland public schools, where he helps teach mathematics, science, and reading.

Charles Darwin: Botanist

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Charles Darwin: Botanist
Author(s): 
Sara B Hoot
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2009
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
19—21
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Introduction

While Charles Darwin is famous throughout the world for the development of the theory of evolution and natural selection, few appreciate that he was also a preeminent botanist. Darwin’s work in botany is extremely varied and includes experiments that are still cited in college-level textbooks because of their elegant experimental design and results. And of course, Darwin’s botanical observations, along with his extensive knowledge of many other areas of science (for example, geology and zoology), were involved in shaping his ideas on evolution.

Darwin’s botanical interests were broad and eclectic. He published books on such far-ranging topics as domesticated plants (1875), orchid pollination (1877a), heterostyly (1877b), the effects of cross and self pollination (1878), plant movements and tropisms (1881, 1882), and insectivorous plants (1888). In addition to these works, Darwin also published botanical work in journals, was in regular correspondence with many of the outstanding botanists of the time (for example, Joseph Hooker and Asa Gray), and, in later life, worked with his son Francis on botanical research.

Darwin’s love of plants appears to have been deeply rooted in his childhood. His parents were both interested in gardening and maintained a varied collection of plants in their conservatory and gardens in Shrewsbury, where Darwin grew up. Indeed, one of the few images of Darwin as a child (age 6) show him kneeling with a potted plant on his thigh. In his autobiographical chapter, Darwin (1887) mentions that “…apparently I was interested at this early age in the variability of plants!” A schoolfellow remembers Darwin’s bringing a flower to school and saying that his mother had taught him how to identify the plant by studying the flower.

Darwin’s interest in botany reasserted itself when he attended Cambridge in 1828, where he was greatly influenced by the botanist, John S Henslow. In his own words (Darwin 1887: 52): “Before long I became well acquainted with Henslow, and during the latter half of my time at Cambridge took long walks with him on most days; so that I was called by some of the dons ‘the man who walks with Henslow;’ and in the evening I was very often asked to join his family dinner.” Henslow’s main research interest during this time was understanding patterns of variation within and between populations, work that is believed to have given Darwin material for his later understanding of variation and speciation (Kohn and others 2005).

Henslow is responsible for arranging Darwin’s position as gentleman naturalist on HMS Beagle. During the voyage, Darwin displayed great interest in the flora he encountered and collected more than 2000 herbarium specimens. His collections of “all plants in flower” from the Galápagos Islands, were the basis for the first flora of that archipelago and were largely responsible for his understanding of island endemism (Kohn and others 2005).

It would be no trivial task to report here on all of Darwin’s botanical work, so instead, I will feature a few examples that represent his use of rigorous scientific methodology, sharp powers of observation, and creative thinking. I will report his work on 1) heterostyly in Primula (primroses), 2) plant movements and phototropism, and 3) pollination mechanisms in orchids.

Heterostyly in Primula veris,the English Cowslip

Darwin was first exposed to an extraordinary observation relating to one of Great Britain’s most loved wild flowers, the English cowslip, by his mentor John Henslow: that the length of styles and stamens varied among individual plants (Kohn and others 2005). Some plants had flowers with long stamens and short styles — the thrum type; others had flowers with short stamens and long styles — the pin type (Figure 1). This phenomenon is known as heterostyly, and Darwin studied it extensively in the 1850s (Darwin 1877b). He also observed that the two flower types varied in pollen size; pollen produced by pin flowers was noticeably smaller in diameter than that produced by thrum flowers. What could be the explanation for these phenomena?

Figure 1. Figure from Darwin’s work on heterostyly in Primula species (1877) showing the long style and short stamens of the pin flowers and the short style and long stamens of the thrum flowers.Figure 1. Figure from Darwin’s work on heterostyly in Primula species (1877) showing the long style and short stamens of the pin flowers and the short style and long stamens of the thrum flowers.

His first hypothesis was that Primula veris was tending toward dioecy (where a species has male individuals with only male flowers and female individuals with female flowers). His reasoning behind this was: “Pin plants with their longer carpels, smaller stamens and pollen grains are more feminine; conversely thrum plants are more masculine”. If this were true, then, he expected, pin plants should produce more seeds than thrum plants. To test this, he collected seeds from plants growing in different habitats (to negate possible environmental effects), then counted and weighed them. The results? Pin plants produced less seed than thrum by a proportion of nearly 3 to 4, suggesting that pin plants were certainly not more “feminine” than thrum.

His next hypothesis was: “The two forms of flowers in Primula are related to cross-pollination and prevention of inbreeding.” To test this he set up a sophisticated pollination experiment. First, he covered populations of Primula with fine netting to prevent insect pollination. He then hand pollinated the plants in the following combinations: 1) thrum plants pollinated with pin pollen and vice versa, 2) thrum plants pollinated with thrum pollen, and 3) pin plants pollinated with pin pollen. In cases in which he was using pollen from like plants (2 and 3 above), he always took the pollen from a different plant than the one being pollinated to avoid any effects of inbreeding. This alone shows the depths of his knowledge about reproduction and the care he took in his experimental design.

After the plants had set seed, he counted and weighed seeds from both 100 flowers and 100 capsules. He found that by all measures, plants pollinated by the opposite type of flower had markedly greater reproductive success. From this work he concluded: “The benefit of heterostyled dimorphic plants derives from.....the intercrossing of distinct plants” and “the pollen grains from the longer stamens.....become larger in order to allow the development of longer [pollen] tubes.”

Plant movements and phototropism

Darwin explored plant movements extensively, from the way vines and other plants circumnutate (successive bowing or bending in different directions of the growing tip of the stem) to sleep movements (folding of leaves up or down at night [Darwin 1881]) to movements of insectivorous plants (Darwin 1888). In all his explorations, he performed numerous experiments. For example, in insectivorous plants such as the Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) and Sundews (Drosera spp), he explored how food was absorbed by the leaves, what effect various “foodstuffs” had on the plant’s ability to react or absorb, and how the impulse to move was transmitted.

The elegant experiments of Darwin and his son Francis on phototropism — the growth of a plant towards a unidirectional source of light — are commonly cited in biology textbooks today (Darwin 1881). In their work on phototropism in Canary grass seedlings (Phalaris canariensis), they observed in experiments on seedlings raised in the dark, then exposed to a unidirectional source of light, a marked curvature toward the light. They formed a hypothesis that the tip of the seedling may be responsible for the curvature toward light. To test this hypothesis, they cut the tips off some seedlings while leaving a control group with tips intact. They found that those seedlings with the tips removed did not respond to a unidirectional source of light while the control group with tips intact bent markedly toward the light source.

But the question remained: Did the experimental seedlings remain upright due to their tips not being present to detect light or because they had been damaged? To address this question, they covered some seedling tips with opaque caps and, as controls, covered other tips with transparent caps or placed opaque collars around the base of the seedlings, leaving the tips exposed. They found that the seedlings with opaque caps remained upright, showing no signs of phototropism, while both controls did bend toward the light.

From all of this work, they concluded: “These results seem to imply the presence of some matter in the upper part which is acted on by light, and which transmits its effects to the lower part.” We now know that this “matter” is a plant hormone called auxin. Auxin is produced in the apical meristem of plants, is transported down the stem, and accumulates on the shady side of a plant subjected to unidirectional light. This increased concentration of auxin causes the cells on the dark side to enlarge, thus bending the plant toward light. Of course Darwin and his son knew nothing about this mechanism, but their work laid the foundation for subsequent experiments that led to our current understanding of auxins.

Pollination mechanisms in orchids

It is hard to conceive that any botanist worth his weight in chlorophyll would be immune to the charms and foibles of orchids, and Darwin was no exception. He was especially interested in the close relationship between the flowers of an orchid species and their pollinators (Darwin 1877a). There can be little doubt that his work on orchids provided him with ample material for understanding co-evolution.

