Volume 29 (2009)

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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).

RNCSE 29 (2)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March–April
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 29 (2)

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

NEWS

  1. Creationism in Brunswick County
    Anton Mates
    A school district in southern North Carolina considers "equal time" proposals.
  2. Implementing Louisiana's Anti-Evolution Law
    Joshua Rosenau
    The Louisiana Science Education Act is law, and now it must be implemented.
  3. A Furor over Creationism at the Royal Society
    Glenn Branch
    A science educator was embroiled in controversy over remarks about creationism in the classroom.
  4. The Latest on Expelled
    Eugenie C Scott
    The movie is getting publicity again, but as one of the worst films of 2008.
  5. Victory over "Weaknesses" in Texas
    Glenn Branch
    Language about "strengths and weaknesses" of "controversial" scientific theories was dropped from the state standards. But other changes raise concerns.
  6. Updates
    News from Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma,Canada, and the Netherlands.

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. Revisiting the Creation/Evolution Continuum
    A reminder that there is a range of perspectives.
  2. Books: Science and Religion Redux
    These books explore the relationship between modern science and religious faith.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

SPECIAL FEATURE: MEMBERS' ROUNDTABLE

  1. Winning Their Hearts and Minds: Who Should Speak for Evolution?
    Daryl P Domning
    Domning suggests that scientists who profess religious faith would help more people to accept evolution.
  2. Response to "Winning Their Hearts and Minds"
    Sheldon F Gottlieb
    Gottlieb acknowledges the tactical advantage in Domning's proposal, but worries that this approach may weaken scientific literacy in the longer run.
  3. Communicating Evolutionary Science to a Religious Public
    Keith B Miller
    It is important — for both scientists and the general public — to recognize how science interacts with the values and beliefs of broader culture, and that includes religious belief.
  4. Keeping Evolution Education in Perspective: A Response to Daryl Domning
    Erik B Pietrowicz
    It is the public school teacher who is at the forefront of this issue. How might Domning's approach play out in the classroom?
  5. Rejoinder to Comments
    Daryl P Domning
    Reflections on responses at the roundtable.

SPECIAL FEATURE

  1. People & Places: The Temple of Serapis
    Randy Moore
    Charles Lyell correctly inferred past geologic processes by observation at this famous site on a peninsula that juts into the Mediterranean just west of Naples.

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. Thank God for Evolution! — A Response to a RNCSE Review
    Michael Dowd
    The author discusses the aims of the book.
  2. Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution by Karl W Giberson
    Reviewed by Denis O Lamoureux
  3. Render Unto Darwin: Philosophical Aspects of the Christian Right's Crusade against Science by James H Fetzer
    Reviewed by Keith M Parsons
  4. Charles Darwin by Michael Ruse
    Reviewed by Doren A Recker
  5. Back to Darwin: A Richer Account of Evolution edited by John B Cobb Jr
    Reviewed by Timothy Shanahan
  6. Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution by Denis O Lamoureux
    Reviewed by Stephen J Godfrey

A Furor over Creationism at the Royal Society

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
A Furor over Creationism at the Royal Society
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
8–9
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

The director of education for the Royal Society of London, Michael Reiss, resigned from his position on September 16, 2008, in the wake of a controversy occasioned by his recent remarks on creationism — even though Reiss, a biologist, accepts evolution, recognizes that creationism lacks any scientific legitimacy, and believes that students ought to be told, when the subject arises, that creationism has no scientific basis.

Reiss's remarks were apparently offered during the British Association for the Advancement of Science's Festival of Science, which took place September 6–11, 2008, in Liverpool; he subsequently posted a corresponding essay, "Science lessons should tackle creationism and intelligent design," on the Guardian's science blog on September 11, 2008. In the latter, Reiss posed the question, "What should science teachers do when faced with students who are creationists?" and answered that "when teaching evolution, there is much to be said for allowing students to raise any doubts they have (hardly a revolutionary idea in science teaching) and doing one's best to have a genuine discussion."

Reiss added, "The word 'genuine' doesn't mean that creationism or intelligent design deserve equal time." He was also careful to note that whether such a discussion would be appropriate depends "on the comfort of the teacher in dealing with such issues and the make-up of the student body," adding, "I don't believe that such teaching is easy." Nevertheless, he insisted, "I do believe in taking seriously and respectfully the concerns of students who do not accept the theory of evolution, while still introducing them to it. While it is unlikely that this will help students who have a conflict between science and their religious beliefs to resolve the conflict, good science teaching can help students to manage it — and to learn more science."

Unfortunately, the content of Reiss's message was distorted and sensationalized in the British media. For example, the story in the Times of London (2008 Sep 12) was headlined "Leading scientist urges teaching of creationism in schools," and began, "Creationism should be taught in science classes as a legitimate point of view, according to the Royal Society, putting the august science body on a collision course with the Government"; the Telegraph's story (2008 Sep 11) was similarly headlined "Creationism should be taught in science classes, says expert," and subheaded, "The theory of creationism should be taught alongside evolution in school science lessons, a leading biologist and education expert has said."

The Royal Society observed in a September 12, 2008, press release that "The Royal Society is opposed to creationism being taught as science," citing the 2006 Interacademy Panel statement (see RNCSE 2006 Jul/Aug; 26 [4]: 13–6) on the teaching of evolution, to which the Royal Society is a signatory. It also quoted a clarification from Reiss: "Creationism has no scientific basis. However, when young people ask questions about creationism in science classes, teachers need to be able to explain to them why evolution and the Big Bang are scientific theories but they should also take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis."

Nevertheless, there was a quick outcry from a number of British scientists. Richard Roberts, a member of the Royal Society and a Nobel Prize winner, was quoted in the Guardian (2008 Sep 14) as saying, "I think it is outrageous that this man is suggesting that creationism should be discussed in a science classroom. It is an incredible idea and I am drafting a letter to other Nobel laureates — which would be sent to the Royal Society — to ask that Reiss be made to stand down." And Roberts indeed sent a letter endorsed by his fellow laureates Harold Kroto and John Sulston to the Royal Society, complaining about Reiss's remarks as reported.

Part of the outcry centered on the fact that, in addition to being a biologist and professor of science education, Reiss is also a clergyman, ordained in the Church of England. Richard Dawkins told the Guardian (2008 Sep 14), "A clergyman in charge of education for the country's leading scientific organisation — it's a Monty Python sketch," and Roberts's letter to the Royal Society commented, "We gather Professor Reiss is a clergyman, which in itself is very worrisome. Who on earth thought that he would be an appropriate Director of Education, who could be expected to answer questions about the differences between science and religion in a scientific, reasoned way?"

Subsequently, in a September 16, 2008, letter to New Scientist, Dawkins distanced himself from the call for Reiss's ouster, describing Roberts's letter's complaint about Reiss's clerical status as "a little too close to a witch-hunt for my squeamish taste," characterizing his Monty Python comparison as "a little uncharitable," and commenting, "Although I disagree with him, what he actually said at the British Association is not obviously silly like creationism itself, nor is it a self-evidently inappropriate stance for the Royal Society to take." (He also mentioned "Eugenie Scott, whose National Center for Science Education is doing splendid work in fighting the creationist wingnuts in America.")

Dawkins's limited defense notwithstanding, the Royal Society announced Reiss's resignation on September 16, 2008. According to a press release, "Some of Professor Michael Reiss's recent comments, on the issue of creationism in schools, while speaking as the Royal Society's Director of Education, were open to misinterpretation. While it was not his intention, this has led to damage to the Society's reputation. As a result, Professor Reiss and the Royal Society have agreed that, in the best interests of the Society, he will step down immediately as Director of Education."

It wasn't only scientists who were critical of Reiss's remarks as reported. After Reiss's resignation, Phil Willis, a Member of Parliament who chairs the Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, expressed satisfaction with the result, telling the Times of London (2008 Sep 17), "I hope the society will now stop burying its head and start taking on creationism." Previously Wills told the Times (2008 Sep 16), "I was horrified to hear these views and I reject them totally. They are a step too far and they fly in the face of what science is about. I think if his [Professor Reiss's] views are as mentioned they may be incompatible with his position."

Not all members of the British scientific community were critical of Reiss. After his resignation, Roland Jackson, chief executive of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, told BBC News (2008 Sep 16) that his departure was a "real loss," adding, "I was at the actual discussion and what I heard him say, however it has been reported, was essentially the position advocated by the Royal Society." Robert Winston, professor of science and society at Imperial College London and a distinguished medical scientist and science popularizer, lamented, "This is not a good day for the reputation of science or scientists."

Paul Nurse, a member of the Royal Society and Nobel laureate who did not sign the Roberts letter, took a somewhat intermediate position, telling Nature (in a piece published on-line under the dreadful headline "Creationism stir fries Reiss"; 2008 Sep 17), "It does not matter what someone's religious beliefs are as long as he does the job properly. The issue for me here is his competency in the job. I only saw the media coverage of his speech, but it does not look as though he handled it well. Because creationism in the classroom is such a sensitive subject, you have to be very careful and very clear about what you say."

Across the Atlantic, Leslie S Jones of Valdosta State University, who coedited a recent anthology, Teaching about Scientific Origins: Taking Account of Creationism (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2007; reviewed in RNCSE 2008 May/Jun; 28 [3]: 23–5), with Reiss, expressed shock at the events. She told Nature (on-line; 2008 Sep 17), "Michael has a rare blend of transdisciplinary credentials that give him critical insight into the social controversy surrounding the teaching of evolution. He has never advocated the teaching of creationism."

A subsequent editorial in Nature (2008; 445: 431–2) argued:

Those who argue that allowing discussion of creationism in a science class gives it legitimacy, and that students who ask about it should be firmly directed to take their questions elsewhere, are misguided.

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, and a long-time advocate for the teaching of evolution, points out that in the real world, any such shut-up-and-take-it-elsewhere response from the teacher will inevitably be perceived by the student (and his or her classmates) as a humiliating personal putdown. It will obstruct rather than encourage enquiry and understanding. It will also invite complaints from outraged parents.

What is more, it will squander what experienced educators like to call "a teachable moment". All too often, that moment is the one opportunity that a school has to engage resistant students and introduce them to what science has to say.

Reiss is returning to his position of Professor of Science Education at the Institute of Education at the University of London.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS:

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

Glenn Branch is NCSE's Deputy Director.

Communicating Evolutionary Science to a Religious Public

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Communicating Evolutionary Science to a Religious Public
Author(s): 
Keith B Miller
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
34–35
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

First, I want to endorse enthusiastically Daryl Domning's plea to those in the scientific community who are theists, and especially to those of us who are members of the Christian community. It is essential to the advancement of the public's understanding and acceptance of modern science (particularly evolutionary science) that we articulate that science to the faith communities of which we are a part. The presumption of "warfare" between science and religious faith perpetuates erroneous understandings of the nature and content of science. Such misconceptions erect completely unnecessary barriers to the embrace of science by a substantial portion of the population, and turn public science education into a forum for cultural warfare. When people of faith reject the central theories of modern science because of a false perception that those theories conflict with their faith, they not only deprive science of vital public support, but also deprive it of many bright enquiring minds in the future.

In many cases, people reject evolution (and other unifying theories within the historical natural sciences) as much because of popularly held misconceptions about the nature of science itself as because of any perceived theological conflict. The roots of the science/ faith conflict are often embedded in false notions that are widely held within our culture and impact general public science literacy. It is these very misconceptions that are exploited by anti-evolution advocates. For example, theories are often viewed as merely unsubstantiated guesses, rather than as the unifying concepts that give our observations coherence and meaning. Theories within the historical sciences, in particular, are seen as being inherently untestable. Many people conceive of science as simply an encyclopedic accumulation of unchanging observational "facts". Thus, the dynamic nature of science with the continual revision of theoretical constructs becomes for them evidence of the fleeting validity of scientific "truth". The claim that modern science is based on an atheistic philosophy that denies the existence of anything beyond the material is commonly built upon the background of these other false notions of science. The result is both predictable and preventable.

As Domning states, being public advocates for the compatibility of evolutionary science and religious faith is not about injecting religion into science. Far from it! It is simply presenting the true face of science, which is practiced by individuals representing a very wide range of theistic and non-theistic views. The methods of the natural sciences are limited to understanding the natural world and its history in terms of natural cause-and-effect processes, a limitation frequently described by the term "methodological naturalism". Science, as a method of inquiry about the natural world, can make no claims about the existence or non-existence of God, or of any supernatural entity. Atheism is neither an assumption nor a conclusion of science. Scientific investigation is a trans-cultural and religiously neutral enterprise, and is therefore universally accessible. However, while science as a discipline is religiously neutral, individual scientists are not. We each live out our scientific vocations within a broader context.

A view of science that recognizes its interaction with the values and beliefs of the broader culture need not be left at the public school door. Presenting the historical development of scientific theories in the classroom is a very effective way of communicating to students why certain theories have come to be widely accepted by the scientific community. Such historical accounts will of necessity display the roles (both positive and negative) played by culture, religious faith, philosophy, and even individual personalities in the shaping of modern science. History also reveals how new powerful explanatory theories arise and displace previously strongly held views. It reveals the interesting, dynamic, and very human processes involved in advancing our understanding of the natural world. Such an approach to teaching science also provides a legitimate context in which teachers and students can address the ethical and social dimensions of the application of scientific knowledge.

Science is not learned and applied in some culturally and religiously sterile environment. The motivations that drive us to understand the natural world and to apply that knowledge for the good of others and the world are part and parcel of our most deeply held philosophical and religious commitments. Why should those commitments be hidden when we communicate our passion for science to others? People will more easily recognize that science has something valuable for them when they see it embodied in those who share their deeply held faith commitments. A consequence of this more human face to science may just be a reinvigoration of scientific interest in our schools and in our nation.

I discuss these various public misunderstandings at length in my "Countering public misconceptions about the nature of evolutionary science" (Southeastern Biology 2005; 52: 415–27).

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS:

Keith B Miller
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org

Keith B Miller, a Supporter of NCSE, is Research Assistant Professor of Geology at Kansas State University. He is the editor of Perspectives on an Evolving Creation (Grand Rapids [MI]:William B Eerdmans, 2003).

Creationism in Brunswick County

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Creationism in Brunswick County
Author(s): 
Anton Mates
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
4–5
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Brunswick County is a largely rural county of about 75 000 people in the southern tip of North Carolina, but it drew national attention in the fall of 2008 when its school board considered adding creationism to the science curriculum. (For a brief report, see RNCSE 2008 Sep–Dec; 28 [5–6]: 4–8.)

According to the Wilmington Star-News (2008 Sep 16), the controversy began at the September 16, 2008, board meeting, when Joel Fanti, a chemical engineer and local parent, condemned the teaching of evolution as "fact" rather than "theory". Fanti also made a curious argument: "I wasn't here 2 million years ago ... If evolution is so slow, why don't we see anything evolving now?" He volunteered to teach creationism himself, to audience applause.

Board chair Shirley Babson responded that evolution was a required subject, although she personally rejected it. She was uncertain whether creationism could legally be added to the science curriculum, but said, "if we can do it, I think we ought to do it." All other board members present also voiced their support for teaching creationism, and superintendent Katie McGee agreed to research the question of its legality. The board's attorney suggested that it might be possible to add creationism to the curriculum as long as evolution was still taught.

The board's receptiveness to the idea of explicitly mandating creationism may seem surprising to longtime observers of the anti-evolutionist movement. Since 1987's Edwards v Aguillard decision prohibited exactly this sort of policy as unconstitutional, most creationism activists have chosen more indirect tactics, such as "intelligent design" or — since Kitzmiller v Dover — "teaching the controversy" or "strengths and weaknesses".

But several members of Brunswick County's school board — in particular Babson, Jimmy Hobbs, and Ray Gilbert — have consistently supported the promotion of particular religious viewpoints on school grounds. For instance, in 2006, Hobbs, Babson, and Gilbert proposed to let Gideons International distribute Bibles in county high schools. (State Port Pilot 2006 March 21) When it was pointed out that Wiccans, Pastafarians, and other religious groups would also have to be permitted to distribute their literature, the proposition was tabled indefinitely (Star-News 2006 May 5).

The next year, Hobbs and Babson pushed for more parental control over the contents of school libraries, expressing concern that Harry Potter's inclusion in school libraries promoted Wiccanism and would lead children to practice witchcraft and animal sacrifice (Star-News 2007 Sep 21). It does not appear that they were successful in changing library policy.

Presumably Hobbs was referring to this history of failed attempts to promote particular religious viewpoints in the Brunswick County schools when he said at the September meeting, "It's really a disgrace for the state school board to impose evolution on our students without teaching creationism. The law says we can't have Bibles in schools, but we can have evolution, of the atheists" (Star-News 2008 Sep 16).

REACTIONS TO THE PROPOSAL

When state education officials were interviewed in the days following the meeting, they were clear on the law. North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said that schools are not allowed to teach creationism as science, and that those that did so are liable to be sued. Edd Dunlap and Tracey Greggs, the chiefs of the science and social studies sections in the state department of public instruction, agreed. Referencing both Edwards v Aguillard and Kitzmiller v Dover, Dunlap explained that creationism and "intelligent design"could be covered in an elective course in religion or philosophy, but could not be taught in science or any other required course, nor could it be taught as fact. Greggs added that creationism could also be included in history class, but would have to be presented alongside other religious perspectives and not specifically promoted (Star-News 2008 Sep 29).

Opinion within the local community was predictably divided. Pro-evolution sentiment was strong; concerned citizens contacted the district, wrote letters to local newspapers, and contacted both NCSE and the Evolution Learning Community at the University of North Carolina's campus in nearby Wilmington, where by coincidence, Richard Leakey was giving a talk on human evolution. Phillip Johnson arrived a week later, at the invitation of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, to discuss "intelligent design".

Local church officials, such as Mary Hart and Father Hector La Chappelle of St Brendan the Navigator Roman Catholic Church in Shallotte, vocally opposed the board's plans (Star-News 2008 Sep 22), while other religious figures supported it just as staunchly. At a forum a month before the November 2008 election, school board candidates were quizzed on their opinions on the issue. The district received letters from as far away as the state of Washington, according to Babson, and the proposal was discussed on numerous national blogs. The high level of nationwide interest in the affair is due largely to the diligent coverage of the Star-News in nearby Wilmington. One of its reporters, Ana Ribeiro, wrote half a dozen articles on the board's proposal, the opinions of board members and candidates, reactions from the community, and the relevant educational laws and policies of North Carolina. (The latest of these, from November 6, 2008, and containing links to the newspaper's previous coverage, is available on-line at http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20081106/ARTICLES/81106023.)

RESOLUTION

Perhaps concerned by the attention, the board canceled its monthly meeting for October 2008. Around that time, Babson noted to reporters that, given the critical response and legal advice the board had received, it would probably not try to teach creationism after all — although, she indicated, she would still like to see that happen someday (Star-News 2008 Sep 29).

The next meeting took place on November 6, 2008, shortly after the election. (Pro-creationist Ray Gilbert, incidentally, was unseated in that election by Bud Thorsen, a challenger who was opposed to teaching creationism in science class.) Addressing the board, Fanti said he recognized that creationism could not be added to the science curriculum and suggested that it be taught in a social studies class such as world history instead, alongside other religious belief systems such as the Indian and the Egyptian. At the same time, he argued, the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolutionary theory should be discussed in science class. The "weaknesses" Fanti raised were standard creationist fare; he invoked the standard microevolution/ macroevolution distinction and also asked, "how does evolution propose that mankind came into being when the [sic] particles to human beings has never been observed nor can it be proven?"(North Brunswick Pilot 2008 Nov 12).

The board was unwilling to comment on the issue this time around; the standing members said they needed more information before discussing it again. Shirley Babson requested a written copy of Fanti's suggestions, but also said after the meeting that she knew of no curricula that challenged evolution; however, she did not rule out the possibility of teaching about creationism in social science classes.

On the whole, recent developments in Brunswick have been positive. The board's enthusiasm for teaching creationism has apparently cooled significantly; to judge by their previous activities, tabling discussion of an issue "until more information is available" is generally a prelude to discarding it entirely. With one of the board's strongest supporters of creationism on his way out, and a strong pro-science message provided by local citizens, state officials, and the board's own legal advisors, it is to be hoped that good science education in Brunswick will no longer be threatened by the very body in charge of ensuring its provision.

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS:

Anton Mates
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
mates@ncseweb.org

Anton Mates is Public Information Project Director at NCSE.

Implementing Louisiana's Anti-Evolution Law

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Implementing Louisiana's Anti-Evolution Law
Author(s): 
Joshua Rosenau
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
5 & 7
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

On January 15, 2009, Louisiana's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted a policy about what types of supplementary classroom materials will, and will not, be allowable under the Louisiana Science Education Act. While the policy echoes the LSEA's requirement that such materials "not promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion," a provision that "materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science class" was deleted, according to a report from the Associated Press (2009 Jan 15).

Enacted in June 2008 over the protests of scientists and educators across the state and around the country, the LSEA (enacted as Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1) provides:

A teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may 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 unless otherwise prohibited by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The new policy governs the way in which BESE will consider such supplementary material.

It was clear from the outset that evolution was in the LSEA's sights. The original draft of the law specifically identified "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning" as controversial subjects, and called on state and local education administrators to "endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies." In its final version, these topics are no longer described as controversial, but they are still specifically mentioned. And the Baton Rouge Advocate (2008 Apr 19) editorially recognized, "it seems clear that the supporters of this legislation are seeking a way to get creationism ... into science classrooms." (For background, see RNCSE 2008 Mar/Apr; 28 [2]: 8–11; 2008 Jul/Aug; 28 [4]: 4–10.)

A committee of veteran educators and scientists assembled by the state department of education began drafting the policy to implement the LSEA in fall 2008 which was submitted to the BESE's Student/School Performance Support Committee on December 2, 2008. The Associated Press (2009 Jan 8) reported, "Proposed for discussion at the December meeting were requirements that any information in the supplemental material be 'supported by empirical evidence.' The proposed language also said religious beliefs 'shall not be advanced under the guise of encouraging critical thinking' and that materials 'that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited in science classes.'"

Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, coauthor with Paul R Gross of Creationism's Trojan Horse (revised edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), and a member of NCSE's board of directors, praised the December version of the policy for ensuring that religion would not be taught in the public schools. But Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum, a religious right organization that vociferously supported the LSEA, was unhappy with it, telling the Associated Press, "I would think that it left religious neutrality and took a tone of religious hostility. Or at least it could be interpreted by some to have done that." Action on the policy was not taken immediately, but instead deferred until January 2009.

On January 8, 2009, a revised draft was posted in advance of the committee's January 13 meeting. The provision that "religious beliefs shall not be advanced under the guise of encouraging critical thinking" was removed, and a provision forbidding consideration of the "religious or non-religious beliefs and affiliations" of the authors of supplementary material was added. The procedure for challenging supplementary material also became more complicated. Complaints would need to cite the problems with the material, school districts would be notified of challenges, and a hearing would need to be held at which the district, the complainant, and "any interested parties" would have "adequate time to present their arguments and information and to offer rebuttals."

Forrest decried these revisions in a January 12, 2009, letter to the BESE, objecting that the policy was "altered in ways that are detrimental to the education of Louisiana students" (see p 6). She called for the provision regarding religious beliefs under the guise of critical thinking to be restored, explained that "[t]o determine quality, acceptability, and bias, scientists and teachers customarily and quite appropriately examine the source of instructional material," and described the new procedures for challenging supplementary material as "unclear, ill-conceived, and onerous," adding, "The instructions are vague and confusing, and they unnecessarily complicate what should be a straightforward decision based on the professional expertise of [Louisiana Department of Education] staff."

At the committee's meeting on January 13, 2009, the LSEA's chief sponsor, Ben Nevers (D–District 12), and Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum successfully lobbied for the removal of the section of the policy that provided, "Materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science classes." The provision forbidding consideration of the beliefs and affiliations of the authors of supplementary material was also removed, according to a report from the Associated Press (2009 Jan 13).

With the adoption of the policy by the BESE on January 15, 2009, it is still unclear what will happen. Steve Monaghan, the president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, told WAFB television (2009 Jan 13) in Baton Rouge, "The time spent on this issue may be in total excess of what the problem was because we don't believe there was a problem in the science classroom anyway": teachers in his organization have not complained about the science education materials at their disposals and presumably would not seek to add supplementary materials. Civil liberties organizations have already expressed their readiness to challenge attempts to teach religion in the guise of science in Louisiana's public schools.

In the meantime, the Lafayette Independent Weekly (2009 Jan 12) worried about the effect of the LSEA and the policy on Louisiana's reputation. "For many of us interested and active in economic development and hopeful in a newly resurgent Louisiana ... this is not good news," Steve May wrote. "This attempt to pollute the teaching of science in our public schools with religious dogma does more longterm damage to ourselves than all the painful headlines about Edwin Edwards, David Duke or 'Dollar' Bill Jefferson combined, because the damage is far more lasting. Is this the message of educational ignorance that we want to send prospective employers considering locating or relocating to Louisiana?"

Significantly, creationists revealed their understanding of the policy as adopted in letters to the editors of their local newspapers. The Baton Rouge Advocate, for example, printed a letter commending the BESE for "their efforts to bring God back into the public schools with promoting creationism as an alternative to the hoax of evolution currently taught" (2009 Jan 28), while the Monroe News-Star printed a similar letter thanking "our legislators and governor for taking a stand for God. Our teachers will be able to teach evolution is only a theory. By teaching the option of creationism, I pray our children will realize God created them" (2009 Jan 20).

The Associated Press (2009 Jan 25) analyzed the situation, concluding, "There are disagreements on what exactly will result from policy language the state education board recently adopted for teaching science in Louisiana public schools, but one thing looks pretty clear: sooner or later Louisiana is going back to court in a case that will look like a descendant of the 1987 argument over 'scientific creationism.'" As always, NCSE is working with its allies — including the ACLU of Louisiana and the Louisiana Coalition for Science, a grassroots group recently founded by Barbara Forrest — to prepare for whatever action may be necessary.

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS:

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

Joshua Rosenau is Public Information Project Director at NCSE.

Keeping Evolution Education in Perspective: A Response to Daryl Domning

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Keeping Evolution Education in Perspective: A Response to Daryl Domning
Author(s): 
Erik B Pietrowicz
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
35–36
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

While Domning raises many interesting points, the one he referred to as the "Global War on Theism" resonated with a concern I have had for some time. Specifically, how can we teach students and the general public that science (and the field of evolution in particular) is not religiously motivated, when many of today's most prominent evolutionary biologists actively intertwine the two in order to promote their theological worldview, and, as discussed later, when many educators share that mindset?

At a fundamental philosophical level, the fact that the opinions expressed by those exemplified by Dawkins are in opposition to the majority is immaterial. Let us remind ourselves that science is a systematic study of the natural world and the methodology used to do so. So, science is a study of nature, and theology deals primarily with the supernatural. Therefore, science cannot address theological concerns such as the existence or nonexistence of any supernatural being. As Domning writes, "one of our central arguments [is] the theological neutrality of good science." This precludes the use of science to promote any theological worldview, from wherever along the spectrum one finds oneself.

However, it would be naïve to stop here, as if the issue may be put to rest simply by invoking Gould's concept of non-overlapping magisteria. The public is not generally concerned with making the distinction between scientific evidence and religious belief. In practice, then, the nature of the theological opinions that are commonly associated with evolutionary biology is important, as they can end up driving a false wedge between religion and science in general. Thus, evolution education (and religion?) suffers as atheism and evolutionism become synonymous in the public mind.

We can all think of examples of theologically inflammatory behavior by scientists in the spotlight. Consider the cover of David Sloan Wilson's Evolution for Everyone, which puts a halo over the old Darwin monkey–man caricature. While this makes for light humor, it can also come across as subtle mockery of those who do not understand evolution, particularly those who doubt evolution based on a perceived conflict with religious belief.

At the Evolution 2008 conference in Minneapolis, I attended many productive discussions and presentations about teaching evolution in the classroom. However, the content of one discussion was particularly worrisome. The topic it attempted to address was "When religion and science clash in the mind of a student, how should the instructor respond?" In other words, if a student refuses to learn in any subject based on personal beliefs, regardless of whether or not they accept the validity of the material, what then are the instructor's responsibilities and/or restrictions toward addressing the student outside the classroom?

The problem in this discussion arose in the wording of the dialog and by extension the attitudes of the discussants. The initial question very quickly deteriorated from being one of ethics and pedagogy into asking if a student refuses to accept evolution, "... can I say no, you're wrong?" and "How can I get them to believe?" I found this shift in thought to be highly disturbing. Education is not about forcing a belief, and antagonism is not an effective educational tool. It serves only to alienate students, and by putting them on the defensive perpetuates their distrust of science, which, in turn, is counterproductive in improving scientific literacy. As another discussant pointed out, the goal is not for all students to accept evolution by the end of their first semester in college — developing understanding often takes time.

This can be extended to say that the goal in the forum of public opinion is not for people to abandon their religious beliefs in favor of evolution (or any other scientific theory), but to promote a better understanding of science. Perpetuating the false dichotomy of science or religion — but not both — can exacerbate the problem and lead to the opposite of the effect we desire.

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS:

Erik B Pietrowicz
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Southern Maine
Portland ME 04103
epietrowicz@gmail.com

Erik B Pietrowicz is a graduate student in biology at the University of Southern Maine, studying neurotoxicology and evolution. He is also actively engaged in high school science education.

Rejoinder to Comments on "Winning Their Hearts and Minds: Who Should Speak for Evolution?"

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Rejoinder to Comments on "Winning Their Hearts and Minds: Who Should Speak for Evolution?"
Author(s): 
Daryl P Domning
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
37–38
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Should theistic evolutionists take the lead in publicly defending evolution? Shelly Gottlieb gets to the heart of the matter when he says that the answer depends on "what one is trying to accomplish". However, I do not fully agree with the choices he offers. One possibility he proposes is "to demonstrate to the public at large that it is possible to be a 'believer' and still 'believe in' (as opposed to accept based on evidence) evolution"; the other is "educating the 'undecided' group to the importance and power of natural explanations of natural phenomena."

Instead, what I would like to demonstrate to the public is that one can be a religious believer and still accept evolution based on evidence (as opposed to "belief"). Now, if that somehow helps convince them of the power of natural explanations, fine; but that's not my main goal, nor is it necessarily very relevant to the creation-evolution dispute. As Erik Pietrowicz correctly notes, "The public is not generally concerned with making the distinction between scientific evidence and religious belief." Generally, they want to make sense of their existence and find meaning in their lives. Fundamentalists offer them explanations that cannot be reconciled with modern science, and rubbing that fact in just makes them more uncomfortable. If we see our job (especially outside the classroom) as only being to "educate" the public about the ways of science, we are ignoring what our audience sees as important. That is what I would call self-defeating. Evolutionists have been doing that in debates with creationists for forty years and more — and look where it has gotten us.

Gottlieb argues that theistic evolution "opens science to the criticism that science is not really free of the supernatural but that it tolerates (respects) supernaturalism." Actually, this should not describe science, but rather scientists (except for the openly intolerant ones). As Keith Miller says, "while science as a discipline is religiously neutral, individual scientists are not. We each live out our scientific vocations within a broader context." We were all born human before we were trained in science, and we did not check our humanity at the door of the laboratory.We did not forfeit our right to believe in the supernatural, or our civic duty to respect those who do. If we had done so, we would be less than fully human, and even more alienated from our non-scientist fellow citizens. (We Catholics used to have a saying: "Error has no rights." Fortunately, it was abandoned as church policy almost half a century ago, when a different view prevailed: "People have rights, even people who are in error!")

If, on the contrary, we want to communicate with the public and persuade them (and we have to do this to make our schools safe for science), then we need to use that non-scientist part of ourselves, along with our scientific training. We who are believers need to be role models who prove the theological neutrality of science, by showing that believers can be just as comfortable with Darwinism as atheists are. And when fundamentalists question the quality of our belief, we have to be able to defend it, along with our approach to interpreting the Bible and our overall worldview.

Pietrowicz poses the related question: If and when religion and science clash in the minds of students, how should the instructor respond? Certainly not by demanding that they "believe in" evolution in order to pass (though they can be required to learn the evidence presented even if they do not buy the interpretation). But I see nothing wrong with also saying something like "Hey, I'm a Christian too, but I don't have a problem with evolution. If you want, we can discuss that sometime outside of class." In many cases, that would pique the curiosity of students on both sides of the issue, and might lead to a fruitful, even enjoyable off-campus bull session. The key is to avoid pugnacity, defensiveness, or putting students down: respect really pays off and is part of what we should be teaching, in addition to the science.

In such a conversation about beliefs (with questioning students or committed fundamentalists), most scientists who are not believers will quickly find themselves tongue-tied, reduced to sputtering impotence or insufferable arrogance — neither response will be very persuasive. Not all fundamentalists are ignorant, or intellectual pushovers. The sincere ones have serious concerns that deserve serious responses. Explaining how science differs from religion may be a good start, but it does not get us all the way to explaining the meaning of life. Scientists who are unwilling or unable to go beyond science in order to defend science must face the fact that they cannot reach many of the people who need to be reached.

Committed atheists, in particular, have to decide which they care about more: making our schools safe for evolution, or ridding the world of religion. The latter, whether desirable or not, is emphatically not a prerequisite to achieving the former; and in any case, trying to do both at once just inflames the controversy and alienates religionists who are the atheists' potential allies in supporting good science. This does not help the cause of science education.

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

Daryl P Domning
Department of Anatomy
College of Medicine
Howard University
Washington DC 20059
ddomning@howard.edu

Response to "Winning their Hearts and Minds"

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Response to “Winning their Hearts and Minds”
Author(s): 
Sheldon F Gottlieb
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
33–34
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

In the religiously created, artificial creationism/evolution controversy, as in every social political conflict, there are basically three groups: the hard-core pro (non-theistic and theistic evolutionists), the hard-core con, and those in the middle consisting of the undecided and the apathetic — those who do not really care one way or the other. To convince people to side with a specific point of a view, arguments are framed by debaters not for the hard core but for the middle. One extreme will use information presented to support conclusions it already held while the other extreme tends to disregard proffered arguments.

When issues involve religion problems arise because one enters the world of belief — a world in which empirical data have little to no meaning when they conflict with beliefs — unsubstantiated beliefs substitute for facts and are considered to be facts. For this discussion, “religion” will refer primarily to Christianity (with a few changes reflecting other traditions, it could also refer to Judaism and Islam).

There can be no questioning of the axioms of the fundamentalists — there is a God and the Bible is the inerrant word of that God. Those opposed to science and evolution make certain declarations of the supremacy of belief and biblical inerrancy. This position is clearly stated in Biology for Christian Schools, second edition, a high-school level textbook by William S Pinkston Jr (Greenville [SC]: Bob Jones University Press,1991):

Christians who try to accept evolutionary theory when the Bible clearly teaches Creationism are saying that a section of the Bible is not true. The question of whether the Bible or human speculation is true then becomes a matter of choice, open for debate. Dr Bob Jones, Sr has rightly said: “Whatever the Bible says is so. Whatever man says may or may not be so.” This is the only consistent Christian position. All scientific facts and interpretation of those facts, therefore, must fit into the model prescribed by the Word of God. A scientific “fact” that does not fit into the model outlined in the Bible is either in error (and therefore not really a fact) or is being misinterpreted.

The above quote demonstrates that fundamentalist theists have successfully framed all science-versus-religion (SvR) discussions in such a way that they are in a no-lose situation; empirical data and reason are meaningless. Thus, speaking to a fundamentalist theist could (would) be futile.

Atheistic scientists claiming that God does not exist and who use science and/or evolution to buttress their arguments may well be absolutely correct, but those arguments cannot penetrate the unsubstantiated reality of fundamentalist religionists. Further, such arguments tend to confuse those who occupy the broad middle, who tend to be scientifically uneducated and who retain some ties, irrespective of how loose, to a concept of a supernatural being and world. Thus, fundamentalist religionists have an inherent advantage in SvR debates in that they frame the bounds of the debate and they speak with an absolute certainty while scientists speak in tentative terms. In fact, using evolutionary data for disproving the existence of God — rather than just for showing there is an alternative explanation for life on earth based on natural laws that does not require the concept of a God — may be going beyond the boundaries of the data and, among other things, serves the function of enhancing the inherent resistance of fundamentalists — even many non-fundamentalist believers — to scientific and evolutionary thought. Atheistic arguments and individuals may move some people but they could alienate others. This is especially true in the US where there is an additional level of complexity: the involvement of unconscionable pandering politicians and media figures — irrespective of their degree of scientific knowledge — who cater to a society historically dedicated to anti-intellectualism.

Thus, Domning’s interesting concept that theistic evolutionists are the people who, because of a common base of belief and common language, are the most capable of communicating with this large, possibly religiously oriented, scientifically unlearned, middle group has a certain deceptive truth. Of course, it is always desirable to have theistic or non-theistic evolutionists speak to the “undecided” and even to the believing fundamentalists. But is it desirable to have theistic evolutionists take the lead in speaking to the general public about SvR and the artificial, creationism/evolution controversy? The answer may not be a simple yes or no but more nuanced. The answer may lie within the philosophical framework of what one is trying to accomplish.

Reaching out to promote scientific literacy

If the sole purpose of talking to the “undecided” group is political in nature, that is, to demonstrate to the public at large that it is possible to be a “believer” and still “believe in” (as opposed to accept based on evidence) evolution, thereby decreasing public opposition to evolution, then, I suppose, there is much merit in Domning’s proposal. However, if the purpose also consists of educating the “undecided” group to the importance and power of natural explanations of natural phenomena and into the ways of science, then Domning’s approach is self-defeating. Why?

One of the essences of science is hypothesis testing. Theistic evolutionists, similar to fundamentalist theists, hold to an unsubstantiated belief in a supernatural being. The basic difference between the two groups pertains to the use of a certain book — the Bible — which both groups consider sacred but interpret differently. There is no way to formulate a hypothesis that would permit the testing of supernatural beliefs. Thus, the underlying basis of theistic evolution, like fundamentalism, is not completely science-based. It opens science to the criticism that science is not really free of the supernatural but that it tolerates (respects) supernaturalism. This is a view which scientists should neither support nor want to promulgate. In the realm of belief, one could make the case that the fundamentalist theists are better situated than are the theistic evolutionists.

Fundamentalists are absolutists. Once believers interpret the Bible, they raise important theological questions. What part of the Bible is literal? What part allegorical? What part metaphorical? Who makes these decisions? How does a believer know whether those making such decision(s) are right? Under such conditions, how does a believer — or anyone — know what is what or which is which with any certainty? There is the danger that one can conclude that biblical interpreters have preconceived positions and they interpret the Bible so as to support those positions: an origin of different religious sects. If such becomes the case, then why should the book still be considered holy? If humans interpret the Bible according to their personal dictates, then perhaps the Bible is not the word of God but the word of humans. If the Bible is not the word of God, then why is there a need for theistic evolution or theistic evolutionists?

Considering the complexities introduced by religion, any evolutionist, therefore could lead in the discussion on SvR and evolution–creation with one proviso: there is no need for atheistic evolutionists to be strident about the non-existence of God, despite the fact that fundamentalists have inextricably bound the two. The emphasis should be placed on explaining what is science, what is religion, and the differences between them, and framing all SvR creationism/evolution discussions from a scientific perspective (natural explanations of natural phenomena) and not a theistic perspective (untestable and unlimited imagination about the supernatural).

About the Author(s): 
Sheldon F Gottlieb
10418 Utopia Circle East
Boynton Beach FL 33437
shellyeda@gmail.com

Sheldon F Gottlieb was Professor of Biology at Southern Alabama University, and is now retired. His latest book is The Naked Mind (Flagstaff [AZ]: Best Publishing, 2003).

Thank God for Evolution! - A Response to a RNCSE Review

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Thank God for Evolution! — A Response to a RNCSE Review
Author(s): 
Michael Dowd
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
39–40
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

"Michael Dowd illustrates in Thank God for Evolution! that there are many ways to be a spiritual person, and that all of them are enriched by an understanding of modern science, especially evolution. This is a creative, provocative book that sheds light on just about any spiritual path one might be on. Many will find their faith revolutionized." — Eugenie C Scott, Executive Director, National Center for Science Education

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to Clay Farris Naff's review of my book, Thank God for Evolution! (RNCSE 2007 Jan–Apr; 27 [1–2]: 52–3). Naff is a gifted writer with a well-honed, wry sense of humor. I found myself laughing even while thinking that he largely missed the purpose of my book. Of course, I realize that the responsibility lies with me, the author, to communicate effectively. That is why I appreciate the opportunity to clarify the nature and purpose of Thank God for Evolution! (TGFE) for RNCSE readers, and to correct one important misrepresentation of my book in Naff's review.

I wrote Thank God for Evolution! mostly to help religious believers from different traditions move toward an evidential worldview without having to abandon their tradition and join the atheist/humanist camp to do so. The book itself emerged out of field-testing the ideas contained within TGFE with religious and non-religious audiences across the theological and philosophical spectrum. Since April 2002, my wife, Connie Barlow (an acclaimed science writer), and I have delivered Sunday sermons, evening programs, and multi-day workshops in more than 550 churches,convents, monasteries, and spiritual centers across the continent, including liberal and conservative Roman Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Unitarian Universalist, Unity, Religious Science, Quaker, Mennonite, and Buddhist groups. We have also presented audience-appropriate versions of this message in nearly a hundred secular settings, including colleges, high schools, grade schools, nature centers, and public libraries.

Few things are more important, it seems to us, at least here in America, than for tens of millions of religious believers, over the next few decades, to come to embrace a science-based understanding of the world. Why? Because it matters — politically, theologically, personally — what we think about evolution. Trying to understand reality without an evolutionary worldview is like trying to understand infection without microscopes or the structure of the universe without telescopes. It's not merely difficult; it's impossible.

Until churches in America preach evolution enthusiastically, sacredly, in ways that expand and enrich faith, the battle over teaching evolutionary science in public schools will never end. Thus, the primary purpose of TGFE is to assist religious believers in letting go of literal interpretations of their otherworldly, supernatural myths and to wholeheartedly embrace an evidential, empirical worldview. Surely, this turn needs to happen in order for radically diverse religious people to cooperate in service of a just and sustainable future.

Those who might initially be put off by the religious language in my book should know that my wife, Connie Barlow, an evolutionary humanist/atheist science writer, worked with me very closely throughout the writing and editing process. She ghostwrote the science chapters, as I mention in my Acknowledgments.

Richard Dawkins graciously allowed me to include a letter he wrote to his daughter Juliet as an appendix in my book. That letter was previously published as the last chapter in his A Devil's Chaplain. There, Dawkins highlights the difference between believing something based on measurable evidence versus believing something based on private revelation, scripture, authority, or tradition. That religious people might, likewise, come to value this distinction is a central theme of my book.

In re-reading Naff's review, other than the half dozen or so minor things he didn't like about my book (too many exclamation points, for example, which he was certainly correct about; we removed nearly three dozen of them before the hardcover was printed), his only really substantive criticism related to the question of teleology. He writes, "Dowd has embraced a species of natural theology, and that biases his worldview toward a benevolent teleology that science cannot support."

This is demonstrably incorrect, however. Nowhere in my book do I suggest, or even imply, that there is a force or intelligence outside the universe (or within it) that is pulling strings or making evolution go in a benevolent direction. With respect to "the arrow of evolution," what I do say is this: When we look back over the course of billions of years of biological and human evolution, we see interdependence and cooperation at increasing scale of size and complexity. This is an empirical fact, not a statement of belief. Three or four billion years ago, the peak of earth's evolved complexity was expressed in carbon-based molecules maintained by processes cooperating at the scale of a millionth of a meter. Today, mutual support in the maintenance of peak (cultural) complexity occurs across distances measured in the millions of meters. It is true that I interpret this trajectory in a way that many find religiously inspiring. I also, however, acknowledge that it is just as legitimate to interpret the same facts in a non-inspiring way.

Similarly, Naff wrongly suggests that in my making the case for chaos and "bad news" catalyzing evolutionary creativity, I must therefore believe that some force or intelligence is intending favorable outcomes. Not at all. Rather, I am simply pointing out that how we choose to interpret reality and life's events profoundly affects the quality of our existence — and this is just as true collectively as it is individually. In my book I mention that many, including myself, have found the mantra "the universe is conspiring on my behalf" to be an exceedingly useful outlook in most situations. That is, when I act as if this were true, I love my life. I do not, however, suggest that this interpretation is "the Truth".

In his final paragraph, Naff writes, "a commitment to science requires an unflinching acceptance of the evidence, good or bad." I could not agree more. There is no guarantee that our species will survive into the future. But it does seems to me that we are far more likely to do so if religious people around the world are offered a way of thinking about science in general, and evolution specifically, that they can enthusiastically embrace. I am certain that one of the reasons TGFE has been endorsed by five Nobel laureates and 120 other leading scientists, ministers, and theologians, from Baptists to Buddhists, is that it is an important step in this direction. As David Sloan Wilson, author of Darwin's Cathedral and Evolution for Everyone, offered:

An itinerant preacher who teaches evolution in the evangelical style? I was skeptical at first, but Dowd remains true to both science and the spirit of religion. He understands that what most people need to accept evolution is not more facts, but an appreciation of what evolution means for our value systems and everyday lives.

Those who have no use for religious language may nonetheless appreciate my book for how it can help the religiously minded to comprehend and value the worldview of science. Time and again, in speaking across North America, I have found that roughly 70% of Americans, including most humanists and virtually all moderate and liberal Christians (and even some evangelicals) find the integration of faith and reason that TGFE offers to be an exciting and radically fresh third way beyond the chronic debate between the "New Atheists" and those espousing "intelligent design". For public school teachers trying to teach the science of evolution to increasingly resistant students from religious backgrounds, TGFE may be just the bridge they've been looking for. That, at least, is my hope.

Thank God for Evolution! is available as a free PDF download via http://ThankGodforEvolution.com.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

Michael Dowd
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org

Michael Dowd received a BA in biblical studies and philosophy (summa cum laude) from Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri. He also earned a Master of Divinity degree (with honors) from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He served as a United Church of Christ minister for nine years in Massachusetts, Ohio, and Michigan. His book EarthSpirit: A Handbook for Nurturing an Ecological Christianity (Mystic [CT]: Twenty-Third Publications, 1991) was one of the first attempts to look appreciatively at traditional Christianity from the perspective of a modern cosmology. He and his wife Connie Barlow are co-creators of the leading educational website in the Evolution Theology movement: http://www.TheGreatStory.org.

The Latest on Expelled

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Latest on Expelled
Author(s): 
Eugenie C Scott
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
9–10
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

As 2008 drew to a close, the good news for the producers of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed was that their creationist propaganda movie was getting a bit of press again. The bad news is that it was in the lists of the worst movies of 2008, as well as in a fierce, detailed, and incisive review by the popular film critic Roger Ebert.

EXPELLED IN "WORST-OF" LISTS

The Onion's AV Club (2008 Dec 16), was quickest out of the gate, commenting:

There are terrible movies, and then there are terrible movies that cause harm to society by feeding into its ignorance. Nathan Frankowski's odious antievolution documentary belongs in the latter category. ... Few moments in cinema in 2008 were as shameless and disgusting as the Expelled sequence where Stein solemnly visits a Nazi death camp and unsubtly links "survival of the fittest" theory to the Holocaust.

John Serba of the Grand Rapids Press (2008 Dec 26) wrote, "Ben Stein hosts this pro-Intelligent Design documentary that forgets to include a compelling argument for this viewpoint, and instead chooses to equate Darwinism and its legions of rational scientist followers with Nazis and the Holocaust. Facts rooted in reality are at a premium in this insidious, crassly manipulative dreck." Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel (2008 Dec 26) commented, "Ben Stein's documentary was a cynical attempt to sucker Christian conservatives into thinking they're losing the 'intelligent design' debate because of academic 'prejudice.'"

Stephen Whitty of the Newark Star-Ledger (2008 Dec 27) described Expelled as lifting "its nonsensical knowledge of early man from an Alley Oop comic and its sense of honest inquiry from a snake-handling preacher." In the LA City Beat (2008 Dec 30), Andy Klein wrote:

Stein's "intelligent design" documentary has all the red flags — inadequate or misleading identification of interviewees, aggressively manipulative editing, extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence, and extreme leaps of logic ... particularly suggesting guilt by association, even to he point of laying blame for the Holocaust on Darwin.

And Ken Hanke of the Ashville, North Carolina, Mountain Xpress (2008 Dec 31) said that Expelled was "as corrupt a piece of work as you'll ever encounter."

Expelled fared no better north of the border. Jay Stone of the Canwest News Service (2008 Dec 26) described Expelled as "a masterwork of intellectual dishonesty." And Richard Crouse of Canada AM (2008 Dec 30) commented:

Wrapping his thesis in good old American jingoistic rhetoric — remember this guy used to write speeches for Nixon — Stein repeatedly compares Darwinist scientists to communists ... and even makes the outrageous connection between Darwin's theory and Nazism.

Crouse added, "Perhaps it isn't just a coincidence that the host's initials are BS."

ROGER EBERT ON EXPELLED

Roger Ebert reviewed Expelled in a December 3, 2008, post entitled "Win Ben Stein's mind" on his blog on the Chicago Sun-Times website (available on-line at http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2008/12/win_ben_steins_mind.html) — and he pulled no punches. "The more you know about evolution, or simple logic, the more you are likely to be appalled by the film. No one with an ability for critical thinking could watch more than three minutes without becoming aware of its tactics," he wrote. And he added:

This film is cheerfully ignorant, manipulative, slanted, cherry-picks quotations, draws unwarranted conclusions, makes outrageous juxtapositions (Soviet marching troops representing opponents of ID), pussy-foots around religion (not a single identified believer among the ID people), segues between quotes that are not about the same thing, tells bald-faced lies, and makes a completely baseless association between freedom of speech and freedom to teach religion in a university class that is not about religion.

"And there is worse, much worse," Ebert continued, taking special offense at Expelled's claim that the acceptance of evolution resulted in the Holocaust — "It fills me with contempt." Previously, the Anti-Defamation League said that the movie's claim "is outrageous and trivializes the complex factors that led to the mass extermination of European Jewry." Expelled's lead, Ben Stein, responded, "It's none of their f—ing business," according to Peter McKnight, writing in the Vancouver Sun (2008 Jun 21).

For a thorough critique of Expelled, including a collection of links to reviews of the movie, visit NCSE's Expelled Exposed website. Additionally, a recent issue of Reports of the NCSE (2008 Sep–Dec; 28 [5–6]) is a special issue devoted to debunking Expelled, containing reports on its reception, a summary of the ways in which organizations with a stake in the creationism/evolution controversy reacted, a summary of the various controversies over its use of copyrighted material, and a detailed explanation of its unsuitability for the classroom.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS:

Eugenie C Scott
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
scott@ncseweb.org

Eugenie C Scott is NCSE's Executive Director.

The Temple of Serapis

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
People & Places: The Temple of Serapis
Author(s): 
Randy Moore
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
38
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

The Serapeum is a structure better known to scientists as the Temple of Serapis, named for an Egyptian deity worshiped by Romans. It stands along the coast just north of Pozzuoli, Italy. Stone used by Romans to build the temple had originally formed as limestone sediment at the bottom of the sea, where it metamorphosed into marble, and millions of years later was raised as land. Approximately 2000 years ago, the marble was quarried, carved into pillars, and set into the temple, which originally was a marketplace and spa for wealthy Romans. Since that time, sea levels changed several times and in the process the temple was repeatedly submerged and exposed. The volcanic features around the Temple of Serapis helped inspire Virgil's account of the entry into the underworld in the Aeneid.

Figure 1: The Temple of Serapis was made famous among geologists by Charles Lyell, who included a sketch of it in the frontispiece of his Principles of Geology. The dark bands on the marble pillars were formed by mollusks that drilled into them after the columns were submerged in the sea.

For most geologists,the Temple of Serapis is more than a monument of ancient art. For example, John Playfair — in a chapter titled "Changes in the Apparent Level of the Sea" — discussed the temple in his Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of Earth (1802). The temple was also visited by Charles Babbage, Emma Darwin, and several other people associated with the creationism/ evolution controversy. However, the scientist most closely associated with the temple is geologist Charles Lyell, who made it an icon of uniformitarianism when he used a drawing of the temple's columns as the frontispiece of his monumental Principles of Geology: Being an Attempt to Explain the Former Changes of the Earth's Surface by Reference to Causes now in Operation (Figure 1),a book that the late Stephen Jay Gould described as "the most famous geological book ever written." Lyell, who wanted to "free the science [of geology] from Moses,"emphasized that the geological changes that have been shaping earth for millennia are observable today. Lyell's ideas about the Temple of Serapis prompted Richard Fortney (author of Earth: An Intimate History) to describe the ruins as a "holy place for rationalists." What makes the temple such an important place for geologists?

When Lyell visited the temple's ruins in 1828, its three remaining marble pillars — each some 40-feet high — were still standing (the fourth column lies in pieces on the temple's floor). In Principles of Geology, after describing the columns as "smooth and uninjured to the height of about twelve feet above their pedestals," Lyell made his most important point: "Above this is a zone, about nine feet in height, where the marble has been pierced by a species of marine perforating bivalve, Lithodomus." (Lithodomus is a genus of clams that burrow into piers and boatmoorings.) Since these clams cannot live above the low-tide line,Lyell concluded that the columns had at one time been underwater (many of the columns' holes still have shells of Lithodomus in them). The original temple had been built above sea level, but the presence of the mollusks on the columns meant that the columns had been partially submerged and were standing upright in the ocean. The columns had then been raised to their present level by the volcanic eruption that produced Monte Nuovo just northwest of Pozzuoli.

Because the lowest parts of the Temple's columns were not bored by bivalves, Lyell suspected that these parts of the columns had been buried in volcanic sediments. He was right; these sediments had been excavated in 1749 — almost 80 years before his visit. While at Pozzuoli, Lyell also noted that two other temples were submerged just offshore northwest of the Temple of Serapis. Since these changes had occurred during recorded history, Lyell concluded that the same geological processes — over the expanse of geological history — could build mountains, valleys, and all the other geological features we see today.

Figure 2: Today, the Temple of Serapis looks much as it did when it was visited by Lyell in 1828. The dark bands on the pillars noted by Lyell are still visible. (Photo by Randy Moore.)

Lyell had a dramatic and immediate impact on Charles Darwin; as Darwin noted,"I never forgot that almost everything which I have done in science I owe to the study of [Lyell's] great works." However, Lyell was reluctant to accept Darwin's ideas about evolution, especially as they related to humans. Darwin's On the Origin of Species, which to many was an inevitable sequel to Lyell's advocacy of uniformitarianism, troubled Lyell, who did not initially accept the same degree of continuity of life as he claimed for the physical features of the earth's surface. However, Lyell finally admitted that Darwin's On the Origin of Species was "a splendid case of close reasoning" and that "I have been looking down the wrong road."

Today, the Temple's pillars — which remain standing (Figure 2) — are pictured on the reverse of the prestigious Lyell Medal, which is awarded by the Geological Society of London.

Victory over "Weaknesses" in Texas

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Victory over "Weaknesses" in Texas
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
10–14
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

In a close vote on January 23, 2009, the Texas state board of education approved a revision of the state's science standards lacking the controversial "strengths and weaknesses" language, which in 2003 was selectively applied by members of the board attempting to dilute the treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks then under consideration. The stakes are high: the standards will determine what is taught in Texas's public school science classrooms and the content of the biology textbooks approved for use in the state for the next ten years. And the threat is real: seven members of the fifteen- member board, including its chair, avowed creationist Don McLeroy, are regarded as in favor of attempts to undermine the teaching of evolution in Texas schools. The removal of the "strengths and weaknesses" language therefore represented a tremendous victory for science education in Texas, with the Dallas Morning News (200 Jan 23) describing the failure of a proposed amendment to reintroduce it as "a major defeat for social conservatives." But the struggle is not over, for a number of scientifically indefensible revisions to the biology and earth and space science standards were adopted at the last minute. Defenders of the integrity of science education in Texas plan to expose the flaws in these revisions and hope for a reversal when the board takes its final vote on the standards at its March 26–27, 2009, meeting.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

The "strengths and weaknesses" language occurs in the old Texas state science standards, which include a requirement 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." The first draft of the revised standards replaced the "strengths and weaknesses" language with "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing." The change was hailed by the Texas Freedom Network, Texas Citizens for Science, and the 21st Century Science Coalition, as well as by the editorial boards of the Austin American-Statesman (2008 Oct 6) and the Corpus Christi Call-Times (2008 Nov 20). Additionally, a survey conducted by Raymond Eve and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund demonstrated that the vast majority of biologists at universities in Texas rejected the idea of teaching the supposed weaknesses of evolution (see RNCSE 2009 Jan/Feb; 29 [1]: 7).

Nevertheless, as previously reported (RNCSE 2009 Jan/Feb; 29 [1]: 4–7), when the Texas board of education began to hear testimony about the new standards on November 19, 2008, it was presented not with the first draft but with a second draft, in which the "strengths and weaknesses" language was replaced with a variant: "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate strengths and limitations of scientific explanations including those based on accepted scientific data, and evidence from students' observations, experiments, models, and logical statements." At the meeting, defenders of the integrity of science education strongly argued that "strengths and limitations" was no improvement over "strengths and weaknesses." Indeed, 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, Don McLeroy, who complained, "This is all being ginned up by the evolution side."

Subsequently, a third draft of the standards appeared in late December 2008, reverting to the first draft's "analyze and evaluate" language. In its discussion of the nature of science, the third draft is similar but not identical to the first draft. According to the first draft, "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." The third draft reads, "Science, as defined by the National Academy of Sciences, is the 'use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated through this process.' ... Students should know that some questions are outside the realm of science because they deal with phenomena that are not scientifically testable." It was the third draft that was under consideration at the January 2009 meeting of the state board of education.

BEFORE THE VOTE

On January 21, 2009, the first day of the board's January meeting, the board heard testimony about the science standards from dozens of witnesses, including NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott, who urged the board to heed the advice of the scientific and educational experts who revised the standards and omitted the "strengths and weaknesses" language. The New York Times (2009 Jan 22) quoted her as explaining, "The phrase 'strengths and weaknesses' has been spread nationally as a slogan to bring creationism in through the back door." And the Dallas Morning News (2009 Jan 21) added, "Scott warned the board that if it adopts the requirement, it will lead to textbooks that contain pseudoscience and inaccuracies as publishers try to appease the state and get their books sold in Texas. 'If you require textbook publishers to include bad science, you're going to have problems,' she said, asserting that Texas students will suffer as a result."

Kevin Fisher, a past president of the Science Teachers Association of Texas, told the Times that the attempt to retain the "strengths and weaknesses" language is "an attempt to bring false weaknesses into the classroom in an attempt to get students to reject evolution." And David M Hillis, a distinguished professor of biology at the University of Texas, Austin, concurred, adding, "Every single thing they are representing as a weakness is a misrepresentation of science ... These are science skeptics. These are people with religious and political agendas." Ryan Valentine of the Texas Freedom Network worried about the consequence for Texas's image: "A misguided crusade to include phony weaknesses in the theory of evolution in our science curriculum will send a message to the rest of the nation that science takes a back seat to politics in Texas," the Morning News reported him as saying.

Also testifying were people who supported the "strengths and weaknesses" language, including a representative of the Discovery Institute, often betraying the connection between the language and creationism. A teacher quoted by the Morning News, for example, said, "As a creationist, I don't want creationism taught in science classes, but this proposal [to drop the strengths and weaknesses rule] smacks of censorship." A mechanical engineer quoted by the Times said, echoing a rhetorical theme prominent in creationist circles since the Scopes era, "Textbooks today treat it as more than a theory, even though its evidence has been found to be stained with halftruths, deception and hoaxes." (As NCSE's Glenn Branch and Louise S Mead recently wrote in Evolution: Education and Outreach [2008; 1 (3): 287–9], "[William Jennings Bryan's] position — that it is okay to teach about evolution but only as something conjectural or speculative, as 'just a theory' and not as a fact — continues to resonate.")

THE CRUCIAL VOTE

The crucial vote not to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" language took place on January 22, 2009, the second day of the board's meeting. Board members who opposed the amendment cited the need to respect the work of the experts, according to the Morning News, with Mary Helen Berlanga commenting, "We're not talking about faith. We're not talking about religion. ... We're talking about science. We need to stay with our experts and respect what they have requested us to do," and Geraldine Miller similarly commenting, "We need to respect what our teachers have recommended to us." Rick Agosto, widely considered to be a swing voter, was quoted in the San Antonio Express-News (2009 Jan 23) as saying, "I have to consider the experts," and Bob Craig was quoted in the Austin American-Statesman (2009 Jan 23) as saying, "We appointed individuals, educators — good solid people — to review the (standards) in science. They made a recommendation, and, again, we are taking away from what the educators have indicated to us is the best wording."

Members of the board who favored the amendment seemed, however, to consider themselves to be experts. Ken Mercer — who is on record as claiming that evolution is falsified by the absence of any transitional forms between cats and dogs — was reported by the Express-News as saying that he was not going to rubber-stamp the recommendations of the experts who revised the standards. And he was also quoted by the Morning News as complaining, "The other side has a history of fraud. Those arguing against us have a bad history of lies." Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, who was blogging from the meeting (see sidebar), reported that Mercer cited "the bogus and misleading examples of Piltdown Man, Haeckel's vertebrate embryo drawings, the peppered moths that were glued to tree trunks, and the half-bird, half-dinosaur that were all 'evolutionary frauds'" — all of which are familiar staples of creationist literature attempting to discredit evolution.

Ultimately, as the Morning News reported, "The amendment failed to pass on a 7–7 vote, with four Democrats and three Republicans voting no. Another Democrat — who would have opposed the amendment — was absent." The significance of the vote was apparent to the Texas media: for example, the headline of the story in the Morning News was "Texas Board of Education votes against teaching evolution weaknesses"; the San Antonio Express-News began its story with the sentence, "A 20-year-old Texas tradition allowing public schools to teach 'both the strengths and weaknesses' of evolution succumbed to science Thursday when the State Board of Education voted to abolish the wording from its curriculum standards"; and the headline of the story in the Austin American-Statesman was "State board shuns disputed language on evolution." And the momentousness of the vote was not lost on NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott, who explained in a January 23, 2009, press release (available on-line at http://ncse.com/news/2009/01/weaknesses-removed-from-texas-science-standards-004231): "The misleading language [in the original science standards] has been a creationist loophole in the science TEKS [Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills] for decades. Its removal is a huge step forward."

A QUALIFIED VICTORY

The victory was not complete, however. A flurry of amendments introduced by creationist members of the board sought to compromise the treatment of evolution in the biology standards. Terri Leo successfully proposed a revision to the standards to replace verbs such as "identify," "recognize," and "describe" in section 7 of the high school biology standards with "analyze and evaluate" — no other section of the standards was treated similarly. Worse, Don McLeroy successfully proposed a revision to section 7 to require that students "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record." It is significant that "sudden appearance" is a creationist catchphrase, associated in particular with young-earth creationist Wendell Bird. During oral arguments in Edwards v Aguillard, for example, Jay Topkis observed, "those buzzwords come right out of Mr Bird's lexicon. ... They're his."

Just as worrying were the amendments introduced by creationist members of the board that sought to compromise the treatment of evolution and related concepts in the earth and space science standards. Barbara Cargill successfully proposed revisions to the standards to add, in her words, "humility and tentativeness"; in the view of Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, however," All five of the changes ... are not needed and were proposed to weaken and damage the ESS TEKS." The worst change was to a requirement that students "evaluate a variety of fossil types, transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits with regard to their appearance, completeness, and rate and diversity of evolution," which now reads, "evaluate a variety of fossil types, proposed transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits and assess the arguments for and against universal common descent in light of this fossil evidence."

NCSE's Eugenie C Scott, who was at the meeting and observed the board's confusion over these amendments, commented in NCSE's January 23, 2009, press release, "They didn't ... have time to talk to scientists about the creationistinspired amendments made at the last minute. Once they do, I believe these inaccurate amendments will be removed." The Texas Freedom Network concurred, observing on its blog (see sidebar):

Board members — none of whom are research scientists, much less biologists — appeared confused when they were asked to consider amendments with changes to specific passages of the standards. That's why it's foolish to let dentists and insurance salesmen play-pretend that they're scientists. The result is that the standards draft includes language that is more tentative. Not good, but not necessarily disastrous overall.

With respect to McLeroy's revision, TFN added, "What we saw is what happens when a dentist pretends that he knows more about science than scientists do."

THE AFTERMATH

All of the action — the vote not to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" language and the flurry of amendments from creationist members of the board apparently eager to salvage a small victory from the defeat — occurred on the second day of the board's meeting. On the third day, January 23, 2009, there was virtually no discussion as the board voted unanimously to adopt the science standards as revised on the previous day, without hearing any further comments from those in attendance. The vote, again, is only a preliminary vote, with a final vote on the standards expected at the board's March 26–27, 2009, meeting. The Houston Chronicle (2009 Jan 23) reported, "Scientists vowed to fight the plan before the board takes final action in March"; since the survey conducted by Raymond Eve and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund demonstrated that the vast majority of biologists at universities in Texas rejected the idea of teaching the supposed weaknesses of evolution, there ought to be no shortage of scientifically competent advice for the board to heed.

Reports in the press recognized that the overall result was a qualified victory for science, with the Houston Chronicle (2009 Jan 23), for example, reporting, "Texas schools won't have to teach the weaknesses of evolution theories anymore, but the State Board of Education ushered in other proposed changes Friday that some scientists say still undermine evolution instruction and subject the state to ridicule," and reporting Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science as concerned that McLeroy's revision, if not reversed, would make the standards a laughingstock. David Hillis, a distinguished biology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, added, "This new proposed language is absurd. It shows very clearly why the board should not be rewriting the science standards, especially when they introduce new language that has not even been reviewed by a single science expert. He also told The New York Times (2009 Jan 24), "It's a clear indication that the chairman of the state school board doesn't understand the science."

In the same vein, editorials in Texas and nationally have praised the omission of the "strengths and weaknesses" language but lamented the creationist revisions. The Austin American-Statesman (2009 Jan 24) seemed pleased if not excited about what it termed "an incremental step away from dogma-driven curriculum decision-making," while the Waco Tribune (2009 Jan 26) was happy about the omission of a phrase that "was meant to open the door to the undermining of evolution theory" but dismayed by McLeroy's revision, which it described as "a fall-back attempt by the right wing of the board to hang tough in its effort to undermine evolution theory." The New York Times (2009 Jan 26), which earlier (2009 Jan 22) acknowledged that "[t]he debate here has far-reaching consequences; Texas is one of the nation's biggest buyers of textbooks, and publishers are reluctant to produce different versions of the same material," editorialized, "The lesson we draw from these shenanigans is that scientifically illiterate boards of education should leave the curriculum to educators and scientists who know what constitutes a sound education."


AUTHOR'S ADDRESS:

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

Glenn Branch is NCSE's deputy director.

FOR FURTHER READING

In addition to the newspaper reports cited, a variety of on-line sources provided detailed, candid, and often uninhibited running commentary on the proceedings. Texas Citizens for Science's Steven Schafersman blogged, and posted photographs, on the Houston Chronicle's Evo.Sphere blog: http://www.chron.com/commons/readerblogs/evosphere.html; the Texas Freedom Network was blogging on its TFN Insider blog: http://tfnblog.wordpress.com/; NCSE's Joshua Rosenau was blogging on his personal blog, Thoughts from Kansas (hosted by ScienceBlogs): http://www.scienceblogs.com/tfk; and the Houston Press blogged the first day of the meeting: http://blogs.houstonpress.com/hairballs/political_animals. For those wanting to get their information from the horse's mouth, minutes and audio recordings of the board meeting will be available on the Texas Education Agency's website via http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=5173 and http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=4473. NCSE's previous reports on events in Texas are available on-line at http://ncse.com/news/texas.

Winning Their Hearts and Minds: Who Should Speak for Evolution?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Winning Their Hearts and Minds: Who Should Speak for Evolution?
Author(s): 
Daryl P Domning
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
30–32
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Book reviews in recent issues of RNCSE have showcased a growing number of authors and reviewers who advocate some form of theistic evolution. However, other recent books by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and other militant atheist advocates of evolution have attracted much more media attention — naturally, since extreme views always sell more newspapers than moderate ones.

Moderate views on creation-vs-evolution are not in short supply. Yet despite the Gallup polls consistently showing 35–40% of Americans somewhere between the poles of special creationism and strictly materialist evolutionism (with only 9–15% for the latter view), this reality is studiously ignored both by creationists and by materialists like Dawkins (and others). This not only polarizes the debate unnecessarily, but fundamentally misrepresents it. To break this impasse and move toward defusing evolution as an explosive social and educational issue, I propose the perhaps shocking idea that it is time for theistic evolutionists to take over from atheists as the public face of evolution advocacy.

A Cultural Stalemate

The stalemated conflict between creationists and evolutionists here in the US (and now spreading abroad) reminds me a bit of conditions in a certain Middle Eastern country where religious passions have also contributed to a dangerous degree of political polarization. At one extreme, we have religious fundamentalists whose worldview is deeply threatened by what they see as a corrupting secular culture and ideology and who resist this at all costs, sometimes by (intellectually) unscrupulous means. At the other pole, with scant understanding of and less sympathy for the thinking, culture, language, and concerns of their religious adversaries, are militant evangelical atheists, waging a heavy-handed, ill-advised Global War on Theism that needlessly provokes their opponents and only inflames the situation. Having seized the mantle of spokespersons for evolution, and the spotlight of the media, they drown out the voices of fellow evolutionists who would pursue a less arrogant and abrasive policy.

Secular critics like these tend to rest secure in the Green Zones of college campuses and major cities. Many scientists, in fact, declared "Mission Accomplished" years ago and dismissed the creationists as just a few diehards whose time has passed. But the sectarians who dominate much of the countryside, and have the hearts and minds of much of the population, are actively targeting their IEDs (intelligent educational designs) at school boards and state legislatures across the country. Meanwhile the noncombatant population, caught in the crossfire and not necessarily committed to any extremist faction, wants nothing more from them than answers to the great questions of human existence: the meaning of life, the reasons for suffering, and whether there is a God, an afterlife, and ultimate justice (Pennock 1997).

In this asymmetrical warfare, the secularists make easy, static targets. They fruitlessly deploy ponderous scientific artillery against the lightweight arguments of "scientific creationist" guerrillas, and wonder at how the latter always blithely dance aside to fight again another day. But the creationist leaders and their lay followers are clearly motivated by those existential and theological concerns and not by science, so the scientific arguments do not lay a glove on them.

As long as the secularists insist on prosecuting the war unilaterally in this way, they will not prevail. The only hope for a successful outcome lies with a coalition: the secularists must ally themselves with — indeed, yield leadership to — theistic evolutionists, who understand the creationists’ religious culture, speak their religious language, and can engage them on their home turf.

The Diversity Among Theists

Anyone who pays close attention to creationists’ rhetoric will see that they ignore whenever possible the inconvenient existence of the large segment of Christianity that accepts evolution (Matsumura 1995: 22). Since most of their philosophical and moral arguments are aimed at atheists, these arguments fall flat when they are confronted with opponents who share many of their theological presuppositions. Such opponents can cut to the chase, posing to creationists the key question, "What is it about evolution that really bothers you? Because if it is a fear that life in the Darwinian view has no meaning and no room for God, then I am here to testify that you can be both a Darwinian and a Christian — in fact, a better, more intellectually consistent Christian!" In other words, Christian extremism is best left to other Christians to handle in-house.

Fundamentalists with an unshakable commitment to biblical literalism, of course, will not be open to this approach. But many people cling to a literal reading of Genesis only because no one has ever shown them acceptable answers to their existential questions that do not conflict with science. By agreeing with the creationists that such answers are impossible, the extreme materialists self-defeatingly drive such folks into the creationist camp.

What I am proposing is simply that those who embrace theistic evolution, Christians especially, shed whatever shyness they have about saying so, in public and in private, and actively engage family, friends, colleagues, clergy, elected officials, news reporters, and anyone else who evinces doubt about the compatibility of evolution and religious belief. Lack of knowledge is no longer an excuse, given the rich resources recently provided by writers such as Beatrice Bruteau, Denis Edwards, Stephen Godfrey, John Haught, Kenneth Miller, Michael Ruse, Patricia Williams, and many others — most of them reviewed or otherwise represented in these pages. Fill the silence that these authors have begun to dispel. We need not agree on all the theological details; the goal is simply to make it unmistakably clear that the atheists have no monopoly on Darwinism. Speak about it, write about it, publish your own insights; but in and out of season, bear witness that you and many like you see ways to reconcile faith and science without compromising either.

Objections to this proposal are foreseeable. The militant atheists will say that it publicly divides the evolution camp; that it is an intellectually dishonest tactical sellout to theism; and that it inappropriately drags religion into a scientific debate just as the creationists do.

However, it is disingenuous to pretend that all evolutionists see eye-to-eye on philosophical or theological matters. We rightly criticize creationists who obscure the divisions among anti-evolutionists, as is done at the new Creation Museum in Kentucky (Heaton 2007). In fact, both extremes downplay their divisions, which they see as weaknesses. For the creationists, it really is a weakness, because they feel the need for science to buttress weak theology, and therefore they must make the science point unambiguously in their direction.

But the diversity of theological views among evolutionists is potentially a strength for us in this conflict, because it corroborates one of our central arguments: the theological neutrality of good science. It shows that a variety of religious views is compatible with the facts of science — and some of those views may be acceptable to many who have hitherto counted themselves as anti-evolutionists. It humanizes what is now seen by many, and held up by our adversaries, as evolutionists’ rigid hostility to religion and contempt for the deepest concerns of most human beings. That kind of religious rigidity is something we associate with fundamentalist religious groups. Think: if we are all about good science, then how did we get maneuvered into being known by a huge public mainly for an extreme religious viewpoint (and one that many of us do not even share)? Who are the real fundamentalists in this fight?

Religionists are hardly unaware that various churches and their members have theological differences. They will not be scandalized to learn that scientists also disagree on these matters that are outside of science. The point is to build a bridge across the divide, by showing them that (surprise!) many evolutionists can and do agree with them on many points of religious doctrine.

Furthermore, this is not a false irenicism, smoothing over fundamental differences between creationists and evolutionists just to quiet the controversy. In truth, many (perhaps most!) evolutionists are theists of one sort or another. Their views are as sincerely and validly held as those of the atheists and have as much (perhaps more!) claim to be representative of evolutionist thinking. Atheists have every right to believe that theists are woefully misguided in failing to see the obsolescence of religion after Darwin; but that is their philosophical opinion, not an infallibly proven proposition of science or logic. No one is expecting them to shut up or sign on to theistic evolution for the sake of a united front; but the theists are justifiably tired of having the folks on both ends of the spectrum pretend they don’t exist — presumed to be atheists by the creationists, and presumptuously spoken for by the real atheists.

The Nature of the Debate

Does my proposal drag religion into a scientific debate? Let’s get real: this has not been a merely scientific debate for a hundred years. The atheists themselves, like the rest of us, proclaim this from the rooftops: the scientific community accepted evolution generations ago, and creationism today has none but religious motives. Yet we keep acting as though the creationists’ phony scientific arguments can be laid to rest by piling on more and more layers of new scientific data. Maybe that will persuade a few folks on the fence who are genuinely perplexed by scientific questions; but it is assuredly irrelevant to most people who disbelieve evolution — because they are scientific laypeople and do not lose sleep over the Second Law of Thermodynamics or whether paleontologists have a correct understanding of punctuated equilibrium. What they do care about are those eternal existential questions, and whether belief in evolution is a threat to civilized society as we know it. Until we start addressing those concerns, the two sides of the debate will continue talking past each other, just as they have for the last 40 years and more.

Finally, is my proposal basically a tactical one? Of course it is — because the old tactics have failed to achieve more than a courtroom stalemate, while the soul of creationism is marching on in churches, classrooms, political campaigns, and the rest of society. We have been fighting the wrong war with the wrong weapons. If we are content to rest on our courtroom victories, as the winners of every stand-up fight, we will end up as we did in Vietnam: or as Sitting Bull supposedly said after the Little Bighorn, we will have "won a great battle, but lost a great war."

To really protect education from creationism’s inroads, it has to be marginalized not just scientifically and legally but theologically; and the atheists among us cannot do that. The voices of other evolutionists need to be heard. There are many such voices out there; let’s start putting them front and center.

References

Heaton T. 2007. A visit to the new creation "museum." Reports of the National Center for Science Education 27 (1–2): 21–4.

Matsumura M, editor. 1995. Voices for Evolution, second ed. Berkeley (CA): National Center for Science Education.

Pennock R. 1997. Naturalism, creationism and the meaning of life: the case of Philip Johnson revisited. Creation/Evolution 16 (2):10–30.

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

Daryl P Domning is Professor of Anatomy at Howard University and coauthor of Original Selfishness: Original Sin and Evil in the Light of Evolution (Aldershot [UK]: Ashgate Publishing, 2006). He is a vertebrate paleontologist and studies sirenians and other marine mammals.

Review: Back to Darwin

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
2
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
45–46
Reviewer: 
Timothy Shanahan
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Back to Darwin: A Richer Account of Evolution
Author(s): 
John B Cobb, editor
Grand Rapids (MI): William B Eerdmans, 2008. 434 pages

Back to Darwin: A Richer Account of Evolution consists of a collection of two dozen papers presented at an academic conference on evolution and religion organized by the Center for Process Studies at Claremont, California, in October 2004. The volume consists of an editor’s introduction, four topical sections containing four to nine essays each, plus an appendix. Most of the essays are contributed by authors whose names will be familiar to anyone who has browsed the literature in what might be called “the reconciliatory genre of science and religion writing,” especially as it concerns evolution. The editor makes no bones about the fact that whereas he has attempted to honor the integrity of each author’s contribution(s), he has also selected, organized, and contextualized this material in order to highlight how a “process perspective” can remedy some of the defects of current neo-Darwinian thinking. (“Process thought” is an elaboration and application of ideas developed by Alfred North Whitehead in the 1920s that takes events, processes, and integration rather than materialistic and dualistic ways of thinking as metaphysically basic.)

Section I consists of “Background Materials. ”The essays in this section seek to convey a history of the problem of science and religion, to provide the basics of contemporary evolutionary theorizing, and to survey some of the tensions between Darwinian ideas and religious belief. Section II aims “To Broaden and Diversify Evolutionary Theory” by integrating scientific ideas from thermodynamics, quantum physics, and chemistry into evolutionary thinking, as well as by promoting the underappreciated biological ideas of neo-Lamarckism, symbiogenesis, Gaia, and the Baldwin effect. Section III takes up “The Philosophical Challenge to Neo- Darwinism.” The inclusion of the term “Neo-Darwinism” in the title of this section alerts the reader to expect a critique, as this term is seldom used by contemporary biologists in describing their work, but occasionally crops up in the writings of authors providing an historical account of the synthesis of Darwin’s theory of natural selection with Mendelian genetics, or by those about to launch into a critique of Darwinian ideas and who therefore need to fix in their sights the intended target. In this case it is the latter. The main theme of the essays in this section is that Darwinism, as currently conceived, needlessly narrows and limits the nature of evolution in a way that excludes all consideration of subjectivity, emergence, and purpose. The final section, Section IV, addresses the issue of “Evolution and God” by posing the question, “Can a scientific account of the world be incorporated into a theistic one?”The essays in this section tend to answer that question in the affirmative by seeking to modify both theology and science in order to integrate them into a unified vision of reality.

It would be impossible to summarize each of the individual essays here. But certain recurring themes stand out. Unlike books by outspoken atheists (such as by Richard Dawkins) that attempt to use Darwin to demolish religious belief, the contributors to this volume seek to find a rapprochement between an affirmation of Darwin’s fundamental ideas and religious belief. Its spirit is fundamentally reconciliatory rather than antagonistic — seeking integration rather than opposition. What unites the essays (and accounts for the volume’s title) is the contributors’ affirmation of Darwin’s demonstration of the fact of biological evolution conjoined with a concern to correct certain assumptions and overstatements in the development of evolutionary theory after Darwin. Of particular concern are certain “extreme” statements of evolution according to which genes are conceived as being unaffected by their environments, and in which more inclusive life-forms (for example, organisms) essentially disappear from explanations of evolutionary change. Hence the authors propose to “go back” to re-affirm Darwin’s major, distinctive ideas without necessarily embracing subsequent restrictive extensions and elaborations of Darwin’s ideas that underwrite (or presuppose) atheistic views.

The volume will be of interest to anyone concerned to explore alternatives to the science–religion debate as framed by the most uncompromising proponents of godless evolution, on the one hand, and by advocates of “creation science” or “intelligent design”, on the other. Perhaps of particular interest for readers of this journal are the views of the volume’s editor concerning the teaching of evolution in public schools. While agreeing with the vast majority of biologists that “creation science” and “intelligent design” have no place in public school science education, and affirming that schools should avoid teaching that evolution shows signs of being directed or guided by an intelligent agent, he nonetheless maintains that the teaching of evolution in public schools should also avoid saying or implying that the evolutionary process is wholly purposeless and devoid of values. Yet rather than leave it at that, as many educators might be inclined to do, Cobb explicitly harnesses the essays in the book to show how such a stance can be underwritten by a theistically-friendly- yet-neutral metaphysics (process philosophy) that gives each side in the evolution-creation/ design debate something (but not everything) it wants: naturalism (of a sort) without dogmatic atheism; purpose and values without fundamentalism or refurbished natural theology.

Of course, precisely because this approach attempts to chart a middle course between the polarized extremes in the evolution-creation dispute, it will seem satisfactory to neither side. More generally, as an attempt at a philosophical via media it is bound to suffer from the fate of nearly every such attempt; or as I explain to my students, it will be yet another confirmation of what I like to call “Shanahan’s Law”: For any fundamental philosophical problem, there will be solutions that lie at either extreme that are admirably clear but which lead to enormous difficulties and hence will be hard to justify; and there will be a range of intermediate positions with greater but varying degrees of plausibility, but burdened by corresponding unclarity sometimes bordering on outright obscurity. The philosophical dilemma of clarity versus plausibility is hardly unique to the science-religion dispute, or to the project of this book, and therefore should not dissuade readers from plunging in. Indeed, to the extent that this volume encourages readers to consider intriguing alternatives to the most vocally defended poles of the debate about the teaching of evolution in public schools, this volume deserves a wide readership.

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS

Timothy Shanahan
Department of Philosophy
Loyola Marymount University
One LMU Drive
Los Angeles CA 90045

Timothy Shanahan is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. He holds degrees in biology, philosophy, and in the history and philosophy of science. Among his books are The Evolution of Darwinism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) and The Provisional Irish Republican Army and the Morality of Terrorism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009) .

Review: Charles Darwin

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
2
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
44–45
Reviewer: 
Doren A Recker
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Charles Darwin
Author(s): 
Michael Ruse
Malden (MA): Blackwell, 2008
337 pages

Michael Ruse’s most recent book, like his Darwinism and its Discontents (2006; reviewed in RNCSE 2007 Jan–Apr; 27 [1–2]: 50–2), is a general work on Darwinism, including chapters on Darwin’s biography, the history of Darwinian evolution, evidence for his theory, and chapters on religion and morality. This time, however, he is contributing to the Blackwell Great Minds series, which includes such titles as Kant, Descartes, and Sartre. So, as one might expect, there is more attention paid here to philosophical issues, and the general tone is also more philosophical than the earlier text. Still, the style is informal and should be both accessible to readers of various backgrounds and useful for readers at various levels of expertise in evolutionary (and philosophical) matters.

Most of the topics included here have been canvassed before, and Ruse has not changed positions on controversial topics such as the relationship(s) between Darwinism and religion or morality, or the status of neo-Darwinism (including the centrality of population genetics). The novelty here is (again) the concentration on Darwin’s contributions to issues of primary concern to philosophers. In order to provide a sense of this approach, I will concentrate on one issue, evolution and morality.

The general importance of the relation between Darwinian evolution and ethics has increased recently, with texts such as Richard Weikart’s From Darwin to Hitler and Ben Stein’s recent movie Expelled painting Darwinism red with innocent blood. The Discovery Institute (among others) is using these sources to push the moral bankruptcy and culpability of evolutionary science to anyone who will listen and is sending copies of Expelled to “key policy makers” throughout the country (as reported in a recent fundraising letter from NCSE).

Even if justified, of course, such a claim does not affect the scientific status of Darwinian evolution. Concern with the Naturalistic Fallacy (attempting to derive an “ought” from an “is’” or to defend a course of action ethically because it is deemed natural, and so on) has led more than a few philosophers and scientists (from Thomas Henry Huxley to Stephen Jay Gould) to refrain from finding any clues about morality in nature. The flip side of the Naturalistic Fallacy, however, is the Moralistic Fallacy (trying to derive “is not” from “ought not”, or attacking the scientific status of a theory based on its allegedly unpalatable moral consequences). None of the evidence supporting evolutionary biology is changed one iota by attacking social policies allegedly based upon it. Still, such political attacks push evolutionists to investigate seriously what, if any, implications evolutionary biology may have for moral theory. This blending of philosophical and biological perspectives has been a concern of Ruse’s for some time — his position on evolution and morality has been greatly influenced by Edward O Wilson, with whom he coauthored two articles in the mid- 80s (Ruse and Wilson 1985, 1986) — and is addressed again in chapter 9 of Charles Darwin.

Basically, Ruse holds that human social behavior is largely under biological influence, often masked behind psychological predispositions (“epigenetic rules”) to behave as we ought to. These predispositions are perceived as being based on objective moral rules, applicable to all rational beings (p 239–40). Our innate moral intuitions allow for quick and dirty judgments about social challenges where actual calculations of costs and benefits (and/or duties) would take far too long to be useful in most day-to-day affairs (p 236). The biological mechanisms fueling the psychological motivations are kin selection and reciprocal altruism, well-known to evolutionary biologists and more than adequate for mapping onto our actual (as opposed to idealized) moral behavior (p 232, 237). Objective, transcendent moral rules are an illusion on this view, due to our objectifying (or reifying) strong moral sentiments (p 240). They are, however, “noble lies”, since they provide motivational teeth for altruistic behavior and hold some of our other more selfish motivations in check for the sake of social intercourse. So Ruse promotes a skepticism about the objectivity of morality (there are no species-independent moral facts), while arguing for the possibility of (limited) altruism being a successful evolutionary adaptation (that is, evolution does not invariably favor selfishness or nature red in tooth and claw).

This represents one among many recent attempts to unpack the relationship between evolutionary theory and human morality, and the evolutionary models used (kin selection and reciprocal altruism) are accepted by the majority of interpretations (which eschew any use of group selection). With more sophisticated models of group selection (Sober and Wilson 1998) on the table, however, serious investigations of evolutionary morality may need to expand the usual armaments available to individual-level selection. In fact, another recent work interpreting Darwin and Darwinism from a more philosophical perspective (Lewens 2007) takes just this path. Lewens shows that group-level selection is both closer to Darwin’s own views concerning evolution and morality, and also has better evidential support than many biologists acknowledge.

Another consideration involves the meaning of “objective moral facts.” If moral realism is committed to the view that legitimate “ought” statements refer to species-independent moral truths or moral rules that all rational creatures (human or not) must acknowledge, then Ruse and Wilson are right to disavow such moral facts. But if moral realism instead (as a counterpoint to relativism and subjectivism) need only be committed to species-wide moral facts, contingent on human evolutionary and cultural history, but independent of individual (or even individual cultures’) beliefs, then it is not so clear that objective morality need be an illusion. If our sentiments are structured by evolutionary history and our basic moral intuitions are grounded on strong emotional sentiments that include sympathy (and empathy) and motivate altruism, then it is possible that, at some level(s), moral claims can correspond with human truths, and in that sense, be factual.

This, too, would be controversial. But it is not clear that faith-based or other so-called absolutist moral codes can do any better at justifying objective, non-relative moral claims. There are at least as many disagreements within and across such views as there are among non-absolutist approaches. In the end, whether one accepts a position like Ruse’s, or prefers one that utilizes some notion of group selection, Darwinists will have no more difficulty supporting the grounds for moral behavior than will the faith-based approaches that blame Darwinism for the Holocaust. After all, anti-Semitism has rich roots in the history of Christianity, and this history includes at least as much intolerance and immoral behavior as does Darwinism (even when the latter is construed most broadly, and inaccurately).

References

Lewens T. 2007. Darwin. London: Routledge.

Ruse M. 1984. The morality of the gene. The Monist 67: 167–99.

Ruse M. 1986. Evolutionary ethics: A phoenix arisen. Zygon 21: 95–112.

Ruse M. 1999. Evolutionary ethics: What can we learn from the past? Zygon 34: 435–51.

Ruse M. 2006. Darwinism and its Discontents. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ruse M, Wilson EO. 1985. The evolution of ethics. New Scientist 17: 50–2.

Ruse M, Wilson EO. 1986. Moral philosophy as applied science. Philosophy 61: 173– 92.

Sober E, Wilson DS. 1998. Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.

Wilson EO. 1998. The biological basis of morality. The Atlantic Monthly 281: 53–70.

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Doren Recker
Philosophy Department
308 Hanner Hall
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater OK 74078-5064
doren.recker@okstate.edu

Doren A Recker is Associate Professor and Head of the Philosophy Department at Oklahoma State University, specializing in the history and philosophy of science. He teaches courses on evolution versus creationism (including “intelligent design”) and philosophy of biology, and is a board member of OESE (Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education).

Review: Evolutionary Creation

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
2
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
46–47
Reviewer: 
Stephen J Godfrey
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution
Author(s): 
Denis O Lamoureux
Eugene (OR):Wipf and Stock, 2008. 493 pages

As indicated by its title, this primarily theological work is aimed at the Christian anti-evolution audience and at Christians who accept evolution but want to think further about how that acceptance comports, or can be made to comport, with their faith. Denis Lamoureux (who holds doctorates in both theology and biology) is to be thanked for this attempt to persuade young-earth creationists (YECs), by a close examination of the Bible, science, and history, that the expectations they have of the first eleven chapters of the Bible are simply wrong. Furthermore, he contends that their widely held beliefs are also detrimental to Christianity because their mistakes throw up stumbling blocks in the way of the scientifically literate who might have an interest in this faith. His “in” with this audience is that he is a passionate Evangelical Christian and makes no apologies for boldly affirming his faith in Jesus. His intimate familiarity with the audience he wants so desperately to move in the direction of accepting the reality of evolution will certainly help.

My optimism, however, about how influential this work will be is tempered by how seemingly ineffective other similar attempts have been. Lamoureux is asking his intended YEC audience to swallow a very large pill. From having been a YEC, I know that most will choke on Lamoureux’s central argument, which is that the science and history in Genesis Chapters 1–11 represent only the “science and history of the day.” They are not factual but rather only “incidental vessels”, which nevertheless deliver divinely inspired eternal spiritual truths. But for many Christians, the Bible, divinely inspired, is historically and scientifically accurate on any subject on which it speaks. They consider anathema the notion that the Genesis accounts of creation, the origin of humans, the Flood, and the origin of languages are all wrong. Young-earth creationists do not take kindly to the notion that what they believe to be literally true and scientifically accurate are no more than incidental vessels. Although the original Hebrew audience had no reason not to believe the science and history of their day, Lamoureux is asking YECs not to believe this intuitive and originally intended interpretation of Genesis; he is to be commended for doing his best to fight an uphill battle.

YECs will be quick to ask: If the Genesis stories are only incidental vessels, what is our guarantee that the faith and spiritual components of these stories are true? For the vast majority of young-earth creationists, if the tangible scientific and historic elements of Genesis 1–11 are shown not to be true, then they no longer prove the trustworthiness and accuracy of the parts of the story that are not scientifically testable. In their mind, if the Bible gets its science and history wrong, then there is no reason to place any confidence in those parts of the Bible that demand faith (they possess a conditional faith). But to a YEC it is even more devastating than this, because if all ancient Biblical stories related to Creation and the Flood are wrong, those errors suggest that the divinely inspired eternal spiritual truths are also not true. If this is the case, then the burden of proof in the trustworthiness of the Bible as having had a divine origin increases to an uncomfortable level. This terrifying thought is accompanied by a dreaded realization that the hand of atheists and skeptics might just have been strengthened.

What Lamoureux is asking YECs to do with Genesis would be akin to also asking them to believe that none of the miracles that Jesus did were done as they are recorded in the Gospels. The miracles are the guarantor that Jesus was who he claimed to be, God incarnate, and that his spiritual and intangible claims are also to be taken seriously. Consider the New Testament account of when John the Baptist was imprisoned and he sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus if he was “…the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:18–23). At the time this narrative took place it is evident that John was struggling to reconcile his mission with his imprisonment. The important point here is that Jesus confirmed his authenticity and credentials as the “one who was to come” (that is, their Messiah) through the miracles that he performed. The witnessed and verifiable miracles guaranteed that Jesus was the Messiah.

But what if Jesus had simply said to John’s disciples: “Sorry, no miraculous signs; absolutely nothing out of the ordinary here. John is simply going to have to believe that I am the ‘one who was to come.’” What would John have done with that news, and would we know about Jesus today? But it is this very lack of tangible proof (both scientific and historic) in Genesis that Lamoureux is expecting YECs to overlook and yet still accept the spiritual truths as having had a divine origin. Instead of making the paradigm shift, many YECs will prefer to continue to retreat into denial and refuse to relinquish their anti-evolutionary mindset.

I agree with Lamoureux that Genesis represents the science and history of the day, but he should have emphasized more forcefully that it also reflects the religious and spiritual level of understanding of the day. Genesis does not present all there is to know about God. The Bible itself documents a progressive (an evolutionary-like) revelation of God, as that understanding continues to grow and change even today.

As valuable as this book would be to conservative Christian students, it will not likely darken the door of any American public school. Lamoureux’s bold profession of faith in and love for Jesus will ensure that it is kept at bay. Nevertheless, I will be recommending this book to anyone who might have even the slightest interest in moving from an anti-evolutionary world view.


About the Author(s): 
AUTHOR’S ADDRESS

Stephen J Godfrey
Department of Paleontology
Calvert Marine Museum
PO Box 97
Solomons MD 20688
Godfresj@co.cal.md.us

Stephen J Godfrey is the Curator of Paleontology at the Calvert Marine Museum and Research Collaborator at the National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. His latest book is Paradigms on Pilgrimage: Creationism, Paleontology, and Biblical Interpretation, co-authored with Christopher R Smith (Toronto: Clements Publishing, 2005).

Review: Render Unto Darwin

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
2
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
42–43
Reviewer: 
Keith M Parsons
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Render Unto Darwin: Philosophical Aspects of the Christian Right’s Crusade Against Science
Author(s): 
James H Fetzer
Chicago: Open Court, 2007.
201 pages

Philosopher of science James H Fetzer argues that creationism, both in its fundamentalist young-earth form and in the guise of allegedly more sophisticated “intelligent design”, fails to qualify as science, and therefore is not a respectable theoretical alternative to evolutionary science. As the book’s subtitle implies, Fetzer holds that the attack on evolution is part of a comprehensive effort by the religious and political right to undermine scientific rationality and the authority of science. He further identifies the right’s attack on science as a single battle of a multi-front offensive by political and religious extremists.

Fetzer, of course, is not the first professional philosopher of science to criticize creationism (see Kitcher 1982, 2007; Ruse 1982; Pennock 1999; Shanks 2004; Sarkar 2007), and his critique is decidedly less effective than those previous ones. What made Philip Kitcher’s books, for instance, so effective was that he offered trenchant, detailed, point-by-point critiques of creationist claims, based upon a close reading of creationist texts, and informed by a deep understanding of the scientific issues. Fetzer’s treatment of leading “intelligent design” proponents Michael Behe and William Dembski is cursory at best. Fetzer apparently does not feel that it is necessary to delve into a detailed critique because he thinks that creationism blatantly violates the criteria that demarcate science from nonscience, and that creationist claims can therefore be dismissed without much ado.

In recent years professional philosophers of science have largely shied away from the attempt to formulate criteria to demarcate science from nonscience, for the simple reason that past such efforts have come to grief. Many attempts have been made to spell out the distinctive virtues of scientific theories, such as falsifiability, progressiveness, predictiveness, and so on, that are supposed to distinguish genuinely scientific theories from less worthy ones. Such proposals do not hold up under careful scrutiny. Larry Laudan seems to speak for the majority of philosophers of science when he warns of “the probable futility of seeking an epistemic version of a demarcation criterion” (Laudan 1988: 348). In other words, “science” has historically comprised a set of practices and beliefs so varied that they defy neat categorization by a one-size-fits-all set of demarcation criteria.

It is not, of course, that we do not value scientific theories that, among other things, are falsifiable, progressive, and accurate. Of course we do. The problem is that it is one thing to list some of the various virtues of good theories, but it is another to try to base strict demarcation standards on our descriptions of such desiderata. Consider Sir Karl Popper’s famous falsifiability criterion. Popper held that a theory is scientific only if it is falsifiable, that is, if and only if some observation, measurement, experiment, or other empirical procedure can discredit the theory. The falsifiability criterion is intuitively appealing, and, indeed, we do not accept a theory as scientific if it is compatible with all conceivable observations or data; scientific theories must have empirical content.

But as a candidate for a criterion of demarcation, falsifiability is fraught with problems (see Gale 1979: 199–205 and Chalmers 1999: 87–103), among others, that it seems far too permissive. If creationists and other pseudoscientists are willing to name any possible observation, however improbable, as incompatible with their claims, then the criterion of falsifiability cannot be invoked to rule these claims out of science.

To argue in the manner that Fetzer does that creationism is not science, we first have to say what science is. Fetzer says that the aim of science is to discover laws of nature (p 38). Further, scientific knowledge is expected to meet standards of conditionality, testability, and tentativeness:

Scientific knowledge assumes forms that are conditional, testable, and tentative. The conditionality of scientific hypotheses and theories arises from characterizing what properties or events will occur in a world as permanent properties or causal effects of the presence of other properties or the occurrence of other events. Such knowledge has to be testable, where it must be possible to detect the presence or absence of reference properties or events-as-effects in order to subject those hypotheses and theories to empirical test. Moreover, scientific knowledge is tentative insofar as it is always subject to revision due to technological innovations, the acquisition of additional evidence, or the discovery of alternative hypotheses. (p 38)

Fetzer then considers some typical creationist claims — such as the sudden and recent appearance of the earth and life, including humans, in essentially their current form — and concludes that such claims cannot count as scientific hypotheses since they are asserted unconditionally, are untestable, and are held absolutely and not tentatively (p 38–9).

Surely, though, it is too narrow to say that the aim of science is to discover laws of nature. Much progress in science occurs when scientists produce detailed, well-confirmed explanations of singular phenomena, or localized clusters of phenomena, rather than the discovery of new general laws. For instance, geologists offer detailed explanations of the structure of the Swiss Alps in terms of complex processes of thrusting and folding. This thrusting and folding is further explained in terms of tectonic processes such as the relative movements of lithospheric plates. Of course, such explanations presume that, at considerable explanatory distance, the basic laws of chemistry and physics are operating as the ultimate explanations of geological processes. But the proximate explanations of geological events, such as the Alpine orogeny, neither invoke such laws nor reveal the existence of new ones.

What about Fetzer’s claim that central creationist claims are not made conditionally, that is, they do not specify particular conditions under which such events should be expected to occur? Some unquestionably scientific hypotheses seem to have been asserted unconditionally. Standard big bang cosmology postulates the initial singularity as an ultimate, unconditioned fact. The initial singularity is unconditioned because there are, by hypothesis, no conditions prior to the big bang.

As for testability, are creationist claims testable? If, contrary to fact, the fossil record contained trilobites, dinosaurs, mastodons, rabbits, eurypterids, and coelacanths all mixed together in no discernable order, and if all sedimentary rocks bore evidence of having been deposited in a single, recent, cataclysmic event, and if remains of a large wooden ship were found on top of Mount Ararat, then, surely, young-earth creationism could claim to be not only testable but confirmed. The problem with creationism (besides simple dishonesty) is not that it is untestable, but that it has an egregious record of failure.

Finally, tentativeness does not seem to be a virtue of science but of scientists, that is, it is not a virtue of theories themselves, but how they are held. Scientists are rightly expected to hold on to theories only so long as the evidence warrants, or at least permits, and not to cling to them dogmatically, come what may. Therefore, to say that creationist tenets are not held tentatively may be an accurate ad hominem against creationists, but is not an objection to creationism itself.

It is not that Fetzer is a bad philosopher; he is a very good philosopher. The problem is with philosophy, at least as it is still too often practiced. Philosophers like Kitcher are effective critics of creationism because they are willing to get down from philosophy’s high horse and get down into the trenches with creationists. Philosophy’s self-image, which Richard Rorty mocked as “the tribunal of pure reason,” has too often permitted philosophers, as would-be justices of the high court of pure reason, to refuse to soil their hands with the messy factual details. Too often they have theorized with vague, stereotypical, and ahistorical images of scientific practice, and this fed the illusion that science, and its practices of explanation and confirmation, admitted of neat packaging into simple, rigorous accounts. More historically sensitive studies of science, initiated by Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (which, of course, brought its own distinct problems), were supposed to change all this and prompt philosophers to adopt a far more nuanced, complex, and historically aware understanding of science, its history, and its practice. Fetzer’s book shows that there is still a long ways to go in this regard.

Though Fetzer misfires against creationism, his book contains a number of very interesting and enlightening discussions of questions in the philosophy of biology, such as whether evolution optimizes and whether species should be regarded as individuals, as a number of leading philosophers and evolutionary biologists have maintained. The book can be recommended just for its discussion of these points. Also, some readers may appreciate the fact that Fetzer ties creationism to larger political and ideological forces that provide the impetus for creationism as a social movement and prompt wealthy sympathizers to bankroll its organizations. Others may regard these sections as a distracting diatribe, and view Fetzer’s unabashed characterization of the Bush administration and corporate miscreants as “fascists” as irresponsible agitprop. (I personally hold that some elements of the religious right, especially defenders of so-called “dominion theology,” are quite accurately and appropriately described as “fascist.” See Hedges 2006 and Goldberg 2007).

In summary, then, far better critiques of creationism are available. The main lesson that Fetzer’s book teaches is that philosophy’s attempt to legislate rationality by deploying its admittedly awesome logical weaponry, is an enterprise that should have gone out with Duns Scotus. Logical acuity is not enough; you have to know what you are talking about.

References

Chalmers AF. 1999. What is This Thing Called Science? 3rd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Gale G. 1979. Theory of Science: An Introduction to the History, Logic, and Philosophy of Science. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Goldberg M. 2007. Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. New York: WW Norton.

Hedges C. 2006. American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. New York: The Free Press.

Laudan L. 1988. The demise of the demarcation problem. In: Ruse M, editor. But is it Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy. Buffalo (NY): Prometheus. p 337–50.

Kitcher P. 1982. Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.

Kitcher P. 2007. Living With Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pennock R. 1999. Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.

Ruse M. 1982. Darwinism Defended. Reading (MA): Addison-Wesley.

Sarkar S. 2007. Doubting Darwin? Creationist Designs on Evolution. Oxford: Blackwell.

Shanks N. 2004. God, the Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

About the Author(s): 
Keith M Parsons
University of Houston, Clear Lake
2700 Bay Area Boulevard
Houston TX 77058
parsons@uhcl.edu

Keith M Parsons is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Houston, Clear Lake. Among his books is Drawing Out Leviathan: Dinosaurs and the Culture Wars (Bloomington [IN]: Indiana University Press, 2001).

Review: Saving Darwin

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
2
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
40–41
Reviewer: 
Denis O Lamoureux
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution
Author(s): 
Karl W Giberson
New York: HarperOne, 2008.
248 pages

Karl Giberson is a prominent figure in the modern dialog between science and religion. He is a professor of physics at Eastern Nazarene College and the director of the Forum on Faith and Science at Gordon College. Giberson was also the founding editor of Science and Theology News and the editor-in-chief of Science and Spirit. His recent book Saving Darwin will enjoy a wide readership, and it will certainly challenge many, raising important questions about how science and Christianity are to be related. The book features a lively and witty writing style, and in particular, it is very personal. A lasting image I have is of Giberson telling his story of leaving home to attend college and bringing along his copies of Henry Morris’s The Genesis Flood and Many Infallible Proofs. I can relate completely with his "teenage fundamentalist" (p 3) phase of life, because I have traveled a nearly identical route (I offer my personal story in Lamoureux 2008: 332–66).

One of the best parts of the book is a summary of the history of the "Darwin wars" in America. Numerous longer and more detailed accounts exist of these encounters, but Giberson offers an accessible distillation of the 1925 Scopes "monkey" trial, the 1981 Arkansas trial challenging a law calling for equal treatment of evolution and creation science in schools, and the recent Dover trial dealing with the teaching of "intelligent design". The book is also a historical examination of Darwin’s personal religious beliefs, revealing without any question that the famed naturalist wrestled mightily with the theological implications of his theory of evolution. Giberson correctly points out that the vicious character of nature (as seen with the Ichneumonidae) and personal tragedies (like the death of his beloved ten-year-old daughter Annie) were powerful factors leading Darwin away from theism and Christianity. However, and this is a minor quibble, Giberson understates the spiritual impact of nature upon Darwin. The "wondrous universe" and "wonderful contrivances for certain purposes in nature" led Darwin to fluctuate from his agnosticism late in life back to deistic, and maybe even theistic, moments (Barlow 1958: 92–3; Darwin 1888: 1: 304, 316).

In order to assist his Christian readers in coming to terms with evolution, Giberson offers an excellent description of evolution’s metaphysical status. He writes:

Biological evolution, in its pure form at least, is purely descriptive. It tells us, as best it can, what happened, like a video of an event. It does not pass judgment on whether the history it describes was good or bad, just as a video passes no judgment on the event it captures. (p 64)

In addition, throughout the book, Giberson respectfully decouples evolutionary theory from the dysteleological metaphysics and personal philosophical commitments of Carl Sagan, EO Wilson, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and other like-minded skeptics. As far as I am concerned, this categorical differentiation is absolutely essential in moving beyond the so-called evolution versus creationism debate. Evolution is a magnificent and fruitful scientific paradigm, but it is dead silent with regard to its metaphysical status, and caution is necessary to avoid conflating one’s personal beliefs, whether religious or antireligious, with this scientific theory.

As much as I enjoyed Giberson’s book, I do have one serious concern. The subtitle, "How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution," is regrettably inaccurate (it was the publisher’s subtitle, not that of the author). Let’s be frank: the anti-evolutionism in America is rooted in evangelical Christianity, and if anyone is going to assist this religious tradition (which by the way is my tradition; I’m a Baptist), then he or she must deal directly with the opening chapters of the Bible. Giberson points to a survey that reveals "over half the population of the United States accepts the biblical creation story," and then attempts to deal with this problem by stating that "this position is thoroughly at odds with almost all relevant scholarship of the past century" (p 6, his emphasis). An argument from authority will never be effective with evangelicals. In the study cited by Giberson, it was shown that 87% of evangelicals believe that the accounts of a six-day creation and Noah’s flood are "literally true, meaning it happened that way word-for-word." Solving the problem of anti-evolutionism in the nation requires dealing with the evangelical belief in concordism, the notion that the Bible reveals accurate scientific and historical facts in its opening chapters. And Giberson falls quite short on this issue. I doubt that many full-blooded, Bible-verse–memorizing, and Gospel-witnessing evangelicals will step away from their anti-evolutionism after reading Saving Darwin.

But Giberson’s book is an important one. Its personal story is courageous and honest. As a Christian, he is even willing to confess, "[M]y belief in God is tinged with doubts, and in my more reflective moments, I sometimes wonder if I am perhaps simply continuing along the trajectory of a childhood faith that should be abandoned" (p 155). Yet, as a physicist, Giberson is drawn back to faith by the universe. In a section entitled "A Brief History of Everything," he outlines surprising characteristics in cosmological evolution, and seven times he states that there is something remarkably "interesting" about these that eventually leads him to believe that "the universe is more than particles and their interactions" (p 220). And in his yearly pilgrimage to the Canadian wilderness, Giberson feels the spiritual impact of nature upon him. He asks, "If the evolution of our species was driven entirely by survival considerations, then where did we get our rich sense of natural aesthetics?" (p 209). Indeed, in many ways, Karl Giberson is Charles Darwin. Both are scientists grappling with faith and in awe of the "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful [that] have been, and are being, evolved." (Darwin 1964: 490).

References

Barlow N, editor. 1958. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809–1882. London: Collins.

Darwin C. 1964. On the Origin of Species: A Facsimile of the First Edition. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.

Darwin F, editor. 1888. The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, 3 vols. London: John Murray.

Lamoureux DO. 2008. Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution. Eugene (OR): Wipf and Stock.

About the Author(s): 
Denis O Lamoureux
St Joseph’s College
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta
Canada T6G 2J5
dlamoure@ualberta.ca

Denis O Lamoureux is an Associate Professor of Science and Religion at St Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta. With Phillip E Johnson, he co-authored Darwinism Defeated? The Johnson-Lamoureux Debate on Biological Origins (Vancouver [BC]: Regent College Publishing, 1999), and he wrote Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution (Eugene [OR]: Wipf and Stock, 2008).

RNCSE 29 (3)

RNCSE 29 (3) cover image
Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2009
Date: 
May-June
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 29 (3)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2009
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
2

NEWS

  1. Texas Science Standards and March Madness: Did We Win or Lose?
    Steven Schafersman
    As the dust settles, activists in Texas review the outcome of interactions between the hard-line antiscience faction and moderate board members.
  2. Testimony Before the Texas State Board of Education
    Joshua Rosenau
    NCSE's Public Information Project Director makes clear to the board the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed compromises to science education standards.
  3. Collapse of a Texas Quote Mine
    Jeremy Mohn
    Much of the antiscience "evidence" in Texas relied on quote mining. Further analysis suggests that the quoter never read the original work, only misleading secondary sources.
  4. Changes in the Texas State Science Standards
    A summary of the various amendments and their dispositions.
  5. McLeroy Under Scrutiny
    Is the role of the chair of a state board of education to undermine science education?
  6. The January Amendments
    Steven Newton, Joshua Rosenau, and Eugenie C Scott
    The first — but not the last — salvo of the attack on the science education dtandards produced by the science writing committee: an analysis.
  7. Updates
    News from California, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Vermont, Washington, Canada, and Turkey.

NCSE NEWS

  1. News from the Membership
    What our members are doing to support evolution and oppose pseudoscience wherever the need arises.
  2. New Faces at NCSE
    Glenn Branch
    Meet the new staff and say farewell to old friends.
  3. NCSE Honors "Friends of Darwin" for 2005
    Glenn Branch
    We recognize outstanding efforts in promoting evolution.
  4. The Kilosteve
    Glenn Branch
    Project Steve's 1000th "Steve" is Steven P Darwin.