Darwin made minute observations on pollination in diverse orchids, including the fascinating bee orchids (Ophrys species). Ophrys excel in the lengths they will go to attract a pollinator. Depending on the species, they mimic female bees, wasps, or beetles. To add to the ruse, they emit pheromones, and these “come hither” smells strongly attract male insects, causing the male to attempt copulation with the orchid flower. As the male pseudocopulates with the orchid flower, packets of pollen called pollinia are attached to his body. And of course, the male is drawn to other individuals of the same orchid species for similar reasons, depositing pollen on the receptive stigma, thus effecting cross-pollination. Darwin spent many hours in painstaking observations and experiments on Ophrys and other orchids to understand the mechanics of pollinia and their attachment to pollinators.

Darwin was fascinated by the observation that a bee orchid common to England, Ophrys apifera, was apparently “adapted to self-fertilization.” His further observations convinced him that these self-pollinating orchids still retained the mechanisms needed for pollination by bees. When he imitated a bee’s action using an object, the pollinia reacted as in other Ophrys, readily attaching to what would have been the bee’s head. He concluded that Ophrys apifera must have at one time been commonly pollinated by bees but, due to an insufficiency of pollinators, “became slightly modified so as to fertilise themselves” (Darwin 1877a).

A famous example of co-evolution in orchids that came in for its share of controversy was Darwin’s explanation for the pollination of Angraecum sesquipedale, an orchid native to Madagascar. This orchid has flowers with very long spurs — about 20–35 cm long! Orchids with spurred flowers usually offer a nectar reward at the base of the spur, to reward the moth pollinator. Darwin hypothesized that Angraecum must be pollinated by a moth with a proboscis long enough to reach the nectar and thus effect pollination. This idea was derided and even used as proof of creationism. In 1867, George Campbell published a book in which he argued that the complexity of A sesquipedale supports the idea that species were created by a supernatural being. Unfortunately for Campbell, a moth with a proboscis of the required length was found in 1903; it was first named Xanthopan morganii praedicta to honor Darwin’s correct prediction.

Summary

It is clear, even from the few examples given above, that Darwin’s botanical work was important to the development of his ideas on evolution and natural selection. Darwin began thinking about evolution soon after his return from the Beagle voyages, starting his notebooks on “transmutation” (evolution) in 1837. He was uniquely situated for the task of developing the theory of evolution, from his early exposure to Lamarckian evolutionary thinking through his grandfather (Erasmus Darwin) and Robert Grant at the University of Edinburgh, his early exposure to the work of Charles Lyell’s book on fossils and the botanist Henslow’s work on populations and speciation, his travels on the Beagle, and his broad knowledge of so many aspects of natural history. This is not to discount other attributes that uniquely placed Darwin to develop the theory: he was hard working and, since independently wealthy, able to spend all of his time on his science. Most importantly, he was able to think logically and creatively (“outside the box” as we say today).

There is no doubt that all the clues and scientific advancements needed to develop the theory of evolution and natural selection were present in the early 19th century. If Darwin had not proposed the theory of evolution, someone else would have. In fact, that is exactly what did happen! Because Darwin put off publication of his ideas, Alfred Russel Wallace caught up with him, and the two presented their findings simultaneously in 1858. But I think that Darwin deserves to have the greater part of the credit. He developed his understanding of evolution and natural selection well before Wallace and it was he who took on the enormous task in the Origin (1859) and elsewhere of convincing the world that evolution was real.

References

Campbell G. 1867. The Reign of Law. London: Strahan.

Darwin CR. 1859. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: John Murray.

Darwin CR. 1875. The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication. 2d ed. London: John Murray.

Darwin CR. 1877a. The Various Contrivances by which Orchids are Fertilised by Insects. 2d ed. London: John Murray.

Darwin CR 1877b. The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species. New York: D Appleton.

Darwin CR 1878. The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom. 2d ed. London: John Murray.

Darwin CR. 1881. The power of movement in plants. New York: D Appleton.

Darwin CR. 1882. The movements and habits of climbing plants. London: John Murray.

Darwin CR. 1888. Insectivorous plants. 2d ed. Revised by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray.

Darwin F, editor. 1887. The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Vol 1. London: John Murray.

Kohn D, Murrell G, Parker J, Whitehorn M. 2005. What Henslow taught Darwin. Nature 436: 643–5.

About the Author(s): 

Sara B Hoot
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
PO Box 413
Milwaukee WI 53201-0413
hoot@uwm.edu

Sara B Hoot is Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and Director of the UWM Herbarium. She works in the field of systematic and evolutionary botany, where her research involves deriving evolutionary trees for diverse plant groups, using molecular and traditional data. She has published widely and has spoken worldwide on topics related to her work (for example, Menispermaceae, Ranunculaceae, Anemone, Isoetes). One of her favorite side projects and speaking topics is Charles Darwin and his botanical work.

Evolution Learning Community Encourages Dialog on Evolution at UNC Wilmington

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Evolution Learning Community Encourages Dialog on Evolution at UNC Wilmington
Author(s): 
Dana Fischetti
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2009
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
22–23
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

For the past three years, the Evolution Learning Community (ELC) at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, has sponsored a variety of speakers, courses and public events related to the study of Darwin and evolution. These activities will culminate in the year-long commemoration in 2009 of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin of Species.

After the success of a similar learning community focused on Brown v Board of Education in 2004, the campus began to discuss the feasibility of a multiyear, interdisciplinary learning community on the topic of evolution. Developed through a grassroots faculty effort and endorsed by the Faculty Senate, the ELC is dedicated to the study of the theory of evolution and its scientific, social, and moral significance for humanity. The executive council of the ELC is headed by Patricia Kelley, Professor of Geology and long-time NCSE Supporter, Dale McCall, Professor of Anthropology and Genetics, and Thomas Schmid, Professor of Philosophy.

Schmid, one of the founders of the group, said of the ELC: “We were looking for a campus-wide series of events that would be long-lasting and substantial and might generate some curricular change. We’ve taken a very academic approach. The focus is not to create a debate on evolution but to develop dialogue and educational opportunities for UNCW as well as the larger community.”

The group has coordinated educational and cultural events for students, faculty, staff and the community to increase awareness and critical discussion of the role of evolutionary principles in the natural and social sciences and in relation to the philosophical, historical, artistic and literary modes of reflection on life.

Activities have included more than 50 formal ELC-related courses per semester, the Visiting Darwin Scholars lecture series, discussion groups and Honors enrichment seminars, cultural events such as film screenings and an art show, community outreach with public lectures and Continuing Studies courses, faculty professional development and student research opportunities, ELC-related publications, and a faculty and student trip to the Galápagos Islands. Visiting Darwin Scholars have included Richard Leakey, EO Wilson, Stephen J O’Brien, and NCSE Supporters Ken Miller and Niles Eldredge. Details and information about the program and events is available on line at www.uncw.edu/evolution.

The work of the Evolution Learning Community will culminate with several significant events in 2009. In March, UNCW hosts “Darwin’s Legacy: Evolution’s Impact on Science and Culture — A Multidisciplinary Student Conference.” The conference is open to undergraduate and graduate students in the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and arts who are conducting research or creative endeavors related to evolution. Faculty members supervising student research are also encouraged to attend. In addition to oral and poster presentations of student research, the conference will also feature keynote speakers David Buss, a leading theorist in evolutionary psychology; Peter Carruthers, a leading theorist in evolution and language; David Mindell, Dean of Science and Research Collections at the California Academy of Sciences; and Kevin Padian, vertebrate paleontologist, witness at the Dover trial, and president of the NCSE board of directors.