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. Facing Challenges to Evolution Education
    A classic NCSE brochure from Molleen Matsumura that is still relevant to 21st-century anti-evolutionism.
  2. Books: From NCSE's Supporters
    These books show the breadth and depth of the science that supports evolution and that our Supporters practice.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

SPECIAL FEATURE

  1. People & Places: Dayton,Tennessee
    Randy Moore
    Famous for the Scopes trial, Dayton has preserved numerous landmarks from the events in 1925.

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. Evolution and Religious Creation Myths: How Scientists Respond by Paul F Lurquin and Linda Stone
    Reviewed by Randy Moore
  2. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters by Donald R Prothero
    Reviewed by Peter Dodson
  3. Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul by Kenneth R Miller
    Reviewed by Andrea Bottaro
  4. Rebel Giants by David R Contosta
    Reviewed by Sherrie Lyons
  5. Adam's Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins by David N Livingstone
    Reviewed by J David Pleins
  6. God or Gorilla: Images of Evolution in the Jazz Age by Constance Areson Clark
    Reviewed by Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette
  7. Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne
    Reviewed by Donald R Prothero
  8. Trying Leviathan by D Graham Burnett
    Reviewed by Arthur M Shapiro
  9. Worlds before Adam:The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform by Martin JS Rudwick
    Reviewed by Paul D Brinkman

Dayton, Tennessee

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
People & Places: Dayton, Tennessee
Author(s): 
Randy Moore
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2009
Page(s): 
36–37
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Every July, throngs of tourists descend on tiny Dayton,Tennessee, to celebrate the Scopes Trial Play and Festival. This festival, which is sponsored by the Dayton Chamber of Commerce, includes a re-enactment of John Scopes's famous trial in 1925 for allegedly teaching evolution in the local public school. Although Scopes's trial accomplished nothing from a legal perspective (his conviction was set aside two years later by the Tennessee Supreme Court), it nevertheless remains the most famous event in the history of the evolution-creationism controversy.

John Scopes's famous trial was instigated by Dayton businessmen as a publicity stunt to attract investors to the area. As Congressman Foster Brown of Chattanooga noted, the trial was "not a fight for evolution or against evolution, but a fight against obscurity." Scopes's trial brought hundreds of visitors to Dayton, but within a week after the trial, virtually all of the spectators, street preachers, circus performers, and hucksters had left town, and Dayton returned to normal. Some people profited from the trial, but the long-term economic stimulus that the trial's instigators had sought never materialized. Several years after the trial, Bryan College opened in Dayton to honor the ideals of William Jennings Bryan, one of Scopes's prosecutors.

Figure 1: John Scopes’s famous trial for teaching evolution occurred in the second-floor courtroom of the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee.

John Scopes's trial was held in the Rhea County Courthouse (Figure 1). The courthouse, an Italian villa-style building built in 1891, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976, and was restored with the completion of the Scopes Trial Museum in the courthouse basement in 1978. At the front of the famous courtroom is posted a page from the Congressional Record listing the Ten Commandments. In 2005, a Cessna Decosimo statue of William Jennings Bryan was unveiled outside the courthouse; this statue depicts Bryan in 1891, when he began his Congressional career, and when the courthouse was built.

Scopes Trial Landmarks

Visitors to Dayton will find a number of sites that played important roles during the Scopes Trial. Thanks largely to the efforts of Bryan College Professor Emeritus Richard Cornelius, many of these sites have been preserved and marked with "Scopes Trial Trail" plaques (designated with an asterisk in the list below). A map of Scopes Trial sites with a complete legend can be found at http://www.bryan.edu/1990.html.

The Rhea County Courthouse and Scopes Trial Museum (Figure 1) is in the center of Dayton. Scopes's trial was held in the second-floor courtroom,which still contains several items from the famous trial (for example, the judge's desk and dais rail).*

FE Robinson's home on the corner of 3rd and Market Streets was the home of "The Hustling Druggist," who helped initiate the Scopes Trial. It was occupied by photographers during the proceedings.*

Darwin Cunnyngham home on Market Street housed journalists during the Scopes Trial.

McKenzie Law Office, which is adjacent to the Robinson home,was formerly used by Jim McKenzie, the nephew of JG McKenzie and grandson of Ben McKenzie. In 2007, Jim McKenzie was a judge in the Rhea Family Court.*

WC Bailey's boardinghouse on the northeastern corner of 4th and Market Streets was where John Scopes lived when he worked in Dayton. Scopes's father, journalist Bugs Baer, and briefly the chimpanzee Joe Mendi also stayed at the house during Scopes's trial.*

AM Morgan home at the southwest corner of 7th and the alley was where journalist HL Mencken lived during the Scopes Trial. After Scopes's trial, Morgan was a founder of Bryan College.

Rhea County High School (southwest of Dayton) was where John Scopes taught and coached in 1924–1925. Bryan College used the building from 1930–1935.*

Ballard/Bailey house at the northwest corner of 3rd and Church Streets was where chimpanzee Joe Mendi stayed during the Scopes Trial after being evicted from Bailey's boardinghouse.

Luke Morgan home, located at the southwest corner of 2nd and Walnut Streets, is where Clarence Darrow and his wife Ruby stayed during the Scopes Trial. Luke Morgan, a former student of John Scopes, testified during the trial.

Morgan Furniture Company on Market Street housed reporters during the Scopes Trial. The business has been open since 1909.*

Bailey Hardware housed more than 100 reporters during the Scopes Trial. Until recently the building — on Market Street between 1st and Main — housed an antique store.*

Thomison Hospital, Wilkey Barbershop, and Richard Rogers Pharmacy were all in this area. Rogers worked at Robinson's Drug Store during the Scopes Trial, and later opened a pharmacy here. West of Rogers Pharmacy was the Wilkey Barbershop. On May 19, 1925, barbers Virgil Wilkey and Thurlow Reed staged a fake fight at the courthouse with George Rappleyea to promote the upcoming Scopes Trial. Above Rogers Pharmacy was a hospital operated by Walter Agnew Thomison, whose father,Walter F Thomison, was the attending physician at William Jennings Bryan's death. A sign for Thomison's office remains on the wall of the building near the intersection of Main and Market Streets.

Hicks Law Office, located in the second lot from the southeast corner of Main and Market Streets, was used by Scopes prosecutors Herbert and Sue Hicks.

Robinson's Drug Store was where several of Dayton's businessmen devised the Scopes Trial. Adjacent to the drug store was the three-story Aqua Hotel,where John Neal, John Raulston, Arthur Hays, Dudley Malone, and Clarence Darrow stayed, met, or ate during the trial.*

Cumberland Presbyterian Church was built two years after the Scopes Trial; FE Robinson was a member of that church. When Clarence Darrow returned to Dayton after the Scopes Trial and saw this church, he commented,"I guess I didn't do much good here after all." The church no longer is affiliated with the Cumberland Presbyterian denomination.

First United Methodist Church was where William Jennings Bryan made his last public appearance. During Scopes's trial, the church at this site — the northwest corner of California Avenue and Market Street — was a Southern Methodist church.*

Richard Rogers home was where William Jennings Bryan and his entourage stayed during and after the Scopes Trial. Bryan died in his sleep in the Rogers' home on July 26, 1925. Only the retaining wall of the property is as it was in 1925.*

AP Haggard, the father of Scopes prosecutor Wallace Haggard, built his home across the street from the Richard Rogers home.*

Walter F Thomison built this home for Ella Darwin, his 16–year-old wife. Thomison's house is now called Magnolia House.*

Broyles–Darwin home is on the National Historic Register and housed reporters during the Scopes Trial. SD Broyles, who built the house in 1861,was the first resident of the village in 1820.*

Cedar Hill, the first hospital in Dayton,was built in 1929 by Walter Agnew Thomison. The building was used by Bryan College from 1932–1938 and 1967–1984.*

Bryan College was opened in 1930 as a memorial to Scopes prosecutor William Jennings Bryan. The campus includes several exhibits related to the Scopes Trial, and several of the college's founders were involved in the trial.*

Dayton Coal & Iron Company is a former mining operation that was managed by George Rappleyea, an instigator of the Scopes Trial. The land is now a recreational area, but coke ovens remain visible. Blast furnaces of the Dayton Coal and Iron Company were at this site, which now is covered by sports fields.

St Genevieve's Academy at 449 Delaware Road was where some children of Dayton Coal and Iron Company employees were educated before the Scopes Trial. Today the school building — which was built in 1891 — houses Fehn's 1891 Restaurant.

The Mansion was an 18-room house renovated by George Rappleyea to house several members of the defense team during the Scopes Trial. The house, which was atop a knoll overlooking the furnaces and company store of the Dayton Coal and Iron Company, had been vacant for more than a decade. Before he moved into the Morgans' home, Clarence Darrow stayed at the Mansion, and it was at the Mansion that Darrow and Kirtley Mather prepared for Darrow's questioning of William Jennings Bryan. In Inherit the Wind, several of the participants stayed at a hotel named "The Mansion".

Buttram Cemetery just outside Dayton is where many of the participants in the Scopes Trial are buried.

Dayton Drive-In Theater, which was 2.5 miles north of Dayton,was the site of the US premiere of Inherit the Wind.

McLeroy Under Scrutiny

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
McLeroy Under Scrutiny
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2009
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
10
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

As the final vote on the proposed revision of the Texas state science standards approached, the Austin American-Statesman (2009 Mar 8) offered a profile of the chair of the Texas state board of education, avowed creationist Don McLeroy. Describing his conversion to fundamentalism as a dental student, the profile explained, "He is now a young-earth creationist, meaning that he believes God created earth between 6 000 and 10 000 years ago," quoting him as saying, "When I became a Christian, it was whole-hearted ... I was totally convinced the biblical principles were right, and I was totally convinced that it could be accurate scientifically." Particularly important to McLeroy is the biblical tenet that humans were created in the image of God.

David Hillis of the University of Texas, Austin, told the newspaper, "McLeroy's amendments are not even intelligible. I wonder if perhaps he wants the standards to be confusing so that he can open the door to attacking mainstream biology textbooks and arguing for the addition of creationist and other religious literature into the science classroom." He added, "If Chairman McLeroy is successful in adding his amendments, it will be a huge embarrassment to Texas, a setback for science education and a terrible precedent for the state board's overriding academic experts in order to further their personal religious or political agendas. The victims will be the schoolchildren of Texas, who represent the future of our state."

Preparing for the March 25–27 board meeting at which the final vote on the standards was expected, McLeroy armed himself with "a large binder that is adorned on the front with a picture of Albert Einstein" and contains "numerous passages from books — such as [Kenneth R] Miller's and others on evolutionary theory — and articles that he plans to use as ammunition in the fight this month over what should be in the state's science standards." One page from his binder, the American-Statesman reported, shows a diagram of the fossil record from a book by Miller, with McLeroy's gloss, "What do we see?" 'Sudden appearance' of species." Miller replied, "That diagram shows evolution. If he thinks it says evolution does not occur, he is dead wrong. It's really quite the opposite."

With Texans still reeling from the American-Statesman's profile of McLeroy, Texas Citizens for Science disclosed that McLeroy endorsed a bizarre creationist screed, Robert Bowie Johnson Jr's Sowing Atheism: The National Academy of Sciences' Sinister Scheme to Teach Our Children They're Descended from Reptiles (Annapolis [MD]: Sowing Light Books, 2008) — aimed, of course, at Evolution, Creationism, and Science, issued by the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine in February 2008 to general acclaim (see RNCSE 2008 Jan/Feb; 28 [1]: 14). McLeroy, however, praised Sowing Atheism for showing "how the NAS attempts to seduce the unwitting reader by providing scanty empirical evidence but presented with great intellectual bullying — both secular and religious."

In a March 18, 2009, post on its blog, the Texas Freedom Network summarized the themes of the book — "Scientists are 'atheists.' Parents who want to teach their children about evolution are 'monsters.' Pastors who support sound science are 'morons'" — and pointedly asked, "Is that the sort of message Chairman Don McLeroy and his cohorts on the State Board of Education have in mind for Texas science classrooms if they succeed in their campaign to shoehorn 'weaknesses' of evolution back into the science curriculum standards?" Mavis Knight, a member of the Texas State Board of Education who supports the integrity of science education, wryly commented to the Dallas Observer (2009 Mar 18), "So much for neutrality in the chairman's position."

NCSE Honors "Friends of Darwin" for 2005

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
NCSE Honors "Friends of Darwin" for 2005
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2009
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
33–34
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Every year, NCSE honors a few exceptional people for their support of evolution education and/or their service to NCSE. The "Friend of Darwin" awards are proposed by the staff and approved by the board at its annual meeting; the recipients for the award for a given year are thus selected in the spring of the following year. NCSE usually arranges for the awards to be presented to their recipients by their family, colleagues, and friends, so it often takes a while before a public announcement is possible. Here, finally, are the Friends of Darwin for 2005.

Ed Barber served as the director of the college and trade department for the publisher WW Norton and Company, where he is now a senior editor. NCSE Supporter Laurie R Godfrey writes that Barber "took great pleasure in working with me on the first edition of Scientists Confront Creationism. Ed is a kind-hearted and knowledgeable editor; he has a sophisticated knowledge of evolutionary biology, having worked so closely and for so many years with one of my own mentors from Harvard, Stephen Jay Gould, among others. He was especially proud, I think, to have published a series of popular Gould books, including compilations of the articles that he wrote for Natural History magazine. Most of all, he knows how to help authors connect with the general public."

Fred Edwords is currently the leader of the United Coalition of Reason. He previously served as director of communications for the American Humanist Association, after having served as its executive director from 1984 to 1999 and as editor of its journal The Humanist from 1994 to 2006. Back in the heyday of creationism/evolution debates, Edwords was on the front lines, debating such creationist luminaries as Duane Gish and Henry M Morris of the Institute for Creation Research. As a result of his debate experiences, he cofounded and edited the journal Creation/Evolution from 1980 to 1991, originally published by the AHA but acquired by NCSE in 1991. He also served on NCSE's board of directors from 1982 to 1992. "Fred's knowledge, experience, and plain horse sense combined to make him a formidable ally in the evolution wars," commented NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott.

Jack Krebs, a high school teacher in Lawrence, Kansas, is a former president and current board member of Kansas Citizens for Science (http://www.kcfs.org), the grassroots organization that fought effectively for the integrity of science education in Kansas when the state board of education rewrote the state science standards to disparage the scientific status of evolution in 1999 and again in 2005. Always civil, always cogent, Krebs was tireless in his speaking and writing on behalf of the uncompromised teaching of evolution in the Sunflower State; thanks to his and KCFS's work, a scientifically appropriate and pedagogically responsible treatment of evolution was restored to the state science standards when moderates regained power on the board in 2001 and again in 2007.

Steve Rissing is professor of evolution, ecology, and organismal biology at the Ohio State University, and a member of the board of Ohio Citizens for Science (http://www.ohioscience.org), the grassroots organization that fought effectively for the integrity of science education in Ohio when the state board of education adopted "critical analysis" language in its state science standards in 2002 and then adopted a corresponding model lesson plan derived from creationist sources in 2004. Always concerned with the public understanding of science in general, he also played a major role in revamping the way introductory-level biology courses are taught at Ohio State, coauthored a debunking treatment of creationist myths about Haeckel for The American Biology Teacher, and contributed a bimonthly column about science to the Columbus Dispatch.

Carl Zimmer is the author of such popular books about evolution and related topics as Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, revised edition (New York: Harper Perennial, 2006), which Scientific American's reviewer described as "as fine a book as one will find on the subject"; The Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins (New York: HarperCollins, 2005); Microcosm: E coli and the New Science of Life (New York: Pantheon, 2008), and the forthcoming textbook The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution (Greenwood Village [CO]: Roberts and Company, 2009). His honors include the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences Science Journalism Award in 2004 and the National Academies Science Communication Award in 2007 for "his diverse and consistently interesting coverage of evolution and unexpected biology."

Michael Zimmerman is Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor of Biology at Butler University. In 2004, concerned about attempt to undermine the teaching of evolution in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, he recruited local members of the Christian clergy to endorse a statement affirming the compatibility of evolutionary science with their faith. So successful was the Clergy Letter Project that Zimmerman took it national; today, there are almost 12 000 signatories from Christian denominations, with hundreds in parallel projects for Unitarian Universalist clergy and rabbis. Zimmerman also organized the Evolution Weekend project, in which members of the clergy conduct events centering on evolution and faith on or around Darwin's birthday; over 1000 churches participated in 2009. He is also helping to connect scientists with members of the clergy who have questions about science.

Finally, special Friend of Darwin awards were conveyed to the eleven plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the seminal 2005 case establishing the unconstitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" creationism in the public schools — Tammy Kitzmiller, Bryan Rehm, Christy Rehm, Deborah Fenimore, Joel Lieb, Steven Stough, Beth Eveland, Cynthia Sneath, Julie Smith, Aralene "Barrie" D Callahan, and Frederick B Callahan — in recognition of their bravery in challenging the Dover Area School Board's policy of requiring a disclaimer about evolution to be read to students in Dover's high school. The awards were presented in 2007 by Kevin Padian, the president of NCSE's board of directors, at a gathering of the plaintiffs and their friends and supporters to watch Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, the NOVA documentary about the case.

We thank these and all NCSE members for their support of our organization and our mission. We cannot — and do not — do it alone!


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

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

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.

Testimony Before the Texas State Board of Education

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Testimony Before the Texas State Board of Education
Author(s): 
Joshua Rosenau
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2009
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
6–7
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Mr Chairman, members of the board, thank you for the chance to speak with you about the draft science TEKS.

The science TEKS on the books now were given an F in a 2005 survey of state science standards by the politically conservative Thomas Fordham Institute, noting that "they produce breadth of assertion instead of depth of understanding."

The TEKS presented by your expert writing committees addressed many of those problems. For instance, they replaced inaccurate and misleading references to "strengths and weaknesses" with a more accurate description of the scientific process.

On behalf of the students, parents, teachers, and scientists represented by the National Center for Science Education, thank you for voting to uphold that decision. You showed the respect this body has for the expertise of Texan scientists and educators.

I am not alone in praising that decision. I am proud to present you with these letters and statements signed by over 60 scientific and educational societies, all thanking you for listening to the experts on your writing committees about leaving "weaknesses" out of the standards. I know of no such society opposing that decision.

I am confident you will show the same respect for these scientists' and teachers' concerns over some amendments which you passed in January.

Fifty-four societies, from the American Institute for Biological Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association to the Biotechnology Institute and the Society of Sedimentary Geology signed a statement drafted by NCSE urging you to remove and reject amendments which single out evolution for scrutiny beyond that applied to other scientific theories, or which inaccurately and misleadingly describing these ideas as scientifically controversial. We're especially concerned by references to "sudden appearance," which may sound confusingly similar to creationist rhetoric about "abrupt appearance" to the untrained ears of a student, just as references elsewhere to "arguments against universal common descent" may be taken as a call for creationist claims that go beyond the standards' clear statement about the limits of science.

I'd be happy to go into further details of my concerns about these amendments if you have any questions.

The National Center for Science Education and these many scientific societies urge the board to delay or reject outright any further amendments which have not been reviewed by your writing committees and the community of Texas scientists and educators. Do not be distracted by discredited creationist claims such as that microbes are irreducibly complex or that the Cambrian Explosion is inexplicable. Do not single out evolution or related concepts in geoscience for scrutiny beyond that given to every other scientific topic.

Texas students deserve a world-class education, and this revision process could move them toward that goal … or hold them back. Please, listen to the voices of scientists and educators, listen to the writing committees you chose, and restore and protect honest science in the TEKS.

[This statement was presented to the Texas state board of education on March 25, 2009.]

About the Author(s): 

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

Joshua Rosenau is Public Information Project Director at NCSE.

Texas Science Standards and March Madness

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Texas Science Standards and March Madness: Did We Win or Lose?
Author(s): 
Steven Schafersman
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2009
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
4–6
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

The revisions of my state's science standards (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, TEKS) by the State Board of Education (SBOE) are confusing and controversial. News articles following the March 25–27, 2009 meeting reported that the scientific community had succeeded in turning back proposals by the Discovery Institute (DI) and religious radicals on the SBOE that would have weakened science education. The DI and radical SBOE members, on the other hand, gleefully claimed a great victory in their blogs and reports. Who was right?

The correct answer is neither. The results were mixed: science education both won and lost. Texas Citizens for Science (TCS) worked during the past year with several partners — NCSE, the Texas Freedom Network, and several science and science education professors from Texas universities —to preserve the accuracy and reliability of science education in Texas during the state's science education standards adoption process. In the end, our efforts did not produce the results we wanted and that Texas's students deserved. It is important to examine why.

Political landscapes

The political situation in Texas is such that the religious right is very strong and controls the state Republican Party. The 15-member SBOE has seven members who are religiously conservative Republicans: these individuals are biblical literalists and creationists, including the board's chair Don McLeroy (appointed by a governor who shares his religious views). We have always had some of these on the state board, but right now there are seven of them, and they are well-organized, well-disciplined, and immune to embarrassment despite their frequent public expressions of ignorance, stupidity, and bigotry. If they pick up just a single additional vote — and they did for a variety of reasons — they can do whatever they want.

The science standards writing panels ultimately produced an excellent set of standards that should have been adopted without change, but the SBOE felt the need to modify them. The outcome of the process was that the scientific method standard and many of the standards that concern cosmic and biological evolution in the biology and earth and space science (ESS) standards were compromised. It is true that the very worst language was avoided, but only by very close 8–7 votes for which the majority disappeared when qualifying or debilitating substitute amendments — suggested as "compromises" — were proposed. Getting rid of the really antiscientific language was a victory, but it was only a partial victory. When their very worst antiscientific amendments failed, creationist members immediately came back with a new substitutes that were less obviously antiscience. Some of these passed.

The creationist SBOE members voted together as a bloc every time. The eight pro-science members — five Democrats and three Republicans — did not vote as a pro-science bloc. Most of the pro-science board members are friendly, moderate-to-conservative individuals who believe in collegiality, cooperation, and compromise, so most were willing to accept the weaker but still flawed substitute amendments. I could sense the emotional compulsion in some board members to vote with a colleague for a less egregious amendment and to find some compromise on controversial issues. The antiscience SBOE members exploited this quality again and again.

The pro-science Republican members may have felt more pressure to compromise (they were being politically assaulted by their own party and by thousands of messages, letters, and phone calls from their fundamentalist and creationist constituents). Several had been attacked in their primaries — a political tactic that had increased the number of creationists on the board from four in 2003 to seven in 2008. Sometimes compromise is good, but compromise on science education standards should not result in students' being forced to learn inaccurate and misleading lessons about scientific knowledge.

The antiscience BSOE members were able to manipulate the process by passing a rule that the pro-science members probably thought was inconsequential: requiring votes on amendments without members' being allowed to talk to their science experts first or hearing scientific testimony during board debate. Thus, pro-science BSOE members — who were not scientists themselves — were forced to vote without understanding what they were voting on. Thus, the board approved several antiscience amendments in January and March.

I explained this problem to pro-science SBOE members and recommended that they always vote "no" to any amendment that the antiscience side proposed, but their plan was to seek a compromise on amendments and standards that were controversial within the board. The antiscience proposals ultimately succeeded because their supporters falsely claimed that their amendments were approved by "science experts" and scholarly publications, and in some cases presented their amendments in a form that did not reveal that vital subject matter was being removed.

Furthermore, the amendments ranged over the map. One SBOE member proposed thirteen bad amendments to ESS in approximately 20 minutes. She talked so fast and so confidently — repeatedly referring to her "scientific experts" who were actually "intelligent design" (ID) creationists — that she managed to convince fellow board members to pass five of them.

By far the worst amendment was to standard (3)(A) (formerly the "strengths and weaknesses" provision), which discusses the scientific method. The original proposal by the science writing panels said simply, "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observation testing." The SBOE changed this to:

in all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.

The word "critique" was added to suggest that scientific explanations should be criticized by students, even though it is redundant and inappropriate, since "critique" correctly used means "analyze and evaluate", not criticize. Even worse, the phrase "all sides of evidence of those scientific explanations" awkwardly and inaccurately suggests that all scientific explanations have "sides" when in fact most do not, especially at the level science is taught in high school. The new words were deliberately added, of course, to attack biology textbooks in the future if they do not include "critiques" of evolution or present the bogus "evidence" that creationists mistakenly believe undermines or refutes evolution.

Curricular "time bombs"

SBOE chairman Don McLeroy said he would warn publishers to be sure to cover "all sides" of culturally controversial issues, such as evolution, as specified by these new standards or risk having their textbooks rejected. If SBOE members find "problems" with the books, the publishers could also be told to fix the "errors" to avoid rejection. What will publishers do when faced with this unethical and ugly extortion? If history is a guide, they will make whatever changes are necessary to make sure their textbooks are adopted in Texas or lose many millions of dollars in sales.

Similar time bombs inserted into the proposed biology standards by the SBOE are the requirements to:

analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record;

analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell; and

analyze and evaluate the evidence regarding formation of simple organic molecules and their organization into long complex molecules having information such as the DNA molecule for self-replicating life.

To many, these new statements may be innocuous, but they were inserted to encourage publishers to include information in biology textbooks that may undermine evolution education and to punish publishers if they do not.

The first one was inserted because SBOE creationists believe that a "sudden appearance" of fossils means they were specially created, rather than reflecting an imperfect fossil record. SBOE members, using misinformation from the DI, will try to force publishers to suggest to students that this pattern in the fossil record is a weakness of evolution. Ideally, publishers could satisfy this standard by including accurate and reliable information about all rates and modes of fossil evolution, including gradual fossil evolution and transitional fossils, but the SBOE still can veto these texts.

Two standards were inserted to attempt to force publishers to tell students that the cell and information-carrying molecules are so complex that evolution cannot explain them (implying that some extranatural process is necessary). Cells and information-carrying molecules are complex and their chemical processes are not totally explained, but that gives no license to incorporate extranatural processes into the science curriculum. Again, the standard will try to make publishers include bogus or misleading information about complex processes and molecules that antiscience members believe demonstrates the inadequacy of evolution, and this could pose problems for publishers in the future.

Only one time bomb was inserted in the new ESS standards. This was a requirement to discuss the complexity of life in the origin-of-life standard (we can be relieved that the origin-of-life standard itself was not removed). Antiscience SBOE members did remove requirements that specify that the universe is about 14 billion years old and that discuss the rate and diversity of evolution of fossils. However, since two relevant standards require discussion of the age of the universe and the evolution of fossils, these will not hinder textbook authors and publishers from including this information in ESS textbooks. Furthermore the YECs on the board apparently overlooked standard (7)(C), which mentions "earth's approximate 4.6–billion-year history"; it remained unchanged. In light of the other compromises they racked up, the creationist members probably could have changed (7)(C) to "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" if they had just tried.

Finally, a Democratic SBOE member added a requirement to the Environmental Systems standards to "analyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming", but this time bomb will backfire, too. Textbook authors and publishers of environmental science textbooks now may have to include common arguments against climate change, all of which are easily refuted by scientists (see "How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic"; available on-line at http://www.grist.org/article/series/skeptics/).

Holding our own … for now

Textbook authors and publishers should still be able to use the new standards to write good textbooks. Despite all the problems with the process, the numerous substandard standards do not contain explicit requirements to include antiscientific information, so they do not force publishers to put inaccurate or unreliable science textbooks up for adoption — although they allow and even solicit it. For example, the requirement to "analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations" and to examine "all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations" can be easily met by textbook publishers and authors by (1) truthfully stating that there is only one side to most scientific explanations and all that are covered in a high school biology course; (2) pointing out that the standard specifically limits the required examination to "scientific" evidence and explanations, excluding antiscientific information or misrepresentations that some SBOE members and the DI claims should be included; and (3) interpreting the "all sides of…scientific explanations" requirement to mean a much broader discussion of evolution than they normally would present. Perhaps they could include discussions of evolutionary psychology, and the evolution of human intelligence or of religious belief, all of which do indeed have several scientific "sides". By following these guidelines, textbook publishers, authors, and teachers can successfully prepare textbooks and perform instruction that are completely scientific.

The first problem we face in Texas is that content in biology and ESS textbooks is no longer controlled by the Texas science education standards, but by the ability of textbook publishers and authors to stand up to the political whims of members of the SBOE. The second problem is that science textbooks come up for adoption in 2011, so scientists and science advocates will have to return to Austin and the SBOE to resist attempts to weaken science education. The composition of the SBOE may be different then, so attempts to damage science books may fail as in 2003. But if there are no changes, there will be another close fight.

The third and worst problem we face in Texas is that the science TEKS are also the basis for classroom curriculum and statewide end-of-course exams. Science teachers were already operating in a climate of uncertainty, and their situation is now even worse. They may downgrade their emphasis of or even hesitate to teach the topics that the SBOE has made controversial, for fear of being criticized and reprimanded. The Texas Education Agency — the state's Department of Education — is influenced by antiscience activists. Their end-of-course biology exams may contain questions focused on alleged problems with evolution and the history of life, not test whether the students have accurate and reliable knowledge of this field. Teachers and students will be forced to prepare for this pseudoscientific nonsense if they want to pass the exams.

The very bad situation in Texas will not change until there is a change in political leadership in this state. Science education and many other instructional disciplines have been politicized to an alarming extent in Texas (currently, the social studies standards are being subjected to the same attacks that science and English just endured). Under the new standards, students in Texas will receive a blighted science education and fall further behind their peers in other states and other countries. We science advocates still have much work to do.

About the Author(s): 

Steven Schafersman
Texas Citizens for Science
6202 Driftwood Drive
Midland TX 79707
tcs@texscience.org

Steven Schafersman is the president of Texas Citizens for Science (http://www.texscience.org). He received NCSE's Friend of Darwin award for 2004 in recognition of his decades of defending the integrity of science in Texas.

The Kilosteve

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Kilosteve
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2009
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
34–35
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

With the addition of Steve #1000 on February 12, 2009, NCSE's Project Steve attained the kilosteve mark. A tongue-in-cheek parody of the long-standing creationist tradition of amassing lists of "scientists who doubt evolution" or "scientists who dissent from Darwinism," Project Steve mocks such lists by restricting its signatories to scientists whose first name is Steve. (Cognates are also accepted, such as Stephanie, Esteban, Istvan, Stefano, or even Tapani — the Finnish equivalent.) About 1% of the United States population possesses such a first name, so each signatory represents about 100 potential signatories. ("Steve" was selected in honor of the late Stephen Jay Gould, a Supporter of NCSE and a dauntless defender of evolution education.)

Steve #1000 was announced at the Improbable Research press conference and crowned at the Improbable Research show, both held on February 13, 2009, as part of the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott and Steve Mirsky, long-time writer, columnist, and podcaster for Scientific American, presented a commemorative plaque to — of all people — Steven P Darwin, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the herbarium at Tulane University. In a February 14, 2009, press release (available on-line at http://ncse.com/news/2009/02/steve-darwin-is-steve-1000-004308), Darwin commented, "This is the first time that being a Darwin — or a Steve — has paid off!" Videos of the press conference and the award ceremony are available on-line at NCSE's YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd), and a Scientific American podcast is available online at http://www.sciam.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=count-on-steves-to-defend-darwin-09-02-20.

The fact that Steve #1000 hails from Louisiana is particularly ironic, since the state recently enacted a law that threatens to open the door for creationism and scientifically unwarranted critiques of evolution to be taught in public school science classes. When a policy implementing the law was drafted, a provision that prohibited the use of materials that teach creationism in the public schools was deleted. Recently, the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology announced that, due to the anti-evolution law, it would not hold its 2011 conference in New Orleans; a spokesperson for the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau told the weekly New Orleans City Business (2009 Feb 23) that the city would lose about $2.7 million as a result of SICB's decision. (For background, see RNCSE 2008 Mar/Apr; 28 [2]: 8–11; 2008 July/Aug; 28 [4]: 4–10; 2009 Mar/Apr; 29 [2]: 5–7.)

Although the idea of Project Steve is frivolous, the statement is serious. It reads

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to 'intelligent design,' to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation's public schools."

Currently, there are 1088 signatories to Project Steve, including 100% of eligible Nobel laureates (Steven Weinberg and Steven Chu), 100% of eligible members of President Obama's Cabinet (Steven Chu, the Secretary of Energy), at least ten members of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors of widely used textbooks such as Molecular Biology of the Gene, Psychology: An Evolutionary Approach, and Introduction to Organic Geochemistry, and the authors of popular science books such as A Brief History of Time, Why We Age, and Darwin's Ghost. When last surveyed in February 2006, 54% of the signatories work in the biological sciences proper; 61% work in related fields in the life sciences.

Additionally, Project Steve appeared in Steven Pinker's recent book, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (New York: Viking, 2007). Pinker, himself a single-digit Steve, described it as "the most formidable weapon in the fight against neo-creationism today," adding, "Part satire, part memorial to Stephen Jay Gould, the project maintains a Steve-O-Meter (now pointing past 800) and has spun off a T-shirt, a song, a mascot (Professor Steve Steve, a panda puppet), and a paper in the respected scientific journal Annals of Improbable Research called 'The Morphology of Steve' (based on the T-shirt sizes ordered by the signatories)."

For further information about Project Steve, visit http://ncse.com/taking-action/project-steve.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

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

Glenn Branch is NCSE's Deputy Director.

Review: Adam's Ancestors

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
43
Reviewer: 
J David Pleins
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Adam's Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins
Author(s): 
David N Livingstone
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. 301 pages

Some trips down memory lane in the creationism/evolution debate can be enlightening, others disturbing.

In a previous volume, Livingstone enlightened us by uncovering the early conservative Christian backers of Darwin, those he dubbed Darwin's Forgotten Defenders (Grand Rapids [MI]: Eerdmans, 1987). In his current exploration, Livingstone takes us into the heterodox and racially-charged world of Adam's preadamite ancestors. If we thought we understood the history of the creationism/evolution debate, Livingstone once again upends the standard categories to reveal new fault lines in the bitter battles over the Bible, theology, and science.

Livingstone begins by turning the clock back to the age of heresy to highlight the provocative views of Isaac La Peyrère. Peyrère met the rising tide of the expanding European knowledge of ancient civilizations and the increasing encounters with non-European populations by suggesting that there were men before Adam. If the Chinese and Egyptians were right to say civilization is far older than Adam and if the bewildering array of races on earth suggest colors and customs unknown to Noah's sons, then logically the Bible's story is limited in time and scope. By suggesting there were men before Adam, Peyrère managed to reconcile the Bible and modern knowledge while earning the disdain of many a high churchman.

Thus, the preadamite heresy was born. Ironically, Peyrère's heresy would go on to become an orthodox leitmotif in the 19th and 20th centuries. Livingstone's story is designed to tell us how this topsy-turvy state of affairs came to dominate the discussion of human origins before and after Darwin.

The debates that unfolded in the 18th and 19th centuries hinged on how, scripturally-speaking, to account for the world's diverse races. Some said the climate was the shaping force. Others said God created different races for different places. Some suggested there were multiple Adams, while others claimed there were two creations — the creation of the preadamites in Genesis 1 and the creation of the Adamites in Genesis 2. Whether the preadamites died off before Adam or coexisted became a theological concern. Matters of Original Sin and the dangers of race mingling were at stake. In each case, the effort was made to reconcile Genesis with the new knowledge of world geography and global cultures. Peyrère's heresy was seed cast on fertile soil.

Behind the clever theological schemes, Livingstone reminds us, there was a hellish reality. In many cases, theological gamesmanship went hand-in-hand with the global slave trade and imperial adventures. Defenders of the faith fell rather easily into ranking the races, with white Europeans always coming out on top of the divine pecking order. Whether the theologians spoke in terms of climate, diverse centers of creation, or even common descent from Adam, invariably blacks and other groups trailed behind white Europeans in spiritual worth.

Against this backdrop, the major players of the day can be seen in a new light. Louis Agassiz's distinct zones of God's creation appear awfully racist, whereas the Darwinian view of the common descent of humans and apes looks far less racist and much more egalitarian.

By this point, Peyrère's heresy was here to stay.

After Darwin, some who wished to link the Bible and science would speculate about whether Adam evolved from his preadamite ancestors. Eventually, many Catholics would say that the human body did evolve, but that the human soul takes up residence in a fetus during the gestation period. In other post-Darwinian theological circles, the racist angle would reassert itself as writers worried over whether Adam's white heirs should intermarry with the brutish preadamite blacks, thereby diluting Caucasian spiritual purity.

It is hard to conceive of all the useless theological ink spilled in the name of preadamic racism. Yet, lest the secular evolutionist begin to gloat over Darwin's triumph, Livingstone reminds us that the secularists of the period could play the multiple centers of origin game with similar racist intent. The schools of anthropology of the 19th century are replete with racial invective that parallels the odiousness of preadamite religious rhetoric. Theological references to Adam and preadamite are replaced by talk of races as "varieties" and "species." Somehow, in all the secularist charts, portraits, and cranial measurements, primitive blacks stood several notches below the superior white.

One need not have been religious to be racist in the 19th and 20th centuries. True, there were voices, like some abolitionists, who rose above the devilish din, but Livingstone's tawdry tale (well-told) airs the dirty laundry that wafted on both sides of the creation- evolution divide.

Livingstone's richly detailed, amply illustrated work stands as a warning to a religion that loses its ethical moorings and a science that betrays basic human dignity. This is an unsettling book. The skeletons are out of the scientific and theological closet. Will we heed the lessons Livingstone has set out for us?

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

J David Pleins
Department of Religious Studies
Santa Clara University
Santa Clara CA 95053
jpleins@scu.edu

J David Pleins is Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University. He is the author of When the Great Abyss Opened: Classic and Contemporary Readings of Noah's Flood (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Review: Evolution and Religious Creation Myths

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
38-39
Reviewer: 
Randy Moore
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Evolution and Religious Creation Myths: How Scientists Respond
Author(s): 
Paul F Lurquin and Linda Stone
New York:Oxford University Press, 2007. 240 pages

Evolution and Religious Creation Myths: How Scientists Respond is meant to arm "the public with facts about the differences between myth and science, fiction and theory." The book is intended as a college textbook; it contains a glossary, sections titled "Things to think about" at the end of each chapter, and an appendix of experiments for readers to perform.

Evolution and Religious Creation Myths is generally well-written and addresses many of the topics that are integral to the evolution/ creationism controversy. The book is laid out as follows.

Chapter 1 ("Creationism and intelligent design: The evolution of an idea") covers familiar ground — for example, that there are many different creation myths, that "intelligent design" (ID) is neither science nor a new idea, and that many creationists selectively claim that evolution is "just a theory" (that is, they do not make such claims about the germ theory of disease). This section of the chapter concludes with "... God as creator is right as a matter of religious faith, and evolution by natural selection is right as a matter of science" (p 14). Many readers will question this claim because it is often impossible to separate creation myths from the value systems they support. For example, conservative Christians often defend their values by defending their conception of how God created the universe; Answers in Genesis's $27-million Creation Museum is a monument to how many people link their value systems to a creation myth. That museum, which blames the teaching of evolution for societal ills such as divorce, school violence, and pornography, was visited by more than 360 000 patrons during its first year of operation.

Chapter 2 ("What is evolutionary biology and where is it coming from?") discusses some of the history of evolutionary thought while focusing on Buffon, Lamarck, Lyell, Darwin, and Wallace. The stories in this chapter will be familiar to RNCSE's readers. Although there is a considerable discussion of finches, the authors do not make clear that "Darwin's finches" were not mentioned in the first edition of On the Origin of Species, and became an icon of biology only after David Lack published Darwin's Finches (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1947). I was disappointed that there was no mention of Lyell's struggles with science and faith.

Chapter 3 ("Creationist purpose and irreducible complexity rebutted") discusses several topics challenged by creationists, including radiometric dating, molecular biology and biochemistry, and the evolution of antibiotic resistance, the eye, bacterial flagella, and the immune system. The chapter concludes with discussions of whether ID and "creation science" are sciences, and whether ID-based research has been published in scientific journals. Again, the stories in this chapter will be familiar to most readers of RNCSE. There is no discussion of any of the court decisions that have addressed "creation science" and ID.

Chapter 4 ("The origins and evolution of Homo sapiens") discusses human evolution, a topic that frightens many creationists. The authors concisely discuss drift, the migration out of Africa, cultural evolution, and the abundance of fossil evidence supporting current views of human evolution. The authors also raise intriguing questions about our ancestors (for example, what caused the demise of Neanderthals?).

Chapters 5 ("The origins of life and the cosmos as evolutionary themes") and 6 ("Evolution of the DNA world and the chance events that accompanied it") are the most interesting parts of the book. The authors do an excellent job of discussing — among other things — abiogenesis (including the difficulties with the experiments of Stanley Miller), the RNA world, the appearance of genetic information, the DNA world, and the evolution of eukaryotes. The authors also contrast probabilistic arguments with teleological ones, noting that the teleology that underlies ID and other types of creationism places these beliefs at odds with all of science, not just evolution.

Chapter 7 ("The dangers of creationism") completes the book with discussions of the political ramifications of evolution and creationism (for example, how conservatives often appeal to the anti-intellectualism of their constituents), the business of creationism, and the importance of a scientifically literate public. Again, the examples and stories will be familiar to readers of RNCSE. The authors note that the Discovery Institute had revenues of $4.1 million in 2003, but do not mention any of the other anti-evolution organizations (such as Answers in Genesis, the revenues of which far exceed those of the Discovery Institute).

Evolution and Religious Creation Myths has many strengths. However, some topics are tantalizingly incomplete. For example, despite the book's title, only about 10 pages are devoted to religious myths that are outside of biblical literalism.

The authors write, "back in those days, the State of Tennessee had banned evolution from its science curriculum ..." (p ix). In fact, Tennessee made it a crime for teachers in public schools (including universities) "to teach any theory that denies the Story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animal." That is, Tennessee (and, subsequently two other states — Arkansas and Mississippi) banned only the teaching of human evolution (it would have presumably been acceptable to discuss the evolution of cockroaches or turnips). Noting the legislative sensitivity to human evolution would have helped to place the chapter on human evolution into better context.

The authors correctly note, "Most professional scientists, even thought they are deeply irritated by all the attacks against evolution, have remained largely silent in public forms, at least in forums that involve the general public" (p x). It would have been helpful to remind readers that it has usually been high school teachers (for example, John Scopes, Susan Epperson, and Don Aguillard) who have resisted creationists in courts, the most public of forums. The primary battlefield of the creationism/ evolution wars in the US educational system is the high school biology classroom, where surprisingly high percentages of teachers continue to include creationism in their courses.

Almost half of the adults in the United States believe that humans were created by a deity approximately 10 000 years ago and that evolution — the foundation of biology — is a myth. Evolution and Religious Creation Myths will help readers to respond to such nonsense.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

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).

Review: Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
39-40
Reviewer: 
Peter Dodson
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters
Author(s): 
Donald R Prothero
New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. 381 pages.

Arch-creationist Duane Gish proclaimed that fossils say "no!" to evolution. Creationists perennially make bizarre claims about the supposed deficiencies of the fossil record. This book is motivated by the challenge of "intelligent design" (ID) and the recent Kitzmilller v. Dover Area School Board case decided in federal court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Don Prothero of Occidental College is a very good vertebrate paleontologist. He has written a book to provide definitive resources on exactly what the fossil record shows.

Prothero is equal to his task. He is unusually broad in his background and experiences. Although he is an expert on Late Cenozoic ungulate mammals, he has also published on planktonic microfossils. He is a wily veteran of successful debates with Gish. Like Stephen Jay Gould, he demonstrates familiarity with the Bible, and quotes it frequently to advantage. I am in awe of his ability to read the New Testament in Greek. He is well versed in the history of science and religion and makes it clear that he sees no necessary conflict between science and religion.

The book is divided into two parts. Part I (141 pages) examines exactly what we understand by evolution. Prothero considers the nature of science itself, and the relationship of evolution to biology. The biological material brims with up-to-date content, including a nice discussion of the significance of evo-devo and of hox genes. Very useful is the section aptly titled "Evolution happens all the time!" (p 113–8). He reviews contemporary examples of evolutionary change such as sockeye salmon in Washington state, three-spine sticklebacks in Alaska and Norway, codfishes in the Western Atlantic, and pesticide resistance in insects. He ends this section with a lovely quote from entomologist Martin Taylor, lamenting of farmers in the southern United States: "These people are trying to ban the teaching of evolution while their own cotton crops are failing because of evolution" (p 118).

In the chapter on systematics and evolution, Prothero hammers the point that the course of evolution is not progressive as conceptualized in such outmoded historical concepts as the scale of nature or the great chain of being but rather takes the form of a bush. Creationist insistence on missing links depends on a metaphor scientists (but not necessarily journalists) have long since discarded. He fully develops concepts of cladistics that systematists universally rely upon today.

Part II (215 pages) is the heart of the matter, a survey of the major features of the fossil record from the origins of life to the appearance of humans. I found chapter 7 ("Cambrian 'explosion' — or 'slow fuse'?") quite useful. To Darwin and his contemporaries it appeared that the geological record showed no evidence of life for an immense interval of Precambrian time, and then all of a sudden life appeared in profusion during the Cambrian Period. Since the 1940s there has been a steady increase in discoveries of soft-bodied fossils and microfossils from the Precambrian, including the famous metazoan radiation of the late Precambrian, with its now world-wide Ediacaran faunas. It is also clear that the profusion of hard-bodied fossils such as trilobites, brachiopods, and sponge-like archaeocyathids that are so apparent in rocks came about 25 million years after the beginning of the Cambrian, and was preceded by a reasonably diverse fauna of small shelly fossils that had long been ignored. Thus the Cambrian explosion turns out to be more apparent than real, and another creationist canard bites the dust!

At one time the finest example of an early tetrapod that we could use was Ichthyostega, an unequivocal amphibian. Tiktaalik roseae, described only in 2006, is as sweet an intermediate fossil as can be imagined. Although just on the fish side of the transition, this "fishapod" from the Canadian Arctic has the flattened skull of a tetrapod and a neck, unheard of in a fish. The forefins show a humerus, radius, and ulna, but bear fin-rays, not fingers. Early tetrapods such as Acanthostega and Tulerpeton show that seven or eight fingers preceded the familiar tetrapod pattern of five fingers.

The book proceeds seriatim through seminal recent discoveries in tetrapods, amniotes, dinosaurs to birds and then to mammals. Prothero points out that the evolution of horses, elucidated since the 1870s, remains one of the finest demonstrations of evolutionary change over time. Horse evolution traced over 50 million years exhibits bushiness and lack of directedness. Similar cases can be made for rhinoceros, camels, tapirs, artiodactyls, and elephants. Whale evolution has been clarified by the recent discovery of important fossils from Pakistan, especially Ambulocetus, the Eocene "walking whale", and Rodhocetus, the proto-whale with the ankle of an artiodactyl. Finally, the book documents the richness of the hominin fossil record, which has been substantially enhanced by new finds of the past decade. Prothero demonstrates atavisms in humans (including several arresting photographs of fleshy tails) that make no sense in terms of "intelligent design", but which are easily understandable as developmental anomalies revealing our evolutionary antecedents.

The book is beautifully illustrated with photos and drawings of fossils, and phylogenetic diagrams. It is enlivened with topical cartoons skewering creationists. The book is very valuable as a demonstration of the quality of the fossil record, which has improved dramatically in the past decade. It is a fine resource for those whose knowledge of either paleontology or evolutionary biology can use a little dusting off and polishing. We often accuse creationists of using outdated arguments. Reading a book such as Prothero's will ensure that we do not do the same.

I do have a complaint, however. The book preaches to the converted. Its polemical tone can become wearying and may produce the unintended effect of nudging undecided readers in the wrong direction. Poorly disguising his contempt, Prothero's rhetoric is sometimes over the top, as when he refers to "hard working, dedicated, self-sacrificing biologists who spend years enduring harsh conditions in the field" in contrast to "creationists who sit in their comfortable homes and write drivel" (p 113). Please! The facts of paleontology stand on their own. They do not need to be undermined by rhetorical shenanigans.

About the Author(s): 

Peter Dodson
Department of Animal Biology
School of Veterinary Medicine
3800 Spruce St
Philadelphia PA 19104-6045
dodsonp@vet.upenn.edu

Peter Dodson is Professor of Anatomy and Paleontology at the University of Pennsylvania, and a coeditor of The Dinosauria, second edition (Berkeley [CA]: University of California Press, 2004).

Review: God or Gorilla

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
44-45
Reviewer: 
Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
God or Gorilla: Images of Evolution in the Jazz Age
Author(s): 
Constance Areson Clark
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. 312 pages

Images matter. Whether through a political campaign's choice of symbols, a news headline's metaphors, or a cartoonist's deft exaggeration of a famous face, visual images persist in popular culture and influence public reaction to ideas, people, and, yes, science. Animals have long been used to embody subtle messages — automobile brands chosen to imply speed, or nicknames that capture essential elements of personality — but few animals carry such rich cultural baggage as nonhuman primates. Don't "monkey" around with or make a "monkey" of me! As historian Constance Areson Clark demonstrates in her engaging comparison of cultural and scientific images of evolution, the image choices made by scientists, anti-evolutionists, cartoonists, museum curators, and the press all helped to shape public debate during the 1920s and 1930s and not always in the direction intended.

The book's title might, at first glance, seem just another sensational use of such images, but, in fact, it simultaneously references both a central tract of the anti-evolution debate and the ambiguous personal attitudes of one of evolution's most visible defenders. Alfred Watterson McCann's 1922 book God — or Gorilla attacked paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn and challenged the accuracy of the "Hall of the Age of Man" in the American Museum of Natural History that Osborn headed. McCann's publication — one of many salvos in a publicity battle which, Clark points out, raged long before the trial of John T Scopes — targeted a staid and admired museum (a veritable castle of scientific prominence and prestige) and the wealthy and socially connected Osborn, who had been active in the debate against fundamentalists such as McCann, John Roach Straton, and William Jennings Bryan. Osborn was, however, a religious man, an elitist, and a supporter of eugenics. He publicly argued that evolution supported "Christian values" and demonstrated that humankind had always struggled for improvement, physically as well as spiritually, yet he privately expressed distaste for the "image of a simian ancestry." Such ambiguity, Clark points out, characterized the attitudes of many scientists at the time.

Clark skillfully analyzes the technical aspects of the debates (as science's understanding of human evolution was being refined and challenged), but her book holds interest outside the history of science because she also dissects the era's popular culture images of monkeys, chimpanzees, gorillas, and "cavemen" and analyzes strategies chosen or ignored by scientists in their efforts to defend evolution. A "contest among images" played out in the pages of newspapers and magazines, in radio talks, and in museum halls. Everyone — scientists and theologians, evolutionists and antievolutionists — had an agenda; all sought cultural supremacy of their ideas, sought to have their interpretation of life's origins, and of the appropriate delineation of the territory of science and religion, prevail in the public mind. The weapons in that battle continue to be exploited today — satire, ridicule, lampoonery, and photographic comparisons of "man" and "ape." As Clark notes, "the evolution debate was about so much more than the substance of science."

One complicating factor was the increasing complexity of the relevant biology, geology, paleontology, and anthropology. Even though institutions like the nonprofit news agency Science Service were being created to improve public communication, the scientific community's longstanding resistance to popularization for the masses hobbled these efforts. To reach large audiences required using the latest communications techniques like radio, while most scientists remained more comfortable with formats like formal lectures or museum exhibitions. Osborn himself could be dismissive of the very public he claimed to be addressing (he told his publisher that, in writing a popular book, he had "stooped to conquer"). Scientists mindful of the nuances in the evidentiary record would also carefully qualify their statements, while some opponents of evolution simply reduced the choice to one stark question — "God or gorilla?"

Clark offers perceptive analysis of the metaphors, cartoons, and illustrations (including human "pedigrees" and "trees" used in 1920s school biology texts) which peppered the evolution debate, but her book also poses a deeper question. Why did this particular scientific debate capture so much public attention? Certainly, the breakneck speed of technological and social change during the 1920s — automobiles, movies, radio, flappers, jazz — lent credibility to conservatives' anxiety that science disturbed the status quo but, as Clark emphasizes, the two sides also effectively constructed starkly different images of the past. Either human beings stood erect and dignified in the great chain of being, forged in God's image, or else they hunkered on the muddy ground alongside their simian cousins. Neither fundamentalists nor evolutionists seemed willing to compromise in the images they employed in their writings and lectures.

Popular culture then worked its own magic, conflating cute chimpanzees with powerful gorillas and eventually fashioning a satirical version of a brutish, stoop-shouldered, slack-jawed "caveman" (the comic strip Alley Oop, still carried in hundreds of newspapers today, was created in 1932). In her chapter on "Redeeming the Caveman, and the Irreverent Funny Pages," Clark shows how anti-evolutionists exploited science's own visualizations to advantage. Osborn and other scientists may have imagined that they could determine how evolution would be presented to the public, but even powerful institutions like a New York museum could not control how anti-evolutionists would interpret the images in public exhibit halls. McCann frequently turned Osborn's own displays against him. Osborn had worked with curators and designers to "create a vision of cavemen ennobled, rather than degraded," and yet, Clark points out, they added elements (for example, facial and body hair, or rough wooden clubs) which had little scientific basis, and the murals, busts, and dioramas seemingly celebrated a vision of brutal creatures capable of violence. Critics like McCann then easily pointed to such artistic license as proof that the exhibits "represented speculation, not science." Interpretation (and misinterpretation) of images and evidence thus helped, Clark explains, to raise potent questions "about the very definitions of science and its boundaries," a result that served neither science nor the public well. This history offers an important lesson for popularization and public communication of science today.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org

Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette is a historian of science communication. Her most recent books include Science on the Air: Popularizers and Personalities on Radio and Early Television (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008) and Reframing Scopes: Journalists, Scientists, and Lost Photographs from the Trial of the Century (Lawrence [KS]: University Press of Kansas, 2008).

Review: Only a Theory

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
40-41
Reviewer: 
Andrea Bottaro
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul
Author(s): 
Kenneth R Miller
New York: Viking, 2008. 256 pages.

The thesis of Ken Miller's succinct and very readable book Only a Theory is that the evolution/creationism controversy that has been playing out in schools, school boards, legislatures, and courts across the United States is more than a heated but circumscribed skirmish between scientists and religious fundamentalists over the veracity of evolutionary theory versus divine creation, but actually part of a broader and more widespread battle over "nothing less than America's scientific soul". Since few people in the past decade have been more often and more prominently involved at the front lines of this controversy than Miller, this is an alarm call we ought to listen to.

The book begins with taking stock of the scientific prominence of the United States. According to Miller, this success reflects a deep commonality between the scientific spirit and America's key national virtues, namely individual independence and imaginative enterprise, and the value ascribed to the challenging of authorities. American scientific institutions, Miller argues, have thus tended to reward originality and innovation as opposed to loyalty and adherence to established paradigms, which are part of the Old World's academic structure. This is an interesting observation and, to the extent that such a generalization can do so, it probably reflects a true insight.