Visiting Darwin Scholars (l to r) Ken Miller,
Stephen J O’Brien, Richard Leakey

“The breadth of programming and strong student involvement has been a key to the success of the ELC,” said Kelley, executive administrator of the group and herself a nationally known speaker on evolution and religion. “We have had increased dialog among faculty and between faculty and students as a direct result of the ELC effort. These are important scholarly conversations that would not have happened without this initiative.”

Other major events planned for 2009 include Visiting Darwin Scholars Eugenie C Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education; Dirk Robert Johnson, Associate Professor of Modern Languages at Hampden-Sydney College, whose scholarly work explores the intellectual interaction between Darwin and Nietzsche; Philip Kitcher, John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University and NCSE Supporter; and David Quammen, award-winning author of The Reluctant Mr Darwin. For academic year 2008-2009, the ELC coordinated a Visiting Darwin Scholars competition to fund visiting scholars. Illustrating the interdisciplinary nature of the ELC, proposals to bring speakers to campus came from the Departments of Anthropology, Art and Art History, Biology and Marine Biology, Chemistry, Creative Writing, English, Foreign Languages and Literatures, Geography and Geology, History, Philosophy and Religion, Psychology and the Watson School of Education.

In addition, Ecotone, the university’s literary journal edited by David Gessner, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing, will publish a special issue in spring 2009 celebrating the Darwin anniversaries. Through the Ecotone Evolution Contest, the journal accepted submissions in poetry, fiction and nonfiction that creatively reflect the subject of evolution. The magazine sought bold interpretations of a theory that has radically altered the experience of being human: What does it mean to share our DNA with other animals? What are the consequences of our diminishing biodiversity? Why have political lines hardened around an issue so rooted in science?

Students participating in the NSF-funded ELC-related summer program Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Biodiversity Conservation.Students participating in the NSF-funded ELC-related summer program Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Biodiversity Conservation.

A special issue of the Journal of Effective Teaching, an online peer-reviewed journal dedicated to teaching excellence and edited by UNCW faculty member Russell Herman, will be devoted to the teaching of evolution in a university setting. Submissions for the special issue, to be published in fall 2009, will be accepted through May 1.

Throughout all of the activities and events related to evolution, the ELC has maintained one basic premise: no matter how one views the meaning of Darwin’s revolutionary work for modern thought, there is no denial that it transformed biological science and the picture our society has of humans in nature. This statement has formed the basis for inquiry and dialog related to evolution, bringing an entire university campus together to consider what it means to be human.

For more information, connect to the Evolution Learning Community web site at www.uncw.edu/evolution.


About the Author(s): 
Dana Fischetti
Manager, News and Media Services
Marketing and Communications
University of North Carolina, Wilmington
601 S College Road
Wilmington NC 28403-5993
fischettid@uncw.edu

Dana Fischetti is manager of news and media relations at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. She has worked in the marketing/public relations field in a variety of capacities in both corporate and higher education settings. As part of her current role, she is providing publicity and media relations support to UNC Wilmington’s multidisciplinary Evolution Learning Community.

Moves and Countermoves in Texas

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Moves and Countermoves in Texas
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2009
Date: 
January-February
Page(s): 
4-7
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

The end of 2008 was replete with moves and countermoves in the controversy over the place of evolution in Texas's state science standards, beginning with the release of proposed drafts of the state's science education standards on September 22, 2008. Not surprisingly, the media focused on the place of evolution in the draft standards, with the Dallas Morning News (2008 Sep 23) reporting, "Proposed curriculum standards for science courses in Texas schools would boost the teaching of evolution by dropping the current requirement that students be exposed to 'weaknesses' in Charles Darwin's theory of how humans and other life forms evolved. Science standards drafted by review committees of teachers and academics also would put up roadblocks for teachers who want to discuss creationism or 'intelligent design' in biology classes when covering the subject of evolution."

In particular, a requirement in the current standards for high school biology that reads "The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information" would be replaced with "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing," and a description of the limits of science (adapted from the recent National Academy of Sciences publication Science, Evolution, and Creationism) — "Science uses observational evidence to make predictions of natural phenomena and to construct testable explanations. If ideas are based upon purported forces outside of nature, they cannot be tested using scientific methods" — would be added.

Such revisions may seem small and unimportant, but in 2003, the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Texas state science standards was selectively applied by members of the board attempting to dilute the treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks then under consideration. At the time, board member Patricia Hardy observed that it was invidious to apply the language only to a single topic; while if it were applied across the board, "we'd need a crane to carry the books to the schools." In the end, all of the textbooks were adopted without substantial changes, but it was clear that the "strengths and weaknesses" language would be a matter of contention when the standards were next revised. As Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network told The New York Times (2008 Jun 4), "'Strengths and weaknesses' are regular words that have now been drafted into the rhetorical arsenal of creationists."

Groups supporting the integrity of science education unsurprisingly applauded the draft standards. In a September 23, 2008, press release (available on-line at http://www.tfn.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5453), the Texas Freedom Network's Kathy Miller was quoted as saying, "These work groups have crafted solid standards that provide a clear road map to a 21st-century science education for Texas students ... These commonsense standards respect the right of families to pass on their own religious beliefs to their children while ensuring that public schools give students a sound science education that prepares them to succeed in college and the jobs of the future." "It's time for state board members to listen to classroom teachers and true experts instead of promoting their own personal agendas," she added. "Our students can't succeed with a 19th-century science education in their 21st-century classrooms. We applaud the science work groups for recognizing that fact."

In a September 23, 2008, blog post for the Houston Chronicle (available on-line via http://www.chron.com/commons/readerblogs/evosphere.html), Texas Citizens for Science's Steven Schafersman also welcomed the addition of the description of the limits of science and the removal of the "strengths and weaknesses" language, which he described as "the primary weapon that creationists have to attempt to damage and corrupt science textbooks." He expressed regret, however, that those revisions were not emulated in all of the standards. Schafersman also lamented the omission from the biology standards of any requirement to learn about human evolution in particular, commenting," I'm sure the competent teachers on the biology panel discussed a requirement for human evolution, but they ultimately decided against it. They should have included it and forced the [state board of education] members to remove it by majority vote rather than by giving their prior permission to continue censorship."

The chair of the state board of education, avowed creationist Don McLeroy, defended the "strengths and weaknesses" language, telling the Austin American-Statesman (2008 Sep 23), "I'd argue it doesn't make sense scientifically to take it out ... Evolution shouldn't have anything to worry about — if there's no weaknesses, there's no weaknesses. But if there's scientifically testable explanations out there to refute it, shouldn't those be included too?" The newspaper added, "he prefers the 'strengths and weaknesses' language because it allows the board to reject a textbook that doesn't cover the weaknesses of evolution." But Kevin Fisher, who helped to write the draft biology standards, told the American-Statesman, "Something doesn't become a theory if it's got weaknesses. There may be some questions that may yet to be answered, but nothing that's to the level of a weakness."

Clearly the treatment of evolution in the standards — and especially the omission of the "strengths and weaknesses" language — was going to continue to be controversial. Summarizing the political situation on the state board of education, the American-Statesman reported, "In previous public discussions, seven of 15 board members appeared to support, on some level, the teaching of the weaknesses of evolution in science classrooms. Six have been opposed, and two — Geraldine Miller, R–Dallas, and Rick Agosto, D–San Antonio — are considered swing votes." And, as Schafersman commented, "Since there are no scientists on the SBOE and since seven members are young-earth creationists — most of whom have publicly stated their intention to distort evolution standards and damage science instruction — it is likely that the public debate and approval will be contentious."

Schafersman was not wrong. The next focus of contention was the composition of a six-member committee appointed by the board to review the draft set of science standards. Included were three anti-evolutionists, and defenders of the integrity of science education were livid. "The committee was chosen by 12 of the 15 members of the board of education, with each panel member receiving the support of two board members," as the Dallas Morning News (2008 Oct 16) explained. Six members of the board "aligned with social conservative groups" chose Stephen C Meyer, the director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture; Ralph Seelke, a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin, Superior; and Charles Garner, a chemistry professor at Baylor University.

Meyer, Seelke, and Garner are all signatories of the Discovery Institute-sponsored "Dissent from Darwinism" statement (see RNCSE 2001 Nov/Dec; 21 [6]: 22–3). Meyer and Seelke are also coauthors of Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism (Melbourne: Hill House, 2008), which, like Of Pandas and People, is a supplementary textbook that is intended to instill scientifically unwarranted doubts about evolution. A recent review by biologist John Timmer (available on-line at http://arstechnica.com/reviews/other/discovery-textbook-review.ars) summarized, "But the book doesn't only promote stupidity, it demands it. In every way except its use of the actual term, this is a creationist book." (Timmer's review of Explore Evolution will be reprinted in a future issue of RNCSE.) Garner, for his part, reportedly told the Houston Press (2000 Dec 14) that he "criticizes evolutionary theory in class."

Meyer and Seelke also testified in the 2005 "kangaroo court" hearings held by three anti-evolutionist members of the Kansas state board of education, in which a parade of anti-evolutionist witnesses expressed their support for the socalled minority report version of the state science standards (written with the aid of a local "intelligent design" organization), complained of repression by a dogmatic evolutionary establishment, and claimed to have detected atheism lurking "between the lines" of the standards (transcripts are available on-line at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/kansas/kangaroo.html). A version of the minority report was adopted in 2005, despite criticism from the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Science Teachers Association, but the balance of power on the board changed, and supporters of the integrity of science education quickly restored a proper treatment of evolution to the Kansas standards.

Referring to the appointment of Meyer, Seelke, and Garner, Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network told the Austin American-Stateman (2008 Oct 16), "I think these state board members have really lifted the veil on what their real agenda is here ... It's clear they picked a few experts and a few people with a clear conflict of interest and a political agenda." Similarly, in a press release issued on October 15, 2008 (available on-line at http://www.texscience.org/releases/creationists-science-reviewpanel.htm), Texas Citizens for Science's Steven Schafersman lamented, "It is unfortunate that some SBOE members have such a poor regard for the education of Texas science students that they must resort to pushing their own anti-evolutionist and creationist religious ideologies into the science standards revision process."

The three remaining members of the committee — "veteran science professors from major Texas universities," as the Morning News observed — were David Hillis, a professor of biology at the University of Texas, Austin; Gerald Skoog, a professor of education at Texas Tech University, and Ronald Wetherington, a professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University. The American-Statesman noted,"a seventh panel member could be nominated. The panel is expected to send recommendations on the proposal back to the board in the coming months." In the end, there was no seventh member. And although the recommendations of the individual committee members were completed and posted on the Texas Education Agency's website (available on-line at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/teks/science/expertfeedback.html), there was little reaction to or comment on their suggestions in the media. The panels that wrote the standards for the various subjects were furnished with the outside reviews as well as feedback from the public, a comparison of the draft standards to the Texas College Readiness Standards, and a comparison of the draft standards with the highly regarded Massachusetts science standards.

Meanwhile, the scientific community, both in Texas and nationally, was not remaining silent about the need for a proper treatment of evolution. The 21st Century Science Coalition's advisory committee published a pair of op-eds urging the state board of education to accept the draft standards, emphasizing the scientific centrality and the economic importance of evolution (see sidebar 1). The chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Alan I Leshner, argued, "The new standards will shape how science education is taught in Texas for the next decade, and it would be a terrible mistake to water down the teaching of evolution in any way" (see sidebar 2). Barbara Forrest explained "Why Texans shouldn't let creationists mess with science education" in a November 11, 2008, lecture at Southern Methodist University in Dallas (video is available on-line at http://smu.edu/flashvideo/?id=248; audio is available on-line at http://smu.edu/newsinfo/audio/barbaraforrest-11nov2008.mp3). And a study conducted by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund and Raymond Eve demonstrated that a vast majority of scientists at public and private universities in Texas reject the arguments advanced by those seeking to undermine the treatment of evolution in Texas's state science standards (see sidebar 3).

At last the day appointed for the Texas state board of education to hear testimony about the proposed new set of state science standards arrived, November 19, 2008 — and plenty of the testimony concerned the treatment of evolution in the standards. As the Dallas Morning News (2008 Nov 20) explained, the standards "will dictate what is taught in science classes in elementary and secondary schools and provide the material for state tests and textbooks. The standards will remain in place for a decade after their approval by the state board." The standards under consideration were not the version released in September 2008, but a revised version drafted in November 2008 and not posted on the Texas Education Agency's website until November 17, 2008. A significant difference is that the September version omitted the "strengths and weaknesses" language of the old standards, which was selectively applied in 2003 by members of the board seeking to dilute the treatment of evolution in biology textbooks, while the November version included a variant of it: "strengths and limitations."

Texas Citizens for Science's Steven Schafersman told the board that the "strengths and weaknesses" language was unscientific and pedagogically inappropriate, according to the Austin American-Statesman (2008 Nov 20). He was not alone in defending the teaching of evolution at the meeting. In a story significantly headlined "Evolution proponents descend on state education panel," the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (2008 Nov 20) observed, "With few exceptions, the speakers — scientists, teachers, clergy and grassroots activists — took the side of evolution," a situation that evidently vexed the chair of the board, avowed creationist Don McLeroy, who complained,"This is all being ginned up by the evolution side."

Reflecting on the spectacle, the Corpus Christi Call-Times (2008 Nov 20) editorially commented, "Members of the state board of ducation, as they prepare to establish a new science curriculum, should certainly heed the advice of the state's top science teachers: Teaching the 'weaknesses' of the theory of evolution raises questions about its validity, questions that are not shared by established science. Public schools should teach evolution. Period. Texas students will have to compete in the real world, not the flat earth of the past." In addition to the newspaper reports, detailed running commentary on the meeting was posted on their blogs by representatives of two of the groups defending the integrity of science education in Texas: Texas Citizens for Science, on the Houston Chronicle's Evo. Sphere blog (http://www.chron.com/commons/readerblogs/evosphere.html), and the Texas Freedom Network, on its own blog (http://tfnblog.wordpress.com). Both groups are going to continue to monitor the standards, which are expected first to return to the writing committee for revisions in December 2008, and then return to the board for consideration in January 2009.

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

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

Glenn Branch is deputy director of NCSE.

Sidebar 1

COALITION DEFENDS DRAFT STANDARDS IN TEXAS

"The State Board of Education's decisions in the coming months will affect both the college preparation and future job qualifications of our children. Our students deserve a sound education that includes the latest findings of scientific research and excludes ideas that have failed to stand up to scientific scrutiny." That was the message of the 21st Century Science Coalition's advisory committee — Daniel I Bolnick, RE Duhrkopf, David M Hillis, Ben Pierce, and Sahotra Sarkar — delivered in twin op-eds published in two Texas newspapers, the Waco Tribune (2008 Oct 19), and the Austin American-Statesman (2008 Oct 21).

In their op-eds, after describing the vast amount of scientific research that supports evolution, and the absence of any compelling evidence against it, Bolnick and his colleagues responded to the charge of censorship: "Evolution opponents who promote such phony 'weaknesses' claim we are trying to censor them, suppressing free speech. But the entire point of education is to provide students with the best information available, without wasting time on bogus arguments. We don't teach alchemy alongside chemistry, for example, or astrology alongside physics. We don't ask students to decide for themselves whether Earth revolves around the Sun or vice versa. Is that 'censorship'?"

They also emphasized the increasing economic importance of evolution education, writing, "We can't expect future citizens of Texas to be successful in a 21st-century world with a 19th-century science education. Once our children enter the work force, they will find that understanding evolution is central to many innovations in medicine, agriculture, engineering and biotechnology. Undermining biology education risks driving away biotechnology and other industries from our state." The Austin American-Statesman (2008 Oct 6) already editorially agreed, noting that biomedical industries "have not looked favorably on communities that water down science studies with vague and unproven ideas."