The next step in Miller's argument, namely that this same independent spirit leads the American public more freely to doubt and openly to challenge the scientific consensus, allowing grassroots movements such as creationism to prosper and score occasional political victories, is far less convincing. By all published surveys, in fact, Americans are far less skeptical of science and more likely to trust the scientific establishment than the supposedly less independent-minded Europeans (see, for instance, NSB 2004: Fig 7-4). For instance, a stunning statistic is that since 1973 a very large fraction (about 40%) of Americans have consistently expressed "a great deal of confidence" (as opposed to "some" or "no confidence at all") in the leadership of the scientific community, more than any other professional group but medicine (which science actually passed in 2002) and, in brief wartime periods, the military (NSB 2004: Fig 7-13). European skepticism of science, however, expresses itself in ways that are not common among Americans, such as the widespread rejection of genetically modified organisms and biotechnology. To me, these data suggest that evolution is more likely to be a sticking point in the United States because of the country's widespread religiousness and the success of fundamentalist denominations, rather than any innate contrarian spirit.

Regardless, Miller's remark that the creationist attack focuses not only on some of the results of science but even on its very methods, and is therefore a real threat to American scientific success, is sensible and important. Yet, the book continues, if we abide by the spirit of challenge that is intrinsic to science, we owe it to ourselves not to reject the creationist critiques of evolution on principle, but to counter them factually. This is where Miller's broad biological knowledge and science writing skills really shine: in a few central chapters, the major tenets of modern creationism and its objections to evolutionary science, such as "irreducible complexity" and the misuse of information theory, are first fairly outlined and then convincingly dismantled. Ranging from pseudogenes to eye evolution, from the immune system to evo-devo, Miller gives a comprehensive view of the scope of modern biology and the interlocking evidence for evolution. Much of this evidence, and the linked account of the Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District trial over the teaching of "intelligent design" in a Pennsylvania high school, will not be new to those who follow the evolution/creationism controversy, but will certainly be a key attraction to readers who want to find a easily digestible and yet factually accurate — well, almost fully accurate: on page 149, Miller classifies the Australian feral dog, the dingo, with the indigenous marsupials — and thorough condensate of the topic.

The factual evidence having been presented, the book goes back to its core argument on the nature of science and how "intelligent design" aims to undermine its very foundations. Miller draws a parallel to a famous book by Allan Bloom (1987), The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Impoverished America's Young and Failed Its Students, which was among the first to highlight the problems associated with the academically dominant post-modernist/multiculturalist paradigm of the time. The striking parallels between the antiscientific arguments of (generally conservative) religious anti-evolutionists and those of (generally leftist) post-modernists have been noted before, most notably by Paul R Gross, who has spent the better part of two decades countering both (Gross and Levitt 1998; Forrest and Gross 2007). Here Miller quotes extensively from Bloom to point out that "intelligent design"'s very own "Wedge strategy" to turn society first against evolution and then against empirically based science altogether very closely matches the rhetoric and goals of some post-modernist philosophy, with similarly pernicious effects. Both attempts, Miller warns, have the potential severely to undermine America's scientific and technological primacy at a critical time in world history. (I dare say that the juncture has become even more critical since the book's publishing, because of the current global economic recession.)

Ultimately, Miller is optimistic about the final success of the pro-science side in this battle, and offers suggestions on how to achieve it by expanding the civic engagement of scientists, renewing our efforts in education, and becoming more savvy in the use of tactics and arguments that appeal to the general public. I suspect that some of these latter proposals will encounter some skepticism, but as usual with Miller's writing, his arguments are thoughtful, his tone engaging, and his enthusiasm infectious. This book is no different, and will make for stimulating reading regardless of a reader's own positions on specific issues and their knowledge of the field.

References

Bloom A. 1987. The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Impoverished America's Young and Failed Its Students. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Forrest B, Gross PR. 2007. Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gross PR, Levitt N. 1998. Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrels with Science. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

[NSB] National Science Board. 2004. Science and Engineering Indicators 2004. Arlington (VA): National Science Foundation. Available on-line at . Last accessed December 20, 2008.

About the Author(s): 

Andrea Bottaro
URMC Box 695
University of Rochester Medical Center
601 Elmwood Ave
Rochester NY 14642
abottaro@pandasthumb.org

Andrea Bottaro is Associate Professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology, and Oncology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine.

Review: Rebel Giants

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
41-42
Reviewer: 
Sherrie Lyons
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Rebel Giants
Author(s): 
David R Contosta
Amherst (NY): Prometheus Books, 2008. 263 pages

February 12, 2009, was the 200th birthday of two truly remarkable men: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. And we have already witnessed an onslaught of celebrations, conferences, articles, and books reflecting the latest scholarship on them. In this biography of the two men, David Contosta suggests that in spite of obvious differences in their lives, they share a lot more than just their birthdays, and that his comparative approach provides more insight into their character than studying each man separately. Contosta chronicles the lives of the two men from their childhood, through their rise to prominence, Darwin in the scientific sphere and Lincoln in the political. The last two chapters provide an overview of the legacies of the two men. In addition, Contosta discusses how views of the two men have changed as a result of different waves of scholarship.

Each chapter has a particular theme, and Contosta continually switches back and forth between the two men's lives, comparing and contrasting. For readers somewhat familiar with their lives, the book covers well-known ground. Contosta has made some use of the Darwin Correspondence Project as well as Darwin's autobiography, and he does a good job of describing Darwin's family life and interweaving it with the development of his scientific ideas. Both men are often portrayed as very humble, and much is made of Darwin's continual bouts of sickness and Lincoln's long periods of depression. Yet Contosta rightly points out how ambitious both these men were. While many comparisons are made, this reader did not find them particularly illuminating. For example, both experienced lulls in their careers: Lincoln only had limited success in being elected to public office and Darwin delayed publishing his theory. "In the long run these lulls turned out to be beneficial, since the time had not yet come for either of these men to launch their main efforts" (p 255).

Contosta emphasizes that both men were not religious, doing a better job of showing the factors that led to Darwin's loss of faith. Lincoln appears to have been influenced by enlightenment thinkers, particularly Thomas Paine. Both men were also deeply opposed to slavery, yet clearly thought that the Negro was inferior. Although Darwin believed his theory showed that all races belonged to the same human family, Contosta does not show how Darwin's racism influenced the development of his theory. Darwin thought that present-day primitive races provided a window into the past, exhibiting behavior that was undoubtedly quite similar to that of ancestral primitive races. This would suggest a chain of continuity from ape-like ancestors to primitive human ancestors to present-day humans. Did Lincoln share a similar view? Even many of the most militant abolitionists also thought the Negro were inferior. In the next hundred years, findings in biology from evolution to genetics were used to promote racism, and not just by uninformed people, but scientists themselves. How did such views shape the struggle for true equality? It is not accurate just to say that non-scientists have misconstrued scientific findings. Today, two hundred years later in the United States, religion masquerading as science in the form of "intelligent design" is threatening the teaching of evolution and racism is still rampant. Contosta claims that the two men's "rebellions were challenging others ... to join them with wide-ranging applications for human equality and human rights and the interconnectedness of all living things" (p 215). Since the supposed strength of this book is its comparative approach, a deeper exploration of these issues is warranted.

In a book of this length that is targeted for a general audience, it is somewhat surprising that Contosta devotes an entire chapter to essentially a review of the secondary literature. This is useful for someone who wants to do further reading. Although Contosta cites Janet Browne's major two-volume biography of Darwin, he does not appear to have made much use of it, instead relying on older material. He provides an overview of the developments in the twentieth century that finally vindicated natural selection but also points out the challenges evolution still faced from the religious community. He presents a good synopsis of the pertinent aspects of the Scopes trial, less so for the recent case in Dover, Pennsylvania (probably because it was still going on when the book was already in production). Contosta is a historian whose specialty is American history and may have not felt qualified to comment on the Darwin scholarship. However, I was hoping that he would render his professional opinion about the different treatments of Lincoln. He claims that the early work on Lincoln was hagiographic, but he does not answer the questions later scholarship raised. Was Lincoln really a racist and Southern sympathizer? Had he been a pawn of the radical Republicans and led the country into an unnecessary war or did he save the Union and at the same time emancipate the slaves? Instead Contosta closes the chapter with a rather noncommittal statement: "Debates over what they accomplished and what those accomplishments mean for each succeeding generation seem destined to go on for as long as anyone can imagine" (p 330).

For those who are well versed in the scholarship on Lincoln and/or Darwin, there is nothing that cannot be found in earlier works. However, for readers who do not know much about these men, this is a very readable account of their lives and the many important and struggles they faced, both professionally and personally. One comes away with a good basic understanding of the controversies surrounding evolution as well as the tension between Lincoln's desire to prevent a civil war and at the same time bring an end to slavery. It is definitely a worthwhile read in this regard.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

Sherrie Lyons
CDL Empire State College
111 West Ave
Saratoga Springs NY 12866-6048
sherrie.lyons@esc.edu

Sherrie Lyons has a PhD in the history of science and is the author of Thomas Henry Huxley: The Evolution of a Scientist (Amherst [NY]: Prometheus Books, 1999). She teaches at the Center for Distance Learning, Empire State College

Review: Trying Leviathan

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
46
Reviewer: 
Arthur M Shapiro
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Trying Leviathan
Author(s): 
D Graham Burnett
Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press, 2007. 266 pages

Strictly speaking, Trying Leviathan is not about evolution. It is about a remarkable legal clash between "common sense" and "expert opinion" — a theme all too familiar in the ongoing creationism/evolution wars. As such it has valuable lessons for us. It is also a terrific read.

The case, Maurice v Judd, played out in the Mayor's Court in New York City in 1818. Because of alleged adulteration of fish liver oil, then an important commodity, the New York state legislature had mandated government inspection thereof — with an inspection fee, and a hefty fine for those failing to comply. At issue was whether whale oil was "fish oil" for the purpose of the statute. The argument boiled down to whether or not whales were fishes. Distinguished zoologist and all-around savant Samuel L Mitchill was the star witness, presenting all the latest arguments from comparative anatomy to demonstrate that whales were mammals, not fishes.

One might expect such erudition to carry the day, but it did not. The lead attorney for the other side, William Sampson, played cleverly on anti-intellectualism to discredit Mitchill as a dilettante and out of touch with reality. Nor did the rhetorical manipulation stop at mere anti-intellectualism. Sampson exploited resentment of what was perceived as New England snobbery, portraying the notion that cetaceans were mammals as a Yankee insult to good old New York common sense: "a mere provincial usage" his co-counsel, John Anthon, called it. And Mitchill had testified that "a whale is no more a fish than a man." Anthon exploited this to tie scientific taxonomy to the slavery question and racial anxiety. He posited a scenario in which Mitchill, using all the same arguments he had adduced in claiming a whale was a mammal, now claimed that an orangutan was a man, and indeed "entitled to vote in our public elections." Sampson cautioned the jury that the distinctness of man from the lower orders would be cast into doubt if this newfangled comparative anatomy were to be recognized in a court of law: "Yes, gentlemen of the jury, in the same order with man, they place the monkey, ape and baboon; all equally related, and differing from the lord of the creation only as they differ from each other" (p 84-5). It is hard to tell which of these ploys was most effective, but something worked, since the jury took only fifteen minutes to rule that a whale was a fish.

The court recommended that the legislature revisit the statute and decide for itself whether it wanted whale oil included. It did not, and amended the statute forthwith.

As we all know, evolutionary biologists are prone to lose debates to creationists if they assume that scientific "knowledge" by its very nature must vanquish creationist "ignorance". Maurice v Judd shows that the same sociological forces and the same rhetorical ploys can maintain their vigor for nearly two centuries, and warns us that when elite culture gets too far ahead of popular culture, it loses its relevance. I think about this every time I explain to students why cladistic reasoning tells us that the "Class Reptilia" does not exist, and that birds are a subset of dinosaurs. It sounds just as "airy-fairy" as the whale-as-mammal theory did in New York in 1818 and is received with appropriate incredulity.


About the Author(s): 
AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

Arthur M Shapiro
Department of Evolution and Ecology
University of California
Davis CA 95616
amshapiro@ucdavis.edu

Arthur M Shapiro is Professor of Evolution and Ecology at the University of California, Davis.

Review: Worlds before Adam

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2000
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
46-47
Reviewer: 
Paul D Brinkman
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Worlds before Adam: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform
Author(s): 
Martin JS Rudwick
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. 800 pages

Martin Rudwick's latest work, Worlds before Adam (hereafter WBA), is a mighty sequel to his massive volume Bursting the Limits of Time (hereafter BLT; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005; reviewed in RNCSE 2006 Nov/Dec; 26 [6]: 35–6). Together they constitute a magnum opus from one of the world's foremost historians of geology and paleontology. Like its predecessor volume, WBA is a weighty book that details the efforts of 19th-century geologists to reconstruct an immensely long and eventful earth history, or "geohistory," as Rudwick puts it in his title.This book begins where the previous one leaves off, in the years following the end of the Napoleonic era (circa 1817), when the French comparative anatomist Georges Cuvier still wielded considerable influence in geology, and ends in the early 1840s, when Louis Agassiz's glacial theory "forced geologists to recognize the contingent character of geohistory as a whole" (p 7). Rudwick divides his book into thirty-six well-written and lavishly illustrated chapters arranged chronologically and grouped into four parts. Part I begins in Paris with Cuvier, vertebrate paleontology, and earth's natural "revolutions," then moves to Great Britain, where important contributions to stratigraphy and paleontology were often interpreted in Biblical terms, and ends with a lengthy discussion of the debates about the adequacy of "actual" causes in explaining geological events of the distant past.Could small, observable changes in elevation during earthquakes, for example, account for crustal movements on a more massive, mountainous scale? Part II deals with the late 1820s and earliest 1830s, when French and English geologists such as Alexandre Brongniart, Louis-Constant Prevost, and William Buckland grappled with questions of a cooling earth, fossil faunas, glaciers, extinction and much more.

Part II ends with Chapter 17, "The specter of transmutation (1825–1829)," which deals briefly (in twelve pages) with the subject of evolution, which is only "loosely linked" (p 237) to the central issues of WBA.As Rudwick argues, Cuvier had already established the reality of extinction by the 1820s, when almost all naturalists agreed that many of the strange fossil remains turning up in all quarters of the globe represented species long gone.Whether it was brought about by gradual, local changes of climate, or through massive catastrophes, the fact of extinction was no longer a question. Explanations for the origins of new species remained steeped in controversy, however, especially as evidence accumulated for the successive appearance of new organisms in the fossil record.

Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck had all but ignored the fossil evidence in his general theory of transmutation published in 1809. Fossils were Cuvier's bailiwick, and he abhorred transmutation. In 1825, however, Cuvier's colleague Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hillaire published a paper in which he argued that living gavials might be the direct descendants of the fossil crocodiles found in the Secondary formations of Normandy, and he tied his argument explicitly to Lamarckian transmutationism. Geoffroy used a widely approved actualistic approach to make his case, arguing that analogous "monstrosities," which could be directly observed in the present world, represented more significant morphological variability than that which was required to explain the cumulative transformation of vertebrate animals over the course of geohistory.But he badly mishandled the fossil record, suggesting that a "progressive series" of fossil vertebrates could be traced from "the ichthyosaur ... and pterodactyl, then passed by way of the ... mosasaur and the Caen crocodile to the American megatherium ... and ended with the Parisian palaeotherium and anoplotherium" (p 242). Geoffroy's hopelessly confused series did not win converts. Moreover, according to Cuvier, there was as yet a conspicuous absence of intermediate forms between fossil and living species.

The important point, though, is that theories of transmutation were still kicking around, at least in France, and they played a role in the continuing debate over how paleontologists were to interpret the history of life. Indeed, Lamarck's Zoological Philosophy inspired a book-length repudiation by the English barrister and geologist Charles Lyell, who felt compelled to "defend his own species from the indignity of being assigned a merely animal origin" (p 246).

Ultimately, the theoretical background did not matter. What mattered most to the practicing geologist of 1830 was to determine when species went extinct, when new ones appeared, and whether they did so suddenly, gradually, in bunches, or one at a time. In short, geologists could reconstruct the history of life on earth without the necessity of appealing to any causal explanation. Debates about the transmutation of species, Rudwick argues, developed "in parallel with the reconstruction of geohistory, with only a loose linkage between them" (p 249).This explains the relatively marginal position that evolution occupies in his book.

Part III is devoted largely to Lyell and his contemporaries and critics, as they debated the merits of his influential Principles of Geology and its uniformitarian approach in the 1830s. Finally, Part IV takes the story of geologists and geohistory into the early 1840s, by which time reconstructing geological events and deducing their causal explanations had become standard practice.

In spite of their intimidating mass, WBA and BLT together are not a comprehensive history of geology, nor are they intended to be. Whole subfields of geology, including mineralogy, petrology, and structural and economic geology, are largely ignored in favor of the more obviously historical fields of stratigraphy and paleontology. This makes perfect sense in light of Rudwick's goal of chronicling the ever-expanding geohistorical approach of earth scientists in the early 19th century. Rudwick claims, with excessive modesty, that he hopes his work will serve as a starting point for further research. But with so grand a beginning, the prospect of writing a worthy contribution in history of geology seems daunting indeed. WBA is a work of such excellence as to recommend it to anybody.

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

Paul D Brinkman
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W Jones Street
Raleigh NC 27601-1029

Paul D Brinkman is a paleontologist and historian of paleontology working at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Review: Why Evolution is True

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
45-46
Reviewer: 
Donald R Prothero
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Why Evolution is True
Author(s): 
Jerry A Coyne
New York: Viking Press, 2009. 282 pages.

In recent years, the battles over creationism, "intelligent design", and evolution have produced a glut of new books on the topic. Most of the books focus on the purely biological side of evolution; a few (including mine) focus on the fossil evidence. Jerry Coyne's new book, Why Evolution is True, does a beautiful job of covering nearly all the bases in a succinct but enjoyable and gently persuasive fashion.

In the first chapter, Coyne discusses the basic conceptual framework of evolution, and clarifies the common misconceptions about how the science works, and the creationist misuse of the word "theory". The second chapter is a brief but compelling overview of the fossil evidence of evolution, drawing from the most familiar recent examples (Tiktaalik and the origin of tetrapods, the origin of birds from dinosaurs, and the origin of whales) as well as some that are more obscure. Even though Coyne is a neontologist, he does a good job of showing the difficulties that paleontologists endure while finding fossils, the strengths and limitations of the fossil record, and how important the fossil evidence has become for establishing the actual course of evolution. Given the limited, outdated, and inaccurate coverage of the fossil record in most college-level evolutionary biology textbooks, it is a pleasure to see paleontology given a seat at the "high table" of evolutionary biology, even before any of the neontological evidence has been mentioned. I have some small quibbles about outdated taxonomy and Coyne's insistence on gradualism (which most paleontologists would dispute), but overall this is one of the best summaries of the fossil evidence for evolution that I've ever seen by a non-paleontologist.

The third chapter outlines the "mute witnesses" of evolution in the form of vestigial organs and suboptimal or bad design — the best possible antidote to the foolishness of the "intelligent design" argument. More than anything else, pointing to these strange examples of useless or poorly designed features is a powerful argument for evolution, and quickly disarms those who might be seduced by the phony "design argument". Coyne covers most of the classics and many lesser-known examples, from whale hips and legs, human tails, and many other features of the human body that are poorly designed, to "dead genes" and other junk in our DNA. Most impressive of all is the bizarre course of the left recurrent laryngeal nerve, which takes an unnecessarily long course down from the throat to the aorta and back again, since it was once attached to a gill arch in the developing embryo. In the fourth chapter, Coyne reviews all the overwhelming evidence from biogeography, from islands and their peculiar biotas to the odd patterns left over from the breakup of Pangaea.

Chapters 5, 6, and 7 cover the classic neontological arguments from genetics, speciation theory, and the evidence that modern biologists have been documenting for the past century. This is the strength of the book, since Coyne's specialty is in these areas, and here his familiarity with the field truly shows. Among these topics is a provocative discussion of "how sex drives evolution", updating the classic sexual selection arguments that Darwin first presented, which were amplified when genetics discovered how important sexual recombination was to genetic variability and speciation.

The penultimate chapter deals with the issue most driving the creationist movement: human evolution. Many creationists would probably ignore evolution (along with the rest of biology) completely were it not for the claim that humans are related to the rest of the animal kingdom, and evolved from non-human ancestors. Coyne presents a brief but clear summary of all the evidence from human anatomy, paleontology, and genetics that make our connection to the animal kingdom (and especially the great apes) indisputable.

In his final chapter, "Evolution Redux," Coyne muses on some of the major implications of evolution, from the philosophical reasons why a scientist can say "evolution is true," to the new field of evolutionary psychology, to the implications of evolution for our worldview. He never spends much time engaging the creationists directly or debunking most of their arguments, but instead gently convinces the reader by clearly and simply describing and explaining the overwhelming evidence that evolution occurred — much as Darwin did 150 years ago. In this way, Coyne's book is a wonderfully balanced approach that is gently persuasive without being combative, and works well for anyone who is sitting on the fence about the fact of evolution. Of course, creationists will hate a book like this (judging from the Amazon.com reviews, many have already tried to trash it), but it should convince anyone with doubts about the issue, or whose mind is not already clouded by religious dogma.

About the Author(s): 

Donald R Prothero
Department of Geology
Occidental College
Los Angeles CA 90041
prothero@oxy.edu

Donald R Prothero is Professor of Geology at Occidental College, and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007).

RNCSE 29 (4)

cover of RNCSE 29.4
Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2009
Date: 
July–August
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 29 (4)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2009
Date: 
July-August
Page(s): 
2

NEWS

  1. Darwin Year in the Netherlands: A Time to Reflect
    Coen Brummer
    Though there is strong scientific and official support for evolution in the Netherlands, there are opponents, too. Both sides are using the Darwin bicentennial to rally their supporters.
  2. Updates
    News from Alabama, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas.

NCSE NEWS

  1. News from the Membership
    What our members are doing to support evolution and oppose pseudoscience wherever the need arises.
  2. NCSE Encourages Federal Scientific Integrity
    Joshua Rosenau
    Words of advice to the new staff and advisors of federal science policy and science-related programs and projects.
  3. NCSE Honors "Friends of Darwin" for 2006
    Glenn Branch
    We recognize outstanding efforts in promoting evolution.
  4. NCSE Thanks You
    Words of appreciation for all those who have supported NCSE financially in recent months.

FEATURES

  1. Unintelligent Design: Interview with Mark Perakh
    Glenn Branch
    Mark Perakh discusses his book, his scientific career, and his hopes and concerns about the future of scientific literacy.
  2. Whither "Intelligent Design" Creationism?
    Lawrence S Lerner
    With the constitutional door firmly slammed against IDC in Dover, which of the few remaining pathways will IDC proponents explore to try to claim legitimacy?
  3. "Intelligent Design": Wave of the Future or Ghost of the Past?
    Norman Sleep
    Once the dominant scientific framework,"intelligent design"was replaced because it was unproductive. Why go back there?

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. What is "Intelligent Design" Creationism?
    An adaptation of a recent NCSE brochure that explores the basics of IDC.
  2. "Intelligent Design" On Trial
    These books explore and critique "intelligent design" creationism from a diversity of perspectives.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

SPECIAL FEATURE

  1. People & Places: William Paley, 1743–1805
    Randy Moore
    This icon of 18th- and 19th-century natural philosophy was not the first to use a timepiece as a metaphor for arguments from design.

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. Lost Explorers? Review essay of Exploring Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism by Stephen C Meyer, Scott Minnich, Jonathan Moneymaker and Paul A Nelson
    Reviewed by John Timmer
  2. Critique of Intelligent Design: Materialism versus Creationism from Antiquity to the Present by John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York
    Reviewed by Arthur McCalla
  3. Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science by John G West
    Reviewed by Mark E Borrello
  4. Intelligent Design: Science or Religion? Critical Perspectives edited by Robert M Baird and Stuart E Rosenbaum
    Reviewed by Taner Edis
  5. The Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v Darwin in Small-Town America by Lauri Lebo
    Reviewed by Burt Humburg
  6. The Cell's Design: How Chemistry Reveals the Creator's Artistry by Fazale Rana
    Reviewed by Frank Steiner

Darwin Year in the Netherlands: A Time to Reflect

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Darwin Year in the Netherlands: A Time to Reflect
Author(s): 
Coen Brummer
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2009
Date: 
July-August
Page(s): 
4-5
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Two hundred years ago in February, Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, a small English village about 65 miles from Liverpool. This November, it will be 150 years since the publication of On the Origin of Species, Darwin's magnum opus. For the first time in history, humanity was provided with a reasonable and scientific answer on questions concerning human origins and development. It is no surprise that "Darwin Year 2009" has been celebrated at universities around the world.

However, this Darwin year inspires us to more activities than simply throwing a party for the achievements of human intellect. One of them is reflection on the debate that Darwin's theory started back in the nineteenth century, and which is still going on to this day. In this article, I will give a brief sketch of the situation in the Netherlands over the last few years. While there is no serious scientific doubt about the fundamentals of the theory of evolution among academics in the Netherlands, things look quite different in mainstream society. Recent studies, as published in Science (Miller and others 2006) and in the Dutch popular scientific magazine Quest (as reported in De Volkskrant 2008 Nov 13; available on-line at http://www.volkskrant.nl/binnenland/article1091241.ece/44_van_100_Nederlanders_gelooft_in_leven_na_de_dood), show that the rate of acceptance of scientific theories in the Netherlands is low compared to the rest of Europe. Perhaps because of this, there were some controversies concerning evolution during the last decade, which received considerable media attention.

On March 2, 2005, Maria van der Hoeven, at that time the Dutch Minister of Education, Culture, and Science, stated on her website's blog that she was fascinated by the concept of "intelligent design" (ID). (See this report [in Dutch] from Kennislink 2005 Jun 9; available on-line at [link expired] http://www.kennislink.nl/publicaties/ministerontvangt-boek-over-id). Van der Hoeven, a member of the Christian Democratic Party with no scientific background whatsoever, told her staff to investigate whether ID could be used in secondary school to "build bridges" between people with different life stances. Scientists from all over the country were furious. Ronald Plasterk, a prize-winning molecular geneticist, columnist, and coincidentally the current Minister of Education, Culture, and Science, wrote in a column: "When van der Hoeven as a citizen feels the need for a talk about the creator she is free to join a conversation club. As a minister [of government], she should focus on her task and that is to guarantee the quality of education. No more, no less" (2005 May 8; my translation; the original Dutch is available on-line at [link expired] http://www.vpro.nl/gramma/buitenhof/afleveringen/22038179/items/22323895). The secular parties in the House of Representatives raised their voices as well. After this storm of protest, van der Hoeven was forced to withdraw her plans.

The next controversial affair had its roots in the way the public broadcasting network is organized in the Netherlands. Until the late 1960s, society in the Netherlands was segregated into "pillars". This phenomenon — pillarization — made it possible for people of various "life stances" to live separated from each other. Marriage, newspapers, broadcasting networks, and labor unions were all organized within one's own pillar. Currently, the Dutch broadcasting network, as a legacy of pillarization, is still divided into Catholic, Protestant, and Social Democratic organizations, each with its own television shows and radio stations.

In July 2007 a scandal came to light. The Evangelische Omroep — the Evangelical Network — was broadcasting the BBC's The Life of Mammals, a natural history program produced by David Attenborough. While the original DVD contains ten episodes, the evangelicals broadcast only nine, leaving out the last episode — the one on the origin and evolution of humans. In the other episodes, scenes that mentioned evolution or the age of the earth were cut as well. Two evolutionary biologists, Gerdien de Jong (Utrecht University) and Hans Roskam (Institute of Biology Leiden), started a petition to discourage the use of BBC material to mislead viewers of natural history programs in the future. (This is discussed at The Panda's Thumb blog: 2007 Oct 1; http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/10/dutch-petition.html.) They presented the petition to the BBC and David Attenborough, who, by the way, reacted quite mildly.

When asked about the situation by NOS Headlines, a Dutch news website, EO director Hans Hagoort said he "did not understand the drama": "since the start of the EO," he said, "we have been broadcasting natural history programs, including the ones from the BBC." When asked about the deleted scenes, he answered, "we edit the series to fit the Christian faith; we have been doing it for years. We made good arrangements with the BBC about it." De Jong objected. 'They should broadcast the complete series, or not broadcast it at all" (2007 Jul 28; my translation; the original Dutch is available on-line at http://headlines.nos.nl/forum.php/list_messages/7478).

The third event took place on Darwin's birthday, February 12, 2009. Three months earlier, an impressive list of Dutch orthodox Christian organizations joined forces in a campaign against the theory of evolution. Groups such as Schreeuw om leven ("Cry for Life") and Bijbel en onderwijs ("Bible and Education") announced in the national media their plan to send leaflets to six million households in the Netherlands on Darwin's birthday. The total number of households in the Netherlands is estimated at roughly seven million.

The leaflet that was distributed defended creationism as true and opposed to evolutionary science. "You have a choice. You can believe what evolution tells you about the history and origin of man, or you can follow the Bible." The eight-page leaflet was filled with pictures and stories that are used in American creationist brochures as well: natural selection would only lead to decay and disease and not to new or enhanced functions in organisms; fossilized trees that are upside down in the earth indicate a mass flood; and so on. Needless to say, none of the initiators of this campaign had a background in evolutionary biology or geology. The committee of recommendation contained numerous scholars of theology, some priests and churchmen, but not one scientist with a decent academic career. It is unclear how many leaflets were spread in the end. However, the size of this campaign marked a new chapter in the history of creationism in the Netherlands.

These three examples by no means provide a full account of what is going on in the Netherlands. Still, at least one conclusion can be drawn from them. While the Netherlands do not have such a tradition of anti-scientific creationism as the United States has had since the Scopes Trial, public comprehension of evolution is still low and the academic world should remain aware of this. In this Darwin year, 150 years after the publication of On the Origin of Species, scientists cannot yet rest on their laurels.

References

Miller JD, Scott EC, Okamoto S. 2006. Public acceptance of evolution. Science 313 (5788): 765–6.

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

Coen Brummer
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org

Coen Brummer lives in Utrecht, the Netherlands. He studies history and philosophy at Utrecht University. His personal website is http://www.coenbrummer.nl.

"Intelligent Design": Wave of the Future or Ghost of the Past?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
"Intelligent Design": Wave of the Future or Ghost of the Past?
Author(s): 
Norman Sleep
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2009
Date: 
July-August
Page(s): 
25–27
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

"Intelligent design" creationism is the idea that our universe and particularly earthly biology are so complicated that creation by a deity is the only rational explanation. Its proponents claim to be nascent Galileos stifled by an entrenched establishment (as in the movie Expelled). Perhaps ironically, "intelligent design" was the establishment ... 200 years ago. Darwin and his cohort were suckled on its concepts. Yet design as a useful scientific concept wilted beneath the harsh lights of science: logic and evidence.

The watchmaker argument is hallmark of "intelligent design": "If we find a watch there much be a watchmaker." It formed the centerpiece of Natural Theology (1802; Paley 2008) of William Paley (1743–1805). Paley's watch was no mere timepiece. It was a self-replicating automaton, a consortium of machines. He correctly reasoned by analogy with life that an automaton could reproduce without being aware of its existence, its original fabricator, or even the functions of its component parts. He had no need to cherry-pick examples. Life does show a highly ordered complexity that successfully facilitates its reproduction. The appearance of design is ubiquitous; descriptive words for organisms connote it: for example, "body parts", "body plan", "skeletal structure", and even "creature" in its literal meaning.

Natural Theology, despite its name, consists of descriptive natural history that would later fuel Darwin. Scripture makes a cameo appearance only at the end of his book, which in its day served to interest people in science. Today, it documents the worldview of sincere early scientists struggling with meager information and nascent theory. Paley in practice shared more with modern science than with the professional creationists who have resurrected a debased form of his ideas as part of a cynical "Wedge Strategy".

Just who was Paley? His worldview arose from the science and technology of his time: the start of the industrial revolution. Innovators put mechanical energy to beneficial tasks. Anatomists understood human and animal bodies as complex machines with pulleys and levers. Chemistry was becoming a science; anatomists appreciated that life involved complex chemistry of which they were still largely ignorant. Paley overtly eschewed chemistry in his book for this reason.

The major lacuna in science in 1800 was geology. Next to nothing was known about geological time. The only "old earth" theory available to Paley was Buffon's idea that a comet crashed into the sun and ejected the planets as red-hot masses that subsequently cooled. When Paley corresponded with astronomers to obtain an understanding of planetary orbits, he learned that the idea simply does not work; the orbit of an ejected object returns to the surface of the sun rather than to a circular distant orbit (Paley 2008: 206).

What was Paley's attitude towards an old earth? "It is easy to say this; and yet it is still true, that the hypothesis [of gradual biological change over vast periods of time] remains destitute of evidence" (Paley 2008: 227). "[I]f not in a million of years, perhaps in a hundred millions of years, (for theorists, having eternity to dispose of, are never sparing in time,) [for creatures] to acquire wings" (Paley 2008: 224, emphasis in original). Paley made no reference to speculation on the duration of any geological process. Casual application of geology may well lead one to a young earth. In his time it was known that the inland and coastal landforms of England had been shaped during a glaciation period a few thousands of years earlier, so application of that geological knowledge supported the inference of a young earth. Paley's comparison of a stone having always been in a road with a watch requiring manufacture (Paley 2008: 7) and his remarks that the Creator had no "useful purpose" to mould mountains into "Conic Sections" (Paley 2008: 43) reflect his young-earth mindset.

Paley went to much effort toward refuting the evolutionary theory of his time. The ideas of use-and-disuse evolution and goal-driven evolution were prevalent. Paley doubted that there was enough time for them to act, brought up the lack of evidence of ongoing change, and invoked the creationist staple: if pouches are useful to pelicans, why haven't many more birds evolved them (Paley 2008: 227)? His only other alternative to creation was that given "infinite age" the current situation would arise. He astutely surmised that this concept explained nothing. He did recognize observations that became pillars of natural selection, especially that far more young are born than can survive (Paley 2008: 247–50).

Paley devoted a full chapter to comparative anatomy. He began with Arkwright's mill for spinning cotton. By the time of his book, the contraption had evolved into devices for spinning wool, flax, and hemp. Yet Paley did not recognize this progression as an example of descent with radiation and modification. Rather, given the lack of time available for biological change, he credited both Arkwright and the Creator with an "economy" of design where a single invention worked remarkably well for numerous purposes.

Geology became a science shortly after Paley's death, providing the evidence he lacked. James Although Hutton's old-earth geology was published in 1788, John Playfair's popularization Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth did not appear until 1802 along with Paley's work. The Geological Society of London was founded after Paley's death in 1807. William Smith's geology map gave raise to the paleontological time scale. By the publication of the Origin of Species in 1859, it was patently evident that geological time is vast and that the fossil record shows a sequence of increasingly modern forms, with a lot of extinctions on the way. The evolution of vertebrates from a common ancestor with a backbone explained their obvious similarities. We do not find unworkable organisms for the simple reason that they would not emerge in the first place and would die out if they did. The rapid change of domestic animals and plants by artificial selection provided analogy to the slower change by natural selection.

After Darwin, geologists and biologists abandoned recourse to divinity and the search for higher purposes as unproductive. Any conceivable observation can be attributed to divine intervention and, like saying the present state of affairs will arise given infinite time, nothing is actually explained. Yet the implications of the mother of all sampling biases did not sink in until the space-age interest in astrobiology. We have to be here to observe. No event incompatible with our collective or your personal existence can have occurred. Philosophers of science call this concept the weak anthropic principle. As a successful wide-ranging species, we see the illusion of providence; personally we experience the illusion of miracles if we survive in especially trying circumstances.

Several of Paley's providence arguments can be turned into still unresolved "rare earth" or "rare universe" arguments, especially in his chapters on astronomy and the elements. The earth's orbit is nearly circular and the mild and stable tilt of its axis gives rise to modest seasons. There are no giant planets near the sun that would make its orbit unstable. There is the right amount of water to get oceans and dry land. Water has properties that make it an excellent biological fluid. Newton's laws and physics in general work out so that planetary orbits can be stable.

There is no way that the earth and its inhabitants in their present state could have been formed in a few thousand years by natural processes, so in order to insist on a young earth, it is necessary to have recourse to the supernatural. Paley (2008: 26–7) allowed supernatural processes for creation but rejected overt deviations from the general laws of physics. This history is a prime example how the unscientific practices of invoking divine intervention and seeking purposes in nature were phased out and how science consigns constructs into the dustbin as new evidence becomes available. Paley in part acted like a modern scientist. He gathered the available data and consulted with experts. He willingly and correctly examined Buffon's hypothesis with physics, not Scripture. His young-earth constructs arose from the lack of evidence for an old earth.

There is a good analogy between Aristotle's unchanging geocentric heavens and Paley's young earth populated by unchanging species. Both constructs started with valid observations: we all sense terra firma and well functioning organisms in our daily lives. Paley's examples of designed contrivances became Darwin's examples of evolutionary adaptation, much as well-documented geocentric epicycles were transformed into heliocentric orbits. Galileo pointed out forcefully throughout the Dialogue that Aristotle lacked evidence, including the appearance of "new" stars that pointed to changeable heavens and telescopic observations that supported the Copernican system; Paley lacked our vast knowledge of geology and molecular biology. With regard to K–12 instruction, we do not hide the existence of geocentric astronomy from students; we should not conceal that biology began as a study of design and a search for God's plan. The movement away from that emphasis was not a matter of rejecting theological positions as much as it was embracing scientific ones.

References

Paley W. 2008. Natural Theology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

Norm Sleep
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org

Norman Sleep is Professor of Geophysics at Stanford University. He is the coauthor of Principles of Geophysics (Malden [MA]: Blackwell Science, 1997).

Mainline Protestant Clergy on Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Mainline Protestant Clergy on Evolution
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2009
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
5
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

A recent study of mainline Protestant clergy conducted by Public Religion Research included a few questions about evolution. According to the report of the survey:

Mainline clergy views of evolution and its place in public school curriculum are complex. On the one hand, the majority of mainline clergy (54%) do not support the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in public school biology classes. On the other hand, mainline clergy are more evenly divided in their views about the theory of evolution itself. Forty-four percent of mainline ministers say that evolution is the best explanation for the origins of life on earth, and a similar number disagrees (43%). United Methodist clergy and American Baptist clergy are most likely to disagree. [Seven in ten] American Baptist clergy (70%) and a majority (53%) of United Methodist clergy say that evolution is not the best explanation for the origins of life on earth.

To provide the details, when asked if creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public school biology classes, 15% of the respondents strongly agreed, 21% agreed,10% were not sure, 19% disagreed, and 35% strongly disagreed.

When asked if evolution is the best explanation for the origins of life on earth, 13% of the respondents strongly agreed, 31% agreed, 13% were unsure, 20% disagreed, and 23% strongly disagreed. In any case, the respondents were generally not outspoken about their views: only 3% of the respondents indicated that they very often expressed their views about teaching about evolution in public schools in the last year and only 13% indicated that they often did so; 42% indicated that they seldom did so and 42% indicated that they never did so.

The respondents were clergy from each of the seven largest mainline Protestant denominations: the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the American Baptist Churches USA, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The survey was conducted by mail between March 3 and September 15, 2008.

For further details, visit http://www.publicreligion.org/research/?id=167.

NCSE Encourages Federal Scientific Integrity

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
NCSE Encourages Federal Scientific Integrity
Author(s): 
Joshua Rosenau
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2009
Date: 
July-August
Page(s): 
12–13
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

NCSE recently offered its advice on ways the federal government can promote and protect scientific integrity. The comment will be considered as presidential science advisor John Holdren and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) develop regulations implementing President Obama's March 9, 2009, memorandum ordering federal agencies to "ensur[e] the highest level of integrity in all aspects of the executive branch's involvement with scientific and technological processes."

The order specifically asks the OSTP to recommend regulations protecting scientific staff from political litmus tests in hiring and firing, ensuring scientific integrity of internal processes, requiring that information used in policymaking "be subject to well-established scientific processes, including peer review where appropriate," making scientific findings publicly available, and generally "ensur[ing] the integrity of scientific and technological information and processes on which the agency relies in its decision-making or otherwise uses or prepares."

NCSE's comment to the OSTP focuses on educational materials used in informal education at federal facilities, citing reports of creationist books offered for sale at Grand Canyon National Park bookstores and of a political appointee at NASA demanding that the Big Bang be called a "theory" on public websites because "it is not proven fact; it is opinion." It also expresses concern about reports of creationism being taught at schools directly administered by the federal government.

Comments on Scientific Integrity Regulations

National Center for Science Education

The National Center for Science Education is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the teaching of evolution, and to improving understanding of the nature of science. Attacks on the scientific integrity of federal policy pose great dangers to public understanding of science, and we applaud efforts to prevent such abuses. In particular, we hope that the resulting policies will protect the treatment of evolution and related scientific concepts in the federal government's important contributions to informal science education.

Informal science education occurs at parks, museums, and research centers, and includes signs and displays, public lectures or tours at such facilities, and websites and brochures which describe the research conducted at a site, or which provide background on an agency's research. Teachers, school groups and the general public rely on such material for accurate and unbiased scientific information. Such material therefore must reflect the generally accepted views of the scientific community, and indeed, in some federal agencies, this is required by existing statute or regulation. Omission and simplification is unavoidable in educational contexts, but scientifically and pedagogically valid content should not be altered for political or religious purposes. Peer review of educational content is appropriate and necessary; the reviewers should include both scientists and educators with experience in relevant fields. Science educators at federal sites must be protected against political or religious censorship.

Over the last several years, NCSE has monitored attacks on evolution and related concepts in several different federal agencies. Some examples illustrate the dangers and may suggest policies which would avoid similar problems.

There is a long-running conflict over a creationist book being sold in the science section of bookstores at Grand Canyon National Park, creating a conflict between the scientifically-oriented presentations of Park Service staff and an implied Park Service endorsement of erroneous scientific views. The federal government should not lend its credibility to material which falsely claims scientific support for a 6000-year–old earth or other attempts to masquerade religious apologetics as science. It is appropriate to discuss religious views in publications, presentations, and other educational settings, but the integrity of the scientific process is compromised when descriptions of religious views are not clearly distinguished from empirically tested scientific results.

A NASA public affairs officer ordered changes to the discussion of the Big Bang on NASA web pages, demanding that it be referred to as "a theory" because "it is not proven fact; it is opinion." The official also blurred the line between science and religion: "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be, to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts 'intelligent design' by a creator." Making those changes would have misinformed the general public, including schoolchildren, about both cosmology and the scientific process. Agency websites, especially educational websites describing scientific research and scientific knowledge, should adhere to the highest standards of scientific accuracy, and should be free from political or religious pressure.

NCSE has received reports that interpreters at certain National Park Service sites were instructed to avoid discussing the (ancient) age of the earth or the age of particular rock strata, to "avoid controversy". Of course, there is no scientific controversy concerning an ancient age of the earth; the controversy was religious. School groups and the general public rely on programs at National Parks for accurate, unbiased information, and should be confident that scientific content will not be censored for religious reasons. Policies for public information programs must distinguish scientific controversy from political or societal controversy. Educational staff at parks or in other educational programs administered or funded by the federal government must not be restricted from discussing relevant science that is widely accepted by the scientific community. Where a topic is regarded as controversial, agencies should allow review by scientists and educators experienced in the topic and age groups at issue and should defend that peer-reviewed content.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Defense directly administer schools, and the Department of Education supports teachers and administrators in schools nationwide. In schools administered by the federal government, as in all public schools, science classes must present science as it is understood and practiced by the scientific community. Science textbooks and other instructional materials ought to be subject to peer review and approval by educators who teach the subject at the same grade level. Scientific materials published by federal agencies for use in classrooms should be subject to peer review by scientists and teaching experts, and not subject to political or religious interference. In order to safeguard the integrity of the scientific process, instructional materials used by federal schools or provided to teachers by the federal government should describe the nature of science in clear terms, emphasizing that scientific explanations must be open to empirical testing and that they are evaluated by a community of scientists.

NCSE has received reports of teachers in Department of Defense schools teaching creationism or being pressured not to teach evolution; this is a widespread problem in public schools, with 31% of respondents to an informal survey by the National Science Teachers Association reporting pressure not to teach evolution and 30% reporting pressure to teach creationism. Evolution is accepted by the scientific community as the foundation of modern biology, and must be the organizing principle of biology classes and biology instructional materials. In addition, federal schools must establish policies protecting teachers from pressure to omit or downplay evolution, or to teach religious alternatives to evolution, in science classes.

Establishing clear policies protecting the accuracy of formal and informal educational content provided by the federal government is necessary to ensure the long-term integrity of science. Such content prepares the next generation of federal scientists, and is vital to constituents as they evaluate science-based policies. In particular, agencies should develop policies that provide for scientists and educators to peer review material and to protect potentially controversial topics from political or religious pressure.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

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

Joshua Rosenau is Public Information Project Director at NCSE.

NCSE Honors "Friends of Darwin" for 2006

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
NCSE Honors "Friends of Darwin" for 2006
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2009
Date: 
July-August
Page(s): 
14
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Every year, NCSE honors a few exceptional people for their support of evolution education and/or their service to NCSE. The "Friend of Darwin" awards are proposed by the staff and approved by the board at its annual meeting; the recipients for the award for a given year are thus selected in the spring of the following year. NCSE usually arranges for the awards to be presented to their recipients by their family, colleagues, and friends, so it often takes a while before a public announcement is possible. And then sometimes there are further delays! Here, finally, are the Friends of Darwin for 2006.

Robert Cashner recently retired from the University of New Orleans, where he served, in the course of a thirty-five–year career, as professor of biological sciences, Dean of the Graduate School, and Vice Chancellor for Research and Sponsored Programs. He received the university's Cooper R Mackin Medallion in 2008 in recognition of his outstanding record of teaching, research and publications. A distinguished ichthyologist, he is a past president and a permanent member of the Board of Governors of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. And since 2001, he spearheaded the Darwin Day celebrations at the University of New Orleans, providing space, recruiting sponsors, obtaining publicity, engaging speakers, and arranging — even after his retirement — for the annual celebrations of Darwin's contributions to science to continue.

Steven G Gey, David and Deborah Fonvielle and Donald and Janet Hinkle Professor at the Florida State University College of Law, is one of the nation's foremost scholars on religious liberties and free speech. With Matthew J Brauer and Barbara Forrest, he wrote one of the most important law review articles about creationism, "Is it science yet? Intelligent design, creationism, and the Constitution" (Washington University Law Review 2005; 83 [1]: 1–149). As a member of NCSE's legal advisory committee, he is a constant source of thoughtful advice. Gey was presented with his Friend of Darwin award in March 2007, at a banquet that followed a triathlon to raise funds for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis research in his honor; sadly, Gey was diagnosed with ALS ("Lou Gehrig's disease") in 2006.

John F Haught is a renowned theologian at Georgetown University, where he was formerly Chair and Professor in the Department of Theology and is now a Distinguished Research Professor as well as a Senior Fellow of the Woodstock Theological Center. The author of a number of books on the theology of evolution, including God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution, second edition (Boulder [CO]: Westview Press, 2007), Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution (Mahwah [NJ]: Paulist Press, 2001), and Deeper Than Darwin: The Prospect for Religion in the Age of Evolution (Boulder [CO]: Westview Press, 2003), he also testified effectively on the theological roots of "intelligent design" creationism for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v Dover, the case establishing the unconstitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" in the public schools.

Victor Hutchison is George Lynn Cross Research Professor Emeritus at the University of Oklahoma. A distinguished zoologist and a former president of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists and of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, he is also a spirited defender of the integrity of science education in Oklahoma, founding Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education in 2004 and serving as its president for four years — a period in which Oklahoma endured a storm of anti-evolution legislation, with four bills appearing in 2006 alone. Thanks to Hutchison's and OESE's work, none of these bills passed. Moreover, OESE promotes the public understanding of evolution through participating in educational and scientific conferences, organizing workshops for science teachers, and operating a bureau of speakers.

M Kim Johnson is a physicist who serves on the board of New Mexicans for Science and Reason and of New Mexico's Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education; he is a past president of CESE as well as of the New Mexico Academy of Science. With his colleagues in those organizations — especially Dave Thomas and Marshall Berman, both of whom received Friend of Darwin awards in 1999 — he helps to defend the teaching of evolution in New Mexico's public schools against legislators introducing anti-evolution bills, lobbyists attempting to undermine the treatment of evolution in the state science standards, and school districts adopting anti-evolution policies. He also works to promote the public understanding of science, especially through posts on The Panda's Thumb blog and broadcasts on NMSR Science Watch, a weekly radio show.

Philip Kitcher is the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. A leading philosopher of science, he is also a long-time critic of creationism, having debated young-earth creationist Duane Gish in person and "intelligent design" creationist Phillip Johnson on-line. His first book was Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism (Cambridge [MA]: MIT Press, 1983), which Martin Gardner praised as "[a] marvelously lucid summary of the evidence for evolution and the overwhelming case against its enemies." Kitcher returned to the fray twenty-four years later with Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), of which Jerry Coyne wrote, "Kitcher has just the combination of philosophical talent, biological insight, and wonderfully lucid writing needed to address the thorny problem of creationism."

We thank these and all NCSE members for their support of our organization and our mission. We cannot — and do not — do it alone!


About the Author(s): 

Glenn Branch is deputy director of NCSE.

Unintelligent Design

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Unintelligent Design: Interview with Mark Perakh
Author(s): 
Interviewed by Glenn Branch
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2009
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
15–17
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Mark Perakh was born in 1924 in Kiev, Ukraine. In 1941 he volunteered to fight the German invasion of the USSR. Later he studied at the Odessa Institute of Technology, earning a Diploma in Engineering Physics, and later an equivalent of a PhD degree from the Odessa Polytechnic Institute. In the 1950s he was arrested by the KGB on the charge of engaging in "anti-Soviet propaganda" and spent several years in a Siberian prison camp. Subsequently, he conducted research and taught physics in several universities in the USSR. In 1967 he received a third degree (the highest in the Soviet system) from Kazan Institute of Technology. He emigrated to Israel in 1973, where he was appointed a full professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He received a number of prizes and awards for his research, including one from the Royal Society of London. He has authored close to 300 scientific papers and several monographs, which resulted in an invitation for a two-year stint at the IBM Research Center in the US. Later he joined the faculty at California State University, Fullerton. He retired in 1994 and lives near San Diego.

Photograph of Mark Perakh sitting in front of books

Perakh's book Unintelligent Design (Amherst [NY]: Prometheus, 2004) contains three sections. The first offers a detailed critique of "intelligent design" creationism as purveyed by William Dembski, Michael Behe, and Phillip Johnson; reviewing the book for RNCSE (2004 May/Aug; 24 [3–4]: 49–50), Jason Rosenhouse commented, "I did not fully appreciate the sheer extent of ["intelligent design"'s] awfulness before reading Mark Perakh's Unintelligent Design." The second addresses various attempts to reconcile the Bible with science, focusing on those by Hugh Ross, Grant Jeffrey, Fred Hereen, Nathan Aviezer, Lee Spetner, and Gerald Schroeder. The third discusses issues in the nature of science and in probability theory, using the so-called Bible codes as a cautionary example.

In the five years since the publication of Unintelligent Design, Perakh's concern about religiously motivated pseudoscience continued unabated. He contributed a chapter ("There is a free lunch after all: William Dembski's wrong answers to irrelevant questions") and coauthored another ("Is intelligent design science?" with Matt Young) to Matt Young and Taner Edis's collection Why Intelligent Design Fails (New Brunswick [NJ]: Rutgers University Press, 2004). And he published a series of further valuable articles, both in the pages of journals such as RNCSE, Skeptic, and Skeptical Inquirer, and on-line on The Panda's Thumb blog (http://www.pandasthumb.org) and the Talk.Reason website (http://www.talkreason.org), of which he is a founder and editor.

RNCSE: The year 2009 is the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication of the Origin of Species — but it is also the fifth anniversary of the publication of Unintelligent Design. What impelled you to write Unintelligent Design, and how did you become interested in religiously motivated pseudoscience like the Bible Code and creationism in the first place?

MP: After my retirement (at 70) I lost access to labs where I could have continued research within the framework of my specialization. On the other hand, I have always been interested in the philosophical underpinnings of science, and I just could not imagine spending my retirement years without some activity giving food to my brain. By accident, I came across the Bible Code fad, and wanted to clarify, first of all for myself, whether there was any factual foundation to it. I investigated the available material and came to the firm conclusion that the Bible Code existed only in the imagination of its proponents. This led to my cooperation with a prominent mathematician, Brendan McKay, with whom I developed a new method for statistical analysis of texts — dubbed the Letter Serial Correlation (LSC). All this activity attracted the attention of a number of people, and one day I was asked to review Behe's Darwin's Black Box and Dembski's The Design Inference. Thus I got involved in the fight for the integrity of science and against various versions of creationist pseudoscience, especially the "intelligent design" nonsense. Writing a book gathering my ideas about creationism and its pernicious efforts to undermine genuine science was a natural outcome of my pro-science and pro-reason activity.

RNCSE: As a physicist, you usually formulate your critiques of "intelligent design" to avoid the biological minutiae. Do you regret not being able to engage more closely with such details? Have you found yourself learning more about biology?

MP: Yes, I regret it in the same sense as I regret, say, that I am not fluent in French or Italian. In fact, my early interest in science was in biology. Perhaps this was due to my friendship with a remarkable girl who was my neighbor. Ania was two years older than I, and our friendship started when I was about 10 or 11. She was highly intelligent, and had a great influence over me. At the age of 12 she was already much interested in biology, and attended the Children's Agro-Biological station in a suburb of Odessa, where she conducted simple experiments studying the nervous systems of fish. She suggested that I accompany her. At that time I imagined my future as both a writer of fiction and a scientist specializing in biology. Then the war started, and our plans could not be implemented. In occupied Odessa, Ania participated in an Ukrainian guerilla gang fighting the Romanian and German occupation forces; after the liberation of Odessa by the Soviet army, she was arrested by the KGB and perished in the northern camps. And I went in 1941 to fight the Germans, and afterwards to study physics rather than biology. Regarding the possible recent improvement of my knowledge of biology, I have read a number of books including the Origin of Species, and the great A View of Life by Gould, Singer, and Luria, trying to acquire some minimal knowledge of biology, but I realize that it has not made me an expert in any sense of the word, so I view myself as an amateur in biology.

RNCSE: Your book received generally appreciative treatments from the scientific, educational, and skeptical journals that reviewed it. But what kind of reaction was there from the "intelligent design" creationists themselves?

MP: None of the authors who were the targets of my critique — Dembski, Behe, Johnson, Schroeder, and so on — deigned to respond. (I do not count a couple of very short remarks by Dembski, limited to ad hominems and name-calling, lacking any attempts to address the substance of my critique.) Instead, rude assaults upon me appeared on a number of creationist websites, where I was called stupid, dense, a hypocrite, a liar, an idiot, and similar names, without even a slightest attempt to address the substance of my arguments. When I debated Behe on a television program hosted by Larry Kane in February 2008, I found that Behe was perfectly aware who I was and was evidently familiar with my critique — although he never replied in any form, shape, or manner. Where I came from (that is, a scientific environment), such silence is usually interpreted as inability to come up with reasonable counterarguments.

RNCSE: There was a droll exception to the resounding silence, though, involving a review on Amazon.com from "A Reader from Waco" whose anonymity was accidentally breached — can you tell that story?

MP: This funny story has been told in detail in my posts on The Panda's Thumb and Talk Reason (see, for example, http://www.talkreason.org/articles/shenanigans.cfm). Briefly it is as follows. A few days after the release of my book a review of it appeared on the Amazon.com website, signed "Reader from Waco, TX." The review contained no discussion of my arguments, but instead bluntly claimed them to be erroneous and recommended instead some creationist books, including a forthcoming book by Dembski. Since the author of that review recommended Dembski's book, which had not yet appeared, and since Dembski was at that time employed at Baylor University situated in Waco, a natural assumption was that it was Dembski himself who posed as an allegedly unbiased reader to denigrate my book and to promote his own book. Indeed, shortly thereafter, there was a glitch on the Canadian version of the Amazon.com website where the real names of anonymous reviewers were inadvertently revealed for a whole week. Of course, the "reader from Waco" turned out to be Dembski. With an amazing arrogance, Dembski promptly removed his review, which immediately reappeared verbatim, but now signed "Reader from Riesel, TX." Riesel is where Dembski had his residence. By thus changing the signature, Dembski evaded the counter-critique from other reviewers who responded to "Reader from Waco."

RNCSE: "Intelligent design" creationists are fond of comparing the scientific establishment to the Nazi regime and the Soviet regime: for example, George Gilder, the cofounder of the Discovery Institute, reportedly denounced "Darwinian storm troopers" at a conference, while William Dembski wrote, "Doubting Darwinian orthodoxy is comparable to opposing the party line of a Stalinist regime." You volunteered to fight the Nazis in World War II — or, I should say, in the Great Patriotic War — and later in your life, you were sent to a prison camp for supposedly engaging in anti-Soviet propaganda, so you are in a particularly good position, I imagine, to comment on such comparisons.

MP: In an essay I co-authored with Wesley Elsberry (see http://www.talkreason.org/articles/eandp.cfm) we discussed the creationist writers' habit of comparing their opponents to Nazis, storm troopers, the Soviet oppressive regime, Salem judges, Lysenko, and the like. Specifically, in my part of the essay, I referred to my personal experience with both the Soviet and the Nazi totalitarian systems. I lived for many years in the USSR and was myself persecuted by the KGB, which put me into a Siberian prison camp for engaging in so-called anti-Soviet propaganda (which was their standard term for any utterance short of parroting the official lies of the communist rulers). As to the Nazi regime, in the aftermath of the war, I served in the Soviet military administration in Germany and had access to vast amounts of the documentation left by the destroyed Nazi regime. As I demonstrated in that essay, in fact it is creationists whose behavior has been often reminiscent of the practice of stormtroopers in Nazi Germany and of the Soviet repressive state.

RNCSE: Yet in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (Washington [DC]: Regnery, 2006), Jonathan Wells had the gall to distort your rebuttal of such comparisons, in effect fabricating a quote that he attributes to you.

MP: Yes, this "intelligent design theorist" wrapped in a mantle of a biologist brazenly fabricated an alleged "quotation" from my essay. He transposed various sentences from my essay, placing those that occur somewhere later in the text, ahead of some other that in fact occur earlier in the text; he used ellipsis in several cases, apparently to hide from readers the exact wording of my essay; and he combined partial quotes taken from different parts of my essay in an allegedly single sentence — thus fraudulently attributing to me something I did not say, as I have discussed in detail at http://www.talkreason.org/articles/ugly.cfm. After I revealed how he performed his dishonest trick, Wells has been pretending that my revelation does not exist. Well, what can you expect from a pseudo-biologist who makes his living via mendacious shenanigans?

RNCSE: Since the publication of Unintelligent Design, what critiques of "intelligent design" have you found to be the most interesting and the most valuable?

MP: First, I would like to mention that simultaneously with my book, two other books appeared addressing "intelligent design" — Creationism's Trojan Horse by Barbara Forrest and Paul R Gross, and God, the Devil, and Darwin by Niall Shanks. I value both books highly. I think they nicely complement my book, as all three deal with the same crank science but analyze it from different standpoints. Then, several months later, an anthology edited by Matt Young and Taner Edis, entitled Why Intelligent Design Fails, was published, which contained essays by thirteen scientists who pounced on the crank science of "intelligent design". I authored one chapter in that anthology and co-authored another, so I cannot offer an evaluation of those two chapters, but in my view the other eleven chapters provide a devastating deconstruction of the intelligent design "theory" in a detailed, professionally unbiased way. More recently, several more books appeared, which, if not always directly devoted to the refutation of "intelligent design" pseudoscience, touch on that subject to a certain extent. I may mention the always entertaining books by Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Vic Stenger (especially his recent God: The Failed Hypothesis), and more. Last but not least, NCSE's own Genie Scott's very effective book cannot be left unmentioned.

RNCSE: Your own attitude to religion is generally irenic; toward the end of your book, you say that you see no reason to accept the specific claims of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but you also express agnosticism about the existence of God. What is your reaction to the ongoing debates about whether evolution can be, or should be, used to promote atheism?

MP: I think that both viewpoints — one based on the notion that evolution theory leads to the rejection of faith, and the other on the notion that evolution theory can be viewed as compatible with religious faith — are legitimate. The choice between the two should be left to each individual. There is a whole spectrum of views between the two extremes. On one extreme we have, for example, PZ Myers, a pretty militant atheist who perceives no way to reconcile religious faith with the facts of science. I think I understand his attitude and sympathize with it. On the other extreme we have, for example, Kenneth Miller, in whose opinion the firmly established truth of evolution can be reconciled with religious faith, and even can be construed as supporting it. While I personally doubt the validity of Miller's argument in the latter sense, I am inclined to accept his position as a legitimate choice, even if I cannot share it.

Should evolution be used to promote atheism? I just believe that everybody must be entitled to his or her own position and to promote it if he or she wishes to do so. So, if PZ Myers sincerely believes that evolution and faith are incompatible, he must have the freedom to promote his view in any way he deems proper. Likewise, if Genie Scott rejects Myers's attitude, and favors a friendly dialog with believers, she must have the right to promote her views as much as she wants. The considerations of which choice is more expedient must, in my view, be secondary. I don't think anybody has a monopoly on truth, so every extreme position has to be evaluated with a grain of salt.

RNCSE: At the age of 84, you have a good claim to be the oldest currently active opponent of creationism. Do you find it dispiriting to think that the struggle is going to continue?

MP: Well, this is something that nobody can do anything about. People will always have opinions, and they never will be the same for everybody. This relates not only to the creationism versus evolution encounter, but to an endless list of other problems as well. I will not see it, but my grandsons' future looks to me not very bright. Most probably the 21st century will see devastating wars, depletion of resources (land, water, and so on), enormous explosions of barbarism of various kinds. Humans as a species are the most stupid of all animals. I came to this conclusion watching firsthand the big war of the 20th century. There is hardly anything more stupid than a war, but humans seem to be unable to live without it. The struggle between reason and obscurantism, however important, is just a footnote to the idiocy of wars humanity sinks into with an inevitable regularity.

About the Author(s): 

Glenn Branch is deputy director of NCSE.

Whither "Intelligent Design" Creationism?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Whither "Intelligent Design" Creationism?
Author(s): 
Lawrence S Lerner
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2009
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
18, 23–24
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Since the 1960s, creationism has evolved, with the pressure of "judicial selection" giving rise to new species. The most prominent 1960s program — young-earth creationism or YEC — was based explicitly on the Book of Genesis. It aimed at teaching K–12 science students that God created the universe in six days by a series of fiats and that nearly all of geology could be explained in terms of the action of Noah's Flood. In spite of such labels as "creation science", the courts had little difficulty in perceiving that this was a religious rather than a scientific explanation, inappropriate for public school science classes. Thus the creationist search was on for a fuzzier God who might do better, and I remember hearing the noncommittal term "abrupt appearance" for the first time from creationist lawyer Wendell Bird around 1991.

That term has certainly been used, but by itself it is too impersonal to satisfy most creationists. Thus arose "intelligent design" creationism (IDC). By implying a designer, IDC fulfilled the need of many or most creationists to inject the supernatural works of a chronically interventionist God into observable nature (and by extension into human affairs). At the same time, the IDC approach was vague enough to allow dissembling about the designer's identity. He/she/it might indeed be the biblical God for insider consumption, but space aliens or other even less identifiable entities could be used to satisfy the wider public that the movement was not a religious one.

The 2005 decision of Judge John E Jones III in Kitzmiller v Dover put a crimp into that approach (see the complete ruling at http://www.pamd.uscourts.gov/kitzmiller/kitzmiller_342.pdf). The trial testimony made crystal clear the religious motivations of the Dover Area School Board, to the extent that even the Discovery Institute — the main proponent of IDC — backed off. But beyond that, the inherently religious nature of IDC, and its essential identity with creationism in the broader sense, were made transparent.

With further disguise of the religion-driven agenda a pressing need, the Discovery Institute and other organizations have searched for deeper cover. Favored catchwords include "teaching the controversy", stressing the "gaps in Darwin's theory", presenting "the arguments for and against Darwinism", or simply "critical analysis". Specifically, critical analysis is to be applied to biological evolution in a way that singles it out as somehow less scientific than gravitation or the atomic theory of matter. Of course, calling modern evolutionary biology "Darwin's theory" or "Darwinism" is just about as accurate as calling modern physics "Newton's theory" or "Newtonism".

But these negative tactics by themselves can never be very satisfactory for forwarding the overall creationist program (see, for example, the "Wedge" document, available on-line at http://www.antievolution.org/features/wedge.html). All they do is cast doubt on science. True, if one can preach to students about the inadequacy of biological evolution in class, one may perhaps tell them about the ubiquitous interventions of the Old Testament God after school. But something more positive is clearly wanting. IDC badly needs a crypto-religious device that can masquerade as a superior (or at least competitive) scientific alternative to "Darwinism" and has a chance of passing the court tests excluding religion from public school science classes.

In the wake of the Kitzmiller decision, I wondered where creationists might find such a device. It would not have to be good science — there is no law requiring that good science be taught in science classes — as long as it did not look like religion to the casual observer. Yet it would have to have strong religious implications to satisfy the actual creationist program.

Rising from the ashes of defeat

This idea drew me back to a college humanities class I attended about 1953, in which a major reading was French metaphysician Henri Bergson's 1907 classic, Creative Evolution. Building on earlier ideas going back as least as far as Aristotle, Bergson argued that the natural processes underlying evolution are supplemented — or perhaps even driven — by a nonmaterial élan vital (of which more later). Whatever it may be, élan vital adds contingency to what he saw (erroneously) as an otherwise deterministic pathway. Bergson also puts heavy weight on the idea that intuition is in some sense a path to knowledge superior to reason — an argument that can easily be directed to stress the importance of faith (though this was not Bergson's intent).

There was some irony in the fact that I was at the same time reading Erwin Schrödinger's seminal small book What is Life? (1945) in my scientific studies. As a physics major, I took Schrödinger seriously and Bergson as an entertaining intellectual gymnastic. While Bergson speculated about his élan vital, Schrödinger proceeded more parsimoniously, asking, "How can the events in space and time which take place within the spatial boundaries of a living organism be accounted for by physics and chemistry?" He continued:

The preliminary answer which this little book will endeavour to expound and establish can be summarized as follows: The obvious inability for present-day [1944] physics and chemistry to account for such events is no reason at all for doubting that they can be accounted for by those sciences. (1945: 1–2)

In the extraordinary flowering of molecular biology that followed (and was in part inspired by him) Schrödinger's simple assertion was amply justified.

Between the publication of Creative Evolution in 1907 and my exposure to it in college, the Modern Synthesis had merged classical evolution with genetics. The result was a much more robust body of knowledge, resolving the basic scientific questions of evolutionary process that had troubled Bergson and played a role in motivating his thinking.

Nevertheless, the elegance of his writing sustained interest in literary if not scientific circles. By the late 1950s the metaphysical works of the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, suppressed by his superiors during his lifetime, had also been published. Teilhard's thinking on evolution moved along what one might call Christianized Bergsonian lines. He perceived evolution in the cosmological as well as the biological sense as a process converging toward a final state of unity of the material (the "biosphere") and the spiritual (the "noosphere") — a state that he called the omega point (Teilhard de Chardin 1975). This point is connected theologically with the Second Coming of Christ.

There is much in this view to attract the "intelligent design" creationist. What is more, there is practical utility in the slippery possibilities of translating Bergson's key term élan vital. The rather odd French word élan can be translated into English as force, or impetus, or impetuousness, or burst, or ardor, or enthusiasm, or vivacity, or spirit. These terms run the gamut from the prosaically physical to the evidently spiritual. With such latitude, a creationist might have good hope of dodging judicial barriers to injecting religion into the science classroom without compromising his aims.

I was therefore surprised that Bergson and Teilhard has not yet popped up widely in IDC discourse (but see the discussion in Tipler 2007; though not a creationist in the typical sense, his work has influenced William Dembski). There is a passing reference to Creative Evolution in a short article by Discovery Institute fellow Bruce Gordon (2001). This piece predates the Kitzmiller decision, but it has been extensively quoted in IDC blogs since then. It is mainly a criticism of the creationist practice of sidestepping the work of doing real science and acquiring scientific credibility before heading to the K–12 classroom. However, Gordon does emphasize the "one-size-fits-all" characteristic of Creative Evolution:

Design research is compatible with a realistic teleology like that of the vitalism espoused by thinkers such as Henri Bergson and [his contemporary, the embryologist] Hans Driesch. ... It is compatible with a theistic-evolutionary perspective of continuous development in which the unfolding of the universe and of life was implicit in finely-tuned initial conditions. On a less sanguine note, it is logically compatible with "creationism" in a variety of forms, though many of these can readily be dismissed on well-established scientific grounds. And there may be other metaphysical possibilities.

The possibilities of using Bergson as a weapon against "Darwinism" have been apprehended in broader anti-evolution circles as well; a particularly amusing example is provided by professional philippicist Lev Navrozov in "Darwinism vs intelligent design" (http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2006/1/12/200838.shtml). But I was still more surprised when a discussion of Bergson's élan vital turned up recently in a publication by young-earth creationist (YEC) Jerry Bergman (2007). After some years of papering over their considerable differences with the IDC movement, the YECs have become much more critical of what they now see not only as an ideological rival and a hypocritical or even quasi-heretical concealment of God's hand in nature, but also as a losing strategy.

It is not clear what Bergman has in mind. His main point, which has nothing to do with Bergson's work, seems to be the frequent YEC assertion that new genetic "information" cannot appear. In making this assertion, he plays the common creationist game of quoting scientists out of context. His victims of misquotation run the gamut from distinguished biologist Lynn Margulis (2006; Margulis and Sagan 2002) to Harvard biology major Jonathan Esensten (2003). Bergman's twisting of the latter's writing is particularly amusing. In an article uncompromisingly denunciatory of creationism, Esensten says, "Evolutionary theory is a tumultuous field where many differing views are now competing for dominance." But Bergman does not continue the quotation: "...'intelligent design' cannot even be considered among possible alternatives because it fails the basic tests of any scientific hypothesis." This complete reversal of the author's meaning exemplifies the creationist practice of misrepresenting genuine scientific controversies about the fine points of evolution as a collapse of the entire science.

Furthermore, Bergman slyly slips past the fact that Bergson was not "anti-Darwinian" at all — he saw himself as supplementing rather than supplanting evolutionary theory, as is evident in the title Creative Evolution. Then Bergman tries to show that Bergson's newly invented "anti-Darwinism" makes creationism respectable science. He does this by insinuating that Bergson's Nobel Prize was in the biological sciences (Bergman 2007), thus justifying the subtitle "An Anti-Darwin Theory Won A Nobel." In fact, Bergson's 1927 award was in literature (http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1927/press.html).

Though the Nobel award was not in science, the presentation speech by 1927 Nobel Committee President Per Hallström does present much potential grist for the IDC mill:

[Bergson experiences] a liberating crisis of the soul. One can only guess that this crisis was provoked by the heavy atmosphere of rationalistic biology that ruled toward the end of the last century. Bergson had been brought up and educated under the influence of this science, and when he decided to take up arms against it, he had a rare mastery of its own weapons and full knowledge of the necessity and grandeur it had in its own realm, the conceptual construction of the material world. Only when rationalism seeks to imprison life itself in its net does Bergson seek to prove that the dynamic and fluid nature of life passes without hindrance across its meshes.

Today, Bergson has fallen out of prominence in the scholarly world, even in France. And his thinking never passed muster in the scientific community. More than three decades ago, the late biochemist and 1965 Nobel Laureate Jacques Monod (1972),who was indeed a scientist, had this to say about Creative Evolution:

There has probably been no more illustrious proponent of a metaphysical vitalism than Henri Bergson. Thanks to an engaging style and a metaphorical dialectic bare of logic but not of poetry, his philosophy achieved immediate success. It seems to have fallen into almost complete discredit today [1970]; but in my youth no one stood a chance of passing his baccalaureate examination unless he had read Creative Evolution.

Evolution, identified with the élan vital itself, can ... have neither final nor efficient causes. Man is the supreme stage at which evolution has arrived, without having sought or foreseen it. ... [R]ational intelligence is an instrument of knowledge specially designed for mastering inert matter but utterly incapable of apprehending life's phenomena. Only instinct, consubstantial with the élan vital, can give a direct, global insight into them. Every analytical statement about life is therefore meaningless, or rather irrelevant. (p 26)

The concept of an élan vital, comprehension of which is approachable by human intuition but not by reason, has an evident appeal to the ID creationist. Moreover, unlike the "intelligent designer", élan vital is depersonified — perhaps sufficiently to pass muster in the courts as a nonreligious concept. And yet for those who wish it so, élan vital can be seen as a divine property or even a divine manifestation.

But what about K–12 science education? The opinions of the scientific community may weigh less in this matter than the response of the courts to the simple question: Does Bergsonian élan vital carry a religious message? As I have noted, there is nothing legally wrong with teaching scientific nonsense in public school classrooms, however repellent the idea may be to those concerned with providing the next generation with a good background in the sciences. I think there is a pretty good chance that Bergson, Teilhard, and perhaps other vitalists will provide a foundation for the efforts to insert vitalism as an entrée to those classrooms that can carry religious creationist views on its coattails.

References

Bergman J. 2007. Creative evolution: An Anti-Darwin theory won a Nobel. Impact 36 (7). Available on-line at http://www.icr.org/article/3383. Last accessed August 10, 2009.

Bergson H. 1920. Creative Evolution. Mitchell A, translator. London: Macmillan.

Esensten JH. 2003 Mar 31. Death to intelligent design. The Harvard Crimson Available on-line at http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=347206. Last accessed August 10, 2009.

Gordon B. 2001. Intelligent design movement struggles with identity crisis. Research News & Opportunities in Science and Theology 2 (1): 9.

Margulis L. 2006. The phylogenetic tree topples. American Scientist 94 (3): 194

Margulis L, Sagan D. 2002. Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of Species. New York: Basic Books.

Monod J. 1972. Chance and Necessity. Wainhouse A, translator. New York: Vintage Books, New York, 1972.

Schrödinger E. 1945 What is Life? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Teilhard de Chardin P. 1975. The Phenomenon of Man. New York: Harper & Row.

Tipler F. 2007. The Physics of Christianity. New York: Doubleday.

About the Author(s): 

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

Lawrence S Lerner is Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy at California State University, Long Beach, and a recognized expert on state science standards. He was the recipient of a Friend of Darwin award from NCSE in 2003.

William Paley, 1743–1805

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
People & Places: William Paley, 1743–1805
Author(s): 
Randy Moore
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2009
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
26–27
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

"There cannot be design without a designer."

Arguments involving timekeeping instruments have been common throughout the history of the creationism/evolution controversy. For example, in 45 BCE Roman philosopher and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 BCE) — an early advocate of "intelligent design" (ID) — claimed in The Nature of the Gods that "when you see a sundial or a water–clock, you see that it tells the time by design and not by chance. How then can you imagine that the universe as a whole is devoid of purpose and intelligence?"

In 1681, Thomas Burnet's (1636–1715) The Sacred Theory of the Earth, which founded scriptural geology (by trying to reconcile Scripture with geology), relegated God to the part of a playwright instead of a direct actor. Burnet used an analogy involving a clockmaker to argue that God's role in nature is indirect:"We think him a better artist that makes a clock that strikes regularly every hour from the springs and wheels which he puts in the work, than he that hath so made his clock that he must put his finger to it every hour to make it strike."

A decade later, John Ray — whose work set a pattern for European science for more than almost two centuries — discussed the relationship between God and nature in The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of Creation. Ray, who believed that adaptations are permanent traits designed by God, claimed that organisms have no history; they have always been the same, lived in the same places, and done the same things as when they were first created. Ray argued that a clock shows evidence of a designer, and since nature is more perfect than a clock, then nature must also include a master designer.

In 1696, English clergyman and natural philosopher William Derham's (1657–1735) The Artificial Clockmaker presented a teleological argument for the existence of God. In 1754, German philosopher and deist Hermann Samuel Reimarus's (1694–1768) Principal Truths of Natural Religion rebuffed Epicurean criticisms of ID. Reimarus transformed Ray's metaphor involving a clock into one involving a watch, thereby setting the stage for the well known argument of William Paley, the most famous advocate of ID.

William Paley was born in Peterborough, England in July 1743. Paley graduated from Cambridge first in his class in 1763, became a deacon in 1765, and was appointed assistant curate in Greenwich. Paley taught at Cambridge for ten years. He was ordained in 1767 (after earlier earning an MA), and the remainder of his clerical career included successively more influential positions within the Anglican Church. Paley opposed slavery and advocated prison reform, and as a philosopher, was a utilitarian, believing that humans act morally to increase their overall level of happiness. In 1776, Paley married Jane Hewitt, with whom he had eight children.

Paley was a popular preacher and one of England's most important theologians of his generation. He published his Cambridge lectures in The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy (1785), which outlined his utilitarianism and was used as a textbook at Cambridge for many years. This was followed by A View of the Evidences of Christianity (1794), which was a response to David Hume's skepticism of religion and, in particular, Hume's dismissal of miracles. But Paley's best-known book, and the last before his death, was Natural Theology; or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature (1802).

Figure 1. William Paley's Natural Theology was his era's most famous
exposition of the argument from design. Like earlier advocates of the
argument from design (for example, Cicero and John Ray), Paley used an
analogy based on a time–keeping instrument (in Paley's case, a watch).

In Natural Theology, Paley — one of the most admired clerics in the English–speaking world — argued that God could be understood by studying the natural world. Natural Theology begins with the famous metaphor of God as watchmaker (Figure 1). Paley argued that the only rational conclusion is that the watch "must have had" a designer. Much of Natural Theology discusses examples of purported design in nature, with many drawn from Paley's own observations, and likely to be familiar — and therefore persuasive — to readers. Paley's designer was his watchmaking God.

Charles Darwin read Natural Theology while at Cambridge, and was encouraged by his instructors John Henslow and Adam Sedgwick to accept Paley's perspective. Darwin recalled that Paley's work, including Natural Theology, "was the only part of the academical course which, as I then felt and as I still believe, was of the least use to me in the education of my mind." When Darwin boarded the Beagle, he accepted design in nature. However, after discovering natural selection, he felt differently: "The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered."

Virtually all biologists have similarly rejected Paley's argument. The most famous of these refutations is Richard Dawkins's The Blind Watchmaker (1986), whose title refers to Paley's metaphor. Dawkins agrees that there is a watchmaker, but otherwise concludes that Paley is "gloriously and utterly wrong." The watchmaker for Dawkins (and for contemporary biology) is natural selection. Biologists view the evolution of complexity and apparent design, therefore, simply as the result of the cumulative process of repeated generations of differential reproduction. Dawkins's book motivated Phillip Johnson to write Darwin On Trial and to become active in the ID movement. Although proponents of ID claim that their premises differ from Paley's, and, unlike Paley, do not specify who or what the designer is, most evolutionary biologists see ID as a version of Paley's arguments updated to account for advances in our understanding of biology.

Soon after finishing Natural Theology, Paley suspected that his death was imminent, and he assembled his sermons to be published posthumously and given to anyone "likely to read them". Paley died on May 25, 1805, and was buried in the Carlisle Cathedral, next to his wife.

About the Author(s): 

Randy Moore
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org

Randy Moore is coauthor of More Than Darwin (Berkeley [CA]: University of California Press, 2009) and of the forthcoming No Prospect of an End: A Chronology of the Evolution–Creationism Controversy (Westport [CT]: Greenwood Press, 2010).

Review: Critique of Intelligent Design

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
4
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
32–33
Reviewer: 
Arthur McCalla
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Critique of Intelligent Design: Materialism versus Creationism from Antiquity to the Present
Author(s): 
John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York
New York: Monthly Review Press, 2008. 240 pages.

The great merit of this book is its authors' recognition of historical contingency as key to the battle over "intelligent design". They argue that every natural and social science originated in a materialist (in the sense of naturalist) critique of some version of "intelligent design" and its accompanying teleological explanation. Proponents of "intelligent design" throughout the ages, in turn, have attacked materialism for its rejection of design and teleology, resulting in a 2500-year dialectic between scientific materialists and their theological and philosophical opponents. The authors further note that whereas the history of this conflict is well known to present-day creationists (the young-earth creationist Henry Morris referred to it as "the long war against God" and it receives prominent exposure in the Wedge document of the "intelligent design" proponents affiliated with the Discovery Institute), it is little known among defenders of science. The authors' intent in writing this book is to add to the armory of opponents of creationism by reconstructing this "long critique of design, which was so integral to the development of science in all its forms" (p 28).

After introductory chapters setting out the purpose and scope of the book and reviewing the Wedge strategy (chapters 1–2), the authors get down to their twofold main work. First, they present a series of chapters depicting how specific natural and human sciences could be brought into existence only by means of their founders' rejection of "intelligent design" (chapters 3–7); next, they reflect on the nature of historical materialism and its relevance to human well-being in light of the present-day controversy over "intelligent design" (chapters 8–10).

The authors begin their first task by noting both that creationist views predate Christianity and that the argument from design was itself developed as a reaction against the materialist theories of ancient Greek atomists. Their chapter on the ancient Greeks quickly focuses on Epicurus — the archenemy of creationists through the ages and therefore the hero of the authors' counterhistory. Ancient Epicurean materialism was a philosophy of both nature and society. Its atomist universe evolves, driven by contingent occurrences (the famous Epicurean swerve), into greater complexity, while human society, freed by philosophy from fear of divine caprice or fatalist submission to mechanistic determinism, develops in the direction of greater freedom and happiness. Epicurus thus becomes the figure of the liberator of humanity from superstition and establishes the authors' fundamental contention that the struggle against "intelligent design" is a struggle not only for scientific truth but also for human freedom.

The following chapters identify the revival of Epicureanism as a major influence on key thinkers of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, and then discuss more fully Marx, Darwin, and Freud. Of Darwin, little need be said here, except that the authors usefully remind us that it was Darwin himself who gave us the term "intelligent design" in its modern sense as the position which his theory of evolution by natural selection was intended to overthrow. Marx is the intellectual center of the book — the authors write from an enlightened Marxist perspective — and the chapter devoted to him presents Marx as the principal nineteenth-century scholar of Epicurus and interprets his accomplishment as a parallel attempt to dismantle both religious teleology and mechanistic determinism in order to construct a materialist philosophy of both nature and society that would free humanity from irrationalism and injustice. The very existence of a chapter on Freud is interesting, given the often bitter rivalry between Marxists and Freudians in the twentieth century. And indeed it is not at all certain that the authors regard psychoanalysis as a science; one suspects that Freud receives a chapter only because he is prominently attacked by creationists. In any case, in culminating with Freud's philosophical assessment of religion as an illusion that conflicts with science, the chapter underlines the common theme of materialist thinkers from Epicurus onwards: science liberates humanity from bondage to the unreason of religion.

In what I have designated as the second part of the book, the authors distinguish contingency from randomness and celebrate it as the substrate of human freedom. Proponents of "intelligent design" pursue an either/or strategy, according to which we must choose between understanding the world to be the result of blind chance or of a superior Intelligence; and since the complexity of the world rules out the former, the latter is left as the more reasonable explanation. The authors expose the hollowness of this strategy by explaining carefully that what it (deliberately) omits is the understanding of the world that is in fact that of modern science: the world is the product of contingency operating along historically and structurally conditioned pathways; as such, natural and social history is governed by natural forces independent of either design and purpose or mechanistic determinism. The authors' demonstration draws heavily on the work of Stephen Jay Gould and his various collaborators (and one detects below the surface of the text the authors' engagement in side-debates within modern evolutionary biology concerning the tempo of evolution and the relation between formalism and structuralism in biology).

"Intelligent design" is, of course, the thin end of a wedge, the thick end of which is the reactionary social, cultural, and political program of the Christian right. Here again, the arguments of its proponents turn on an either/or choice: either the universe is designed by a supernatural Intelligence or there can be no meaning or morality to human life. Once more, the authors explain how the historical materialist notion of contingency provides a way out of this suffocating dualism. History is open-ended in the sense that human actions are one of the forces that will shape it. Humans have the freedom to participate in the construction of meaning.

Readers may wonder if this book is the thin end of a Marxist wedge. While the authors are committed to historical materialism as a revolutionary project for humanity, and while they assert that the conflict between religion and science is insurmountable within the present social order, their commitment is to a historical materialism stripped of the determinism of vulgar Marxism and in which Darwin is as important as Marx. My only significant reservation regarding this useful and thoughtful book is that historiographically it is insufficiently radical. The authors themselves cite the Hegelian dictum that "contraries belong to the same genus" underlying Marx's contention that atheism is simply the inversion of theology and therefore not a radical break with a religious way of thinking (p 97, quoting Thomas Dean's Post-Theistic Thinking: The Marxist-Christian Dialogue in Radical Perspective). In simply inverting the creationists' "long war against God", the authors endorse their either/or way of thinking. The role of religion in the history of science, we may suspect, is more complex and ironic than either side suspects.

About the Author(s): 

Arthur McCalla
Department of Philosophy/Religious Studies
Mount Saint Vincent University
166 Bedford Highway
Halifax NS B3M 2J6 Canada
arthur.mccalla@msvu.ca

Arthur McCalla is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy/Religious Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University, and the author of The Creationist Debate: The Encounter between the Bible and the Historical Mind (London: T&T Clark International, 2006).

Review: Darwin Day in America

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
4
Date: 
July-August
Page(s): 
33-34
Reviewer: 
Mark E Borrello
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science
Author(s): 
John G West
Wilmington (DE): Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2007. 495 pages

In Darwin Day in America, John G West — the associate director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture — blames all of what he deems to be the ills of modern society on a construct he calls "Darwinism," which throughout the book is roughly equated with "scientific materialism." If there has been a negative cultural development, West will most certainly find Darwinism as its source. If there is an institution or idea that appeals to his sensibilities, however, he will take great pains to distance it from any taint of Darwinian influence. This is quintessentially bad scholarship.

In the chapters dedicated to crime and punishment (chapters 3–5), West goes on at length cataloging and ridiculing the attempts of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century researchers investigating the material basis of human behavior. All of the usual suspects are rounded up (Darrow, Lombroso, Freud, and Skinner among others) and quote-mined to fit West's indictment. According to West, of course, they are all operating under the thrall of Darwinism and are responsible for undermining everything that makes us human — most especially personal responsibility and free will (both of which we are endowed with by the Creator).

The result of all of this work, West concludes, is that the medicalization or scientization of criminal behavior has stripped our culture of the right to mete out punishment according to the dictates of what West vaguely refers to as the "Western conception of criminal justice" (p 73) or the "cultural foundations of the traditional theory of punishment" (p 78) — read Old Testament. According to West, our attempts to discern the material basis of human behavior have led us too far down the path of treating criminals as victims and toward a rehabilitative approach that has had a dismal record of success.

In his analysis of the effects of "scientific materialism" on US jurisprudence, West resembles Chicken Little. He concludes his trip down the slippery slope by stating:

Scientific materialism, by contrast [with what West calls the traditional legal system], presumed that all behaviors could be reduced to material causes rather than the free choice of the individual; according to this view, it was unclear that anyone could ever be considered 'morally blameworthy' in the classical sense. The scientific view threatened to undo the Western conception of criminal justice. (p 72–3)

West suggests that to treat the psychologically or physiologically damaged criminal differently is to rob him or her of her humanity since it does not interpret his or her actions as those of a rational being. West makes no distinction between the moral culpability of the individuals in these cases and asserts that the success of these kinds of mental-illness defenses have detrimentally altered not just the decisions in these cases but also the ways in which the justice system deals with criminals after they are convicted.

And this is just the beginning, West assures us:

But the dehumanizing effects of scientific materialism reach far beyond our criminal-justice system. Reductionist thinking has been applied to the fields of business, economics, and welfare — with equally grim results. In the next section, we will look at the pervasive impact of Darwinism [egad!] and scientific materialism on conflicts over wealth and poverty in America. (p 101)

Apparently West does not like the direction our criminal justice system has developed over the past 150 years, and Darwin is to blame.

On the other hand, West does like free markets and therefore he asserts, "Myths aside, Darwinism has offered little genuine support for laissez faire capitalism"(p 117). This is fascinating footwork, which exhibits a troubling inconsistency in the apportioning of influence. In the next chapter, "Breeding Our Way out of Poverty", the Darwinian specter returns to haunt West's analysis. While the idea of competition as positively applied in the context of business is attributed to Hobbes, Malthus, and Adam Smith, when West shifts gears to discuss eugenic approaches to welfare policy, Hobbes, Malthus, and Smith disappear, and his favorite bogeyman returns, especially among the elites that he particularly disdains.

West's analysis concludes with the claim that it was:

[s]cience with a capital S [that] dictated the replacement of punishment with treatment in the criminal justice system, the enactment of forced sterilization in the welfare system, and the substitution of value-free information from sex researchers for traditional moral teachings about family life in public schools (p 361)

That's a pretty bad track record, and therefore, again according to West, we should reject the "growing chorus [that] urges public policy be dictated by the majority of scientific experts without input from anyone else (p 362).

This is a straw man. While there are indeed outspoken scientists who advocate for various policy positions and funding decisions, it is not the case that these individuals demand or could have unilateral decision-making power.

Despite a plethora of footnotes and multiple citations of the work of his colleagues at the Discovery Institute, West is clearly not dealing with reality. He simply ignores scholarship by anyone outside of a tight group of ideological fellow travelers. West's analysis of Social Darwinism rests largely on challenging Richard Hofstadter's 1955 thesis, which has been modified and updated by scores of historians since the mid-century. His chapters on eugenics cite Daniel Kevles's early work on the history of the eugenics movement but fail to engage the past 20 years of scholarship on this issue. The idea that somehow scientists in the US have been dictating social policy for the past century is on the face of it ludicrous. West's book is frustrating, and deeply depressing. Perhaps its only positive function is that it provides a very clear window into a very particular view of history that is shared by the members of the Discovery Institute and their sympathizers.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

Mark E Borrello
Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior
University of Minnesota
1987 Upper Buford Circle
St Paul MN 55108

Mark E Borrello is a historian of science and assistant professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at the University of Minnesota.

Review: Intelligent Design: Science or Religion?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
4
Date: 
July-August
Page(s): 
34-35
Reviewer: 
Taner Edis
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Intelligent Design: Science or Religion? Critical Perspectives
Author(s): 
Robert M Baird and Stuart E Rosenbaum, editors
Amherst NY: Prometheus Books, 2007. 338 pages

Our public debates over "intelligent design" (ID) creationism tend to center on theological and political convictions, though ostensibly they are about natural science. After all, "intelligent design" is bad science, or "dead science" as Philip Kitcher puts it, so the scientific community treats it as a nuisance. A handful of scientists have exposed the weaknesses of ID in some technical detail, but everyone knows the real action takes place outside of science.

In this environment, Intelligent Design, a collection edited by Robert Baird and Stuart Rosenbaum, provides a very useful introduction to the most popular arguments made by public defenders of evolution. Some of the contributors address scientific questions, but they never get overly technical, and they always keep the public discussion in mind. And the bulk of the essays address questions about "intelligent design" and the science classroom, including the burning question for most Americans: whether evolution is compatible with religion. Since the evolution wars in the United States are really political contests between traditionalist and modernist forms of religion, Intelligent Design voices a liberal, modernist theological point of view, according to which science and religion, when understood correctly, occupy separate spheres and are therefore compatible. Also, importantly, the book focuses almost entirely on the question of ID in biology, including writers such as Owen Gingerich who otherwise defend a watered-down form of ID in the context of physical cosmology.

That much does not distinguish this book from others in the market. But as a compact, readable introduction to a liberal religious critique of ID in biology, it is well-worth reading and should be useful to teachers and members of the community who want to find out more from critics of ID. Reading through the essays they will find reflections on the trial at Dover, short op-ed style responses to ID, and even some short selections from Darwin and Paley that help put the debate in context. They will definitely find ammunition against the irritating charge that accepting biological evolution means abandoning religious allegiances. If more people read and agreed with books like this, the jobs of everyone who teaches science in the United States would be much easier.

I would love to give this book to a high school teacher. Still, having said that, I find myself asking: how would someone respond if they were already inclined to favor ID? How persuasive would it be for someone not convinced that we can split the difference, let science and religion occupy their separate spheres, and end up with everyone happy all at once?

One reason I am prompted to raise the question is that I find such compatibilism too cheap, too politically convenient. (As someone who teaches science, I certainly find it convenient. But then, the stereotype of a waffling liberal is supposed to be someone who cannot be zealous even about his own interests.) For example, Intelligent Design includes Stephen Jay Gould's classic "Nonoverlapping magisteria." Rereading it, I am still unconvinced. I am even less moved by the editors' and Alfred I Tauber's Kantian approach to separate spheres. It all comes across as a bit too faith-based for my taste.

But that does not detract from the value of the book. Any disagreements I can summon up here are largely academic, and politically irrelevant. They certainly would have no effect whatsoever on what happens in a science classroom. If I have a concern, it is that I worry that creationists and ID sympathizers that I know are not impressed by liberal compatibilism. And they are intelligent people with substantial questions about divine action and what they see as the basic religious requirement of a top-down, mind-first, supernaturally governed universe. ID resonates with their religious intuitions, and liberal theology invariably comes across as overly sophisticated backpedaling. Now, I cannot help them. But I am not sure that handing them a copy of Baird and Rosenbaum's book would do much to quiet their fears about evolution either.

I do not want my worries to distract from the virtues of what is quite a decent book. Intelligent Design represents a very mainstream position adopted by public defenders of evolution in the United States. But especially outside the technical scientific context, an important virtue of an accessible defense of evolution should be its persuasive quality. I am not very confident about this. I would love to say I have some better idea myself. But I confess I do not, and I worry about relying too much on what has become a well-stereotyped set of arguments in favor of excluding ID from education. It would be intriguing to see if we have any new and imaginative ideas about how to persuade the public that only evolution deserves a place in the biology classroom. I do not see such ideas in Intelligent Design, but if this is a failure, it is a failure of all of us active in defending the integrity of science education.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

Taner Edis
Department of Physics
Truman State University
Kirksville MO 63501

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

Review: The Cell's Design

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
4
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
36–37
Reviewer: 
Frank Steiner
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Cell's Design: How Chemistry Reveals the Creator's Artistry
Author(s): 
Fazale Rana
Grand Rapids (MI): Baker Books, 2008. 332 pages.

After reading Fazale Rana's The Cell's Design, the sequel to Origins of Life (Rana and Ross 2004; reviewed in RNCSE 2007 May–Aug; 27 [3–4]: 45–8), I was reminded of John Conlee's 1979 lyrics, "These rose colored glasses, that I'm looking through / Show only the beauty, 'cause they hide all the truth." This country music classic sums up Rana's book, which starts with the foregone conclusion that the cell is designed, by explaining the principles (with reference to Dembski and Behe) of "intelligent design" (in chapter 1). Thereafter, everything is presented through this lens. The material in chapter 1 attests to the fact that the lessons learned from the recent Kitzmiller v Dover case were completely (albeit conveniently) ignored by the author, just as they have been by the "intelligent design" community. One must read this book in a fog of scientific denial and delusion, and accept the fact that the author totally ignores and neglects to inform the reader of the most important and wonderful aspect of science, namely the process of scientific inquiry. Some of the assumptions about the universal acceptance of "intelligent design" are absolutely unfounded, to say the least!

Initially, I thought about recommending this book to my undergraduates as a nice review of general cellular and biochemical phenomena, but after getting through the first nine of the fourteen chapters, I realized (though painfully) that the author was just merely reinterpreting (and without sound scientific basis) commonly known biochemical aspects of the cell, and was not offering any new scientific information, data, or scientific insights. In fact, practically every topic is one that I cover in my advanced cell biology course. But there are startling omissions, such as the endosymbiotic origin of mitochondria and chloroplasts and the residual nucleomorphs found in several algal species, and the origin of human chromosome #2 in the telomeric fusion of two ancestral acrocentric chromosomes. The author essentially treats virtually every standard molecular/cell biology or biochemistry text as a mere arsenal of weaponry to "shock and awe" his readers (however, he particularly favored Lodish and others 2000 and Stryer 1988, which are cited 35 times in the endnotes).

Prior to reading this book, I first perused the glossary and was frustrated by the circularity of many of the definitions that tended to use other glossary terms for their definition, and so on. As a microbiologist, I was particularly frustrated by Rana's inaccurate descriptions of various nutritional biochemical "trophisms", such as autotroph, chemotroph, and a missing term, lithotroph. My current microbiology students would have been confused by Rana's particular definitions of those terms. Although apparently meant to be somewhat of a cell biology primer for the general lay reader, the inaccuracies show that little attention was given to this part of the book, and that it was essentially an afterthought. Similar inaccuracies appear in the text as well; for example, the author refers to the viral capsid as a "capsule", which in bacteriology is something completely different.

Even a reviewer for the evangelical publication Christianity Today, Craig M Story of Gordon College, has already addressed what is basically wrong with Rana's interpretation of the biochemical workings of the cell (Story 2008), but I will try to be a bit more specific.

Having taught courses in biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, virology, immunology, and microbiology, the principal scientific problem that I have with Rana's approach is that each of his "design" examples — or what he produces as evidence for design — is presented in such general terms that he has glossed over the diversity represented in related systems or organisms, all of which can be accounted for by evolutionary mechanisms. For instance, Rana claims that all bacterial "chromosomes" are circular; but we now know that some bacterial genomes are combinations of linear and circular "chromosomes", while others contain mini-circular chromosomes, in addition to numerous plasmids. Equally problematic is the question of theodicy: if everything in and of cells were designed, would that not also apply to cancer cells? Perhaps the author should consider explaining the recruitment of cellular genes and cellular processes leading to cancer, assuming the irreducible complexity of cellular components. And what would that say about the Creator?

Upon finishing Rana's book, the phrase "all dressed up with no place to go" came immediately to mind. The subtitle, "How Chemistry Reveals the Creator's Artistry," is also somewhat misleading in that the book is really not about chemistry or chemical processes, but rather about molecules and biochemicals. Curiously, this book is all about the order of things that are designed, but there is not one mention of entropy until chapter 13 (p 246)! The author might have simply written a preamble to be taped onto the cover of every leading molecular/cell biology textbook stating, "The Creator's artistry is unquestionably evident in the subjects discussed throughout this entire book." This would have been much easier than selectively rehashing its contents, and saved the author, and the publisher, considerable time and effort.

I honestly cannot recommend this book to anyone, since it lacks a true scientific perspective as well as an objective scientific explanation of modern cell biology. Most of the "new" material in The Cell's Design is just a rehash of material presented in other "intelligent design" books, and does not represent, as the author states, "work of unprecedented magnitude never compiled before." Prior to reading this book, I finished Ken Miller's Only a Theory (2008), the sequel to his earlier book, Finding Darwin's God (1999). I would recommend these two excellent books instead of Rana's to anyone interested in the "intelligent design" controversy, as a true and objective scientific presentation is provided in both.

This book is a testament (no pun intended) to the failure of discrete politicized religious factions to accommodate their religious beliefs adequately within the scientific knowledge of today. One can certainly be a Christian or a person of faith and not have to impute design to every (or any) aspect of the cell (one might ask, isn't God great enough to let life evolve?). The process of scientific inquiry is allowing scientists to learn more about life at the cellular and molecular level, and while we do not yet have all of the answers as to why things occur as they do, nevertheless, the fact that we do not know entirely why things are organized the way are does not mean that they must be designed.

References

Lodish H, Berk A, Zipursky SL, Matsudaira P, Baltimore D, Darnell J. 2000. Molecular Cell Biology. 4th ed. San Francisco: WH Freeman.

Miller KR. 2008. Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul. New York: Viking.

Miller KR. 1999. Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution. San Francisco: Cliff Street.

Rana F, Ross H. 2004. Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolution Models Face Off. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.

Story CM. 2008. Same song, second verse. Christianity Today. Available on-line at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/octoberweb-only/143-42.0.html. Last accessed March 27, 2009.

Stryer L. 1988. Biochemistry. 3rd ed. San Francisco: WH Freeman.

About the Author(s): 

Frank Steiner
Biology Department
Hillsdale College
Hillsdale MI 49242
fxs@hillsdale.edu

Frank Steiner is Professor and Chair of Biology at Hillsdale College.

Review: The Devil in Dover

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
4
Date: 
July-August
Page(s): 
35-36
Reviewer: 
Burt Humburg
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v Darwin in Small-Town America
Author(s): 
Lauri Lebo
New York: The New Press, 2008. 256 pages.

The pages of RNCSE are replete with stories of municipalities flirting with anti-evolution policies. The stories that make their way into press or blogs are often limited to the essentials; detailed and researched accounts are rare. Even the court record from the recent Kitzmiller v Dover Area School Board trial provides only a limited version of what the reader instinctively knows is a bigger story.

At the very least, Lauri Lebo provides the missing details in The Devil in Dover. But she provides so much more, plying her journalistic trade to pick up on emotional cues to investigate where others had not, uniquely enriching her narrative. History comes alive in her account — from Judge Jones's withering questioning of creationist defendant Alan Bonsell on the stand, to the inner uncertainty and eventual triumph of the individual plaintiffs and their attorneys, to the description of small-town life in Dover and how it was affected by the trial — written with a perspective only a native of the area could provide.

Lebo demonstrably takes her journalism seriously. When her editors pressured her to make her coverage of "intelligent design" more balanced, she refused to present it as stronger than it was or mindlessly to parrot its talking points suggesting that evolution is unreliable. Rather, she found balance by humanizing her subjects, including the defendants and their supporters. Here is creationist defendant Bonsell and the helplessness he felt when his wife was fighting breast cancer. Here is the joy that a creationist pastor had when working with his congregation. Moreover, she researched the journalistic authorities who came up with the idea of journalistic balance in the first place, demonstrated that the current practice represents a perversion of their original intent, and effectively rebutted her addled editors.

Lebo herself changes over the course of her narrative, amply evidenced by the endearing and poignant personal detail she included. As a beat reporter for a local paper who covered educational issues, she was initially intrigued about the creationist claims to demonstrate scientifically the existence of God, but her interest soured when the absurdities of the creationist case became plain. She writes of the ever more questions she asked of her scientist sources, and the reader sees her learning. The Linnaean genus/species names for organisms and the examples she finds of biological principles in action, far from being distractions, serve to evince her growing enthusiasm for science. She even becomes a kind of practitioner, at one point applying what she learned to the identification of a flaw in the talking points of creationist Jonathan Wells during a conversation with him, only later discussing the matter with scientists and finding out she reached the correct conclusion.

Alas, Lebo's father, whom she credited for inspiring her early childhood interest in science but who had later turned to fundamentalism in financial desperation, could not endorse the skeptical methods of science and its conclusion of evolution. The frustration Lebo felt in trying to reach him is beautifully transmitted: where she found joy in understanding, he found solace in the certainty of a simple faith. As the creationist case collapses, Lebo tries to find common ground with her father, but their values are too different and he retreats ever more into his faith, a creationist to the end. Another encounter with a committed and ailing creationist similarly reveals Lebo's compassion and honesty. Unable to find anything else to write in a get-well card for creationist defendant William Buckingham, Lebo writes that she would pray for him — and then follows through, praying, she says, for the first time in years.

Ultimately, Lebo's poignant and personal narrative mirrors the national struggle of science advocacy. The denial of reality in the service of faith by her father is all too common in our nation, playing out in politics and in other towns. The idea that journalistic balance should entail portraying two opposite perspectives as equals, even when only one is coherent, strong, and widely supported, is also all too common and plays out in newspapers and television stations across our nation. The portability provided by Lebo's examples and the parallels between her personal and our nationwide struggles are what makes her book such a unique contribution to the literature. Readers who take from her 224 well-written and quickly-read pages a better understanding of the struggle to find common ground with the faithful or are inspired to press for journalistic reform away from the abiding perversion of balance will not have missed the point.

About the Author(s): 

Burt Humburg
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org

Burt Humburg is a graduate of the University of Kansas School of Medicine, now starting a pulmonary and critical care fellowship at the University of Michigan. A former member of the board of Kansas Citizens for Science, he was a resident in internal medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania — about forty miles from Dover — during the Kitzmiller trial.

RNCSE 29 (5)

Cover of RNCSE 29(5) showing a sign from the Creation Museum. Sign says See the Evidence
Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2009
Date: 
September–October
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 29 (5)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2009
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
2

NEWS

  1. A Nobelist Misrepresented in Texas
    Joshua Rosenau
    When the creationists on the Texas state board of education trotted out a Nobel Prize winner as having doubts about evolution, it turns out (of course) that they were using erroneous, second-hand information.
  2. "Ask Darwin": An Interactive Exhibit
    Two Pittsburgh-area professors have teamed with a multimedia center to produce an interactive exhibit, allowing visitors to hear Darwin in his own words, and to hear from modern scientists about how evolutionary science has grown.
  3. Exporting Creationism: Dutch Creationist Leaflet Now to be Distributed in Belgium
    Stefaan Blancke
    After a campaign that drew public and media attention, creationists in the Netherlands are targeting Dutch-speaking areas of Belgium with the remainder of their leaflets — or are they?
  4. Updates
    News from Arizona, California, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio,Texas, the United Kingdom, and the world.

NCSE NEWS

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

ARTICLES

  1. Credibility, Profitability, and Irrefutability: Why Creationists are Building Museums
    Julie Duncan
    Why would creationist organizations invest so much money and effort into museums when they reject the basic scientific foundations of our modern understanding of the history of life and the universe?
  2. Missionary Lizards: What the Creation Museum Reveals About Natural History Exhibits
    Katherine E Schroer
    Everybody loves dinosaurs. But the different ways they are displayed in natural history museums and the Creation Museum speaks volumes.

SPECIAL FEATURE

  1. People & Places: Creation Evidence Museum
    Randy Moore
    A close-up view of one of the best-known of the creationist museums.

FEATURES

  1. Reflections on a Visit to the Creation Museum
    Raymond A Eve
    It is difficult not to be impressed by the sheer assault on the senses and the carefully designed exhibits. But a closer look reveals an anxiety about control of cultural ideas and norms.
  2. Edward Blyth: Creationist or Just Another Misinterpreted Scientist?
    James K Willmot
    Blyth is one scientist whose early dedication to cre ationism is misrepresented to imply that he rejected descent with modification by natural selection.
  3. Yes, Noah's Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole World
    Lorence G Collins
    In the type of major flood that almost certainly occurred in the ancient Middle East, what would make people think that it covered "the whole world"?

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. Understanding Creationism
    An adaptation of a recent NCSE brochure that explores the basics of creation science.
  2. For the Birds
    These books explore the biology, ecology, and evolution of birds.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. Reframing Scopes: Journalists, Scientists, and Lost Photographs from the Trial of the Century by Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette
    Reviewed by Charles A Israel
  2. The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin by Benjamin Wiker
    Reviewed by Sander Gliboff
  3. Why the Universe Is the Way It Is by Hugh Ross
    Reviewed by David Koerner
  4. The Bible, Rocks, and Time by Davis A Young and Ralph F Stearley
    Reviewed by Steven Newton
  5. More Than a Theory: Revealing a Testable Model for Creation by Hugh Ross
    Reviewed by Graham Oppy

A Nobelist Misrepresented in Texas

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
A Nobelist Misrepresented in Texas
Author(s): 
Joshua Rosenau
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2009
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
4–6
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Creationists on the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) went to great lengths to defend outdated and inaccurate requirements that students learn the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. In 2003, that language was central to an attempt to force creationism into textbooks. In the course of defending that language in 2008 (see RNCSE 2009 May/Jun; 29 [3]: 4–6), opponents of evolution simultaneously flaunted their ties to young-earth creationism and misrepresented the views of many scientists, including Werner Arber, who won the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on restriction enzymes.

The board held the first of three public hearings about new science standards in November 2008. Testimony lasted over six hours, ending near 11:00 pm, and almost all of it focused on "strengths and weaknesses", with many people supporting a replacement drafted by scientists and teachers appointed by the board to revise the standards. Tempers in Austin were flaring as dinner time came and went.

Witnesses opposed to the "strengths and weaknesses" language constantly asked what the supposed "weaknesses" were, but got no satisfaction. Finally, conservative board member Cynthia Dunbar gave her explanation. Replying to teacher Anita Gordon's observation that the community of scientists regards evolution as fundamentally strong, Dunbar replied, "science is not something that's determined by majority vote, there is a scientific method. I would like to have someone of the magnitude of Dr Werner Abner [sic] here. I don't know if you know who he is. Are you familiar with him?"

Gordon was not, so Dunbar continued:

He is a Nobel laureate. He spent his life doing studies in evolution and genetics. I don't think we could get him here, I think he's in Switzerland. But his, his years and years and years and years of research in genetics and evolution are very, very credible, and his end result recently, I think it was in September, was that the genetic code, and genetic mutations are actually built in to a limitation that they can only go so far, which is contrary to the ultimate result of natural selection and all of that. But that would not be someone outside of the scientific community.

Dunbar again referred to Arber when college student Garrett Mize challenged her on the issue of "weaknesses" of evolution. "Where's the data for that?" he asked. "It's my understanding that the entire scientific community doesn't believe that they exist."

Dunbar's reply followed a familiar course: "First of all," she repeated, "science is not based on majority rule, and there's lots of data. Do you know who Werner Arber is? He's a PhD and a Nobel laureate." The student was not familiar with Arber, and Dunbar urged:

Go Google him. Because he spent his life on evolution and genetics. So there is data out there [on the weaknesses of evolution], we don't want that squelched. We want to be able to discuss it. ... His documentation, if you go read it, I mean it's very clear as to the geneticists and the documentation of the mutations and all that. I mean it's not anything that fails, it's testable, it's observable, it's right there. But those are the types of the things that we want the students to be able to discuss.

Working in the quote mine

I took to heart Dunbar's wish to hear Arber's views. Taking her advice, I searched the internet for his writings. Looking for the paper in which he supposedly published "his end result recently, I think it was in September," I came up short. He did not publish anything in September 2008, but that same month, an article by Jerry Bergman — "Werner Arber: Nobel laureate, Darwin skeptic" (Acts & Facts 2008 Sep; 37 [9]: 10) — was published about him in that month's newsletter from the young-earth creationist Institute for Creation Research.

I was disturbed, but not shocked, to see Dunbar citing a young-earth creationist newsletter as scientific evidence in support of her preferred public policy. Dunbar made headlines before the November election when she declared that a terrorist attack in the first months of an Obama administration "will be a planned effort by those with whom Obama truly sympathizes to take down ... America." In her book One Nation under God (Oviedo [FL]: HigherLife Development Services, 2008), Dunbar called public education "tyrannical".

Nor was she alone in drawing on creationist sources. In January 2009, chair Don McLeroy, a dentist himself, stated that "the latest article" on the evolution of teeth was titled "Tooth evolution theory lacks bite". A quick web search traced that article to a young-earth creationist website (http://www.creationsafaris.com).