The 21st Century Science Coalition (on-line at ) was organized to resist attempts of creationists to maintain the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Texas state science standards, which are currently undergoing revisions. Already over 1300 Texas scientists with or working towards advanced degrees in life, physical, and mathematical science have signed the coalition's statement calling on the state board of education to approve science standards that "acknowledge that instruction on evolution is vital to understanding all the biological sciences" and that "encourage valid critical thinking and scientific reasoning by leaving out all references to 'strengths and weaknesses', which politicians have used to introduce supernatural explanations into science courses."

Sidebar 2

AAAS CONCERNED ABOUT TEXAS SCIENCE STANDARDS

Writing in the Houston Chronicle (2008 Oct 22), the chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Alan I Leshner, deplored the recent appointment of three anti-evolutionists to a committee charged with reviewing a draft of Texas's state science standards. "The new standards will shape how science education is taught in Texas for the next decade, and it would be a terrible mistake to water down the teaching of evolution in any way," he wrote, adding, "At a time when most educators are working to prepare students for 21st century jobs, the board members' action threatens to confuse students, divide communities and tarnish Texas' reputation as an international science and technology center."

Leshner's op-ed emphasized the strength of the scientific consensus on evolution ("Mainstream science and medical organizations in the United States and worldwide, representing tens of millions of scientists, accept evolution as the best explanation for how life developed on Earth"), the fact that many people of faith, including scientists and clergy alike, regard evolution as no threat to their faith, and the importance of preserving the integrity of science education. But what he hammered home was the economic importance of a quality science education: "To maintain the state's strength as an engine of US research and innovation, Texas education leaders should stick to the basics. Students need a solid science foundation to thrive in the 21st century."

In supporting a scientifically appropriate and pedagogically responsible treatment of evolution in the Texas state science standards, Leshner joined the 21st Century Science Coalition, the Texas Freedom Network, and Texas Citizens for Science, as well as the editorial boards of the Waco Tribune (2008 Oct 3) and the Austin American-Statesman (2008 Oct 6). As the world's largest general interest scientific organization, the AAAS regularly defends the teaching of evolution in the public schools, and presents a useful collection of relevant statements, publications, resources, and links in a section of its on-line press room (http://www.aaas.org/news/press_room/evolution).

Sidebar 3

TEXAS SCIENTISTS OVERWHELMINGLY REJECT ANTI-EVOLUTION ARGUMENTS

Scientists at public and private universities in Texas overwhelmingly reject the arguments advanced by the anti-evolutionists seeking to undermine the treatment of evolution in Texas's state science standards, according to a report released by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. "This survey leaves no doubt that the political crusade against evolution and other attempts to dumb down our public school science curriculum are deeply misguided," TFN Education Fund president Kathy Miller said in a press release (available on-line at http://www.tfn.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5621). "Texas scientists are clearly worried that failing to provide a 21st-century science education in our public schools will harm our children's chances to succeed in college and the jobs of the future."

The report, entitled Evolution, Creationism, and Public Education: Surveying What Texas Scientists Think about Educating Our Kids in the 21st Century (available on-line as a PDF at http://www.tfn.org/site/DocServer/FinalWebPost.pdf?docID=861), details a survey conducted by the TFN Education Fund in conjunction with Raymond Eve, a sociology professor at the University of Texas, Arlington, who is the coauthor with Francis B Harrold of The Creationist Movement in Modern America (Boston: Twayne, 1990). The survey was sent to the 1019 biologists and biological anthropologists on the faculty of all 35 public and the 15 largest private colleges and universities in Texas. The response rate was high — 45% of those surveyed responded. "Their responses should send parents a clear message that those who want to play politics with science education are putting our kids at risk," Eve commented.

The TFN Education Fund's press release summarizes five key findings from the survey: "1. Texas scientists (97.7%) overwhelmingly reject 'intelligent design' as valid science. 2. Texas science faculty (95%) want only evolution taught in science classrooms. 3. Scientists reject teaching the so-called 'weaknesses' of evolution, with 94% saying that those arguments are not valid scientific objections to evolution. 4. Science faculty believe that emphasizing 'weaknesses' of evolution would substantially harm students' college readiness (79.6%) and ability to compete for 21st-century jobs (72%). 5. Scientists (91%) strongly believe that support for evolution is compatible with religious faith."

Evolution, Creationism, and Public Education was released just as the Texas State Board of Education was preparing to consider a new draft set of state science standards from November 19 to November 21, 2008, hearing testimony from the public on November 19. The Dallas Morning News (2008 Nov 17) reported that "a majority of members have voiced support for retaining the current mandate to cover both strengths and weaknesses of major scientific theories, notably evolution, in science courses." But the TFN Education Fund's Kathy Miller told the newspaper that it would be a mistake for the board not to heed the clear consensus of Texas science professors: "This survey leaves no doubt that the political crusade against evolution and other attempts to dumb down our public school science curriculum are deeply misguided."

About the Author(s): 
Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.

Siccar Point

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
People & Places: Siccar Point
Author(s): 
Randy Moore
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2009
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
26
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Figure 1: Siccar Point is at the base of a steep slope on the Berwickshire coast near Edinburgh, Scotland. For scale, the author is shown in the center of the photograph. (Photo by Randy Moore)
What clearer evidence could we have had of the different formation of these rocks, and of the long interval which separated their formation, had we actually seen then emerging from the deep... The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time.—John Playfair, upon seeing Siccar Point*
Figure 2: Siccar Point from the North, with the North Sea in the background. Note the horizontal sediments overlying the vertical sediments. (Photo by Randy Moore)

During June 1788, Scottish geologist James Hutton — along with mathematician John Playfair and chemist James Hall — visited Siccar Point, which is arguably the most important geological site in the world (Figure 1). Siccar Point is a rocky promontory "washed bare by the sea" on the Berwickshire coast near Scotland's border with England. Geologically speaking, Siccar Point is an unconformity — a term coined in 1805 by geologist Robert Jameson to describe a surface at which two separate sets of rocks formed at different times come into contact. Sediments at the base of Siccar Point are vertical and, because sediments can only form horizontally, Hutton knew that these sediments had been tilted and raised above land by pressure. Erosion had then worn away the above-ground parts of the vertical sediments, after which they were again submerged and covered by new horizontally deposited sediment (Figures 2 and 3). Charles Lyell, who visited Siccar Point with Hall in 1824, used a sketch of the site as the frontispiece of his Manual of Elementary Geology (1855). It is no wonder that Siccar Point is a Scottish National Heritage site.

Figure 3: A close-up of Hutton's Unconformity at Siccar Point. (Photo by Randy Moore)

The vertical sediments at Siccar Point are Silurian greywacke, a gray sedimentary rock formed approximately 425 million years ago when colliding plates created immense pressure that converted the sediment to rock. By about 80 million years later — a period that is more than 10 000 times longer than all of Archbishop Ussher's proposed history of earth — the raised greywacke had eroded and parts were again submerged in the ocean. Erosion of the nearby Caledonian Mountains produced reddish sandstone sediments (Old Red Sandstone of the Devonian) that were deposited horizontally over the vertical greywacke sediments (of the Silurian).When pressure created by moving plates again buckled the sediments, Siccar Point was raised above land for Hutton and others to see. Except for the chiseling by thousands of souvenir-seeking geologists who have visited the site, Siccar Point looks today as it did when it was visited by Hutton and his friends in 1788.