Jerry Bergman's claim that Arber was skeptical of evolution and supported "intelligent design" creationism was based largely on an interview from the early 1990s, published in a collection Cosmos, Bios, Theos, edited by Henry Morgenthau and Roy Abraham Varghese (Peru [IL]: Open Court, 1992). Varghese was recently in the news over charges that, as co-author of philosopher Antony Flew's apologia for switching from atheism to deism (There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind [New York: Harper One, 2007]), he overstated Flew's opinion of Christianity (see, for example, Mark Oppenheimer's "The turning of an atheist," The New York Times Magazine 2007 Nov 4).

Arber's interview with Varghese does not support the claim that he favors "intelligent design" creationism. Arber responds to a question about human evolution by stating: "I do not have problems understanding the origin of Homo sapiens. Biologically, man is just a living organism as any other. ... [T]here is no good scientific evidence to assume that H sapiens is an independent creation" (p 142). Asked about the origin of life, Arber confesses it is "a mystery to me," and finds "[t]he possibility of the existence of a Creator, of God ... a satisfactory solution to this problem" (p 142). Nothing distinguishes this from a view like theistic evolution, which contrasts strongly with "intelligent design" creationism's rejection of natural explanations for the origin of life.

While Arber did not publish in September 2008, he had been busy. Shortly before the Texas state board of education hearings in November 2008, Arber had been the co-organizer of a conference on evolution for the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (see box, p 6). In his paper, "From microbial genetics to molecular Darwinism and beyond," he firmly stated his support for evolution as science and discussed "consistencies between the acquired scientific knowledge and traditional wisdom such as that reflected in the Old Testament." In this regard, his views align with Pope John Paul II's and with NCSE Supporter Ken Miller's take in Finding Darwin's God (San Francisco: Cliff Street Books, 1999).

Nor does his research show signs of doubts about evolution. He has published with such luminaries of evolutionary biology as Richard Lenski and Peter Raven, and his Nobel-prize-winning work on restriction enzymes has been powerfully useful to evolutionary biology.

In his own words

Certain that ICR had misrepresented Arber, and happy to fulfill Dunbar's desire to hear Arber's own views, I got in touch with some of his professional colleagues for help alerting him to ICR's erroneous article and Dunbar's mangled repetition of it. One colleague replied, "That certainly seems to me to be a misrepresentation of Professor Arber's views on the matter, and quite amazing."

I also wrote to Arber himself. He wrote back, with thanks for alerting him to the problem. He included a statement he had sent to ICR refuting the article and Dunbar's interpretation of it, adding that I was "welcome to make use of this statement in relevant situations." He also pointed out a common problem in dealing with creationists: "I slowly learn to write my papers by taking care to reduce the chance of misinterpretation, but this is not easy." Given creationists' propensity for quoting inaccurately or without adequate context, it is indeed difficult to prevent such misinterpretation.

Arber's response to the ICR is unequivocal. Had he been at the hearings, as Dunbar wished, he would surely have denied that evolution is riddled with weaknesses. Indeed, in his statement he affirms, "I am neither a 'Darwin skeptic' nor an 'intelligent design supporter' as it is claimed in Bergman's article. I stand fully behind the neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution and I contributed to confirm and expand this theory at the molecular level so that it can now be called molecular Darwinism."

NCSE executive director Eugenie C Scott presented Arber's letter to the board at its hearing in January 2009, noting "this is only one of many examples of false and misleading information that emanates from creationist sources." Taken aback, Dunbar seized on Arber's uncertainty about the origin of life. Scott replied, "That is irrelevant to the conversation today that we're having, because the conversation that we're having today is whether we should teach students, without qualification, the point of view of the scientific community, which is that living things have common ancestors. That's what evolution is." Scott concluded her comments by observing: "The high school classroom is no place to fight the culture wars, and this unfortunately is what is happening in Texas, and in Louisiana and in many other states, where this issue has disproportionately affected education." Arber was not mentioned again.

Dunbar relied on a single erroneous creationist source to contradict the testimony and guidance not only of her own committee of experts, but also of Texan Nobel Prize winners and of scores of scientific societies that urged the board to drop the language about "strengths and weaknesses" (see RNCSE 2009 May/Jun; 29 [3]: 13). This rejection of expertise was a theme throughout the hearings. As Jeremy Mohn showed in RNCSE (2009 May/Jun; 29 [3]: 7–9), McLeroy quote-mined many scientists to garner support for creationist amendments in January. In March 2009, McLeroy rejected outright any scientific testimony he disagreed with, declaring, "Someone's got to stand up to experts!" He later explained his support for an amendment questioning the existence of climate change, telling the Austin American-Statesman (2009 Mar 28), "Conservatives like me think the evidence (for human contributions to global warming) is a bunch of hooey."

Educational policy should never be based on any source that relies solely on political or religious ideology. This is doubly so for sources which make demonstrably false statements, as Acts & Facts did about Werner Arber. NCSE is working hard to prevent the erroneous standards passed in Texas from weakening textbooks used across the country. In the longer term, we must all work to ensure that public policy is built on solid foundations, not on creationist falsehoods.

About the Author(s): 

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

Joshua Rosenau is Public Information Project Director at NCSE.

Creation Evidence Museum

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
People & Places: Creation Evidence Museum
Author(s): 
Randy Moore
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2009
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
34–35
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Figure 1: The Creation Evidence Museum is an evangelical organization that claims to have discovered more than 100 human footprints alongside dinosaur footprints in the Paluxy Riverbed at Glen Rose, Texas. (All photos by Randy Moore)

People driving along Highway 205 on their way to Dinosaur Valley State Park just outside of scenic Glen Rose,Texas, are often surprised to encounter the Creation Evidence Museum, located just a few hundred yards before the park's entrance (Figures 1, 2). The popular museum consists of a small group of trailers and a larger building that advertises itself as a "scientifically chartered museum." The museum's founder is Carl Baugh, a Baptist preacher, archaeologist,and Trinity Broadcasting Network personality who uses the museum to discredit evolution by claiming that people lived contemporaneously with dinosaurs. Baugh began his excavations along the nearby Paluxy River on March 15, 1982, and two days later announced discoveries of human and dinosaur tracks having "unparalleled historic significance".

Figure 2: Roadside sign urges passersby to visit the Creation Evidence Museum to see evidence that allegedly refutes evolution.

In the museum, visitors watch a 40-minute Creation in Symphony video in which Baugh describes his story of creation that includes water's being sprayed 70 miles into the air and God's stretching the "space fabric" to a point where faraway stars exploded. Baugh, a young-earth creationist, claims that evolution offers no explanation for our existence. Baugh's creationism, on the other hand, provides hope and a happier ending. The museum, which was established in 1984, supports a variety of research programs, including expeditions that claim to have found living pterodactyls in New Guinea.

Museum officials claim that the fossilized human footprints displayed in the Museum were made in what people have been "educated" to believe are 113-million-year–old deposits of limestone in nearby Dinosaur Valley State Park. Baugh claims to have excavated almost 100 footprints and 475 dinosaur footprints. Researchers in nearby Dinosaur Valley State Park have found thousands of dinosaur tracks, but no contemporaneous human footprints.

One of the largest footprints on display at the Creation Evidence Museum — the 14" (36 cm)-long "Burdick Track" — was found by the energetic Clifford Burdick (1894–1992), a founder of the Deluge Society, one of America's first creationist groups. Burdick went to Glen Rose (about 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth) late in 1949, and in 1950 published an article titled "When giants roamed the earth" in the Seventh-Day Adventist magazine Signs of the Times. In that article, Burdick proclaimed that the Paluxy tracks were made by humans and that they therefore refute evolution. Burdick's article used out-of-context quotes to suggest that famed fossil-hunter Roland Bird (who went to Glen Rose in 1938 to investigate the tracks) had excavated the tracks and believed that they were made by humans.

Footprints from the Paluxy site were subsequently featured in The Genesis Flood, a book by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb Jr, that in 1961 launched the modern "creation science" movement in the United States. The tracks were promoted by numerous books (such as AE Wilder-Smith's Man's Origin, Man's Destiny in 1965) and films (Baptist minister Stanley Taylor's Footprints in Stone, produced with the help of Henry Morris in 1972). However, all of the tracks allegedly made by humans have been discredited by numerous studies.

The "Burdick Track" was not Burdick's only major discovery; in 1966, Burdick described his alleged discovery of pollen from conifers in Precambrian rocks as "science-shaking original-pioneering work." However, this discovery — like the "Burdick Track" — was later discredited by scientists; and even some creationists began to distance themselves from Burdick's claims. For example, young-earth creationist Walter Lammerts (1904–1996) — whose work was also cited in The Genesis Flood — criticized Burdick as someone who was "weak", "slow", and who "has not kept up with his reading". Unlike many creationists of his era, Lammerts supported civil rights and conservation, abhorred far-right extremists, and rejected the claim that communism was based on evolution. Lammerts's approach to the evolution controversy was simple: "If a man is such a stupid fool he can't see that evolution is wrong, I'm not going to try to convince him."

Figure 3: The hyperbaric biosphere in which Carl Baugh claims to have recreated earth's original pre-flood environment.

The Creation Evidence Museum also includes a large magenta-windowed "hyperbaric biosphere" in which Baugh claims to have recreated "earth's original pre-flood environment" (Figure 3). According to Baugh, the biosphere — which is connected to an oscilloscope — increases organisms' life-spans by 300%; it also detoxifies copperheads' venom. Near the biosphere is an aquarium in which Baugh grows "vegetarian piranhas." Baugh believes his discoveries support the vast life-spans of biblical patriarchs such as Adam (who allegedly lived to be 930), and the harmonious environment (that is, no carnivores or death) before Eve introduced sin into the world. Baugh hopes to grow dinosaurs in the biosphere. On the museum's walls, visitors can view paintings in which pre-flood children play with a baby Apatosaurus in the nearby Paluxy River.Visitors can purchase these replicas, as well as books, posters, and other materials such as certificates honoring recipients as "visionaries" for "supporting truth in education."

Figure 4: These dinosaurs, which today are displayed at Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, Texas (only a few hundred yards from the Creation Evidence Museum), were part of Sinclair Oil's Dinoland exhibit at the New York World's Fair in 1964–1965 that produced a wave of dinosaur-mania in the United States.

The dinosaur tracks in Glen Rose are from the lower Cretaceous; some of these tracks that were studied by Roland Bird are also displayed at the American Museum of Natural History. The 1500-acre Dinosaur Valley State Park — a National Natural Landmark — includes models of a 70' (21 m) Apatosaurus and a 45' (14 m) Tyrannosaurus rex commissioned by the Sinclair Oil Company for the New York World's Fair in 1964–1965 (Figure 4).

About the Author(s): 

Randy Moore is coauthor of More Than Darwin (Berkeley [CA]: University of California Press, 2009) and of Chronology of the Evolution- Creationism Controversy (Westport [CT]: Greenwood Press, forthcoming in 2010).

Credibility, Profitability, and Irrefutability

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Credibility, Profitability, and Irrefutability: Why Creationists are Building Museums
Author(s): 
Julie Duncan
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2009
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
17–20
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

I was a junior in high school when I first read that Answers in Genesis was planning to build a $27-million–dollar creationist museum just minutes from my home. The creationism/evolution "debate" had long been an interest of mine, and when my like-minded father left a clipped newspaper article about the museum on my desk with the words "uh oh!" scrawled across the top, I was dismayed to read that my town would soon be embroiled in evangelical fervor.

The museum seemed to mark a new direction for the creationist movement — and, I worried, seemed poised to bring creationist thought into the mainstream. When the museum opened in 2007, I was immediately struck by its technological and aesthetic sophistication. I had known, of course, that there were going to be animatronic dinosaurs, but I was blown away by what I saw. Everything — the displays, the labels, the movies, even the landscaping — was even more impressive than I had imagined.

Timothy Heaton (2007) and Daniel Phelps (2008) have already provided detailed descriptions of the museum's interior, so I will refer readers to those accounts of the facility. However, what I saw that day — and what over 714 000 others had seen by June of 2009 (Leichman 2009) — convinced me that there was something more to this museum than just a scientific façade. Creationists had been appropriating scientific language since at least the 1960s; that was nothing new. What was new was the museum itself. Why, I wondered, had creationists suddenly decided to build this museum instead of, say, a new megachurch or a Bible school? What is it about a museum that makes it particularly well suited to creationists' purposes?

Three for the Road

It is this question that I have worked to answer over the past year and a half. To do so, I investigated not only the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum but also three other creationist museums in other parts of the country. I analyzed their displays, interviewed their founders and employees, made note of the items for sale in their gift shops, and tried to determine just what each museum's purpose was.

The first of these was the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Texas, founded in 1984 by Carl Baugh — perhaps best known as host of Trinity Broadcasting Network's "Creationism in the 21st Century". The museum has three main attractions: Baugh's Creation in Symphony video, a Bible-based reconstruction of the phases through which the earth has passed or will pass "from Genesis to Revelation"; a 20-meter–long "hyperbaric biosphere," inside which Baugh claims to have simulated the conditions of the pre-Flood world in "controlled, scientific experiment[s]" (Baugh 1997); and a number of fossilized footprints he insists were made by humans. These footprints are Baugh's most treasured pieces of evidence, as he believes they prove that dinosaurs and humans lived contemporaneously — and therefore that the evolutionary time scale is flawed. Accordingly, Baugh built his museum along the road leaving Dinosaur Valley State Park — a place famous for its well-preserved dinosaur footprints — in the hope that it "would cause people to question the state park's version of prehistory" (Henry 1996).

My second visit was to Pensacola's Dinosaur Adventure Land (DAL), billed as the place "where dinosaurs and the Bible meet" (Hovind nd-a). DAL was founded by and constructed in the backyard of Kent Hovind. In 1989, Hovind had founded Creation Science Evangelism (CSE), a creationist ministry, and it was under the auspices of this organization — located on the same property — that DAL was built (DAL staff nd). According to Hovind, CSE's mission is to demonstrate "the perfect harmony of the Biblical record with factual science and history" as well as "the fallacies and deceptions of modern evolutionary thinking" (Hovind nd-b). With numerous outdoor, hands-on activities — each with "a science lesson to make you smarter, a physical challenge to make you tired, and a Bible lesson to bring you closer to the Lord" — Dinosaur Adventure Land's message is clearly directed toward children. As Hovind explains on his Ideas for Starting a Creation Ministry CD (2006), this dinosaur theme is a particularly valuable tool "to draw the kids in, to be able to talk to them."

Finally, I visited the Museum of Creation and Earth History (MCEH) in Santee, California. From 1992 to 2008, this museum belonged to the Institute for Creation Research, an organization that has been called "the intellectual center of the creationist movement" (Schudel 2006). During that time the museum offered free admission and received, according to then-curator Cindy Carlson, about 15 000 visitors per year (2008). The museum's displays closely mirror the contents of founder Henry Morris's book The Genesis Flood (Whitcomb and Morris 1961), and they serve much the same purpose: in Carlson's words, to help believers "integrate the creationist worldview with science" (2008). Indeed, much more than any of the other three museums I visited, the MCEH portrays creationism as a no-nonsense, intellectually tenable scientific theory. In 2008, after its move to Dallas, the ICR sold this museum to the Life and Light Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that plans to expand the museum's collections (LLF nd).

Why Build a Museum?

Scientific credibility

There are at least three significant and interrelated reasons for which creationists build these museums. First, museums have a long history as places of both scientific research and of public education. The modern museum's earliest ancestors are the wunderkammer, "cabinets of curiosity" that sprung up in the homes of the rich and the royal during the European Renaissance. Though these collections were generally unorganized and served mainly as entertainment and status symbols in polite culture, they did contribute to scientific studies, especially when lists and pictures of their contents were published (Olmi 1985: 6; Crane 2000: 65). In the 18th and early 19th centuries, as the works of Linnaeus and Buffon sparked interest in classification of the natural world, natural history museums — still private institutions — became more focused on expanding and ordering their collections so they might be useful for scientific studies, especially comparative anatomy (Farber 2000: 55). By the end of the 19th century, however, governments and corporations had begun actively supporting the construction of these "cathedrals of science" and making their collections available to the masses (Farber 2000: 88–90). The museums, still accompanied by large, behind-the-scenes research staffs and filled with exotic trophies of empire, enjoyed wide popularity. By the 20th century they had established a reputation as "centers of education and public enlightenment" (Alexander and Alexander 2008: 7), an image still quite popular today. By calling their institutions museums instead of "Bible centers" or "Faith parks," then, creationists automatically appropriate for their institutions this reputation for credibility and education.

It might seem ironic that creationists would be interested in building "cathedrals of science". They do, after all, reject a scientific theory supported by the vast majority of practicing scientists. However, creationists have shown themselves to be just as fond of science as other Americans; they simply believe that creationism is science. Both in these museums and in popular creationist literature, they argue that there is a purely scientific debate going on over evolution: a disagreement not between religious thinkers and scientists but between scientists who appear to be equally credentialed. As historian of science Steven Shapin notes, when experts disagree, the problem becomes "deciding who the scientific experts really are" (Shapin 2004: 46). At that point, Shapin argues, the layman is forced to perform a sort of "moral evaluation," favoring those experts "whom we can trust … to do good" (Shapin 2004: 48).

The creation museums exploit this idea, asking their visitors to make a similar moral evaluation when deciding whom to trust. Creationists, of course, are connected to God, the Bible, and the Christian way, encouraging visitors to trust in their morality as well as their scientific expertise. Then, by connecting evolutionists with things like racism, genocide, and communism, the museums' displays suggest that evolutionists are morally bankrupt, greatly diminishing their perceived authority.

Learning (and earning) while entertaining

The second crucial quality of museums is that they provide entertainment, unlike churches or Bible schools (in most cases). This is important for two reasons. First, it is a common belief that people of all ages, and especially children, learn better when they are having fun. Hooper-Greenhill (2007) reports that "teachers saw pleasurable experiences as central to effective learning" and that they saw a trip to the museum as "an opportunity to generate enjoyment" (Hooper-Greenhill 2007: 122). By teaching with a method that is "more 'fun' than using books" (Hooper-Greenhill 2007: 146), then, creation museums make it more likely that visitors will retain the message promoted therein. This is particularly true at Dinosaur Adventure Land, with its child-oriented focus on interactive learning, and at the Answers in Genesis museum, with its entertaining videos, impressive animatronic dinosaurs, and overall pleasant design. As Annalee Ward, a professor at Trinity Christian College, notes, these museums "are becoming major media venues that persuade as they delight" (Ward 2008: 164).

The entertainment value of museums is significant for another reason: revenue. At least since the days of Barnum's American Museum (founded in 1841 by PT Barnum, of circus fame), it has been known that offering crowds a glimpse at the strange or exotic — even if it means blurring the line between fact and fiction — can mean big money. In much the same way, the material on display in creation museums attracts big crowds. In addition to the price of admission, there are concessions, parking, and gift-shop items. According to Ward, that clientele represents a significant potential for revenue: "evangelicals are the primary market for a more than $4-billion-a-year religious entertainment industry" (Ward 2008: 164).

The Creation Evidence Museum takes in relatively little money — in 2007 Baugh reported just a little over $400 000 in total revenue and paid himself a salary of just $71 730 (IRS 2007a: 5). This situation is probably due to the museum's relatively isolated location and rather rudimentary displays. For the most part, the Institute for Creation Research, too, seems to make good on its promise that no employee is in it for the money (Morris nd): in 2007, Institute President John Morris, one of only two paid members of the ten-member board of trustees, made just $89 049 (IRS 2007b: 22) — a modest salary for the president of a large organization living in expensive San Diego.

For Dinosaur Adventure Land and Answers in Genesis, however, the story is quite different. The IRS reported that Kent Hovind made bank deposits in excess of $1 million per year before being jailed for tax fraud, suggesting that Creation Science Evangelism and Dinosaur Adventure Land were performing well (AP 2004). Answers in Genesis reported over $20 million in assets in 2006 and was paying Ken Ham a salary of $188 655 (IRS 2006: 18). At least four other employees were earning more than $100 000 per year (IRS 2006: 18–20) — and this was in 2006, the year before the museum opened. It is unclear why Answers in Genesis's 2007 tax returns are still (as of May 2009) unavailable, but considering that the $27-million museum opened without a penny of debt, the $20 admission fee (plus $5 for the planetarium show and more from bookstore and online merchandise sales) multiplied over more than 714 000 visitors has surely resulted in substantial revenue since then.

Unchallenged assertions

The third probable motivation for building a museum — and the one I consider most revealing — is that museums appear to speak directly to "the people" without intervention on the part of mainstream scientists or government officials as would be encountered in legal battles. In other words, museums are a medium in which creationist claims can go unchallenged. This seems to be part of a larger movement by creationists away from high-profile court cases over the evolution issue and toward the goal of, as AiG put it, "get[ting] information to the people" and "influenc[ing] the culture" (Ham 2008) from the ground up. Historian of science Ronald Numbers points out that this trend appears to have begun in the late 1980s, after creationists suffered "a string of losses in state assemblies and a series of negative decisions in federal courts" (Numbers 2006: 354). It was then that they "shifted from headline-grabbing legislative battles to quiet persuasion among teachers and school-board members" (Numbers 2006: 354). It seems likely that these museums, especially in the wake of defeat in Kitzmiller v Dover (2005), are part of this broader shift from legislative battles — and, perhaps, attempts to impose creationist belief — to persuasion on a local or individual level.

Because museums occupy a unique position in our society as places of both education and entertainment, it may be most accurate to think of them as a kind of "middle path" between the truly popular doctrinal media — things like books, DVDs, and Christian music groups, which appeal to a wide variety of believers — and the more academic "intelligent design", which appeals to a subgroup of believers concerned with their religion's scientific legitimacy. By incorporating elements of both the popular and the scientific — not just animatronic dinosaurs and sing-along musicals, but numbers and graphs, too — museums achieve a much more universal appeal.

Repercussions for Science

What makes all of this important are the repercussions these museums are likely to have for science. First, the museums drastically and independently change the definition of science. According to their view of science, appealing to the supernatural to explain observed phenomena is perfectly acceptable and even desirable. The "presupposition" that the Bible is true is just as legitimate as an a priori commitment to naturalism. As historian of science Peter Bowler notes, however, this is not so much a redefinition of science as "an excuse for stopping science in its tracks" (Bowler 2007: 213). In this view, a divine being could be invoked to account for any unexplained natural phenomena, rendering experimental support unnecessary. Furthermore, science as creationists define it would be teleological. That is, the ultimate results of any investigation would be predetermined, as they would have to conform to the Bible. The openness of mainstream science, a discipline whose practitioners have long boasted of its inability to "prove" anything (being capable only of disproving a hypothesis) would be eliminated.

Just as important, by setting up a rigid dichotomy between evolution and creationism, these museums suggest that "[e]vidence against one position is support for the other position" (Riddle 2004). Thus, any time scientists disagree or when part of a theory remains unresolved (for example, Does the Oort Cloud really exist? How exactly did life begin?), museum visitors are taught not that these are interesting questions deserving of further study but that they are "fallacies" whose very existence is further evidence for creationism.

Mainstream natural history museums, those "cathedrals of science", are being affected, too. In 2005, The New York Times reported that museum docents across the country were struggling to deal with "creationists eager to challenge the museum exhibitions on evolution" (Dean 2005). Answers in Genesis now sells museum, zoo, and aquarium guides that creationists can take with them and use for alternative, biblically correct interpretations of the displays. With those guides in hand, it is probable that creationists will feel even more confident in their questioning.

What is more, companies such as BC Tours — "where we are BC [biblically correct] and not PC" (Jack and Carter 2008) — have begun offering their own tours through mainstream museums on which visitors may learn "biblically correct" science (Rooney and Patria 2009). The Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, New York, is just one of many American museums forced to provide its workers with additional training in evolution in response to an influx of questioning creationists (Dean 2005). Though this influx is not due entirely to the effect creation museums are having on their visitors, it certainly cannot hurt that creationists now have their own impressive museums to contradict the ideas put forward in those of the mainstream.

Significance for Creationist Movement

With knowledge of these four creation museums, their methods, and their purposes, two important conclusions may be drawn about the state and direction of the modern American creationist movement. First, these museums are just one part of a larger shift in the creationist movement away from high-profile, "top-down" attempts to win recognition and classroom time for creationism. Like books, documentaries, and the internet — all of which have been utilized extensively by the creationist movement — creation museums have the ability to go "straight to the people." While court cases require that both sides receive an equal hearing, the museums can and do provide a one-sided view of the creation–evolution "debate", circumventing any rebuttals from scientific authorities.

Second, creation museums are part of the creationist reaction to the "conflict model" (Russell 1935; White 1876; Draper 1881) so entrenched in Western conceptualizations of the relationship between religion and science, which suggests not only that science and religion are "at war" but also that science has generally prevailed. By insisting that creationism is science, however, creation museums have collapsed the distinction between religion and science, fundamentally changing the space for debate; for how can creationism — which is itself a science — be against science? The dichotomy they have created is not a battle between religion and science but between two sciences, one moral and one immoral.

If one may judge by the remarkable success of the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Kentucky, the largest and most recently constructed of the four, creation museums are no passing trend. Millions of Americans agree with their messages, and hundreds of thousands patronize them each year. It seems very probable that the years to come will see the construction of more museums, most likely in the high-tech style of the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, which has proven quite lucrative.

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Leichman A. 2009 Jun 1. Creation museum still draws crowds, ruffles feathers after 2 years. Christian Today Australia. Available on-line at http://au.christiantoday.com/article/creation-museum-still-draws-crowds-ruffles-feathers-after-2-years/6363-2.htm. Last accessed June 1, 2009.

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Morris H. nd. Creation and its Critics. Dallas (TX): The Institute for Creation Research. Available on-line at http://www.icr.org/home/resources/resources_tracts_caic. Last accessed May 12, 2009.

Numbers RL. 2006. The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, expanded ed. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.

Olmi G. 1985. Science-honour-metaphor: Italian cabinets of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In: Impey O, MacGregor A, editors. The Origins of Museums: The Cabinet of Curiosities in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Europe. New York: Oxford University Press. p 5–16.

Phelps D. 2008. The Anti-Museum: An overview and review of the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum. Available on-line at http://ncse.com/creationism/general/anti-museum-overview-review-answers-genesis-creation-museum. Last accessed September 13, 2009.

Riddle M. 2004. Astronomy and the Bible [PowerPoint presentation]. Santee (CA): Institute for Creation Research. Available on-line at http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/overheads/TOC.asp. Last accessed December 20, 2008.

Rooney B, Patria M. 2009 Feb 9. "Biblically correct" tour guides. ABC News [broadcast]. Available on-line at http://abcnews.go.com/m/screen?id=4467337&pid=574. Last accessed June 10, 2009.

Russell B. 1935. Religion and Science. New York: Home University Library.

Schudel M. 2006 Mar 1. Henry Morris: Intellectual father of "creation science". The Washington Post. Available on-line at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2006/02/28/AR2006022801716.html. Last accessed January 10, 2009.

Shapin S. 2004. The way we trust now: the authority of science and the character of the scientist. In: Bechler R, editor. Trust Me, I'm a Scientist. London: British Council. p 42–63.

Ward A. 2008. Faith-Based theme parks and museums. In: Schultze J, Woods R, editors. Understanding Evangelical Media. Downers Grove (IL): IVP Academic. p 161–171.

Whitcomb JC Jr, Morris H. 1961. The Genesis Flood. Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed.

White A. 1876. A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. New York: D Appleton and Company.

About the Author(s): 

Julie Duncan
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncse.com

Julie Duncan is a native of Burlington, Kentucky, and a 2009 graduate of Harvard College, where she majored in history and science. This article is adapted from her senior thesis, "Faith Displayed as Science: The Role of the 'Creation Museum' in the Modern American Creationist Movement", which was awarded Harvard's Thomas T Hoopes Prize. She recently began her first year at Yale Law School, where she plans to study constitutional law

Edward Blyth: Creationist or Just Another Misinterpreted Scientist?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Edward Blyth: Creationist or Just Another Misinterpreted Scientist?
Author(s): 
James K Willmot
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2009
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
36–37
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

In early December 2007, my hometown newspaper, the Louisville, Kentucky, Courier- Journal, published my opinion piece concerning the newly opened creation museum in northern Kentucky. As a former science teacher with a particular interest in the understanding and advancement of science in society, I expressed my concern that this $27-million facility dedicated to the rejection of all science that contradicts a literal interpretation of biblical scripture is exceeding attendance expectations and gaining momentum in its mission to cast doubt on evolutionary biology and the multitude of scientific theories that support it.

I went to the museum and toured it twice during its opening weekend in late May of 2007. While no one can argue with the high quality of the facility and its 103 animatronic dinosaurs, the museum, built by the Christian ministry Answers in Genesis (AiG) erroneously claims its biblical interpretations of creation are backed up by scientific facts. What is most disconcerting to me (and the reason I wrote the article) is that the museum has become a de facto science center for the growing Christian home-school movement in the Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky areas, teaching thousands of children that the theory of evolution is incompatible with Christianity and that science can only be validwhen viewed through the lens of Christian scripture.

In my opinion piece, I suggested that Christians seek guidance on the subjects of evolution and cosmology from a Christian organization dedicated to the advancement of modern science (there are several). In response, one of the museum’s founders, Chief Communications Officer Mark Looy, wrote to the Courier- Journal, suggesting that had I visited the museum (which I had), I would have seen that AiG is not anti-science; he charged that I was a member of a cabal of scientists and secularists who have pushed Darwinism on society and stifled dissenting faith-based scientific theories (an oxymoron) on human origins. In addition, he asserted:

Darwin was not the first to fully describe natural selection; it was a creationist, Edward Blyth, 24 years before Origin of Species. Darwin just popularized an already existing idea and tagged it onto his belief about origins.

Looy also said that AiG is not anti-science and that I “conveniently” failed to mention that AiG has seven PhD scientists on staff. Despite AiG’s claims of being a legitimate science organization,it does not practice science since it accepts no scientific evidence that contradicts its core tenets of a six-day creation and a young earth. AiG is practicing religious fundamentalism masquerading as science (http://www.answersingenesis.org/about/faith).


WHAT ABOUT BLYTH?

One of the tactics that creationists use to cast doubt on evolution is to suggest that Darwin undeservedly received the credit for the theory of natural selection and misappropriated the idea from the work of other scientists (see for example http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/was-blyth-the-true-scientist-and-darwin-merely-a-plagiarist-and-charlatan/). This claim is as false as the “science” of creationism itself.As any student of science and history knows, new discoveries in science seldom emerge from a single source. Many of the advancements of science occur when new knowledge, derived from a variety of sources, is blended together to form new theories. Credit for scientific discovery is often a messy business and this was certainly the case with Darwin.

Contrary to Looy’s claim, natural selection was first described not by Blyth (or Darwin for that matter), but by the ancient Greek philosophers Empedocles and Aristotle in the third and fourth centuries BCE. Many scientists and philosophers in the centuries that followed contributed to the understanding of the adaptation of species due to environmental and competition pressures: al-Jahith, Harvey, Paley, Linnaeus, Buffon, Mathus, Lamarck, and Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, to name a few (see http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/0_0_0/history_index_01). Blyth contributed to the pool of knowledge with his insightful observations of bird species (specifically the birds of India) and his analysis of selective breeding practices of domesticated animals in a series of articles in The Magazine of Natural History from 1835 to 1837.

It is true that in his younger years Blyth believed in an “eternal and ever-glorious Being which willed matter into existence” (1837a: 140), as did most of the naturalists of his day. He held that while animal populations changed due to the influences of environmental conditions over geologic time, the human species was created by God as is. He reasoned that because modern humans are able to shape the environment to suit our purposes,we are exempt from the forces of natural selection.

Does not, then, all this intimate that,even as a mundane being, man is no component of that reciprocal system to which all other species appertain? a system which for countless epochs prevailed ere the human race was summoned into being. (1837b: 83)

While Blyth’s writings clearly disagree with young-earth creationists on the age of the earth (“It is needless to add, that a prodigious lapse of time is required here;and,to judge from data which past history of the globe abundantly furnishes, in legible records, wherever we turn our eyes…” [1837a: 140]), he was firmly in their camp when it came to human origins. He wrote the humans were created as “the last act of creation upon this world” by God (1837a: 140). However, there is evidence that Blyth’s thinking on human origins changed, possibly due to the influence of his good friend Charles Darwin.

In 1867, thirty years after Blyth’s articles first appeared in The Magazine of Natural History, a very different Edward Blyth emerged in correspondence with Darwin. Blyth wrote Darwin at least 57 letters between 1855 and 1869. I have read all of Blyth’s known letters to Darwin (some of these are posted at http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/ and others are located at the Darwin Collection at Cambridge University). In a letter dated February 19, 1867, Blyth suggested to Darwin that humans descended from primates similar to gibbons (1867). Part of this letter follows:

The marked resemblance in facial expression of the Orangutan to the human Malay of its native region, as that of the Gorilla to the Negro, is most striking, & what does this mean? Unless a divergence of the anthropoid type prior to the specialization of the human peculiarities, which however would imply a parallel series of at least two primary lines of human descent which seems hardly probable; & moreover we must bear in mind the singular facial resemblance of the Lagothrix Humboldtii (a platyrrhine form) to the negro, wherein the resemblance can hardly be other than accidental. The accompanying diagram will illustrate what I suggest (rather than maintain); & about Hylobates or Gibbons, I am not sure that I place it right, for, upon the whole, the Gibbons approximate Chimpanzee more than they do the Orang-utan, notwithstanding geographical position. Aryan I believe to be improved Turánian or Mongol —

Blyth’s beliefs on human origins were obviously influenced by the widespread racism of mid–19thcentury Western culture. But this particular letter shows clearly that Blyth has accepted an evolutionary relationship between humans and other primates that would clearly be unacceptable to Answers in Genesis — or most young-earth creationists. If AiG is going to claim Blyth as a “creation” scientist robbed of credit for the theory of natural selection because he was creationist,they should also inform their devotees that Blyth changed his thinking in later years and suggested that all humans evolved from primate ancestors.Something tells me Chief Communications Officer Looy will not be jumping up and down to put this on AiG’s website.

Why did Blyth’s thinking on human origins change? Judging from his published articles and his letters to Darwin, one can only conclude that his exposure to 30 years of scientific inquiry and evidence lead him to reshape his perspective on human origins (he was never a young-earth creationist) into one that recognized that transmutation of species was the logical extension of the theory of natural selection. In fact, it is this theory, descent with modification over “countless epochs”, creating totally different species, including mankind, that Darwin originated and popularized, with the already described theory of natural selection gaining additional acceptance due to Darwin’s brilliant insights and writings.

AiG’s Looy states,“Blyth, though, did not believe that natural selection could be a mechanism to produce new genetic information in creatures that could,over time,turn molecules into men.” Of course not; “genetic information” would have made no sense as a biological concept to Blyth or any of his contemporaries (and it is a muddled pseudoscientific concept promoted by anti-evolutionists like Looy to make it seem as though genetic change is a barrier to, rather than the engine for, evolutionary change). However, Blyth’s own writing, in his later years, clearly shows that he accepts that humans emerged from primate ancestors.

A fellow Louisvillian, Muhammed Ali, once said, “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” Were he alive today, Edward Blyth would probably agree with Ali, and tell AiG and other evolution obstructionists to quit quote-mining his earliest works to claim he opposed evolution. Unfortunately, Blyth is unable to prevent his considerable body of work from being misused by AiG.

What is particularly insidious is that creationists’ chief tool for supporting their absolutist doctrine is to misinterpret the enormous collection of evidence supporting evolution and mislead their audiences. It is a practice that I am sure would be appalling to Edward Blyth, a credible scientist whose thinking “evolved” over the years due to Darwin’s great idea. I suggest that Edward Blyth would have strongly supported the advancement of science and reason in society and firmly condemned the pseudoscience promoted by institutions such as the Answers in Genesis museum.


References

Blyth E. 1837a. Psychological distinctions between man and other animals — part 4. The Magazine of Natural History 10: 131–41.

Blyth E. 1837b. Psychological distinctions between man and other animals — part 3. The Magazine of Natural History 10: 77–85.

Blyth E. 1867. Letter 5405 — Blyth,Edward to Darwin, CR, 19 Feb, 1867, Darwin Correspondence Project, Cambridge University. Available on-line at http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/darwinletters/calendar/entry-5405.html. Last accessed November 11, 2009.

About the Author(s): 

James K Willmot is a former middle school science teacher and environmental laboratory director.


AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
James K Willmot
7249 Fox Harbor Rd
Prospect KY 40059

jimwillmot@bellsouth.net


[A version of this article previously appeared on-line on May 19, 2008, at Butterflies & Wheels.]

Reflections on a Visit to the Creation Museum

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Reflections on a Visit to the Creation Museum
Author(s): 
Raymond A Eve
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2009
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
31–33
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

I recently made my way through the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum on a Sunday morning. Driving to the museum, I was inclined to give AiG the benefit of the doubt — I supposed they were well-meaning and devout, but just did not have a good grasp of the basic science involved. Now, I am less sure about the innocence of their motives, and much more inclined to believe that this is a pretty cynical effort to separate the gullible from some coin of the realm, and to build membership for a social movement (which, not coincidentally, is probably good for their acquisition of even more coins).

At the entrance, I was surprised to find several uniformed police directing traffic (complete with imposingly decked-out and very military-looking Hummers). The effect was not unlike dealing with post 9-11 airport security and served to create a vague feeling of imminent danger. In contrast, there was some comfort to be found in the form of a display of a ski boat just outside the main doors, complete with an ad for a local boat dealership. Apparently weekends at the lake with family or beer buddies are an important element of godliness to AiG adherents.

My very first impression was, "Wow, this museum cost cubic money!" (estimates vary, but $27 million is the most common). I was to decide at the end of my visit that Hollywood and Disney would be proud of the level of presentation. My immediate first impressions were quickly followed by the inevitable theme-park–style photographer who took everyone's picture so visitors would have the privilege of buying some copies on the way out. Then there was a "4-D" (multimedia, plus fake rainfall) movie that all were encouraged to take in at the very beginning of their visits.

Prominently featured were two "everyman" type of actors. Maybe I should say "everybody" because even though apparently about thirty years of age, they cast an ambience of white-hot sarcasm towards the teachers and professors who were depicted in the presentation as hopelessly dogmatic ignoramuses intent on foisting off the great lie of evolution. But these guys were clearly too smart for them, and intended to demonstrate it in the extreme. Strange, but I rather suspect that even for the believers in the audience these two must have come off as overgrown juvenile delinquents with mannerisms they would prefer to assign to unsocialized nabobs of negativism (as Vice-President Spiro Agnew liked to say) of the followers of the 60s New Left. They seemed to me to come off as some sort of part-time longhaul truck drivers, on way too much speed, but who just happened to have an in-depth knowledge of evolution, biochemistry, and the like that would be the envy of 99% of the PhDs at work in the relevant academic fields of study. Ultimately, what it all reminded me of is the recent emphasis by the creationist "intelligent design" supporters on having believers in the classroom confront their professors as militantly as possible — with disrespect as the tool with which to prosecute their case. I found myself wondering what kind of a world this would all lead to if we were all to become so intensely proud of our materially unsupportable viewpoints?

I really began to feel as if I had fallen down the Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole where facts are no longer a problem for the construction of reality. I felt seriously unnerved as I saw how the fairly large number of patrons in the museum were buying into the "see, creationism is really scientific" aspect. Funny, but the same people did not seem to notice that about half of the "scientific displays" were merely scenes from the Bible — most of which told an obvious morality tale. But this aspect of the place was actually the touching part. It was so clear that so many of those present felt adrift, if not outright lost, in the current world. Many seemed to me to suffer from a sense of being trapped in a world of moral normlessness — at least as seen from their own viewpoint. They seemed desperately to want to believe that a recommitment to biblical literalism would bring a "return" to a world with less anomie and less suffering.

My own work on creationism and "intelligent design" stresses how much of the controversy is really not driven by science at all, but instead represents "a struggle for the means of cultural reproduction" (see Eve and Harrold 1992, especially chapter 6). With this latter in mind, I could not help but notice that there were no minority persons (at least not any readily identifiable ones) in attendance among a fairly large number of viewers. Indeed, there were not many people in their 30s through their 50s.

What I did see was a lot of white folks with gray hair,and grayhaired folks taking their grandchildren through (most without their parents). This latter might be related to the fact that I found more than one book in the bookshop that stressed the belief that the current generation of parents is already "lost to the Lord." And without intervention by the grandparents, presumably, the grandchildren would naturally follow the errant road of their parents.

Creationism Perspectives

So I left with three powerful impressions clanking around in my skull. One was outrage that such lurid disinformation could be so sincerely presented. That led to the second clanging thought: most attendees were indeed going to buy the pseudoscience as totally legit because of their own lack of understanding of even basic science. Certainly the museum had used a plethora of elaborate iconography of science, albeit where the symbols were disconnected from their actual referents — enough so to make any postmodernist proud.

This striking array of scientific evidence "in favor of" creationism perhaps reflects the ambivalent attitude of creationists toward the new "great legitimator" (religious doctrine is the old one, science the newer one). Many anti-evolution organizations are quick to embrace "scientific" creationism and "intelligent design" as "proof" that their religious positions are correct: "look at all this scientific evidence that supports us." (Of course, there are some real fringe groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses who would typically just flatly say "God said it, I believe it. Who cares what scientists think?").

It is important to note, however, that the current conflict is not always one between science and religion, but often between an older form of science and the more recent form. In some ways the controversy may be more a matter of the differences between 19th-century science (Baconian inductivism) and contemporary deductivist science. We need to remember that most scientists of the 19th century were themselves creationists — and as such felt their only job would be to collect enough data to show how the divine plan had worked. For most such scientists it came as a rude shock when they found that some of the data did not "fit" Scripture. Most contemporary creationists still fit into this category. That is to say that they are not really so antiscience that they will not happily appeal to scientific authority when they find what they believe to be science that supports Scripture.

By contrast, the AiG museum seems fully prepared to be outright disingenuous in its presentation of scientific evidence. At least my own feeling was that the museum was prepared at any cost to say whatever needed to be said to convince the groundlings of scientific support for creationism. If the truth was to be a frequent casualty in such an effort then surely the ends must justify the ends. Machiavelli's Prince would be proud indeed of the displays presented throughout. Besides, such an approach would (excuse me for returning to an earlier theme) surely lead to more coins in the coffer. I was really saddened by the third strong impression I formed during my visit. It seemed to me that so many were visiting the museum because they feel so unfulfilled and saddened by the wider world as they perceive it. It is well-known in the sociology of religion that people tend to join cults after they decide that a search for answers within mainstream contemporary institutions (the family, the local church, the local psychiatrists, and so on) have failed to give them what they need. This certainly seemed to be a paradigm that fit well on many of those I saw. The difference, however, is that this is not a movement of the "new religions"; instead, it is a "revitalization movement". The latter term refers to movements intended to restore a formerly dominant set of persons and cultural practices after they have been displaced by something new. In the revitalization movement the constituents, the now displaced, seek to return things to the "normal" way they used to be.

This is part of the struggle for the means of cultural reproduction mentioned above. What I like to call cultural traditionalism has in recent decades been replaced by cultural modernism and postmodernism. The cultural traditionalists (a high percentage of whom are creationist "intelligent design" supporters) seek to return to a time when they were the dominant cultural aggregate. The fist-fight over evolution is really all about conflicting heuristic rules for knowing the truth. Cultural traditionalists use tradition, faith, authority, and revelation as the acid tests for assessing any given truth claim. ("God said it. I believe it. That settles it"). Modernists tend to use rational, empirical data for hypothesis testing to arrive at their truths. Postmodernists have no use for any of this, preferring to believe that truth is short-term, situational, and internal to the person ("it feels right to me, dude").

This is why the conflict over origins has no easy end. The different cultural traditions have not agreed on the rules for assessing the truth. By their own standards, each type feels that its own truth claims are well supported and refuses to accept any other method of assessing the relevant evidence. All this also helps to explain why the battle is most frequently in the school room, the courtroom, or the legislatures. These are precisely the places that the factions mentioned above struggle to try to control just which one of the ways of knowing, and associated "facts," will be passed on the next generation as legitimate. Hence the term "struggle for the means of cultural reproduction."

The Challenge for Science

Creationists are deeply alienated from the "Official Reality" propagated by mainstream institutions. This is a trend with a long history in the US. In some of my published studies and papers (such as Eve and others 1995), I examined a fairly recent sample of creationists who had attended a "Creationism Fair" in Glen Rose, Texas. (The event was put together by Carl Baugh, progenitor and curator of the first creationism museum — the one in Glen Rose just outside Dinosaur State Park, which is the alleged home of the famous Paluxy River "mantracks". Baugh's terminal degree is from a small wooden building in Dallas, but that's another story for another day.) I compared these creationism supporters to a sample of Wiccans from a "Magical Arts Convention" just outside of Austin, Texas.

The two populations were diametrical opposites on nearly every question of fact and attitude — with two exceptions. One was that both samples scored very high on alienation from big government, big industry, and even mainstream religion. The other thing they agreed on was that for their own (very different) worldviews and moral judgments there was "plenty of scientific evidence in support" of their respective views. So, one thing we all need to be doing is figuring out just what they think science actually is ... and whether there is a better way to teach a larger number of people valid science.

I do not think many creationists will ever change their views simply because someone tells them they are wrong. Instead, they must somehow come to know enough current scientific method to understand for themselves why they are wrong. The task seems hopeless in the short run. But I would point out that in the long run more Americans are scientifically capable today than ever, and most who are so schooled are increasingly disinclined to accept creationism. So the real field of action needs to be the high school and college classrooms.

In closing, let me just say that it is easy to get wrapped up in the science debate as one goes through the museum, but it is also important to keep one's eye out for how much of that debate is really driven by the social dynamics described above. For my own part, I found myself wishing I knew how to stand out in the parking lot as the folks left and then divide up the loaves and fishes and lay my hand on their heads and relieve all that anomie and mental anguish of contemporary life and the future. But, I could not. Indeed, I wondered who or what could?

References

Eve RA, Harrold FB. 1990. The Creationist Movement in Modern America. Twayne Press

Eve RA, Taylor J, Harrold FB. 1995. Why creationists don't go to psychic fairs. Skeptical Inquirer 19 (6): 23–8.

About the Author(s): 

Raymond A Eve is Professor of Sociology and Head of the Sociology Program at the University of Texas at Arlington. He has studied the sociology and social psychology of creationism versus evolution for thirty years. Among his books are The Creationist Movement in Modern America (Boston: Twayne, 1992), which he coauthored with Francis B Harrold, Cult Archaeology and Creationism: Understanding Pseudoscientific Beliefs about the Past (expanded edition, Iowa City [IA]: University of Iowa Press, 1995), which he coedited with Harrold, and Chaos, Complexity, and Sociology: Myths, Models, and Theories (Thousand Oaks [CA]: Sage, 1997), which he coedited with Sara Horsfall and Mary E Lee. He has written extensively on creationism and "intelligent design".

Yes, Noah's Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole Earth

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Yes, Noah's Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole Earth
Author(s): 

Lorence G Collins

Volume: 
29
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2009
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
38-41
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Introduction

The Bible (Genesis 6–9) describes a worldwide flood (the Noachian Flood) covering even the highest mountains of the earth and the construction of a huge boat (a rectangular box-like craft) that transported animals, at least two of a kind of all land animals on the earth. The Qur'an (Suras 11 and 71) has almost a duplicate story with a similar huge boat that transported animals and a worldwide flood. In addition two older stories exist in ancient Babylonian epics that describe a huge flood. One is the Epic of Gilgamesh, describing a flood on the Euphrates River (Academy of Ancient Texts nd). The other is the Epic of Atrahasis, which has a huge flood on the Tigris River (Byers nd).

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, [Utnapishtim] is warned that a god plans to destroy all humanity and is told to build a ship to save himself, his family, friends, and cattle. In the Epic of Atrahasis, a tribal chief survived with his family by floating in a boat down to the Persian Gulf. After the flood subsided, the chief got out on dry land and erected an altar and sacrificed to a water god so that such a flood would not happen again (Anonymous nd-a). Noah also built an altar when he got off the Ark and offered sacrifices (Genesis 8:20). Because these stories all describe an ancient huge flood in Mesopotamia, it is extremely likely that a huge flood could have occurred. However, the next question is: "Did the Noachian Flood cover the whole earth?"

Scientific Evidence Against a Whole-Earth Flood

The Bible says that the rains that created the Noachian Flood lasted for 40 days (Genesis 7:17), that the waters prevailed on the earth for 150 days (Genesis 7:24), and after these 150 days the waters gradually receded from the earth so that by the seventh month and the seventeenth day, Noah's Ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 8:4). A year plus two months and twenty-seven days later the earth was dry enough so that Noah,his family, and the load of animals could disembark from the Ark (Genesis 8:14).

Because this flood was intended by God to destroy all flesh on earth (Genesis 6:13) and because sedimentary rocks on all continents contain fossils that supposedly represent the "destroyed flesh of all life," it might be thought that the Bible story, describing a wholeearth flood, was true. However, interlayered with these fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks on all continents are layers of evaporite rock salt (sodium chloride), gypsum (hydrated calcium sulfate), anhydrite (calcium sulfate), and various potash and magnesium salts, which are associated with red beds (shales) containing fossilized mud cracks (Schreiber and others 2007).

Many of these mineral compounds and red beds have combined thicknesses on different continents of more than one kilometer (~3,281 feet) (Collins 2006). The red beds are red because they contain red hematite (iron oxide) which formed from magnetite grains that were oxidized while the muds were exposed to oxygen in open air. The mud cracks can form only under drying conditions that cause the mud to shrink and form polygonal cracks. The evaporite mineral compounds in the layers are deposited in the correct chemical order predicted by the solubility of each kind of ion in these compounds and whose increasing concentrations during the evaporation of water would cause them to precipitate in a predictable depositional sequence as the water volume decreased. Such evaporite deposits would be expected to occur where a marine sea was once present and to disappear when the sea became completely dry. Therefore, one could expect these evaporites to be at the top of the supposed Noachian Flood deposits when the water supposedly receded and the land dried out, but certainly not in different levels in between older and younger fossiliferous "Flood deposits".

 

We read in the Bible that there is only one time in which the Flood waters are said to recede and leave the earth dry. That is, no multiple worldwide climatic conditions are described in which flooding, then drying to a dry earth, more flooding, more drying to a dry earth, in repeated cycles that occur over and over again in that Flood year. On that basis, it is logical that all the kinds of evaporite deposits and red beds in many different levels in the supposed Noachian Flood deposits could form only in local climates with desert drying-conditions and could not possibly have formed all at the same time — a time when a flood covered the whole earth for more than one year (Collins 2006). On that basis, the Noachian Flood story cannot describe a whole-earth flood, but it could only represent a large regional flood.

Regional Evidence for the Noachian and Similar Floods

Two rivers, the Euphrates and Tigris flow through Mesopotamia, which is now the country of Iraq (Figure 1). There are several layers in exposed rocks near these two rivers in southeastern Mesopotamia (Iraq) that are likely flood deposits. Most are about a foot (0.3 m) thick, but one is as much as 3 meters thick (MacDonald 1988). Flood debris from this same thick deposit along the Euphrates River near the ancient Sumerian city of Shuruppak about 200 km southeast of Baghdad has been dated by the C14 method, giving an age of 2900 BCE (Best nd). Flood deposits 2.4 meters feet thick are also reported by MacDonald (1988) as far northeast as the ancient Babylonian city of Kish (120 km south of Baghdad). At any rate, the many flood-deposit layers show that flooding in southeastern Mesopotamia was not unusual in ancient times.

Figure 1. Map of Mesopotamia (Iraq).
Figure 1. Map of Mesopotamia (Iraq).

Similar large local floods are common throughout history around the world. For example, monsoon storms in Bangladesh frequently produce much rain over the country and in the Himalaya Mountains, which rise in the northern part of the country (Anonymous nd-b). Runoff of water from the rain and melting snow during such storms create great floods in four rivers that converge to the Wang River, which then drains into a huge delta in the Bay of Bengal (Anonymous nd-b). Thousands of people have been drowned in this delta region by many such floods during the last century. Almost every culture through history has a flood story to tell, as would the people in Bangladesh, but in each of these times and places, the floods would have been local and not worldwide.

Many creationists have pointed out that the Bible indicates that God promised not to cause another huge flood to occur and, therefore, there cannot be any floods that are similar to the Noachian Flood (Genesis 9:13–15). Therefore, the geological record should show at least one unique flood event that is different from all the large regional floods for which there is geological evidence.

Why Was the Local Large Flood Possible?

Storms that occur in Mesopotamia usually come from the Mediterranean Sea, cross the mountains in Syria, Turkey, and western Iran, move southeasterly over Mesopotamia to the Persian Gulf, and then exit in the Gulf of Oman. The Euphrates and Tigris Rivers that would transport water from these storms leave higher land in northern Mesopotamia and enter a nearly flat area about 130 km north of Baghdad. In this 130-km interval the gradients of these rivers are small, with the elevation dropping about 3 m per km along the course of the rivers. Both the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers near Baghdad have elevations of about 30 m above sea level, and at the city of As Samawah (280 km south of Baghdad), the Euphrates River has an elevation of 9 m (a drop in elevation of 21 m) (NOAA nd). A similar 21-meter drop occurs along the Tigris River. On that basis, the gradients of the two rivers in these intervals are 0.075 m per km. In the additional 360 km to the Persian Gulf (sea level) the gradients are only about 0.025 m per km. Therefore, in both southeastern and central Mesopotamia the gradients are so low that the rivers barely flow downhill, and frequent flooding could be common.

A large river has natural levees. During a big storm, water rushing down the channel carries abundant sedimentary debris. If the water in the channel overflows its banks onto the adjacent flood plain, the velocity immediately slows because of friction with the flat land, and the water at lower speed cannot carry its entire load of sediment. Heavier coarser particles are deposited abruptly on tops of the banks adjacent to the river while finer silts and clay particles are transported onto the flood plain. When such overflowing floods are repeated year after year, the coarser sediments deposited adjacent to the river build up natural levees on both sides of the channel. Natural levees along the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers rise up to 4 to 5 meters above the river channels, and the surface of these levees slope gently away from the rivers for 5 to 8 km toward lower, adjacent, nearly-flat flood plains that are up to 105 km wide (Tactical Pilotage Chart TPC G-4C, H-6A, and H-6B). The people living in Mesopotamia in biblical times would have had their villages on the natural levees because the flood plains would have been swampy.

What Happened During the Flood?

The watershed for the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers on which the flood could have occurred extends for more than 1600 km from the Persian Gulf through Mesopotamia into Syria and Turkey and laterally for about 1000 km from eastern Saudi Arabia to southwestern Iran — an area of more than 1.6 million square kilometers. On that basis, if abundant rain fell, not only in the mountains of Syria and Turkey, but also in Saudi Arabia and Iran, the tributary streams from these countries would all contribute their volumes of water to the flood plains of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Map showing elevation contours around the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers that extend NW-SE through Mesopotamia.Figure 2. Map showing elevation contours around the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers that extend NW-SE through Mesopotamia.

Normally, in lesser storms most water runoff would have come primarily from the mountains in Syria and Turkey and not also from Saudi Arabia and Iran. During the flood, upstream where water first accumulates, the depth of water on the flood plains may be barely over the tops of the natural levees, but downstream the water "piles up" because it does not flow very fast downhill on a nearly flat surface. Therefore, downstream water depths could reach 32 m or more above the tops of the levees.