Finding Siccar Point: Although Siccar Point (Coordinate: 55° 55' 55.89" N, 2° 17' 54.74" W) is part of the James Hutton Trail, it is not marked on any of the tourist maps available at Edinburgh hotels. The best way to see Siccar Point is on a tour provided by GeoWalks (http://www.geowalks.demon.co.uk), a small geology-education company owned by Edinburgh geologist Angus Miller. Siccar Point is beautiful from above looking out onto the North Sea. If you choose to go down to the unconformity, be prepared to slide down the steep hill and to be quite exhausted by the time you get back to the top.There is a mold of a small part of Siccar Point on display at the American Museum of Natural History.

* Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh Vol V, Pt III, 1805.

Review: Darwin and the Bible

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
1
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
30–31
Reviewer: 
Andrew J Petto
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Darwin and the Bible: The Cultural Confrontation
Author(s): 
Richard H Robbins and Mark N Cohen, eds.
Boston: Penguin Academics, 2009. 216 pages.

The main theme of this book is clearly identified in its subtitle. To reflect the cultural conflict theme, the editors have invited authors with a variety of perspectives on the history and diversity of life and how best to account for it. The volume is polyvocal; the editors clearly did not constrain the authors significantly with a particular editorial perspective, even though the editors' perspectives are made quite clear in the introduction and conclusions.

The book is divided into three sections. The first allows proponents of the sciences and of various creationist — including "intelligent design" — models to make affirmative cases for their positions. There is a nice variety of ideas here, though there are some chapters that fall short. For example, though Stephen Jay Gould's NOMA construct is an important perspective, much of the material in the chapter is outdated. And Phillip Johnson's chapter — much abbreviated due to illness — fails to deliver much beyond presenting the basic claims of "intelligent design" (ID) and reads like little more than slogans. Furthermore, the lack of an exposition of a young-earth creationism is a glaring hole. Although young-earth creationists are perhaps not currently in the forefront politically, they are still a significant force on the "Bible" side of the divide.

Still, most of the material here is well presented and worth reading. Cohen's chapter — on the nature of science and the ways in which certain ideas and procedures that make science successful, such as uniformitarianism, have been demonized by opponents — is insightful. He makes clear one important point that is often muddied by ID proponents: even "intelligent" human behavior is still bound by the operation of natural laws. Therefore, it makes a poor analogy to their design arguments, which (despite their disavowals to the contrary) involve the supernatural.

Walter Hearn's chapter provides a voice seldom heard in the "controversy" but which is not an uncommon position: that of the evangelical Christian who accepts the power of natural laws and processes to produce complex biological outcomes. However, this chapter is mostly uninformative —much of it spent in defining and redefining terms, instead of addressing the issues.

Hewlett and Peters clarify the main issues and lay out the terrain that any victor must claim: the nature and definition of science. They clearly characterize the value of evolutionary theory as "a model that gives directions for scientists to pursue research" rather than an "absolute truth" (p 69). They also decry Darwinism — which they define as the various ideologies that emerge from the scientific theory and not intrinsic (or often even related) to the scientific process.

The second section focuses on historical developments. Jonathan Marks provides both a strong historical perspective as well as additional clarification on the nature and meaning of science: "This is not about whether we came from apes, but about how we draw scientific inferences" (p 95). Co-editor Robbins's chapter is a valuable rehabilitation of the reputation of William Jennings Bryan. Robbins points out that Bryan's concern was that Darwinism might lead to inequality, war, and social conflict. His analysis of the state of Darwinism in the 1920s — including Social Darwinism and eugenics — makes Bryan a more sympathetic character than pro-science readers may be accustomed to.

The first of Larson's chapters adds the necessary "post-Darwinian" development of evolutionary science. While anti-evolutionists often invoke Darwin and "Darwinism" in their critiques, this chapter makes clear how much of modern evolutionary science is non-Darwinian. A chapter by the late Ernst Mayr shows why Darwin's original construction still persists and provides the underpinning for modern evolutionary science. By contrast, NCSE's Glenn Branch illustrates the worldwide pattern of how opposition to evolutionary science is maintained and spread.

The final section focuses on issues that arise from evolution in the classroom. Larson's second contribution to this volume explores the conflict between tradition and modernity. It was not evolution itself that was responsible for the conflict, argues Larson, but intellectual and cultural trends that focused on "rational, naturalistic modes of analysis" (p 156) as the basis for understanding and solving the world's problems. This naturalistic focus is, of course, the main irritant that ID proponents want to remove from science, but Larson traces the effects of methodological naturalism on the development of anti-evolutionism throughout the 20th and into the 21st century. His concluding statement is realistic, if pessimistic: "If history is any guide, dark clouds remain on the horizon" (p 165).

Steve Randak adds a perspective that only a high-school biology teacher could provide. Picking up on the idea of "local control" in Larson's first chapter, he shows how it can play out in fervent opposition to evolution, even in a school district with a strong association with a major research university. His chapter perhaps illustrates what Larson meant by his closing remark. Next, one of those students with a strong anti-evolutionary upbringing, Laura Perras, tries to make sense of the scientific theories she is learning in university. This is a valuable voice to add to the conversation, but it is still rather underdeveloped in comparison to the others in the book.

It is in the conclusions that the co-editors' own perspectives become clearest. It is important, they urge, to separate science as the process of inquiry from science as the cultural institution (just as it is important to separate faith as a framework to understand the meaning, value, and purpose in life from faith as embodied in religious denominations). In one sense, this is a restatement and extension of Gould's NOMA construction, and one that recognizes that both science and religion are intricately woven into the fabric of our culture. Cohen seems to be calling for science and religion to find that place in contemporary culture where they can join their valuable contributions. And yet, Larson's warning still hangs over this aspiration.

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

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

Review: Darwinian Detectives

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
1
Date: 
January-February
Page(s): 
28-29
Reviewer: 
Rebecca L Cann
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Darwinian Detectives: Revealing the Natural History of Genes and Genomes
Author(s): 
Norman A Johnson
New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. 220 pages.

Just about every topic under the banner "why genetics is important to understand and still amazing to many professional biologists" is covered in this compact book. What a delight to read about some well-chosen examples, glittering in succinct detail and presented in a manner designed to intrigue and captivate a general audience. After all, where else can you find the forensic details about how a dentist did in an ex-lover with an HIV infection, what the chimpanzee genome project could tell us about differences between the sex lives of all three chimpanzees, the true origins of Akita dogs, or what red-haired singers might have in common with talking Neanderthals? Think of the conversation starters at your next sushi bar encounter, where you can captivate an audience with details about the genomes of smooth versus spiny pufferfish! Then toss off a few comments about the delta 32 mutation in CCR5 and the Black Plague, followed by the link between silaic acids and huge brains, and you are sure to be voted geek of the week. The amazing thing is that Norman Johnson has been able to show the scientific method making sense of the world in all this crazy detail.

A designed biota would not be as messy, as haphazardly assembled, or as truly jerryrigged as the genetic systems cobbled together in the last billion years of random processes and presented here for your total wonderment.

Johnson starts with the general, boxing the math for readers to skip over completely or come back to later, and moves to the specific in well-organized sections. The book starts with a good exposition of the methods scientists use to deduce how genomes are organized and how they got that way, that is, evolution. His discussion on natural selection, both positive and negative, is clear and easy to follow. The focus on how scientists are able to identify cases of positive selection sets the stage for discussions of how populations (simple and complex, marine and terrestrial) have changed over time. In cases where morphological shifts cannot be clearly linked to environments undergoing directional change, he also does a good job of introducing a reader to the idea of balancing selection. If you had an hour to read a chapter a week, covering this book would be like taking a good college biology seminar in a semester with your favorite teacher. You come away with enough background to critically dissect a too facile news story, like the one for a "language gene" or "killer male gene". And if your interest runs to recreational genetics as in ancestry testing, you will learn enough here to know that even a $1000 test fee is going to give you a probability statement, not an identity link.

There is one glaring error on page 160 in the text, easily corrected, but unfortunate because it concerns dogs and how they changed in their domestication from a wolflike ancestor. Dogs have been bred to diverse body shapes, colors, and personalities, so much so that behavioral geneticists are particularly keen to unlock many secrets about genes contributing to behavioral patterns using the dog genome as a model system. Because many people have close relationships with their pets and may have missed early stages of behavioral development with their own children, this topic is close to a reader's heart and important to get right. So, when Johnson talks about the latest information from large-scale nuclear gene testing of 85 breeds of dogs and suggests that dogs originated from African stock, contradicting previous mitochondrial DNA work, he does so because he misidentifies the basal breeds in the dog tree as African, when in fact they are Asian. Anthropologists can now note that I am finally arguing for an Asian ancestry of one species dear to humans.

Another minor quibble is his failure to include a good discussion of superbugs, or bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics. Hospital acquired infections are important in an aging population undergoing more intense medical care, and while the latest statistics can be scary for someone spending time in an intensive care unit, it is also clear that school gymnasium facilities and hotel rooms with dirty remote controls or bedspreads can also be a problem. Herd immunity assumed by parents in an attempt to avoid autism risks, where failure to vaccinate has contributed to measles epidemics nationwide, is also a public health issue far more immediate than a potential bird flu mutation, yet these topics do not appear. Instead, a final chapter on genome evolution that attempts to give the big picture falls flat, and suffers from both over- and undersimplification, especially in the discussion of transposable elements and gene regulation.

I hope that biology teachers nationwide looking for evidence of evolution to engage their students with take a look at this book. I also hope that physicians who have a shaky understanding of evolutionary processes feel inclined to refresh how their practices can contribute to or detract from the general health of their patients. This slim volume sparked many discussions with airplane seatmates, and clearly covers stories that will resonate with a variety of readers. If a paperback version appears, it would also be a good text for a non-majors biology or an advanced placement high school class. Armed with the right information, these folks may themselves become citizen scientists.

About the Author(s): 

Rebecca L Cann
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org

Rebecca L Cann is Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Hawai'i, Manoa.

Review: More than Darwin

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
1
Date: 
January—February
Page(s): 
27—28
Reviewer: 
Glenn Branch
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
More than Darwin: An Encyclopedia of the People and Places of the Evolution-Creationism Controversy
Author(s): 
Randy Moore and
Mark D Decker
Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 2008. 415 pages

Who replaced John Scopes at Rhea County High School in Dayton, Tennessee? Where was the first evolution course offered anywhere in the world taught? And who was the most controversial figure in the evolution/creationism controversy? Randy Moore and Mark Decker — both biologists at the University of Minnesota; both members of NCSE — know the answers to these questions, and in More than Darwin, they share their vast knowledge about (as the subtitle indicates) the people and places of the evolution/creationism controversy. Appropriately as well as alphabetically, they begin with Adam (“the first naturalist,” according to Linnaeus), ending with Evelle J Younger, the attorney general of California who in 1975 ruled that the state’s educational system could not “balance” its teaching of evolution by teaching creationism as well. Moore and Decker explain in their preface, “we have tried to neither condemn nor praise either ‘side’ of the controversy, nor have we attempted to reconcile the views of science and religion ... Our only goal has been to present — as best we can — an objective, interesting, accurate, and accessible description of the people and places associated with the controversy” (p xxii). They succeed admirably.

Most of the book’s 500 or so entries are short, running about 500 to 1000 words, but a few figures — Charles Darwin, of course, but also William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, Susan Epperson, the Galápagos Islands, James Hutton, Thomas Henry Huxley, Charles Lyell, and Alfred Russel Wallace — receive extended treatments. The entries are generally concise, organized, and accurate, with the exception of the usual crop of typographical errors and a few minor errors of fact. There are a few places where clarity was lamentably sacrificed for brevity: in the entry for the Kansas State Board of Education, for example, it is insufficiently clear that the board was dominated by and reclaimed from anti-evolutionists twice. The usefulness of the book as a reference work is heightened by a four-page bibliography and a competent index that, unusually but helpfully, includes important quoted phrases. (Between the entries for “Buxton Limeworks” and “Byrd, Robert,” for example, appears “Buzzword that causes a lot of negative reactions,” which was how Kathy Cox, the Georgia state superintendent of schools, described the word “evolution” in 2004.) Scattered throughout are eighty-two useful illustrations, including a number of photographs taken by Moore.

A distinct strength of More than Darwin is its coverage of the contentious legal history of the controversy, to which Moore devoted a previous book, Evolution in the Courtroom (2001). There are entries for several cases that deserve to be better known: Bishop v Aronov, Caldwell v Roseville, Crowley v Smithsonian Institution, Hendren v Campbell, Moeller v Schrenko, and Pfeifer v City of West Allis. Practically everyone of significance in the Scopes trial is allotted a separate entry, and a guide (with map) to the sites of the trial is provided. It is regrettable that McLean v Arkansas and Kitzmiller v Dover were not similarly treated, although a number of people associated with those trials, including Wendell Bird, Stephen Jay Gould, Norman Geisler, John E Jones III, and Kenneth Miller, receive their own entries. It is a minor annoyance that the proper legal citations for the cases — for example, “400 F Supp 2d 707 (MD Pa 2005)” for Kitzmiller — are not included. The entry for Selman v Cobb County fails to explain the denouement, in which the decision was vacated and the case remanded to the trial court, where a settlement was reached.

With its sturdy binding and exorbitant price ($85.00), More than Darwin is clearly intended for the library market. The University of California Press is planning to publish a paperback edition in 2009, however, which is fortunate, since the book is not simply a utilitarian reference work: it is a marvelous trove for the curious browser, who will be constantly tempted to pull the book off the shelf to read a random entry and discover a new fact or two. In addition to scientists and creationists, legislators and litigants, philosophers and poets (well, poet: Tennyson, on the strength of In Memoriam’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw”), More than Darwin addresses a number of delightfully quirky topics: Carl Akeley, the revolutionary taxidermist whose work is still on display at the American Museum of Natural history; Gertie the Dinosaur, the first animal to star in a cartoon strip; and roadside dinosaurs, such as those displayed at Dinosaur Valley State Park. Moore and Decker evidently enjoyed the chore of researching and writing the book, and their hope, expressed in the preface, that readers will “enjoy learning about the people and places of the evolution–creationism controversy” (p xxiv), is bound to be realized.

And what about those lingering questions? Well, the most controversial figure in the evolution/creationism controversy, Moore and Decker confidently state, was J Frank Norris (1877–1952), who “was indicted for a variety of felonies, including perjury, several arsons (including the burning of his own church), and murder. ... As a newspaper editor noted after the [murder] trial, ‘In Fort Worth, the 11th Commandment is “Thou shalt not mess with J Frank Norris”’” (p 271). Fans of Norris’s modern rival Kent Hovind will be pleased to know that he at least receives his own entry. The first evolution course was offered at Indiana University, at least according to the biologist David Starr Jordan (1851–1931), who taught it. And Scopes’s replacement was Raleigh Reece, described in L Sprague de Camp’s The Great Monkey Trial as “a reporter from Nashville with some teaching experience and an unblemished record of Fundamentalism” (1968: 444). Content to let the irony speak for itself, Moore and Decker add, “When Reece missed the first week of classes in the fall of 1925, his substitute was Darius Darwin” (p 298).

References

de Camp LS. 1968. The Great Monkey Trial. New York: Doubleday.

Moore R. 2001. Evolution in the Courtroom: A Reference Guide. Santa Barbara (CA): ABC-Clio.

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

Glenn Branch is NCSE’s deputy director.