This increase in depth would be intensified where the two flood plains with a width of 275 km in the northern section would be squeezed into a 220-km width in the lower part of the drainage system where the two rivers join. The joining of the two rivers would also increase the volume of the water in the flood plains, thereby increasing the depth. At any rate, all higher land on the natural levees where the people in the villages were present would be completely submerged. Thus, it would be possible for a flood to have occurred in mid- Mesopotamia, perhaps about 2900 BCE, as evidenced by the scientifically dated flood deposits.

Remnant Evidence of the Flood

When the huge storm ceased that caused the flood, there would have been huge lakes, and it could have taken months to drain the water in these lakes into the gulf — which could easily explain why the Noachian Flood took so long to recede (as much as one year, according to Genesis 8:14). Evidence for this poor drainage can be seen in the present-day lakes in the flood plains. Lake Hawr al Hammar is 32 km wide and more than 80 km long, lies on the flood plain of the Euphrates River west of Basra, and several other large lakes are on flood plains adjacent to the Tigris River (for example, Hawr as Sa'diya and Hawr as Saniyalt). The poor drainage would be caused by the fact that the water covering the flood plains would have no channel through which to flow, would not flow uphill over the sloping natural levees to re-enter the river channels, and the slopes of the bottoms of the lakes would have been nearly flat with gradients toward the gulf of 0.025 to 0.075 meters per kilometer.

Effects of the Curvature of the Earth

Because of the curvature of the earth, the horizon drops from where the viewer is standing. However, the drop is proportional to the square of the distance between the viewer and an object on the horizon (Young nd). From these relationships, it can be seen that a tribal chief (or Noah) standing on the deck of a large boat (Ark), perhaps 7.8 meters above the water,would not be able to see the tops of any hills as high as 15 m from as little as 24 km away across flood plains covered with water because the curvature of the earth prevents it (See the Appendix for examples of calculations). Most hills in this region that are as much as 15 m high are more than 95 km away from the river levees. Therefore, the survivors of the Flood could see only water in all directions while they were floating down the Tigris River and over the flood plains. Many of these hills would also be partly covered with water which would make their tops project less above the water level, and therefore, the curvature of the earth would make them disappear from the line of sight in even a shorter distance than 24 km.

Northeast and southwest of the nearly flat surface that contains the two rivers, the topography rises to more than 455 m in Saudi Arabia and in Iran. Calculations show that elevations of 455 m high cannot be seen beyond 86 km away, and these places are more than 160 km from the Euphrates or Tigris Rivers. Therefore, none of the high country in Saudi Arabia or Iran would be visible to a tribal chief (or Noah). On that basis, the "whole world" would definitely appear to be covered with water during the Flood, and that was the "whole world" for the people in this part of southeastern Mesopotamia at that time.

Conclusions

If the 3.4-meter–thick layer of flood deposits in southeastern Mesopotamia (MacDonald 1988) represents a huge flood of ancient times, and if it is the remnants of the one described in the early Babylonian epics, then the authors of these epics were likely survivors who lived in a village on natural levees on the lower parts of either the Euphrates or Tigris Rivers where the flood waters covered their village, natural levees, and adjacent flood plains for distances of 160 to 320 kilometers so that no land could be seen, and their "whole world" would have been under water.

Acknowledgments

I wish to thank Kevin Collins, Fred Tonsing, Eugene Fritsche, Warren Hunt, Jarvis Streeter, Steve Peralta, and Barbara Collins for helpful comments that greatly improved the manuscript.

Note

In the printed version, "Gilgamesh" erroneously appears in the second paragraph; it is replaced by the correct "Utnapishtim" here.

References

Academy for Ancient Texts. nd. Epic of Gilgamesh. Available on-line at http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/mesopotamian/gilgamesh. Last accessed February 16, 2009.

[Anonymous]. nd-a. Atra-Hasis. Available online at http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Atra-Hasis. Last accessed February 16, 2009.

[Anonymous]. nd-b. Floods in Bangladesh. Available on-line at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floods_in_Bangladesh. Last accessed February 17, 2009.

Best RM. nd. Noah's Ark: A lost legend about Ziusudra, King of Sumer. Available on-line at http://www.noahs-ark-flood.com. Last accessed February 16, 2009.

Byers G. nd. Great discoveries in Biblical archaeology: The Atra-Hasis epic. Available on-line at http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2006/10/Atra-Hasis-Epic.aspx. Last accessed February 16, 2009.

Collins LG. 2006. Time to accumulate chloride ions in the world's oceans — More than 3.6 billion years: Creationism's young earth not supported. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 26 (5): 16–8, 23–4.

MacDonald D. 1988. The Flood: Mesopotamian archaeological evidence. Creation/Evolution 8 (2): 14–20.

NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]. nd. Climate of Iraq. US National Climatic Data Center. Available on-line at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/afghan/iraq-narrative.html. Last accessed February 23, 2009.

Schreiber BC, Lugli S, Babel B. 2007. Evaporites Through Space and Time. Cambridge: GSL Publishing Associates Limited.

Young AT. nd. Distance to the horizon. Available on-line at http://mintaka.sdsu.edu/GF/explain/atmos_refr/horizon.html. Last accessed October 22, 2009.

Appendix

The drop in the horizon (curvature) does not vary linearly but with the square of altitude. The formula is:

root(2rh+h2),

where r is the radius of the earth and h is the altitude above the earth's surface (Young nd).The radius of the earth varies a little at different locations on the surface, but is on average 6378 km. A simpler calculation derived from this formula is 3.57 km times the square root of the height of the eye in meters.

For a person who is 1.8 meters (6 feet) tall, the eye level is about 1.75 meters above the ground. If we place that person on the deck of an ark that is 30 cubits (13.6 meters) high and that is floating so that 2/3 of its height is above the surface of the water, then the total for h will be 1.75 + 6.06 = 7.81 meters.

Thus, we calculate the distance to the horizon:

(3.57km)(root(7.81)) = 9.98 km.

Similarly, we can use this calculation to compute how far away a hilltop has to be before it disappears below the horizon. If the hills were 15 meters tall, as occurs in high ground between the two river systems south of Baghdad, these hills are below the horizon at:

(3.57km)(root(15)) = 14 km.

If we add the additional 9.98 km that Noah would gain by standing on the deck of the ark, the hilltops would be invisible from any distance greater than about 24 km. Since these hills are more than 95 km from the river levees, they would be invisible from the Ark.

If the elevations were 455 meters high, as occurs in eastern Saudi Arabia and on the steep slopes of the Zogras Mountains in southwestern Iran, the calculations are

(3.57 km)( root(455)) = 76.15 km.

So a person standing on the ark could see these mountaintops at about 86 km away. Since these elevations are more than 320 km away from the Euphrates River and more than 160 km away from the Tigris River, they would also be invisible from the ark.

 

About the Author(s): 


AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

Lorence G Collins
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org

Lorence G Collins is a retired professor of geology at California State University, Northridge, who has written extensively to promote general knowledge about geology and to counter arguments by anti-evolutionists, including three other articles for RNCSE. For details, visit http://www.csun.edu/~vcgeo005/creation.html.

Review: More than a Theory

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
5
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
46-47
Reviewer: 
Graham Oppy
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
More than a Theory: Revealing a Testable Model for Creation
Grand Rapids (MI): Baker Books, 2009. 298 pages

Hugh Ross is the founder of the self-described "science-faith think tank" Reasons to Believe (RTB). The fundamental aim of the "scientists" at RTB is "to demonstrate how God’s verbal revelation [in the Christian Bible] proves accurate and wholly consistent with the latest [scientific] discoveries" (http://www.reasons.org). In the service of this fundamental aim, Ross and his RTB colleagues have produced a long list of books and pamphlets: for example, Rana and Ross 2004, 2005; Ross 1983, 1989, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006, 2008; Ross and others 2002. It is no secret that these previous books have received scathing reviews from both mainstream scientists (see RNCSE 2006 Sep/Oct; 26 [5]: 35–7, 2006 Sep/Oct; 26 [5]: 37–8, and 2007 May–Aug; 27 [3–4]: 45–8 for reviews of Ross 2006, Rana and Ross 2005, and Rana and Ross 2004, respectively) and young-earth creationists.

In his new book, Ross sets out to compare "the RTB model of creation/ evolution" with "the three most familiar Western models: naturalistic evolution, young-earth creationism, and theistic evolution" (p 234). Ross claims that, in 2006, RTB published "a set of simple science predictions" from these four "models", and that the assessment of these "predictions" against subsequently collected data yields the results reproduced in Table 1 (p 244).

 
Naturalism
Young Earth
Theistic Evolution
RTB Creation
Fulfilled
1
3
4
20
Partly Fulfilled
1
0
5
1
Not Yet Fulfilled1
1
2
1
Partly Falsified
3
1
11
0
Falsified
16
17
0
0
Table 1. Predictions of four models, according to Hugh Ross.


Here are four of the "simple science predictions" that Ross attributes to "naturalistic evolution":

  1. New astronomical discoveries will increasingly disprove the current astronomical consensus that the physics of the Big Bang event must be exquisitely fine-tuned for life to be possible in the universe. (p 235–6)
  2. New astronomical discoveries will show how unremarkable earth’s location in the universe is for habitability and observation. ... Astronomers will soon discover other planetary systems in the Milky Way Galaxy where advanced-life-support planets could exist and where observers could view the universe as easily and thoroughly as astronomers do on earth. (p 236–7)
  3. Evidence for fine-tuned long-lasting plate tectonics will weaken as scientists learn more about plate-tectonic phenomena. ... Thin-atmosphered planets (or other bodies) with stable, long-lasting plate-tectonic phenomena will prove relatively common. ... These phenomena will prove less and less crucial to the needs of advanced life ... and their apparent fine-tuning will eventually be seen as vastly overrated. (p 238)
  4. As anthropological and genetic research advances, humanity will prove increasingly less distinct from the most recent hominid species. ... Evidence for interventionist miracles to explain humanity’s unique characteristics will steadily decline. (p 239)

This is all sublimely silly. Naturalism — the view that there is nothing but natural causation — does not involve a commitment to 1–4. Naturalistic astronomers do not predict, for example, that they will soon find lots of planets with thin atmospheres and stable, long-lasting plate-tectonic phenomena. Moreover, even if the astronomical evidence were to suggest strongly that, in the observable universe, the earth is unique in possessing a thin atmosphere and a stable, long-lasting plate-tectonic structure, that would be no difficulty for naturalism. Setting all other considerations aside, we need only note that we have but lower bounds on the size of the universe proper; we have no good current estimates of the size of the part of the universe that we are unable to observe. So, setting all other considerations aside, naturalists can suppose that the size of the part of the universe that we are unable to observe is sufficient to remove puzzlement at the existence of a planet with a thin atmosphere and a stable, long-lasting plate-tectonic structure.

Ross does say: "I’ve taken the liberty to deduce predictions from each of the four models while attempting to remain as neutral and objective as possible. Should any of these predictions be misstated, I have a genuine desire for correction. Where a range of positions is held within a particular camp, unless otherwise qualified, I’ve attempted to describe the position as held by its most publicly prominent advocates"(p 234). But this is surely just cant. Ross’s new book displays all of the failings that others identified years ago in his previous works — that is, his new book is also replete with errors of fact, errors of reasoning, misunderstandings of science, egregious interpretations of scripture, elementary misunderstandings of Hebrew, uses of scientific terms without consistent explanation or elaboration, unjustified reliance on religious rhetoric, and sundry other kinds of cheap tricks, distortions, and so on — and is no more worthy of a serious readership.

Here is one small example. Ross claims that Hawking and Penrose "proved, within the framework of classical general relativity, that if the universe contains mass and if the equations of general relativity reliably describe the universe’s dynamics, then its space and time dimensions must have had a beginning that coincides with the universe’s origin" (p 96–7). This simply is not so. Hawking and Penrose did prove some theorems that tell us that, under plausible assumptions, there are generic essential singularities in general relativistic space-times: that is, under plausible assumptions, if we suppose that general relativity is true, then we have good reason to suppose that there are singularities in space-time. However, Hawking and Penrose did not prove that, under plausible assumptions, there are generic essential initial singularities in general relativistic space-times: that is, they did not prove that, under plausible assumptions, if we suppose that general relativity is true, we have good reason to suppose that space-time has an initial singularity. If there are black holes, then there are singularities in space-time. The Hawking and Penrose results allow that there are general relativistic space-times that contain black holes but that have no initial singularities. So Hawking and Penrose certainly did not prove that "if the universe contains mass and if the equations of general relativity reliably describe the universe’s dynamics, then its space and time dimensions must have had a beginning that coincides with the universe’s origin".


References

Rana F, Ross H. 2004. Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.

Rana F, Ross H. 2005. Who was Adam? Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.

Ross H. 1983. Genesis One: A Scientific Perspective. Sierra Madre (CA): Wiseman Productions.

Ross H. 1989. The Fingerprint of God. Orange (CA): Promise Publishing.

Ross H. 1993. The Creator and the Cosmos. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.

Ross H. 1994. Creation and Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.

Ross H. 1996. Beyond the Cosmos. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.

Ross H. 1998. The Genesis Question. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.

Ross H. 2004. A Matter of Days. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.

Ross H. 2006. Creation as Science. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.

Ross H. 2008. Why the Universe is the Way it is. Grand Rapids (MI): Baker, 2008.

Ross H, Samples KR, Clark M. 2002. Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS

Graham Oppy
School of Philosophy and Bioethics
Monash University VIC 3800
Australia
Graham.Oppy@arts.monash.edu.au

Graham Oppy is Professor of Philosophy at Monash University. His latest book is Arguing about Gods (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Review: Reframing Scopes

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
5
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
41–42
Reviewer: 
Charles A Israel
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Reframing Scopes: Journalists, Scientists, and Lost Photographs from the Trial of the Century
Author(s): 
Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette
Lawrence (KS): University Press of Kansas, 2008. 196 pages.

How many readers of this journal, if asked to think of images of the Scopes trial, find mental pictures of Spencer Tracy, Fredric Marsh, and other actors from Inherit the Wind? Sure, we know the film and play it was based on was really a McCarthy-era allegory, but the Hollywood image has proven quite sticky indeed. The real Scopes trial, held in Dayton, Tennessee, in the summer of 1925, was carried on WGN radio and covered by colorful print journalists of the era like HL Mencken and Joseph Wood Krutch, and their word-pictures have proven highly influential. Some contemporary photographs and more editorial cartoons have survived, but for many the real Dayton has been overtaken by the fictional Hillsboro. Now there is a possible cure for this condition.

In 2005, eighty years after the trial of high school teacher John Thomas Scopes, historian Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette discovered an amazing collection of photographs in an only partly processed collection at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. In this short volume, she has intelligently blended the restored photographs with pictures from other collections for a total of fifty-one images. Attached to each is an informative caption, and from the assemblage she draws attention to themes and interpretations of the trial lost from view in other accounts. We see the expected cast: defendant Scopes, guest prosecutor William Jennings Bryan, and defense attorney Clarence Darrow. More valuable, perhaps, are the images of the defense team of lawyers, scientist–witnesses, and interested supporters assembled on the steps of their trial headquarters. While most contemporary and historical attention from the trial has centered on the high-profile attorneys arguing the case, LaFollette's pictures and text showcase zoologist Maynard M Metcalf, the only scientist who actually testified on the stand in Dayton; Howard Gale Byrd, a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church who was forced to resign his pulpit in Dayton in the midst of the church in a controversy surrounding the discussion of evolution in the church; E Haldeman-Julius, an advocate of science and reason who published radical tracts and drove to Dayton from Kansas with his wife Marcet; and an assembly of worshippers gathered for a baptism in a stream nearby during the trial.

Even though they have a certain behind-the-scenes quality, most of the images are clearly posed, but this is not surprising given their source: the bulk of the photographs in the book were snapped by Watson Davis, who in 1925 was in Dayton to cover the trial as a journalist along with Frank Thone, a biologist with a PhD from the University of Chicago and an interest in popularizing science. Without Davis and Thone there would be no book here, and it is their presence and mission in Dayton that provide what is most unique in LaFollette's approach to this much covered media and legal event. Watson was in Dayton as managing editor of the Science Service, an organization endowed by publisher EW Scripps and cooperating with scientists and journalists. Science Service had a difficult mission: to provide the public both interesting and accurate stories of contemporary science and technology. The circus atmosphere of the Scopes trial would provide both a wonderful opportunity for the young organization to demonstrate its utility but also a large challenge to overcome all the sensationalist press issued by partisans on both sides of the affair.

LaFollette is well equipped to investigate and assess the role of Davis, Thone, and the Science Service in the Scopes Trial. In her previous books, she has explored the public images of science in the first half of the twentieth century as well as the history of plagiarism and scholarly misconduct among scientists. She is complimentary of, even thankful for, Davis's and Thone's efforts to document the trial and publicize its scientific issues in the 1920s and in preserving their records for posterity. But she also takes a critical approach to the two scientific journalists' position in the trial: not content to be just observers, the two were active participants in the defense team efforts. Even while distributing stories on the scientific aspects of the trial, they assisted in recruiting scientists to testify for the defense. Their close affiliation with the defense may have given the lie to any quaint notion of journalistic objectivity, but it did allow them to acquire the many great images reprinted in the book. And it led to another of their legacies from the trial: Davis and Thone led the effort to fund defendant John T Scopes's graduate education at the University of Chicago. Impressed by his lack of desire to take the spotlight in the trial or afterword, the two scientist–journalists helped to protect his privacy after the trial.

LaFollette does a fine job of using the pictures to open up many different stories of the trial. Scholars in many fields will be both interested to see what she pulls from the images and frustrated that she did not pursue the themes more. But she intelligently introduces many issues — journalistic objectivity, the religious preferences of the scientists, the objectifying gaze of the journalists on the local holiness religious practices, and the failed aspirations for economic rebirth in Dayton — without getting too far from the images or losing general readers.

About the Author(s): 

Charles A Israel
Department of History
310 Thach Hall
Auburn University AL 36849
cisrael@auburn.edu

Charles A Israel is an associate professor in and chair of the Department of History at Auburn University. His research concerns religion and social reform in the South, including a book on evangelicals, education, and evolution, Before Scopes: Evangelicals, Education, and Evolution in Tennessee, 1875–1925 (Athens [GA]: University of Georgia Press, 2004).

Review: The Bible, Rocks and Time

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
5
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
45–46
Reviewer: 
Steven Newton
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth
Author(s): 
Davis A Young and Ralph F Stearley
Downers Grove (IL): IVP Academic, 2008. 510 pages.

In The Bible, Rocks and Time, Calvin College professors of geology Davis Young and Ralph Stearley present a clear, cogent, and detailed explanation of how scientists know the age of the earth. (The book is a "total rewrite" of Young's Christianity and the Age of the Earth [Thousand Oaks (CA): Artisan Press, 1988)].) Young and Stearley address the religious implications of the earth's antiquity and attempt to reconcile scientific and religious perspectives on this important issue. Although Young and Stearley address their book to "Christian pastors, theologians, biblical scholars, students and lay people," the richness of its scientific and historical information make The Bible, Rocks and Time appealing to an even broader audience.

The first section of the book, "Historical Perspectives", presents a very readable history of the development of geologic thinking, elucidating the discoveries of scientists such as Steno, Hutton, Smith, and Buffon. We learn how early geologists "began to realize that the strata could not have been produced in a one-year Deluge but had to form over a period of time" (p 79). Discarded geologic ideas such as Neptunism — the hypothesis that igneous rocks precipitate from water, just as crystalline salts precipitate from evaporating water — are explained in the context of a developing science that gradually progresses by correcting its errors.

The second portion of the book, "Biblical Perspectives", presents a history of the attempts to understand the age of the earth through scripture, especially Genesis and Psalms. Young and Stearley clarify how a 6000-year–old young-earth view is only one scriptural interpretation among many, some of which allow for a much older earth. Because the interpretation of the earth as 6000 years old grabs so many headlines, it is easy to overlook the fact that such a view does not represent the range of religious scholarship. Young and Stearley reveal a complicated, nuanced story of many competing ideas, some of which gained larger followings than others.

The third section of the book, "Geological Perspectives", is a strong critique of young-earth creationist claims that geology is "an artificial construct of geologists designed to mislead the public," by piecing "together the fossil record, crazy-quilt style, to fit a preconceived notion of organic evolution" in order to promote "a faulty, rationalistic philosophy of science" (p 235).

Young and Stearley demonstrate the sloppiness of creationists; in one memorable example, creationists Henry Morris and John Whitcomb are caught using a flawed description of the fossils of Lincoln County, Wyoming, not from peer-reviewed geologic literature, but from an article in Compressed Air Magazine. This brief, error-riddled article formed the basis of their inaccurate, second-hand description of fossils in Lincoln County.

Young and Stearley then delineate the evidence for geologic time in a number of specific locales — Yosemite, the Michigan Basin, Table Mountain, Kilauea. The authors explain how phenomena such as contact metamorphism in Sierra Nevada roof pendants are incompatible with creationist geology. Calculations of deposition rates show that in order for Flood geology to be true, sediment would have to accumulate at a rate of 36 000 feet per year, a rate so far removed from anything observed today that Young and Stearley exclaim, "Do Flood geologists really expect anyone to believe that?" (p 378).

The strongest portions of The Bible, Rocks and Time come in two chapters on radiometric dating. Young and Stearley present a very readable explanation of radiometric dating that is substantive, yet basic enough for non-scientists to understand. They start at the beginning, working through the definitions of atoms and isotopes and decay rates, to more advanced concepts such as how different isochron methods address the problem of pre-existing daughter isotopes.

The last section, "Philosophical Perspectives", examines geologic thinking in regards to the ideas of catastrophism and uniformitarianism. Creationists are philosophically predisposed to think in terms of catastrophism — violent, rapid changes over a very short period of time. Geologists are predisposed to think in terms of uniformitarianism — gradual, small changes affecting earth over a long period of time. Young and Stearley explain that according to some creationists, when geologists "blindly [hold] to a dogma of uniformitarianism, geologists unwittingly misinterpret the geologic evidence pertaining to the antiquity of earth" (p 447).

Young and Stearley trace how geologic thinking developed from the time of Charles Lyell, who believed in uniformitarianism so strictly that he saw even evolution as an affront to this steadiness of the world, to our current time. Modern geologists know that while the idea of uniformitarianism is very useful, there have been punctuations in the earth's history involving processes not seen today, such as the deposition of banded iron formations in response to the first atmospheric free oxygen, massive dolomite deposition under conditions in which dolomite cannot form today, and meteor-induced mass extinctions.

The Bible, Rocks and Time explains how uniformitarianism evolved. Plate tectonics was initially rejected by the geologic community despite Alfred Wegener's convincing evidence. In addition to Wegener's lack of a plausible mechanism, the idea that continents could move relative to each other was so hard to reconcile with uniformitarianism that geologists found the concept difficult to consider seriously.

Geologists were also disinclined to recognize evidence for titanic floods — despite the evidence that such floods had occurred, in eastern Washington for example. In these decidedly non-uniformitarian floods 15–13 000 years ago, the collapse of ice dams holding back lakes formed by melting glaciers unleashed discharges of billions of liters per second over eastern Washington, carving unique structures in the rock and creating what are now known as the Channeled Scablands.

Another challenge came in 1980, with the seminal Alvarez paper on the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction. Uniformitarianism adapted to this new evidence, changing to a view where processes in the past largely were as they are now, with occasional exceptions, such as big rocks from outer space smacking the planet. Creationists, by contrast, "are unwilling to abandon their young-earth, global-Flood hypothesis even when the evidence shows it to be untenable" (p 472).

Young and Stearley argue that creationism is harmful to faith. They write of the dilemma that occurs when young Christians conclude, "because the geologic evidence is so persuasive, that what they were taught about creation must be incorrect. To them, the Bible now becomes a flawed book" (p 477). But, Young and Stearley argue, it is the creationist young-earth interpretation that is flawed.

The Bible, Rocks and Time is a systematic refutation of creationist geology. On point after point, Young and Stearley demolish the claims of flood geologists and sundry young-earthers in substance and in detail. This book will prove a useful tool for scientists to explain geologic ideas to the public, and to refute the notion that accepting science necessarily means rejecting religion. Moreover, since Young and Stearley's defense of science comes from a specifically religious viewpoint — they argue that "nobody needs to abandon sound science in order to become a Bible-believing follower of Jesus Christ" (p 11) — it will be especially useful in communicating with evangelical Christians.

About the Author(s): 

Steven Newton
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
newton@ncse.com

Steven Newton is Public Information Project Director at NCSE.

Review: The Darwin Myth

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
5
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
42–43
Reviewer: 
Sander Gliboff
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin
Author(s): 
Benjamin Wiker
Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2009. 196 pages.

Using that “life and lies” formula in the subtitle of this anti-Darwin book was not a wise move by Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Benjamin Wiker. It invites unfavorable comparison to a similarly titled book about a similarly celebrated white-bearded English sage with an ugly nose. I mean, of course, The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, by Rita Skeeter, a book within a book in the Harry Potter series.

For the uninitiated: Skeeter is an unscrupulous witch of an investigative reporter. She takes Dumbledore’s own remarks and other peoples’ recollections out of context and makes him seem guilty of everything from racial prejudice, elitism, claiming credit for the accomplishments of others, and manipulating friends, family, and the public, to valuing the greater good over individual rights, inspiring a militaristic and eugenical ideology, and fomenting world war.

In a spooky case of life imitating art, Wiker makes essentially the same accusations against Darwin, using Skeeter’s exact methods. Those methods do not require “facts” to be conjured out of thin air, although both authors are quite capable of doing it. The real trick is to select, isolate, and exaggerate the facts you like, while making the ones you don’t like vanish. Wiker’s favorite way to get rid of them is to wave his hands and pass them off as lies.

Having led one of the best-documented lives in the history of science, Darwin provides a good variety of facts and quotes for Wiker to select from. For example, on the subject of religion: Darwin once described himself as having been a Biblical literalist, once signed an oath of Anglican orthodoxy required of Cambridge students, studied to be a clergyman, sometimes called himself an agnostic, sometimes a materialist, and sometimes a theist (but never an atheist). He took pride in his friendship and collaboration with his Anglican minister as well in his family heritage of Unitarianism and freethought.

When serious biographers piece together Darwin’s life story out of such a confusing historical record, they look at the chronological progression and the changing circumstances, and they see a developing individual. Mythical figures and epic heroes do not need to develop, but humans do, and character development is what makes our current picture of Darwin realistic and interesting. Darwin grew, erred, learned, and only gradually became the venerable Sage of Downe. Along the way, he grappled with difficult questions about God and nature, and left the record of his changing answers in notebooks, letters, publications, and an autobiography.

In contrast, it is Wiker who gives us a mythical Darwin, one who appears constant in his rejection of religion, practically from birth. It makes no difference to Wiker that all of Darwin’s recorded doubts date from after his voyage on the Beagle, or that Darwin also made favorable, conciliatory, or just plain uncertain statements about religion. Wiker either ignores them or dismisses them as lies.

Wiker occasionally writes nice things about Darwin and pats himself on the back for not demonizing him, but he sure does make him out to be a horrible liar and a cheat. He has Darwin lying about his religious beliefs to get into Cambridge, lying about the motives behind his theorizing, lying about having been led to his theory by evidence, lying about its originality, stealing the credit for it, and plotting to convince people of it as well as of the need to take God out of nature and science. It gets so ridiculous that the poor guy can’t even tell us he enjoyed music without Wiker calling it deceptive.

In addition to the life-and-lies business, there is also a long chapter about the Origin of Species and the Descent of Man, with an emphasis on how those books supposedly undermined the Biblical foundations of morality (which, for Wiker, are the only foundations morality can have). Cherrypicked quotations make Darwin appear to have endorsed eugenics and the extermination of inferior races. And natural selection is described as destroying the unfit for the good of the species, sacrificing them, as it were, to a dark creator. Suddenly Darwinism is not atheism, but death worship.

Three short chapters address later historical developments and social ills, for which responsibility is pinned, predictably, on you-know-who. The ills include eugenics, Nazism, abortion, euthanasia, sex education and contraceptives for the poor, cyber-pornography, and cannibalism (by which Wiker means embryonic tissue culture and stem-cell research). Even though Darwin was a kindly gentleman who loved his family and wished none of these things upon us, Wiker argues (remembering to say something nice again, so as not to demonize), they are still his fault because of his general de-Christianizing influence.

Striving for balance between faith and reason, Wiker advises “reasonable Christians,” as he calls them, not to overdo the reason part, but to put revelation first. On the other hand, they should leave themselves some room — within strict but unspecified limits — for interpreting Scripture, and they do not have to reject evolution altogether. They just need a non-Darwinian version of it that puts God, morality, and purpose back into nature. This is touted as an astonishing finding.

Indeed the pitch for theistic evolution is astonishing, considering how little credence the book gives to any evidence for species transformation. Aside from that, the book’s claims are unsurprising, since they are mostly Discovery Institute talking points that date back to the mid-1990s and have been rebutted many times since then. The biographical interpretations may be original, though. They also verge on fantasy, so I recommend this book to Harry Potter fans, in case they want to see how a real-life Rita Skeeter operates.

About the Author(s): 
Sander Gliboff
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
130 Goodbody Hall
1011 E 3rd St.
Indiana University
Bloomington IN 47405
sgliboff@indiana.edu

Sander Gliboff is Associate Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University, and the author of HG Bronn, Ernst Haeckel, and the Origins of German Darwinism: A Study in Translation and Transformation (Cambridge [MA]: MIT Press, 2008).

Review: Why the Universe Is the Way It Is

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
5
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
43-45
Reviewer: 
David Koerner
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Why the Universe Is the Way It Is
Author(s): 
Hugh Ross
Grand Rapids (MI): Baker Book House, 2008. 240 pages

Hugh Ross agrees with Leibniz. All's for the best in the best of all possible worlds, and you are living in it. As founder and president of an old-earth creationist ministry, Reasons to Believe, Ross also thinks nature and the Bible are complementary sources of truth. Both are necessary for a complete picture of our cosmic purpose. In his catechetical book Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, nature speaks first in the form of a cosmological fine-tuning argument from design. Fundamental properties of the universe and unique features of planet earth are improbably arranged, hence designed solely for our benefit. The remainder of the book cites Bible chapter and verse to dispatch the pesky problem of evil with an eschatological solution. Do you sometimes have difficulty seeing the Designer's purpose in a life-destroying tsunami, earthquake, or pandemic? All will become clear when the "best possible world" of this age gives way to an even better "perfect" world of the next. But purpose is still discernible in events of this world, including the greatest of tragedies. You must simply look harder. Ross explains that the quest for meaning is like playing "Where's Waldo?" in the children's book series of the same name. Why is the universe so big, old, dark, lonely, and in decline (chapters 2–6)? Ross finds the Waldoes and points them out. Like Christopher Durang's Sister Mary Ignatius, he "explains it all for you".

Ross's version of the cosmic fine-tuning argument resembles that of several Discovery Institute Fellows, although he parts company with their efforts to promote a non-supernatural designer in public science education. Physicists have understood for quite some time that life as we know it could not exist if any of several cosmic constants deviated from their observed values by one part in 1040 or some similarly large number (for example, see Rees 2001). Why is this true? The anthropic principle points out that, were it otherwise, we would not be here to ask the question. But is our existence due to a colossal fluke, some yet-undiscovered natural law(s), divine design, or a rarity made inevitable by membership in a super-huge, random, and mostly sterile set of multiple universes (the "multiverse")? For Ross, design is the only option worth talking about. To make his case, he recites from an expanding litany of gee-whiz antecedents to existence (chapter 8) and ignores competing explanations.

In the standard design solution to fine-tuning, a Designer is used to explain the narrow range of cosmic parameters that allow us to be here. To use an analogy that Ross does not, material facts of our existence are like cards in a highly improbable hand drawn from a very large deck. Their putative unlikelihood is explained if an Intelligent Dealer picked them out on purpose. There are 2 598 960 possible five-card hands that can be drawn from a deck of only 52 cards. The chances of drawing any one in particular are thus already pretty low. But we are not likely, a posteriori, to see a miracle in every hand drawn. What is the prior expectation for a special hand, then, like one that contains two pairs? Since there are 123 552 different ways to get two pairs in a five-card hand, the probability is 123 552/2 598 960 — about 5%. It is somewhat unlikely to get this result in a single deal. If you were dealt 20 hands in succession, however, you would not find it remarkable to get two pairs in at least one of them. Is the special "hand" of our existence vastly more improbable? Ross says yes, but he is still answering after the fact. He does not know the number of ways intelligent life could be arrived at or the number of attempts that have occurred, or even the initial range of possibilities (the "deck"). Despite repeated claims, he has no way to determine if our existence is likely or not.

Fundamental properties of the universe are necessary but insufficient conditions for life in it. So Ross's Designer works post-Big Bang to make a habitable planet and put life on it as per Genesis 1. That was the week that was, says Ross, but it actually lasted several billion years. Incredulous readers are referred to Ross's other books to connect Genesis to the fossil record. Meanwhile, he expands the fine-tuning argument along the lines of Discovery Institute Fellows Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards. Gonzalez is an "intelligent design" martyr recently beatified in Ben Stein's movie Expelled (see RNCSE 2008 Sep–Dec; 28 [5–6]). He and Ross published on this topic as early as 2000 in the religious journal First Things (Gonzalez and Ross 2000). At that time, Gonzalez also collaborated with paleontologist Peter Ward and planetary scientist Don Brownlee who argued in Rare Earth (2000) that our galaxy is probably not host to much extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI). This boldly marketed conjecture was captured in a groan-inducing parody worthy of a Yoko Ono lawsuit: "Imagine There's No Spacemen" (sic) (http://www.astro.washington.edu/rareearth/rareearthsite/rareearth.mp3 [Link has expired]).

Ward and Brownlee contended that to support complex intelligent life, a planet needs an improbable combination of things like a large moon, plate tectonics, a nearby Jovian planet, and location in a "Galactic Habitable Zone" (GHZ). Gonzalez and Richards went further in The Privileged Planet (2004; reviewed in RNCSE 2005 Jan–Apr; 25 [1–2]: 47–9) and saw God where the former merely doubted ETI. Earth is not only rare; it's a miracle! To make the case, they hyped the importance and rarity of each and every condition necessary for life as we know it. Ross follows suit and, for instance, champions a highly restrictive GHZ that is simply not borne out by quantitative modeling. On the basis of numerical simulations that neither Ward, Brownlee, Gonzalez, nor Ross bothered to make, Prantzos (2008) reports that it is currently impossible "to draw any significant conclusions about the extent of the GHZ: it may well be that the entire Milky Way disk is suitable for complex life."

Exaggerated claims like an extremely limited GHZ surround a more serious central blunder in the rare earth argument from design: discounting the multi-planet solution. Design proponents often cite a testability criterion to reject undetected multiple universes in favor of a cosmological Designer who, coincidentally, is also unobserved. In the terrestrial version, however, Ross expressly ignores the ongoing discovery of a large population of planets. By Ross's own calculations, there are of order 1021 stellar systems in the observable universe alone. Current observations and theory suggest that nearly all these will contain planets of some kind. But neither Ross nor Gonzalez demonstrates, quantitatively, that a generic planet has less than 1 chance in 1021 of ending up with properties that could support complex life. There is therefore no reason to exclude the origin of a habitable "rare earth" solely from natural causes, given the size of the universe and ubiquity of planets.

This is just one more Waldo that vanishes under scrutiny like the face on Mars at high resolution. Sadly for Waldo searchers, it happens time and time again in Ross's latest book. In the end, one finds many reasons to doubt but few reasons to believe.


References

Gonzalez G, Ross H. 2000. Home alone in the universe. First Things 103: 10–2.

Gonzales G, Richards JW. The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery. Washington (DC): Regnery Publishing, 2004.

Prantzos N. 2008. On the "Galactic Habitable Zone". Space Science Reviews 135 (1–4): 313–22.

Rees M. 2001. Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe. New York: Basic Books.

Ward P, Brownlee D. 2000. Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Rare in the Universe. New York: Copernicus Books.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

David Koerner
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Northern Arizona University, Box 6010
Flagstaff AZ 86011-6010

David Koerner is Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Northern Arizona University, where he studies planet formation in astronomical observations of circumstellar disks around young stars. He coauthored Here Be Dragons: The Scientific Quest for Extraterrestrial Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000) with Simon LeVay.

RNCSE 29 (6)

Cover of RNCSE 29(6) showing two boys fighting while two others watch and a third two attempt to keep the teacher from entering the classroom
Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2009
Date: 
November-December
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 29 (6)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2009
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
2

NEWS

  1. A Creationism Row in Hong Kong
    Virginia Yue
    The Hong Kong Education Bureau considers "exploring" scientific ideas and alternatives singling out evolution. Scientists and educators responded.
  2. Updates
    News from California, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, the United Kingdom, the blogosphere, and the world.

NCSE NEWS

  1. News from the Membership
    What our members are doing to support evolution and oppose pseudoscience wherever the need arises.
  2. Scott versus Comfort
    When US News & World Report set up an internet debate between Eugenie Scott and the distributor of a free "altered" version of Darwin's classic, readers learned exactly why it is worth what they paid.
  3. (Very Gradual) Change We Can Believe In
    Mike Rosulek
    An NCSE member has a bright idea to tap into popular culture, honor Darwin, and support NCSE.
  4. NCSE Honors "Friends of Darwin" for 2007
    All over the nation, people stand up for good science. Here are some of the folks who made a big difference in 2007.

ARTICLES

  1. Teaching the "E-Word" in Tennessee: Student Misconceptions and the Persistence of Anti-Evolutionary Ideas
    Andrew Kramer, Arthur C Durband, and Daniel C Weinand
    Ten years of surveying university students' understanding of evolution shows that evolution education "works": Students describe evolution more accurately after taking more evolution-related courses.
  2. The Effect of Viewing NOVA's Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial Docudrama on College Students' Perception of "Intelligent Design" and Evolution
    Beth E Lueck and Greg Q Butcher
    Before-and-after surveys of student responses to questions about "intelligent design" show decreases in support of ID and "don't know"answers.
  3. Engaging the Controversy in Science Education: Scientific Knowledge and Democratic Decisions
    Rebecca P Lewis
    Phillip Johnson said,"this is not about science"com ment; for US public education, curriculum and educa tional policies are made in the political arena.The sciences need to be in that debate.

FEATURES

  1. The State of High School Teachers' Understanding of Evolution
    Patricia Palko
    RNCSE readers get a first look at new research into how secondary biology teachers understand evolution. Since most people have their last biology instruction in high school, how their teachers understand evolution is critical.

SPECIAL FEATURE

  1. People & Places: Going Back to Glen Rose
    Randy Moore
    After his previous column had gone to press, Randy Moore had an opportunity for a visit to the new, improved Creation Evidence Museum.

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. Why Teach Evolution?
    An adaptation of a recent NCSE brochure that explores basic issues in evolution education.
  2. Teaching and Learning about Evolution
    These books examine the science of evolution, and teaching and learning about it.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. Darwin's Illness by Ralph Colp Jr
    Reviewed by Keith Thomson
  2. Darwin's Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin's Views on Human Evolution by Adrian Desmond and James Moore
    Reviewed by John Waller
  3. Darwin's Universe: Evolution from A to Z by Richard Milner
    Reviewed by Carol Anelli
  4. The Genius of Charles Darwin presented by Richard Dawkins
    Reviewed by Timothy H Goldsmith
  5. The Paleobiological Revolution: Essays on the Growth of Modern Paleontology edited by David Sepkoski and Michael Ruse
    Reviewed by Kevin Padian

ERRATA

  1. Errata
    Some details that slipped by us in the editing process of the previous issue of RNCSE.

A Creationism Row in Hong Kong

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
A Creationism Row in Hong Kong
Author(s): 
Virginia Yue
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2009
Date: 
November-December
Page(s): 
4–6
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

In March 2009, the ultramodern city of Hong Kong became an unlikely battleground in the war on evolution.

The Hong Kong Education Bureau is currently conducting a series of initiatives to update the city's school system, and a new curriculum for high schools was scheduled for implementation in September 2009. Its development attracted little notice from the public until a problematic statement was discovered in the draft biology curriculum: "In addition to Darwin's theory, students are encouraged to explore other explanations for evolution and the origins of life, to help illustrate the dynamic nature of scientific knowledge." Nowhere else in the science curriculum was there a similarly worded clause invoking "other explanations" as rivals to an established scientific theory.

Scientists at the University of Hong Kong, including Dean of Science Sun Kwok, Science Faculty Board Chairman David Dudgeon, former manager of its Genome Research Centre William Mak, and Associate Professor of Earth Sciences Jason Ali, expressed their concerns about this language to the South China Morning Post. The scientists argued that the draft guidelines on teaching evolution tacitly encouraged schools to promote creationism in their biology lessons. In the same article, the Morning Post reported that over thirty of Hong Kong's governmentaided schools openly endorsed "intelligent design" or creationism as "alternative explanations" (Heron 2009a). (These schools are fully funded by the government and required to follow its curriculum, but are owned and administered by private organizations, usually religious in nature. A smaller number of schools are actually owned and operated by the government.)

Yet the Education Bureau was reluctant to act and insisted that there were no problems with the clause cited. In early March 2009, I, and others who were concerned, started a Facebook group, "The Concern Group for Hong Kong Science Education" (http://www.facebook.com/board.php?uid=50382348521).

Standing Up for Evolution

We decided to approach the issue by asking the Education Bureau to clear up the confusion caused by the remarks of some educators who endorsed creationism, and by starting a website to document the whole incident and to pool together resources for understanding evolution and debunking creationism.

With help from friends in local activist groups, we were able to contact Cyd Ho, the Chairperson for the Legislative Council Panel on Education. The panel is a committee of legislators tasked with monitoring and discussing the government's educational policies, and with making recommendations about them to the Council as a whole; while it has no direct authority over the Education Bureau, its opinions carry considerable weight with the latter body. Ho agreed to put forward our case to the Panel for its attention.

On April 16, 2009, we submitted a paper to the panel. In this paper, we observed that the present draft guidelines contained a loophole permitting the teaching of "intelligent design"and other nonscientific material in science classes, and we criticized the Education Bureau for ignoring the advice of scientists and educators. We noted the consensus of the international scientific community that evolution is the only well-supported theory for the diversity of modern life, and added that Nature had reported on the scientific community's concern over the guidelines (Cyranoski 2009). Finally, we urged the Education Bureau to review and reconsider its curriculum, to address the nature of science and the question of whether creationism or "intelligent design" qualify as scientific theories, and to clarify what sort of alternatives to evolutionary theory and abiogenesis would be allowed by the curriculum.

Our submission to the Panel was reported in a local newspaper, the South China Morning Post, by reporter Liz Heron who was independently following the story (Heron 2009b). On April 24, a local news program ("The Pulse," on Radio Television Hong Kong) also reported the curriculum row. As a result of our submission and the ensuing publicity, the Legislative Council's Panel on Education urged the Education Bureau to provide a written response.

Meanwhile, our group had contacted a senior official in the Education Bureau, whom we met in early May. The official was initially reluctant to acknowledge our concerns, however, saying that this was an "academic debate". From other sources, we learned that a group of sixty or so people was also "interested" in this issue; we found out later in May that they were the stealth "intelligent design" proponents in Hong Kong. To our surprise, they included principals of elite high schools, molecular biologists, and even a dean from a local university. We realized that we were faced with a very tough challenge.

As early as April, I had gotten in touch with NCSE to seek help. When the "Group of 64"(as it came to be known) sent a letter to the panel on May 11 (Heron 2009c), recommending that the problematic language be retained, we referred it to NCSE for analysis, which pointed out that "intelligent design" propaganda filled the group's writing: references to the Discovery Institute's Dissent from Darwin list, claims that the Cambrian Explosion challenges evolution, and the like. Although the Group of 64 did not mention creationism by name in its letter to the panel, the argument was clearly designed to defend it; it criticized the practice of methodological naturalism in science and asserted that life could not originate through "natural processes".

NCSE had provided a great deal of background information on the nature of science and the scope of scientific support for evolution, which we used in our first submission to the Panel. For our second submission, on May 19, we again used NCSE's help to debunk the Group of 64's claims; an expanded version of this analysis was placed on our website.

The Panel on Education was very busy and hardly talked about the creationism issue for weeks. While we waited anxiously for the Education Bureau's response, debates in the form of letters to the editor raged in the South China Morning Post, and "intelligent design" proponents spammed our Facebook page.

We enlisted two academics to advise us, while I and Adrian Mok maintained the website. I also attended as many panel meetings as possible to follow up.

The whole saga was revealing to us in a number of ways:

The extent of creationism in our school system and academia was beyond our imagination; the Group of 64 includes professors from six academic institutes.

The ignorance of the public about this subject was also surprising — many do not understand why evolution is important and what is problematic about creationism, and thought that it would be beneficial to add any extra material to the curriculum.

The way local "intelligent design"proponents work is a mirror of their US counterparts: quote-mining, misrepresenting both science and "intelligent design", and concealing their true motives for attacking evolution. NCSE's assistance in tracking down misquotations and sourcing creationist claims was very useful in combating these tactics.

In June we began the signature campaign for a public petition to the Education Bureau. This petition called for a review of the new curriculum with respect to its implications for the teaching of pseudoscientific material, and the release of a statement emphasizing the importance of evolution in biology and the inappropriateness of discussing creationism in science class. To our pleasant surprise, we received over 700 signatures, including those of eighty academics from all over the world, among them Steven Weinberg and Daniel Dennett!

Tempered Success

As our signature campaign reached its close, good news arrived: on June 22, 2009, the Education Bureau issued a five-page document, excluding "intelligent design" and creationism from the biology curriculum. The Morning Post reported this as a "Victory for Darwin" (Heron 2009d); Nature followed suit, reporting that the Bureau had "vindicated biologists — and disappointed creationists" (Anonymous 2009).

Was it a total victory for Darwin, though? We were not quite convinced. The language about "other explanations" was still in the draft curriculum and had not been satisfactorily explained. Furthermore, the document issued by the Bureau appeared to have been directed primarily to the media; there was no indication that it would be disseminated to Hong Kong's educators as well. On August 15, we submitted our petition to the Bureau, expressing the position of the general public as well as the opinion of the scientists.

On September 9, we received a formal response from the Bureau, with language similar to that of the document it had previously issued. The Bureau stated that "Creationism and Intelligent Design are not included in the Biology Curriculum framework nor are they considered as an alternative to Darwin's theory. ... Only evolution is included as it is supported with evidence to explain the origin of species." It also clarified that "other explanations" should be discussed only to shed light on the historical development of evolutionary theory, and invoked the theories of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Alfred Russel Wallace as examples of such explanations. However, the Bureau did not express any intent to write these clarifications into the curriculum itself, or to announce them to the schools of Hong Kong. Furthermore, the Bureau gave no explanation at all of why and when "other explanations"of "the origins of life" might be appropriate for discussion. We fear, therefore, that the Bureau's response may not yet signal any actual change in educational policy. We are currently composing another formal reply to the Bureau, and hope that further media exposure will encourage it to take genuine action.

Although our concerns about the treatment of evolution in the biology curriculum are somewhat abated,we continue to defend the teaching of evolution in Hong Kong. Over the months we have populated our website (http://sites.google.com/site/hkscienceeducation/Home) with lots of articles, FAQs, and links. We hope it will continue to be a useful resource for local educators — who, as we discovered during the course of our efforts, are likely to be besieged for many years to come by those wanting creationism to be taught alongside evolution.

References

[Anonymous]. 2009. Evolution wins out in Hong Kong curriculum dispute. Nature 460: 163.

Cyranoski D. 2009. Hong Kong evolution curriculum row. Nature 457: 1067.

Heron L. 2009a Feb 7. Scientists urge excluding God from biology. South China Morning Post 1.

Heron L. 2009b Apr 18. Group warns on biology guideline. South China Morning Post 1.

Heron L. 2009c May 15. Creationism row [heats] up as objectors fight back. South China Morning Post 1.

Heron L. 2009d Jun 26.Victory for Darwin. South China Morning Post 1.

About the Author(s): 

Virginia Yue
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
info@ncse.com

Virginia Yue is an information technology professional and native-born citizen of Hong Kong.She was raised in evangelical Christianity, but became a freethinker in 2007. She is the co-founder and webmaster, with Adrian Mok, of the Hong Kong Concern Group for Science Education.

Norman Levitt Dies

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Norman Levitt Dies
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2009
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
5
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Norman Levitt, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Rutgers University and a fierce critic of pseudoscience, died on October 23, 2009, in New York City, according to the obituary in eSkeptic (2009 Oct 26; available on-line at http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/09-10-26). Born on August 27, 1943, in New York City, Levitt received his BA from Harvard University in 1963 and his PhD from Princeton University in 1967. After a brief stint at New York University, he spent the rest of his career at Rutgers University, with visiting professorships at Århus University, Stanford University, and the University of British Columbia; he retired from Rutgers in 2007. A specialist in topology, he authored Grassmannians and Gauss Maps in Piecewise-Linear Topology (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1987), but he was better known to the general public for his critiques of pseudoscience and obscurantism, including Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science (Baltimore [MD]: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), coauthored with Paul R Gross, and Prometheus Bedeviled: Science and the Contradictions of Contemporary Culture (New Brunswick [NJ]: Rutgers University Press, 1999).

While creationism was hardly Levitt's only target, he was certainly concerned about it, especially in its recent manifestation of "intelligent design," which he described — in a press release (available on-line at http://ncse.com/webfm_send/379/1) announcing SciPolicy's amicus curiae brief (available on-line at http://ncse.com/webfm_send/383) for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v Dover — as "not new science, fringe science, nor even junk science. It is merely window-dressing for a movement that is social, political, and, above all, theological down to its core, and which never had the least intention of doing disinterested science." In the wake of the Kitzmiller verdict, he castigated the sociologist Steve Fuller's testimony on behalf of "intelligent design" in a review of Fuller's Science vs Religion? Intelligent Design and the Problem of Evolution (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007) for Skeptic (2008; 14 [1]: 73–7; available on-line at http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/07-12-19#feature) and reviewed Michael Shermer's Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design (New York: Times Books, 2006) for Reports of the NCSE (2006 Nov/Dec; 26 [6]: 18–9; available on-line at http://ncse.com/rncse/26/6/review-why-darwin-matters). His widow Renée Greene Levitt asks for memorial contributions to be sent to NCSE in lieu of flowers.

(Very Gradual) Change We Can Believe In

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
(Very Gradual) Change We Can Believe In
Author(s): 
Mike Rosulek
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2009
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
16
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Last February, I wanted to acknowledge Darwin's 200th birthday on my blog, so that my vast readership of approximately ten people would be aware of it. In order to spice up what would have been an otherwise short and boring blog post, I thought it would be nice to include something light-hearted but still in the spirit of Darwin Day.

Having only limited creativity, my first instinct was to repeat something I'd done before: make a parody of the now-famous Shepard Fairey Obama "HOPE" poster, this time featuring old man Darwin and his bushy beard. When you think about it, the Obama campaign's rhetoric of "change" is right in line with the Darwinian idea of adaptation. Once I hit upon the "adaptation" of the Obama slogan "(very gradual) change we can believe in," I knew I was on to something good (even though "believe" is not the best word when referring to established scientific fact).

Picture of Charles Darwin in the style of 2008 Obama campaign posters with the caption Very gradual change we can believe in

Well, I did not get the design done in time for Darwin Day, but I kept at it. In the back of my mind, I figured that there might be some people (myself among them) who would want the design on a poster or a t-shirt. I thought to myself, if I could come up with a way to sell these, I might make a few bucks out of this whole deal. Perhaps even $50, if I got lucky! With that in mind, I unsuspectingly and casually posted the design to my website. Maybe eventually I would get around to finding a way to sell the design on t-shirts.

I thought it would make sense to donate any profits to some appropriate charity. NCSE seemed the most obvious beneficiary for Darwin-themed sales, and I was sure that they would appreciate the twenty bucks I was expecting to raise. In the spirit of procrastination, I wrote on my blog that I would "soon" be selling the design on some t-shirts and posters, with proceeds benefiting NCSE.

As it turns out, my idea caught on faster than a drug-resistant bacterial mutation. My blog post was picked up by Reddit, then Pharyngula, boingboing, and so on. I woke up the next morning to almost 100 emails from people asking me when they could get Darwin on a t-shirt. When the dust finally settled, my estimate of this idea's popularity was off by a mere factor of 100! At the time of writing this, sales from the merchandise (posters, shirts, buttons, and stickers) have generated almost $4500 for NCSE,and orders are still trickling in three months later.

The designs (old man Darwin with a variety of slogans) are still for sale, and all proceeds will continue to benefit NCSE.You can find all the designs and a link to the Zazzle storefront at http://mikero.com/darwin. Thanks to everyone who bought merchandise to support NCSE and to support my fifteen minutes of fame!

About the Author(s): 

Mike Rosulek
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
info@ncse.com

Mike Rosulek is an assistant professor in the University of Montana's Department of Computer Science.

NCSE Honors "Friends of Darwin" for 2007

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
NCSE Honors "Friends of Darwin" for 2007
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2009
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
17
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Every year, NCSE honors a few exceptional people for their support of evolution education and/or their service to NCSE. The "Friend of Darwin" awards are proposed by the staff and approved by the board at its annual meeting; the recipients for the award for a given year are thus selected in the spring of the following year. NCSE usually arranges for the awards to be presented to their recipients by their family, colleagues, and friends, so it often takes a while before a public announcement is possible. And then sometimes there are further delays! Here, finally, are the Friends of Darwin for 2007.

Ed Brayton is cofounder and president of Michigan Citizens for Science, a grassroots organization that works to prevent non-scientific and faith-based ideologies from entering Michigan's public school curricula. MCFS lobbied effectively against a series of anti-evolution bills in Michigan, ranging from a bill requiring that teachers tell their students about "the theory that life is the result of the purposeful, intelligent design of a creator" to a pair of "academic freedom" bills, and for improvements in the treatment of evolution in the state's content expectations.With MCFS, on The Panda's Thumb blog, which he helped to found, and on his popular blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars (http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/), Brayton has been a consistent, forceful, cogent — and frequently hilarious — voice defending the integrity of science education.

Robert T Dillon Jr is associate professor in the Department of Biology at the College of Charleston and president of South Carolinians for Science Education, a grassroots organization dedicated to improving the quality and defending the integrity of science education in the schools of South Carolina. Contending with a steady stream of anti-evolution legislation and sporadic attempts to undermine the treatment of evolution in the state science standards, Dillon was instrumental in testifying, and recruiting colleagues to testify, for the importance of teaching evolution. After Dillon received his award, Rodney Wilson of SCSE commented, "without Rob stepping up to lead and put a face (and voice) on our organization, we'd still be a loosely knit group of folks outraged at what people try to pass as science in our state."

Brandon Haught is the communications director of Florida Citizens for Science,which defends and promotes good science in Florida. In 2007 and 2008, during the furor over the place of evolution in Florida's state science standards and the following spate of anti-evolution legislation, Haught worked tirelessly to inform the media, post blog entries, and maintain the FCS website. When the creationist activity dwindled, he remained active, writing a report on the battle for RNCSE and op-eds for local newspapers, organizing a program to coordinate donations to benefit science education in Florida's public schools and contributing a fascinating series of posts about the history of anti-evolutionism in Florida to the FCS blog (http://www.flascience.org/wp/?p=828).And he accomplished all of this while working full-time and attending college part-time! Haught is training to become a science teacher.