Review: Negotiating Darwin

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
1
Date: 
January—February
Page(s): 
29—30
Reviewer: 
Peter MJ Hess
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Negotiating Darwin: The Vatican Confronts Evolution, 1877-1902
Author(s): 
Mariano Artigas,
Thomas F Glick, and
Rafael A Martínez
Baltimore (MD): The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. 336 pages

On both the popular and scholarly levels, the appreciation of the Roman Catholic Church’s stance with respect to the theory of biological evolution has been ambiguous. On the one hand, it is sometimes assumed that the Church that had rushed to judgment on heliocentrism in the case of Galileo would not have hesitated to pounce on a theory that both undercut a literal reading of Genesis and reduced human beings to the status of animals. On the other hand, it is well known that Roman Catholicism has not been at the forefront of organized opposition to evolution in the same way as fundamentalist Protestantism has been.

Was the Church fundamentally opposed to Darwin’s theory of descent with modification, or was it cautiously open to permitting discussion of the idea? Where along this spectrum should we expect to find the truth? Moreover, by “the Church” do we understand the Vatican and the ecclesiastical hierarchy, or Roman Catholic scholars, or the faithful in the pew? These distinctions are important to make for sorting out the degree of acceptance of evolutionary thinking within Roman Catholicism, since the response by Roman Catholic scholars and churchmen varied according to their region and to their degree of removal from the corridors of Rome. In our collective effort to defend and promote the teaching of evolution in public schools, readers of RNCSE will be well served by even a cursory reading of Negotiating Darwin. The book offers a nicely detailed elucidation of the delicate position in which the hierarchical Church found itself in the generation after Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859.

The authors of Negotiating Darwin — including the late Mariano Artigas — were among the first to study the archives of both the Congregation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition and of the Congregation of the Index. In principle it was within the jurisdiction of the Holy Office to examine and prohibit a book, with the decision being communicated to the Office of the Index for promulgation. In practice, however, it was the Congregation of the Index that handled both the examination of and the judgment about the books that had been denounced to it by church authorities. The authors examine six cases featuring Roman Catholic thinkers who were suspect of trying in varying degrees to incorporate evolutionary thinking into Roman Catholic doctrine in the generation after Darwin’s seminal work appeared. In the case of some, evolution was a relatively unimportant aspect of their thinking; with others it was central to their theological project. The principal objective of Negotiating Darwin is “to identify both the ideological and operational stance of the Church with respect to the reception of Darwinism.”

The first case studied is that of Rafaello Caverni, whose New Studies of Philosophy: Lectures to a Young Student (1877) reconciled divine creation with the active intervention of God by leaving humans out of the process of evolution. Caverni countered the predominant literalist hermeneutic by distinguishing between the divine and human aspects of Scripture. Rejecting an evolutionary theory that denied purpose, he insisted upon a theistic vision of evolution attracting the world forward by final causes. The influential Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica reviewed Caverni’s book harshly, leveling the twin objections that evolution is an atheistic and materialistic philosophy explaining matter without reference to God, and that, however much Caverni wanted to exclude humans, materialism would be the inevitable result of the incorporation of humans into the evolutionary scheme. The book was denounced and condemned. The authors note, however, that since Caverni’s title did not mention evolution, this indirect condemnation of Darwin’s theory was ultimately ineffectual.

The episode of French Dominican Dalmace Leroy offers further evidence that the Church had no official doctrine regarding evolution. Leroy published The Evolution of Organic Species in 1887, and critical reviews prompted him to issue an expanded edition under the narrower title Evolution Limited to Organic Species (1891), in which he carefully excluded Adam and Eve from consideration in the evolutionary story. The book was denounced to the Index in 1894 and Leroy agreed to retract, but with reservations. He sincerely believed that in its steadfast refusal even to consider the evolutionary preparation of the human body for reception of the infused soul, the credibility of the Roman Catholic Church was at stake in an increasingly scientific world. Leroy retracted his book, but the episode shows that there was disagreement about the subject even among the theologians of the Index. Even while forbidding the reprinting of the book, they did not publish the decree of condemnation.

The heart of Negotiating Darwin is the extensive treatment of the case of John Zahm (1851–1921). A priest in the Holy Cross Order and Professor of Physics and Chemistry at the University of Notre Dame, Zahm argued in Evolution and Dogma (1896) for the harmonization of evolutionary theory with Roman Catholic doctrine. Zahm’s grasp of contemporary evolutionary theory was remarkable, particularly in his understanding that Darwinism was not equivalent to evolution but only one of numerous attempts that had been made to explain the modus operandi of biological change. Recognizing the paucity of fossil transitional forms, Zahm noted that Darwin himself had acknowledged the current incompleteness of the geological record. Zahm was confident that although the production of variation on which selection works was not yet understood, understanding would eventually arrive. He critically reviewed the controversy about Lamarck’s theory of the transmission of acquired characteristics, concluding that a comprehensive theory of evolution was not yet attained.

Zahm was well aware of the baggage Darwinism carried in being associated with atheism, and he was alert to the evolutionary controversies raging in Europe. However, he retained a serene confidence that revealed theology could validly be integrated with progressive science.

The Vatican’s attention to Zahm’s book must be read in light of Pope Leo XIII’s campaign against “Americanism.” New World political values were often regarded with suspicion by conservative 19th-century Europeans. American Catholics who had adopted the values of freedom of the press, liberty of conscience, and the spirit of free scientific inquiry were less likely to follow Vatican dictates meekly. The appearance of the French and Italian editions of Evolution and Dogma provoked the Congregation of the Index to issue an injunction against further publication and distribution, although apparently this was never enforced. Zahm was a faithful Catholic, and when friends in Rome warned him that the book was about to be placed on the Index, he immediately wrote to the publisher of the Italian edition to slow its distribution. Convinced that the truth for which he had worked would in due time be manifest, he had made his point and was content to follow the orders of the church he loved and served. The decree of condemnation was not published, and Zahm never issued a retraction.

In the remaining three cases examined in this book, evolution played a less direct role. Geremia Bonomelli, Bishop of Cremona, was quite taken with Zahm’s book, adding an appendix discussing evolution to his own Seguiamo la raggione (Let Us Follow Reason, 1898). Bonomelli’s enthusiastic endorsement led the Index to examine Zahm’s thought more closely, and Bonomelli’s book was a casualty. Because he was already controversial for his proposal that the Vatican should recognize the new Italian state, Bonomelli believed that a voluntary retraction of the evolutionary appendix would be in his and the church’s best interest. Bishop John Hedley of England came under fire for favorably reviewing Zahm’s book, and he issued a letter of retraction in the English Catholic magazine The Tablet. Also in England, lay scholar St George Jackson Mivart, author of The Genesis of Species (1871), was condemned not for his evolutionary views but for his challenge to traditional doctrines about sin and punishment.

Rome never formulated an explicit condemnation of evolution as a doctrine and seems to have taken a rather pragmatic approach to the issue. The debates internal to the Congregation of the Index reflect a general concern for rejecting evolution when applied to the human body, but the only condemnation ever issued was internal, the decree was not published. None of Darwin’s books was placed on the Index, nor were any of Huxley’s, Spencer’s, or Haeckel’s. The six cases under review all involved books written by Roman Catholics who had attracted ecclesiastical attention, presumably because their works had greater potential to disturb the life of the Church. Participants on both sides appear to have remembered the Galileo episode, and the Church was careful not to overstep its bounds.

It is hard to find serious fault with this book, both for the meticulousness of its scholarship and for its engaging style. It might have been useful to pursue the history into the 1930s, but the authors have wisely sacrificed breadth for depth. Historians will enjoy its meticulous scholarship, and even non-historians will find this a useful book, as it offers sound historical perspective on a foundationally important and often misconstrued period in the history of the relationship between ecclesiastical authority and the social osmosis of evolutionary theory.

About the Author(s): 
Peter MJ Hess
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
hess@ncseweb.org

Peter MJ Hess is NCSE’s Faith Project Director. He is the coauthor, with Paul L Allen, of Catholicism and Science (Westport [CT]: Greenwood Press, 2008).