A distinguished theoretical physicist now at Arizona State University (where he leads the new Origins Initiative), the author of popular books such as The Physics of Star Trek (New York: Basic Books, 1995) and Hiding in the Mirror (New York: Viking Penguin, 2005), and a leading commentator on issues of science and society, Lawrence M Krauss nevertheless finds the time to defend the integrity of science education against creationism, too. His advocacy during the fight over the place of evolution in Ohio's state science standards, from 2002 to 2006, was unparalleled, and his response to Cardinal Schönborn's 2005 op-ed in The New York Times, which included a response in the Times and a letter to the Pope, helped to convince the Vatican to reaffirm its commitment to the compatibility of evolution with Catholicism.

As a writer, editor,and columnist for Scientific American and the host of its weekly "Science Talk" podcast, Steve Mirsky has been outspoken in defense of evolution. Particularly appreciated were his profile of NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott in the February 2006 issue of Scientific American (294: 36–8); his extensive coverage of the creationist propaganda film Expelled, including a podcast and a column listing "Six things in Expelled that Ben Stein doesn't want you to know"; his presentation of the kilosteve award to Steven P Darwin, Steve 1000 in NCSE's ongoing Project Steve; and his podcast on Ray Comfort's version of the Origin of Species. Mirsky's columns have been collected as Anti Gravity: Allegedly Humorous Writing from Scientific American (Guilford [CT]: Lyons Press, 2007).

Joe Wolf is president of Florida Citizens for Science. Wolf retired to Florida after a career in operations research and service on a local school board in Ohio. Rather than devoting his retirement years to his passion for botany and gardening, Wolf took the reins of Florida Citizens for Science. He spearheaded FCS's efforts to ensure that Florida's old science standards, regarded as among the worst in the nation, were replaced with standards that accurately reflected evolution's central role in modern biology. Wolf worked tirelessly to organize rallies, press conferences, movie screenings, citizen outreach to the state board of education and the legislature, and a statewide network of energized activists. Wolf and FCS have now turned to the task of providing teachers with the resources they need to implement those standards.

We thank these and all NCSE members for their support of our organization and our mission. We cannot — and do not — do it alone!

About the Author(s): 

Glenn Branch
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
branch@ncse.com

Glenn Branch is deputy director of NCSE.

Teaching the "E-Word" in Tennessee

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Teaching the "E-Word" in Tennessee: Student Misconceptions and the Persistence of Anti-Evolutionary Ideas
Author(s): 
Andrew Kramer, Arthur C Durband, and Daniel C Weinand
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2009
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
18–22, 27
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Introduction

The publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species can be reasonably argued as marking the beginning of modern biological science. Since 2009 is the sesquicentennial of this momentous event, we thought it would be appropriate to report on how well some fundamental ideas of science in general, and evolution in particular, are understood by today's university students enrolled in introductory and advanced biological anthropology courses. For the past decade, we have administered a survey during the first day of class designed to gauge how well these students understand science and evolution. Additionally, the survey has the dual purpose of facilitating and guiding the ensuing conversation on the subject after the answer-sheets are anonymously completed and returned.

In this paper we will describe the survey instrument that is administered and discuss the information it intends to elicit. We will then present results derived from quantitative and textual analyses of these data collected from a decade of completed surveys. Finally, we will discuss our occasionally surprising and counterintuitive findings, speculate about their causes, and suggest some remediation that may serve to dispel common misconceptions about science and evolution among university students.

Figure 1

SCIENCE AND EVOLUTION SURVEY

Instructions: Please indicate whether you think Questions 1– 4 are true or false by circling the appropriate response on the answer sheet. Please supply your response to Question #5 and fill in your demographic data on the answer sheet, too.

1. Science has proven that evolution is true.
2. Evolution is not science; it is just a theory.
3. Creationism is a legitimate scientific alternative to evolution.
4. If you believe in evolution, you cannot believe in God.
5. In your own words, please define “evolution” (on the answer sheet).

SCIENCE & EVOLUTION ANSWER SHEET

1. T F
2. T F
3. T F
4. T F
5. Evolution:

Your age:___ Your sex: M F
Your class standing (circle one) Fr So Jr Sr Gr
Where did you go to high school?
(City or Town, and State):
How much biology have you had? (circle one).
none / H.S. only / 1st semester in progress / 1 semester / >1 semester

The Survey Instrument: Its Origin and Rationale

The "Science and Evolution" survey (Figure 1) was developed by the senior author to structure and stimulate a discussion with his students during the first day of his introductory physical anthropology class at the University of Tennessee. He felt that this was necessary because he had noticed that some common misconceptions and misunderstandings concerning evolution were consistently being voiced by his students' questions in class, as well as in private conversations outside of class. He decided that directly addressing these issues at the beginning of the semester would benefit all students by encouraging them to share their thoughts on a subject that engendered strong feelings and was generally perceived as controversial and unsettled.

The survey provides four statements whose truth or falsity the student is asked to evaluate. Additionally, the survey includes a request for the student to define "evolution"in their own words.They are asked to supply their responses anonymously on a provided answer-sheet that also collects demographic information from the respondents including age, sex, class standing, home town and state, and how much biology education they had received prior to taking this class.

The first statement "Science has proven that evolution is true" is intended to elicit a discussion concerning the limitations of empirical science. Many students misperceive science as a mechanism by which universal truths are proven. It is important to convey, however, that all empirical scientific statements are tentative and must have the capacity to be falsified if adequate counter-evidence is brought to bear. The discussion emphasizes the dynamic nature of science and contrasts scientific versus dogmatic statements. Interestingly we have noticed, after years of these discussions, that students often answer this question correctly (False) for the wrong reasons and incorrectly (True) for the right ones.Many students with anti-evolutionary sentiments respond that this statement is false simply because they cannot accept evolution (often on religious grounds) while not objecting to the mischaracterization of science's ability to prove an idea true. Conversely, students who more vigorously yet naively accept the evidence for evolution argue that this statement is correct while similarly not realizing that empirical science is not in the business of "proof" or "truth".

The theme of science's capabilities and limitations is further developed during the conversation stimulated by the second statement: "Evolution is not science, it is just a theory."The phrase "just a theory" is used as a springboard to highlight the difference between the common usage of the word theory (equating it with a guess or a hunch) versus its scientific meaning as a powerful explanation that has withstood the test of time. We discuss the difference between fact and theory in the anti-evolutionary context that often has tried to mandate that evolution is not taught as "fact" but only as "a theory."We emphasize to our students that good science teachers do exactly that:evolution (as a scientific theory) explains the facts of the fossil record, comparative anatomy, genetic distance and so on.

We then focus on two commonalities that are shared by all scientific theories (including evolution): natural causation and falsifiability. We emphasize that explanations in science can only invoke natural causes whose evidence may be detected by our senses or our instrumentation. Therefore, anything in our observable universe is potentially open to scientific investigation. Nevertheless, anti-evolutionists often contend that evolution fails as a scientific theory on the second criterion of falsifiability since it is so allencompassing that no evidence can be brought to bear that would cause it to be abandoned.Therefore, these anti-evolutionists claim that evolution is a dogma that has been elevated to the status of a secular state religion. However, we counter these claims with our students by asking them if they can imagine any evidence that could potentially be uncovered tomorrow, next year or in the coming decades that would cause us to discard our current understanding of human evolution. Inevitably, one student provides exactly that kind of challenge: what if a fully human skeleton were to be found in direct association with dinosaurs? We joke that we would be out of a job if that discovery were made but we stress that is the kind of naturally-occurring evidence that has the potential to overturn human evolutionary theory. At this point, we also share the dictum that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" exemplified by the anti-evolutionary contention of human and dinosaur footprints preserved together at the Paluxy River in Texas (see p 39 of this issue of RNCSE). Paleontologists subsequently demonstrated that the "human" tracks were made by three-toed dinosaurs and today these claims of Texan human/dinosaur contemporaneity have been disavowed by most anti-evolutionists.

The third statement "Creationism is a legitimate scientific alternative to evolution" is included to illustrate the fundamental differences between scientific and non-scientific (including religious) explanations. In this discussion, we focus on the Judeo-Christian creation story and ask our students "What are the first five words of Genesis?"They respond: "In the beginning, God created ..."and acknowledge that since this is an invocation of supernatural causation, it is not a scientific explanation. We then press them to elaborate and most often they come to the realization that the presence or absence of God cannot be tested.This discussion demonstrates to our students that "scientific creationism" as well as its current manifestation as "intelligent design"both fail as science on the dual criteria of natural causation and falsifiability. At the end of this conversation, however, we clearly state that creationism is absolutely a legitimate religious alternative to evolution, while reaffirming that it is simply not a scientific one.

The last statement that we ask them to evaluate is likely the most important from the students' perspective: "If you believe in evolution you cannot believe in God." We kick-start this discussion by having them ask us if we believe in evolution.The surprise is palpable in the room when we answer that we do not, because belief implies taking something on faith. Rather, we accept evolution based on the preponderance of supporting evidence that has accumulated over the years. The ensuing dialog reveals the striking diversity of students' personal philosophies that many have constructed allowing a belief in God alongside an acceptance of evolution. These accommodations run the gamut from progressive evolution to deism to theistic evolution. We acknowledge that some religious doctrines are not compatible with an acceptance of evolution, particularly the more fundamentalist denominations of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam that interpret their holy texts as inerrant and historically factual. We note, however, that most of the mainstream organizations representing these religions have publicly stated that they perceive no inherent conflict between their religion and evolution.

We use this opportunity to restate that science is mute on many of the "big" questions: "Is there a God?","Do we have ultimate purpose?","Is there life after death?" and we acknowledge that religion has traditionally been the primary source of guidance on these issues. We then steer the discussion to what we believe to be the root cause of the creationism/evolution conflict in the United States today: the inappropriate intersections forged by some between the religious and scientific cognitive fields (Bunge 1984). We explain that the belief that evolution and God are mutually incompatible is ironically shared by both extremes along the creationism/evolution spectrum. On the one hand, there is the fundamentalist hell-fire and brimstone preacher who claims that those who believe in evolution are going to hell; while on the other there is the atheist evolutionist whose materialist philosophy does not allow God to exist (for example, Dawkins 2006). We support the "nonoverlapping magisteria" (NOMA) principle (see Gould 1997) that explains how these conflicts can be avoided if the boundaries between religious and scientific "ways of knowing" are acknowledged and respected by all. We convey these distinctions by asking our students to describe the kinds of questions appropriately addressed by these two distinct knowledge spheres, and they quickly come to realize that science is best equipped to answer "what?", "when?", "where?" and "how?" while we most often turn to religion to answer "why?" We conclude by refocusing on the atheist evolutionist. First, we reaffirm their right to claim on personal philosophical grounds that there is no God, just as we defend anyone else's right to believe in a supreme being. However, we strenuously object when these scientists use their academic bully-pulpits to contend that their atheistic conclusions are scientifically grounded.

Materials and Methods

The Dataset

The data used here were collected from the survey described above over a ten-year period (1998–2007) to students enrolled in three physical anthropology courses at the University of Tennessee. These courses are titled Human Origins (Anthropology 110, a lowerdivision, introduction to physical anthropology course), Human Paleontology (Anthropology 495, an upper-division majors course) and Paleoanthropology (Anthropology 582, a graduate-level course).The total sample includes 1079 surveys; 860 completed in the introductory class, 176 from Anthropology 495, and the remaining 43 from the graduate-level course. The modal student from this sample was a 19–year-old female sophomore from Tennessee who had completed high-school biology only and was enrolled in Anthropology 110.

Hypothesis Testing

Since we were primarily interested in investigating initial student understanding of science in general and evolution in particular, we focused most of our analytical attention on the data provided by our 860 introductory students. These data were a rich source of information that allowed us to test a number of null hypotheses regarding the student scores on the true/false statements. The null hypotheses stated that student scores should not differ by class standing, age, what year they enrolled in the course,how much biology they had had previously, and geography (including in-state versus out-of-state, urban versus rural, and differences in home region). Secondarily, we wanted to compare the performance of our upper-division and graduate students to each other as well as to the introductory students.

The student definitions of evolution provided an additional source of compelling data. Using these definitions, we were able to test student familiarity with the classic definition of microevolution ("change in gene frequency within a population over time") as well as the more generalized usage ("biological change over time"). We were also able to evaluate the prevalence of misunderstandings and misrepresentations of evolution through analyses of these definitions. For example, we could identify student definitions that invoked progress, supernatural causation and Lamarckian notions of "wants" or "needs." As in the true/false data described above, we compared definitions of evolution between the students enrolled in the introductory, major and graduate courses.

Analytical Procedures

The quantitative true/false data were analyzed in SPSS 15.0 for Windows (version 15.0.1, released November 22, 2006). Descriptive demographic statistics and frequencies of correct answers were first generated then the null hypotheses described above were evaluated by a series of univariate analyses of variance tests.

The evolution definitions were analyzed in SPSS Text Analysis for Surveys 2.1 (released in 2007). Each student definition was input to the program verbatim and evaluated for how well it matched the classic microevolution and general evolution definitions (described above). In addition, each was analyzed to determine if and how many invocations of misrepresentative concepts (such as progress, supernatural causation, and so on) were included in their definitions.

These text analyses were accomplished by instructing the program to compare each student definition of evolution to an "ideal" definition. For example, the first textual analysis evaluated the input definitions in comparison to the classic microevolutionary "change in gene frequency within a population over time." The ideal definition should reflect the five words that are bolded in the previous sentence. Any definition that included all five terms would earn a maximum score of 5. In addition, the program has the flexibility to include user-input synonyms for each relevant term so in the above example "genetic"and "allele" could substitute for "gene" while "generations" and "the ages" would be treated as synonymous with "time". Similarly for the more generalized definition of "biological change over time" (which had a maximum score of three) the program was instructed to accept "life" and "species" for "biological." Finally, to evaluate the definitions that invoked misrepresentative concepts, the program was instructed to identify (up to six) terms that reflected the following: 1) progress (including advance/advancement, better/best, improve/improvement, perfect/perfection), 2) supernatural causation (including God, the Creator), 3) exclusive application of the concept only to humans (no mention of other life), 4) equating evolution with individual growth and development, 5) ultimate origins (of life, the earth, the universe) and 6) Lamarckian notions (including wants or needs).

Results

Quantitative Hypothesis Tests

A maximum score of 4 was achieved if the student responded that all four statements were false. Less than 10% (81/860) of the students in Human Origins, the introductory physical anthropology course, achieved the maximum score, and the average for these students was 2.55 (62.5%). The scores of these students for the first three questions were similar, ranging from 51% to 58% correctly answered, while the frequency of correct scores for Statement #4 ("If you believe in God, you cannot believe in evolution.") was much higher at 92% (Figure 2).

Graph showing percentage of students in an Anthropology 110 course answering true/false questions correctly

As would be expected, the students enrolled in the upper-division Human Paleontology course scored significantly better (p p Graph showing percentage of students in an Anthropology 110 course answering true/false questions correctly, broken down by level of instruction

The demographic diversity present among the introductory students provided a rich source of data to test a number of commonsensical and intuitive ideas concerning which student subsamples better understood science in general and evolution in particular. For example, we presumed that these data would demonstrate that seniors would score better than freshmen, that students who had already completed college-level biology would score better than those who had not, and that students who graduated from urban high school districts in Tennessee would score better than those who graduated from rural high schools. None of these expectations was borne out by the data analysis; the analysis of variance tests would not allow us to reject any of the three null hypotheses of no difference among these groups.

We were similarly unable to reject our other null hypotheses of no difference in performance based on comparisons between younger (17–18 years old) college- age students versus older (20–21 years old), and Tennessee versus non-Tennessee residents. However, as we delved more deeply into the issues of age and geography, significant differences did appear. For example, "non-traditional" college students (defined here as age 30 and older) scored better (2.79 versus 2.61) than their 17–22 year old classmates (p p

Evolution Definitions

Student definitions of evolution that included all five relevant terms (or their synonyms) reflecting the classic microevolutionary meaning ("change in gene frequency within a population over time") were exceedingly rare. In fact, of the total number of definitions recorded (over 1000) in the decade of survey collection, only two received the highest score of 5 by incorporating all of the necessary words. Not surprisingly, both of these definitions were provided by graduate students in the Paleoanthropology class including this example from a 38–year-old female from Connecticut who was enrolled in the course in 2003: "change in gene frequencies within a population over time due to differential reproductive and survival rates." The modal score for the entire sample when the student scores were evaluated against the "ideal" microevolutionary definition was in fact 0 (34.4%), meaning that over one-third of the students did not use a single required term or its synonym in their definition.

Nearly 30% of the sample used one term and approximately the same percentage invoked two. However, only 3.7% used three, and 1.2% used four. As would be expected, the upper-division majors enrolled in the Human Paleontology course used more of the required terms in their definitions than the introductory students (1.47 versus 0.91; p Graph showing the average number of five essential concepts correctly stated in the standard definition of microevolution by level of instruction.

When the student definitions were evaluated against the more general definition of evolution ("biological change over time"), a much higher percentage of respondents (17.2%) achieved the highest possible score of 3. The following is an example of one of these definitions provided by a 22–year-old male junior from Tennessee enrolled in the introductory class in 2002:"[evolution] is the gradual change of a species over a long long period of time."However, nearly the same percentage of students did not use any of the three required terms (17.9%), while 30% used one and 35% incorporated two of the words or their synonyms into their definitions. Again, as would be expected, the upper-division majors enrolled in the Human Paleontology course used more of the required terms in their definitions than the introductory students (1.87 versus 1.39; p Graph showing the average number of three essential concepts correctly stated in the standard definition of evolution by level of instruction.

When the student definitions were evaluated with respect to the six misrepresentative concepts, we were pleased to note that the modal definition did not include any of these ideas (61%) and that the "poorest" of these definitions included a maximum of three misrepresentations (1.4%). Examples of definitions that earned scores of 3 included one from a 21–yearold female junior from Tennessee who enrolled in Anthropology 110 during the summer term of 2006: "The beginning of time. Who or what created the Earth & all humans. My opinion evolution is God who created all things." This definition invoked ultimate origins (of time and earth), supernatural causation and the exclusivity of the concept as applied only to humans. Another score of 3 was earned by a 25–yearold male senior from Tennessee who enrolled in Anthropology 110 during the summer term of 2006: "The natural progression of life from simple to complex (based on species' adaptive needs)." His definition invoked progress, the inevitability of increasing complexity and the Lamarckian notion of adaptive need. Similar to the cross-class results described above, the upper-division majors in the Human Paleontology course used significantly fewer misrepresentative concepts in their evolution definitions than did the introductory students, while the graduate students in Paleoanthropology invoked these concepts even less frequently than the anthropology majors (Figure 6).

Graph showing the average number of six common misconceptions represented in student definitions of evolution by level of instruction.

Discussion

The results of the true/false statement analyses were both encouraging and troubling regarding student attitudes and preconceptions about science and evolution. We were pleased to note that on average nine of ten students consistently did not believe that their faiths precluded an acceptance of evolution. From discussions with our students it was apparent that many had developed personal accommodations that allowed these ideas a mutual coexistence. These accommodations were very diverse, spanning across the creation/evolution continuum as described by Scott (1999). Statements from mainstream Judeo- Christian denominations affirming the compatibility of their religious tenets and the evidence for evolution (as described in the National Center for Science Education's Voices for Evolution; Sager 2008) probably contributed to this result as well.

We were also encouraged that our expectations of better performance on both the true/false statements and the evolution definitions by the anthropology majors and graduate students were borne out by the data analyses. In every comparison, the majors enrolled in Human Paleontology scored significantly better than the introductory students while the grads in Paleoanthropology outscored the majors in all but one comparison. This result was at least partially due to the fact that a prerequisite for the major Human Paleontology course was the introductory Human Origins class, so an undetermined percentage of majors had completed the survey twice (the first time in Anthropology 110 and the second in Anthropology 495). Therefore, these students had the explicit benefit of previous knowledge derived from their first experience in one of our classes. However, we have no way of ascertaining how many of the respondents had completed the survey multiple times because of the anonymous nature of its administration.

Our most problematic and unexpected results revealed insignificant differences in the number of correct answers to the true/false statements that were provided by certain subsets of students enrolled in our introductory course. We anticipated that seniors would out-perform freshmen, that 21–year-olds would score better than 18–year-olds and that urban high school graduates' scores would exceed those who graduated from rural schools. None of these expectations was verified by our analyses. One possible explanation for the first two findings is that upper-class students taking an introductory course late in their college career may have enrolled simply to satisfy a requirement and were not that motivated to be in the class in the first place. Since the introductory physical anthropology course satisfies a general education natural science credit at the University of Tennessee, this may indicate that these upper-class students did not have much more of a science background than their freshman and sophomore classmates. Most troubling to us was the fact that students who had already completed a college-level biology course did not score significantly better on the true/false statements than their classmates who had only taken high school biology or none at all. This suggested to us that the basic foundations of science and evolution may not be communicated effectively and are not occupying a central role in some college-level biology courses.

Two findings of significant difference within the introductory student cohort were sensible and expected. "Adult learners" (students over the age of 30) scored better than their traditionally college-aged peers (ages 17–22). This may be because the non-traditional students are often more motivated to be in class than their younger counterparts since they generally are paying their own tuition and must balance other demands on their time including work and family. Therefore they are probably better prepared and have more realistic expectations about what the class entails. The second significant finding revealed that students who graduated from high schools in the northeastern US outperformed those from the southeastern portion of our country. This seems to make sense in the context of widely reported national trends in which the urban Northeast is much less resistant to evolution in their public school classrooms than those in the Southeast. This result may also reflect a comparatively greater emphasis on evolution in northeastern state's biology curriculum standards (Lerner 2000; Moore 2001).

The students' evolution definitions were in some respects mildly disappointing, yet often promising and occasionally entertaining. Our textual analyses revealed a telling paucity of familiarity with the classic microevolutionary definition in that none of the over 800 introductory students incorporated all five of the key words into their definition of evolution. However, we were heartened by the finding that over 50% of all students used at least two of the required terms for the more generalized biological definition and that over 60% of all students did not invoke a single misrepresentative concept in their formulations. The most bizarre definition was offered by an 18–year-old male freshman from Tennessee enrolled in Anthropology 110 during the Spring 2002 semester: "Quarks=atoms=molecules=cells=organs=living being. In other words we were spoken into existence." Finally, enjoy this poetic contribution (worthy of Erasmus Darwin!) from a 24–year-old female junior from Tennessee enrolled in Anthropology 110, Fall 2002: "[Evolution] is a study of how human beings came to be from the protozoa swimming in the sea."

Recommendations and Future Work

Our primary recommendation is to encourage instructors of introductory biological anthropology courses to incorporate a discussion of science in general and evolution in particular into an early class period, if not the first of the semester. We have been uniformly pleased at the high levels of enthusiastic response we have had from our students during these conversations and enjoyed the added benefit of addressing these issues right at the beginning of the semester so they do not have the opportunity to fester as the term progresses. One addition we have considered but not (yet) implemented is an "exit interview"to gauge how well these concepts and ideas have been assimilated by our students by the end of the course.

Secondarily, we would encourage instructors of introductory university-level biology courses to integrate evolution as a central theme throughout their courses if they have not already done so. This apparent deficiency was made clear by the subset of introductory physical anthropology students who had completed at least a semester of college-level biology and yet performed no better on the true/false statements than did their classmates with little or no high-school biology. We would expect that neophyte college biology students would benefit from an early, explicit discussion of science and evolution in their classes at least as much as those enrolled in introductory anthropology.

One of our goals for future work with these data is to better understand regional differences in our survey responses. To that end, one of us (ACD) has had the opportunity to administer a large number of surveys to his introductory students at universities in Illinois and Texas. In this paper we have reported insignificant differences in the true/false response rate between the Southeast (primarily represented by Tennessee, of course) and both the Midwest (including Illinois) and Southwest (including Texas). However, those comparisons involved relatively small numbers of students enrolled in the University of Tennessee's introductory physical anthropology courses who graduated from high schools from those regions. These additional data will add hundreds of survey responses from students attending universities after graduating high schools in the Midwest and Southwest and should better allow us to investigate regional differences in student misconceptions about evolution.

The ten years of completed surveys are potentially informative regarding the identification of any temporal trends in these data. Preliminary analyses did not produce significant differences between any of the annual cohorts in their frequencies of correct responses to the true/false statements.However, this result may be biased by the fact that over 75% of the introductory student responses came from two large sections of the Human Origins course taught in 2000 and 2002. More sophisticated quantitative approaches that we intend to employ may reveal statistically meaningful trends over time in the currently available survey data. In addition, the senior author will be teaching another large section of the introductory course during the Fall 2009 semester which will allow large-scale comparisons (class sizes of ~250) between student responses separated by nearly a decade (2000 versus 2009).

Finally, the senior author has collected a number of surveys completed by honors biology students from local high schools that have not been incorporated into these analyses. It may be quite interesting to discern if this advanced subset of high school students share the same misconceptions concerning science and evolution that we have seen among university students enrolled in introductory physical anthropology courses. Whether or not these misunderstandings are as widespread among honors biology high school students as they are among freshman students in introductory anthropology classes at the university, we as college-level instructors will continue to extol the virtues of our survey instrument and especially the discussions it inspires in helping our students dispel some of the most persistently misleading ideas about evolution in America today.

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Ann Reed and Bob Muenchen, of the University of Tennessee's Statistical Consulting Center, for their assistance in our quantitative and textual data analyses. We thank John Dansby for his excellent work in data entry. We would particularly like to thank the hundreds and hundreds of students who completed these surveys and invited us into their lives, at least for a semester, so that they could learn about the wonders of anthropology.

References

Bunge M. 1984. What is pseudoscience? Skeptical Inquirer 9 (1): 36–46.

Dawkins R. 2006. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Gould SJ. 1997. Nonoverlapping magisteria. Natural History 106 (March): 16–22.

Lerner LS. 2000. Evolution:How does it fare in state K–12 science standards? Reports of the National Center for Science Education 20 (4): 44–6.

Moore R. 2001. Teaching evolution: Do state standards matter? Reports of the National Center for Science Education 21 (1–2): 19–21.

Sager C, editor. 2008. Voices for Evolution. Berkeley (CA): The National Center for Science Education, Inc. Available on-line at http://www.lulu.com/items/volume_63/1709000/1709901/9/print/1709901.pdf. Last accessed July 23, 2009.

Scott EC. 1999. The creation/evolution continuum. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 19 (4): 16–7, 21–3.

About the Author(s): 

Andrew Kramer (corresponding author)
Department of Anthropology
University of Tennessee
Knoxville TN 37996-0720
akramer@utk.edu

Arthur C Durband Department of Sociology,Anthropology, and Social Work
Texas Tech University
LubbockTX 79409-1012
arthur.durband@ttu.edu

Daniel C Weinand
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
University of Tennessee
Knoxville TN 37996-1410
dweinand@utk.edu

Andrew Kramer is Professor and Head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee, Arthur Durband is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work, at Texas Tech University, and Daniel Weinand is a research associate in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee. All three have researched and published on human evolution, are interested in improving science education, and are motivated to dispel students' evolutionary misconceptions by their teaching of anthropology.

The Effect of Viewing NOVA's Judgment Day

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Effect of Viewing NOVA's Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial Docudrama on College Students' Perceptions of "Intelligent Design" and Evolution
Author(s): 
Beth E Leuck and Greg Q Butcher
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2009
Date: 
November-December
Page(s): 
29-33
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

On November 13, 2007, most Public Broadcasting Service television stations across the United States aired the NOVA docudrama, Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. The two-hour program highlighted the controversy surrounding the decision of the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board to require high school biology teachers to read a statement to their classes that "intelligent design" is an alternative explanation for the theory of evolution. The teachers refused, and several parents subsequently filed a federal lawsuit against the school board for its failure to abide by the constitutional separation of church and state (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/id/about.html). The resulting trial, now often referred to as the "Dover Trial", was meticulously re-enacted in the docudrama, and along with the riveting courtroom testimony, viewers of Judgment Day were treated to a crash course in evolutionary theory and the weaknesses of "intelligent design" explanations. The program won praise from many sources, and on April 2, 2008, it was awarded a Peabody Award for broadcasting excellence (see http://www.peabody.uga.edu/news/pressrelease.php?ID=151).

After viewing the original broadcast ourselves, we decided that Judgment Day offered an educational and entertaining account of the theory of evolution and of a contemporary "evolution war" to which college biology students should be exposed. Therefore,we decided to show the program to students in Centenary College of Louisiana's Biology 101 class (Principles and Methods of Biology) to supplement the section on evolution that students had just completed.

Centenary College of Louisiana is a Methodist-affiliated four-year college in Shreveport, Louisiana. Most of the students enrolled in the college are Louisiana residents, but the college attracts a large percentage of students from Texas and fewer from other states around the country. The college's core curriculum requires all students at the college to take two science courses with laboratories, and Principles and Methods of Biology is the most popular science course available that satisfies core requirements. Because the course is available for both biology majors and nonmajors, it enrolls a mixture of students from academically motivated pre-medical students to students in decidedly nonscience majors, such as music and English, who are simply fulfilling a core requirement. It is a required course for all biology majors, health and exercise science majors, and elementary and secondary education majors.

Five different professors teach six sections of Principles and Methods of Biology, including the two authors of this article. The course design and schedule are collaborative efforts among all five faculty members, and instructors spend the same amount of time on each topic. We introduce evolution as a separate topic approximately two-thirds of the way into the course after students have learned about DNA structure and replication, Mendelian genetics, and meiosis and mitosis. We begin the evolution unit by introducing students to population genetics in the form of the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium equation, which mathematically demonstrates that characteristics of a population remain constant, or in equilibrium, unless there are extrinsic factors to change them. After having the students discover through calculations that the assumptions of the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium are not met by sexually reproducing populations, we point out that evolution, as a change in allele frequency in a population over time, is inevitable. Then instructors choose what subtopics of evolution to cover for approximately the next four and a half hours of class time.

Centenary College students enrolled in Principles and Methods of Biology appear closely to reflect national trends in the understanding of evolution. For example, in one section of the course, when asked to rate the statement "Humans evolved from monkeys," 44.4% of the students answered "true". In 2006 the National Science Foundation found that 47% of males and 40% of females correctly answered "true" to the statement "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals" (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind08/c7/tt0705.htm), implying that 53% of males and 60% of females had an "alternative"understanding of human evolution. One of us (Leuck) has asked students about their high school backgrounds in terms of evolutionary theory since 2000. Approximately 50% of the students polled answer that evolution was not mentioned at all in their high school biology class, or that it was implied but not explicitly taught.

These results are at odds with a teacher survey conducted by Berkman and others (2008), in which only 11% of the high school teachers surveyed stated that they do not cover evolution at all or devote fewer than two hours to it. However, the authors point out that their data support two explanations for differences in teachers' emphasis on evolution: teachers' personal beliefs and the number of college-level science courses they have taken (Berkman and others 2008; see p 37–8 of this issue of RNCSE). In northwest Louisiana, where Centenary College is located, the majority of individuals with a religious affiliation are Southern Baptist (http://www.bestplaces.net/city/Shreveport-Louisiana.aspx), a denomination known for its literal interpretation of the Bible (http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp#i). Therefore, many teachers in the region may have strong religious beliefs that affect their treatment of evolution in the classrooms, possibly contributing to the lack of knowledge of evolutionary theory typically expressed by Centenary College students in Biology 101.

With the above factors in mind, we decided to offer extra credit points to our student enrolled in Principles and Methods of Biology to attend an evening showing of Judgment Day. We had just completed the unit on evolution, the semester was coming to a close so students were anxious about their grade in the course, and our experience is that students respond favorably to an offer of extra credit in a course, no matter how trivial the number of points (we offered 3 points for attending the program out of a total of 600 points available in the course). We scheduled showings of Judgment Day on two consecutive evenings at two slightly different times to accommodate as many students as possible. Of 140 students enrolled in the course, 95 (68%) attended one of the showings of Judgment Day.

Student Responses to Judgment Day

Prior to the scheduled showings, one of us (Butcher) developed a survey form with six short statements to which students could respond "Yes," "No," or "Don't know". As students walked into the auditorium where Judgment Day was shown, they were handed two copies of the survey statements. Both copies had an identical number on them so we could track the before-and-after responses of individuals who would still remain anonymous. Students filled out one form prior to watching Judgment Day and filled out the second form after watching the program. Pre-surveys were collected before showing the program,and post-survey forms were collected as students left the room after the showing. All data analysis was based on comparing each individual's pre- and post-program answers.

We were surprised that no student at either showing had ever heard of the Dover trial (we asked for a show of hands). We observed that the number of characters introduced in the film and the complex maneuverings prior to and during the trial were confusing to many students who became restless during the program. However,we were actually surprised that the answers to the survey statements indicated that the students had been paying more attention than their behavior suggested during the program.

Graph showing student agreement with the statement Intelligent design is a scientific explanation for the history of life on earth.

Depending on the statement, more than one-third of the students who viewed Judgment Day changed at least one answer on the post-program survey from their answers on the pre-program survey. The answers most likely to be changed related to statements targeting students' understanding of "intelligent design". Twenty-four percent of the students changed their answers to Statement 1 (Intelligent design is a scientific explanation for the history of the earth) from "Yes" or "Don't know" to "No" after viewing Judgment Day (Figure 1), and 26% changed their answers to Statement 2 (There are scientifically valid data supporting intelligent design) in the same direction (Figure 2). More students who answered "Don't know" changed their answers than students who answered "Yes," indicating that the program was particularly effective in changing the minds of students who were unsure of "intelligent design"'s role as a scientific explanation (Figure 2). In the end, 70% of the students who watched Judgment Day believed that there are no scientifically valid data supporting "intelligent design".

Graph showing student agreement with the statement The theory of evolution is a scientific explanation for the history of life on earth

Although not as dramatic as the results for Statements 1 and 2, the change in answers to Statement 3 (Intelligent design should be taught in the science curriculum of public schools) was also notable. In the pre-program survey 55% of the students answered "Yes" and 45% answered "No" to the statement." Don't know"was not listed as an option to prevent students from avoiding the issue altogether. In the post-program survey the results were reversed, with 39% answering "Yes" and 61% answering "No".

Graph showing student agreement with the statement There are scientifically valid data supporting intelligent design

When the number of answer changes to all three statements concerning "intelligent design"were statistically compared to the number of answer changes for all three statements concerning evolution, students changed their answers to the "intelligent design"statements significantly more often than they did their answers to the statements about evolution. These changes may reflect students' unfamiliarity with the premises of "intelligent design" prior to viewing Judgment Day. The program appears to have both convinced students that there is no scientific merit to "intelligent design" and to have educated them about the assumption of the movement.

As mentioned previously, the students watching Judgment Day had just completed the unit on evolution in Principles and Methods of Biology, and their answers to the statements on evolution appeared to reflect the information gained during that unit. There was a slight increase in students answering "Yes" to Statement 4 (The theory of evolution is a scientific explanation for the history of life on earth) from preto post-program survey (76% to 85%) (Figure 3). Similar percentage increases were also observed in Statement 5 (There are scientifically valid data supporting the theory of evolution) from 86% to 92% and in Statement 6 (The theory of evolution should be taught in the science curriculum of public schools) from 91% to 94%. Small percentages of students answered "Don't know" to Statements 4 and 5, but as in the similar statement about "intelligent design" (Statement 3), students were not given the option of answering "Don't know"to Statement 6.

Discussion

Exposing students attending college in Louisiana to evolutionary theory regardless of their majors should be an important goal, considering that the state legislature recently passed, and Governor Bobby Jindal signed, the Louisiana Science Education Act, which allows teachers at the elementary and secondary level to present supplemental material that "promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning" (http://www.legis.state.la.us/billdata/streamdocument.asp?did=503483). This wording is similar to that suggested by the Discovery Institute, an organization that promotes "a belief in God-given reason and the permanency of human nature" (http://www.discovery.org/aboutFunctions.php). We have discovered that dramatizing evolution in the manner utilized by Judgment Day is a highly effective technique for clarifying the concepts of evolution and counteracting ideas not supported by scientific evidence, such as those expressed by the Discovery Institute.

The lack of high school background in evolution and the short time spent on it in our Biology 101 course were probably partially responsible for the confusion expressed by many students when they answered "Don't know" to the pre-program statements about the validity of "intelligent design". Most introductory college biology courses are constrained in the time spent on evolutionary theory because there are other biological topics that also need to be introduced. To increase high school students' exposure to evolutionary theory prior to their enrolling in a college biology course, a high school biology teacher in Louisiana could request to show his/her students Judgment Day. The program appears to meet the "supplemental instructional materials"criterion of the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA). Certainly we would argue that viewing Judgment Day "promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories" (see http://www.legis.state.la.us/billdata/streamdocument.asp?did=503483) by its thoughtful coverage of the information presented by witness for both the plaintiffs and defendants. Although the LSEA has all the appearances of a stealth creationism document (Stenger 2001), it does not prohibit a high school biology teacher from requesting to supplement the standard textbook with high-quality scientific material such as Judgment Day.

The evidence from these responses indicates that after the evolution/"intelligent design" controversy was presented to Centenary College students in Judgment Day, the students understood that evidence strongly favors an evolutionary explanation of adaptation and speciation. Ideally college students should be taught evolution in an atmosphere that allows them to thoroughly explore its predictive features,as done by Wilson in his Evolution for Everyone course at Binghamton University (Wilson 2005). However, in a more restricted curriculum, showing Judgment Day will both increase students' understanding of evolutionary principles and the nonscientific attempts by organizations such as the Discovery Institute to undermine the teaching of the most comprehensive theory in biology. Adding Judgment Day to classroom units on evolution at both the high school and college level may be particularly important in states like Louisiana that have a history of resistance to scientific explanations of the origin of life on earth. At the very least, our survey shows that Judgment Day did an excellent job of educating college students who truly did not understand the nonscientific premises of "intelligent design".

References

Berkman MB, Pacheco JS, Plutzer E. 2008. Evolution and creationism in America's classrooms: A national portrait. PLoS Biology 6 (5): 920–4.

Stenger VJ. 2001. Intelligent design: The new stealth creationism. [Internet] Available from http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Stealth.pdf. Last accessed October 6, 2008.

Wilson DS. 2005. Evolution for everyone: How to increase acceptance of, interest in, and knowledge about evolution. PLoS Biology 3 (12): 2058–65.

About the Author(s): 

Beth E Lueck
Department of Biology
Centenary College of Louisiana
Shreveport LA 71104
bleuck@centenary.edu

Greg Q Butcher
Department of Biology
Centenary College of Louisiana
Shreveport LA 71104
gbutcher@centenary.edu

Beth Leuck is Professor of Biology at Centenary College of Louisiana. Greg Butcher is Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Centenary College of Louisiana. Both teach in the Principles and Methods of Biology course featured in this article.

Engaging the Controversy in Science Education

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Engaging the Controversy in Science Education: Scientific Knowledge and Democratic Decisions
Author(s): 
Rebecca P Lewis
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2009
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
32–36
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Looking at the headlines of newspapers around the United States these days, it is clear that there is a controversy waging over one of the key concepts taught in science classrooms. Evolution, a scientific theory that has long been a source of contention in the United States, has become a target once again. In the 1920s, the teaching of evolution was contested in the infamous Scopes "monkey" trial. Although it put an end to most of the pending antievolution legislation at the time (Linder 2002), the Scopes trial neither led to a clear decision on the violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution nor ended the debate over the teaching of evolution.

The current challenge to evolution is different from that of the Scopes Trial era,however. Proponents of "intelligent design" (ID) argue for a fundamental change in the way biology is taught in the United States, especially in high school. They propose including materials "challenging various aspects of neo- Darwinian theory . . . developing the scientific theory known as intelligent design . . . [and] exploring the impact of scientific materialism on culture" (Discovery Institute nd). In fact, they assert that American school children should learn about the evolution "controversy", further asserting that teaching evolutionary biology alone (that is, evolution without reference to ID or other alternate "theories") is bad science because it does not include the skepticism that is essential to all scientific research.

The reality is, of course, that no real debate exists in the scientific community about the veracity of the theory of evolution; in fact, most scientists accept the theory of evolution (Witham 1997). What does exist, however — as it always should in science — is a healthy amount of skepticism and questioning of hypotheses based on the theory of evolution (Isaak 2005). In contrast to the lack of debate about evolution in the scientific community, there continues to be a major controversy over the science curriculum. This is played out as states make decisions about science standards, local school boards make decisions about what will be taught in science classrooms, and both decide how to present information to students.

The fundamental question facing the scientific community today is what happens when experts in a field on the one hand and large numbers of citizens on the other reach a stalemate concerning knowledge. What happens to the rest of the population, caught in the middle of the conflict, especially high school students and their teachers? This article explores the controversy over the teaching of evolution in the science classrooms of the United States, as well as how decisions concerning who acts as decision- makers and what is right will be decided, and the effects of these decisions on science education. Because this controversy is about making decisions about what knowledge is of most worth — indeed whose knowledge is accurate and whose knowledge is not (and who decides both about accuracy and about what should and should not be taught in school), it is fundamentally a debate about democracy and educating people to participate more fully in a democratic society. Indeed, in a country like the United States all curricular debates are eventually political debates, and unless they are recognized as such many important curricular reforms will fail for lack of political sophistication on the part of their advocates.

In the United States much education policy is made at the grass roots level. In addition, each of the fifty states makes many of its own decisions about curriculum and academic standards for its schools. This is true despite the fact that since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal government is playing an increasing role in school politics both in terms of regulations and in the bully pulpit available to educational leaders. Nevertheless, unlike the situation in many other nations, curriculum decision-making happens in the United States at many different levels and with many different constituencies.

This debate can only be won in the court of public opinion, not in the scientific journals, and the scientific community (researchers and educators) must effectively demonstrate several points: scientific theory need not diminish religious beliefs or interfere with what children are taught in the home or in faith-based communities; schools are expected to teach the knowledge needed for full participation and in the US economy and in a democratic society, but not all knowledge; and changing science education for religious purposes fails the larger goals of a democratic society (and this is perhaps the proper order for addressing the chief concerns of the general public). If the scientific community refuses to engage in this public dialog, if it remains "above politics," it should not be surprised if it loses in the court of public opinion and particularly in the electoral process, both of which will affect policy and curriculum because local, state, and federal governments are where these decisions are made. The cost of failure is that we could easily end up in a situation in the United States — or at least in many communities within the United States — in which the democratic system created a school curriculum that teaches very bad science.

While there are actually many different kinds of creationism or religious theories about the origins of life, the current educational debate pits those who support ID against most of the scientific community. Some might see this dichotomy incorrectly as one between religious ID proponents, on the one hand, and secular evolutionists, on the other. Certainly those who oppose evolution on religious grounds will find comfort in ID. However, the central claim that ID proponents make to the public at large is that they have a scientific alternative that is being discriminated against. To understand the current debate better, it is important to look closely at what each "side" is saying — both about itself and about the other side, including both the assertions each side makes and the assumptions that underlie their arguments.

Proponents of ID

Creationists offer a long list of arguments against evolution, ranging from claims that evolution is not testable to attacks on various hypotheses related to the evidence of evolution, to moral and religious attacks on scientists and the scientific community. However, proponents of ID often distance themselves from past concepts of creationism (West 2003) — particularly distancing themselves from "young-earth creationists" who believe that the earth is 6000 years old and was shaped by the Noachian Flood. Instead, proponents of ID contend that evolution does not account for the complexity of life as we know it. ID proponents state that life is too complex to have evolved randomly, so there must be an intelligent being that directed or began the design. Advocates of ID dispute critics' assertions that ID is religious in nature and that the intelligent designer identified in this theory is God. They claim that while ID, like evolution, might have "implications for religion ... these implications are distinct from its scientific program" (West 2003). Some proponents have asserted that the changes to science curriculum they seek would simply allow for the teaching of other theories besides evolution.

Its proponents have asserted that ID is in fact a scientific "theory" for which evidence can be detected in the natural world and used to explain scientific facts and they cite a range of "evidence" for ID. One claim is that "the ID argument is 'based on biological and physical data generally accepted in science' ... [but it disagrees] with the evolutionists that life could have begun and developed all by itself from undirected material" (Zehfus 2006). Proponents accuse critics of ID as being hypocritical in denouncing ID as pseudoscience, while accepting other branches of science that "depend on drawing the distinction between intelligent causes or intelligent agents and physical causes" (Trobee 2006). For instance, proponents claim that ID is similar in nature to fields such as archaeology and forensic science. They argue that attributing the development of a tool to a certain group of people based on carbon dating or deducing who committed a crime based on DNA evidence is based on a leap of faith that it was an intelligent, identifiable human being who created the tool or committed the crime — much as proponents claim that an intelligent being must have created life.

Proponents of ID claim that evolutionists have stacked the odds against ID through efforts to block the publication of evidence of ID in scientific journals and through efforts by lawmakers and science organizations to promote teaching only "'testable' scientific theories and those okayed by the National Academy of Sciences" (Trobee 2006). These claims assume that the "scientific"concerns that proponents of ID have related to evolution represent a valid scientific inquiry, which the larger scientific community and the professional organizations that support the work of the community reject.

ID proponents claim that the very existence of challenges to evolutionary theory "should be sufficient reason"for teaching ID in schools (Dixon 2006). In other words, since evolution cannot (in their view) explain all of the diversity and complexity of life, then we should teach that there are other theories that do fill in the gaps in our knowledge. Most of the 44 fellows who work for the Discovery Institute do not have advanced degrees in biological sciences, and the Institute conducts "very little ... research into the weaknesses of Darwinism ... of the experimental, laboriented, peer-reviewed kind" (Downey 2006). The evidence and arguments of ID are of a more theoretical nature and thus have been presented in creationist- leaning journals and in books. The scientific evidence for ID has not been published in peer-reviewed journals in the larger field, proponents say, because of the snobbery of the scientific community and its refusal to look at evidence that contradicts accepted notions (Morris 1998; Derbyshire 2003).

Instead of conducting original research that could be written about in peer-reviewed scientific journals, the Institute focuses its work on a public opinion campaign aimed at having public schools teach both the "strengths and the weaknesses" of the scientific theory of evolution and about the "evolution controversy", which they claim exists. The purpose of this campaign, according to the Institute, is to get the message to the people that the truth about evolution is being suppressed by "Darwinian fundamentalists" (Discovery Institute nd). The Discovery Institute characterizes the majority of the scientific community in this group, because they refute ID despite the "missing links and other problems"of evolution that ID proponents see (Zehfus 2006). Judging by news coverage and popular opinion polls, it seems the ID movement has succeeded in getting its message out and persuading some people to support changing science education to fit religious views.

Critics of ID

Critics of ID claim that ID is simply creationism "camouflaged in scientific language"(Anonymous 2006) or is "parallel but not identical to creation science (Scott and Branch 2002). In addition, the former director of the Vatican Observatory stated that the Catholic Church views the teaching of ID alongside evolution in the science classroom as confusing for students who would not understand that these two contrary ideas are not on equal footing in the scientific community (Anonymous 2005). Even among scientists of Christian faiths who have been surveyed, the idea of ID seems at least partly religious in nature.A survey of scientists at universities in Ohio, one of the states in which the debate over inserting ID into public education has been very prominent, showed more than 90% agreed that ID was a religious notion, that evolution and religious belief were not mutually exclusive, and that understanding ID was not necessary for students to understand the natural world, while knowledge of evolution was (Bishop 2002).

Other critics of ID contend that ID is a philosophical idea, not a scientific theory, and not a replacement for the theory of evolution or for explanations of the natural phenomena that it offers (Gingerich 2005). Since ID is not a scientific theory, they claim, it does not have a place in the science classroom.

It is important to note that all the critics of ID do support the theory of evolution, even if there are disagreements among them about details. Scientific challenges to evidence supporting a theory or the fact that the theory cannot answer all of our questions does not require the immediate acceptance of any alternative — the alternative itself must be supported by a chain of evidence. On this point, the scientific community must undo the ID movement's obfuscation of this fact to achieve success in the public debate. However, the scientific community often does not join in this public debate, worrying that doing so would give more credence to ID than it deserves.

Critics of ID often note that the evidence cited by proponents of ID has not been accepted by the larger scientific community and is not published in any of the widely-accepted peer-reviewed journals of science. Critics defend against claims of biased publication criteria by noting that most ID proponents do not actually perform scientific experiments, which would lead to the types of articles published in scientific journals. And of course some of the scientific work on ID done by proponents has been rejected as "bad science", even by supporters of ID.

Critics of ID assume that good science follows agreed-upon steps and rules in the scientific community. This framework filters out bad science, such as ID. Following this agreed-upon format for inquiry is a fundamental value within the scientific community that represents a mindset difference between scientists and non-scientists, and it is this difference that makes this controversy so difficult for many non-scientists to grasp. This mindset means that the scientific community faces difficulty in representing the strength of its position in the court of public opinion. Proponents of ID try to portray the critics of ID as close-minded and unwilling to accept evidence that does not fit their world view.

What Scientific Debate?

The two sides of the controversy over evolution and the teaching of evolution in schools cannot really be debated in the scientific arena because the two sides view the world differently: science never claims to do more than describe and explain the natural world of science while ID proponents look beyond nature for answers, answers which — by definition — cannot be "science"even if they represent "truth"by some other definition. As stated by one ID critic, the potential conflict is "our definition of science . . . [which] explains the world with hard, observable evidence" while ID proponents consider that science "is not limited to the best 'naturalistic' explanation, but rather to the best explanation, period" (Foley 2006). Within this framework, there is simply no way to have a dialog about what is seen as scientific knowledge.

However, this controversy about science education is taking place in the public arena — in schools, and courts — as though there were a scientific debate between science and ID. To succeed in this cultural controversy, the scientific community must enter the public arena with a clear and succinct message that evolution need not conflict with religious beliefs and evolution is a sound theory overwhelmingly supported by the scientific community, since these are the successful talking points of those who oppose evolution (currently by promoting ID).

Determining What Is Scientific Knowledge and Who Decides

The cultural controversy over the science curriculum is not really about evolution, but rather is a debate about what knowledge is and who decides. It is a controversy over what knowledge is considered valid or of most worth and whose voice(s) are heard (or not heard) in the decision-making about education and knowledge. It is a controversy about the nature of science and scientific knowledge. And it is a controversy about religion, policy, and the contradictions and problems with such debates in the United States. It is difficult for this matter to be decided once and for all in a democracy in which there is widespread popular support for local decision-making. On the one hand, we have experts in the field — including the vast majority of high school biology teachers — who support the scientific theory (and many of whom strongly disagree with teaching it as a controversial theory). On the other, seemingly popular support for the teaching of an alternative idea — ID — also exists in spite of a scientific consensus that it is "bad science".

It is essential to understand that, as curriculum theorist William Pinar and his co-authors point out in Understanding Curriculum:

The history of American education is linked with religious movements and controversies . . . [for] despite the constitutional separation between church and state . . . there has been a keen curricular interest in the matters associated with religion. (Pinar and others 2004: 606)

The genius of the "ID debate" from its proponents' perspective has been its successful appeals to public opinion, and then its convincing government officials to take up the cause in light of claims that the majority of Americans support ID (Trobee 2006). In fact, religious groups and advocates of a more theistic society have long worried about what is taught in public schools, and "school curriculum is now scrutinized carefully by religious groups concerned over values embedded in it ... [which] represent a religious belief system called 'secular humanism'" (Pinar and others 2004: 614). Of course, it is a perennial (and popular) argument that teaching evolution promotes the "religion" of "secular humanism".

At its base, this is a controversy about liberty in a democracy — pitting the liberty of parents and religious groups against the liberty of other parents and against the US Constitution, which holds that there will be no establishment of religion by the government nor any suppression of citizens' religious beliefs. In Deborah Stone's Policy Paradox (2002), the noted policy analyst and scholar offers a theory of policy analysis that helps us understand that the goals of policy decisions, such as liberty, are ambiguous concepts that mean different things to different people. Thus, policies enacted to meet ambiguous goals such as promoting liberty and equity (like mandating the teaching of the "evolution controversy" to be "fair" to different constituencies) can be supported by the majority of people, only to have people be upset with the consequences of these policies because the results of the policies do not meet people's differing conceptions of the goal. This means that a policy in education that is meant to promote a critical stance towards evidence, which is healthy and necessary in science, can be used to criticize science itself in the name of "academic freedom". Academic freedom has, in fact, been the rallying point of the ID movement, which has demanded that public opinion should be listened to and that academics (whether university-level or at the K–12 level) should be given the freedom to present the challenges to evolution.

In 2005, a federal court ruled that ID is a religious belief and that teaching ID violates the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution.Yet school boards and state legislators from Minnesota to South Carolina to Kansas have heard about ID and want to introduce the notion that evolution is disputed and does not answer "all of our questions" or that ID can answer questions of origin that evolution cannot.Despite past court decisions (and all the scientific evidence), the public debate will continue because it is neither a legal nor a scientific one.

We live in a political environment in which "the people" will ultimately make decisions about curriculum — either through school boards or electing officials — including the officials who appoint state and federal judges. Therefore, the scientific community must engage in the public dialog to make it clear that policies promoting criticism of evolution or the teaching of ID will not help us to achieve our goals of liberty and prosperity. For example, Margaret Spelling, Secretary of Education under President George W Bush, emphasized the administration's contention that US ability in math and science is not up to par with the rest of the developed world — leading the administration to fund "an ambitious program intended to boost the quality of math and science instruction in the nation's schools"(Murray 2006).People do not need to understand all the arguments relevant to evolution to understand that diluting the science curriculum with ID is simply not compatible with this goal.

Distorting science education to match the religious worldview of a small part of the population does a disservice to our democracy and our country in its global economic pursuits, ill equipping students to participate in the scientific world economy that is seen as key to our national interests and prosperity.However, the remedy for the attack on evolutionary science is not more pronouncements from on high (for example, the National Academy of Sciences 1998 — or other professional or even religious organizations), it is engagement in the democratic process that shapes the science education that our public school provides. This is a strategy that anti-evolutionists have understood and mastered.

References

[Anonymous.] 2005 Nov 18. Vatican astronomer joins evolution debate. Associated Press. [Internet] Available on-line at . Last accessed August 28, 2006.

[Anonymous.] 2006. Vatican paper raps "intelligent design." MSNBC. [Internet] Available on-line at . Last accessed January 20, 2006.

Bishop G. 2002 Oct 15. Majority of Ohio science professors and public agree:"Intelligent design" mostly about religion. [Internet] Available on-line at . Last accessed January 25, 2010.

Derbyshire J. 2003 Apr 22. Pseudoscience vs snobbery: A Doonesbury lesson. National Review Online. [serial online] Available on-line at . Last accessed May 1, 2006.

Discovery Institute. nd. The Center for Science and Culture. [Internet] Available on-line at . Last accessed April 24, 2006.

Dixon C. 2006 Mar 5. Think tank fuels debate on evolution. The Post and Courier. [Internet] Available on-line at . Last accessed December 28, 2009.

Downey R. 2006 Feb 1. Discovery's creation. Seattle Weekly:News. [serial online] Available on-line at . Last accessed April 25, 2006.

Foley J. 2006 Feb 13. The voo-doo doo-doo in intelligent design. Minnesota Daily. [serial online] Available on-line at . Last accessed February 14, 2006.

Gingerich O. 2005 Nov 8. Taking the ID debate out of pundits' playbooks. Science & Theology News: Science & Religion Guide: Intelligent Design. [serial online] Available on-line at . Last accessed January 25, 2010.

Isaak M. 2005. CA111: Scientists reject evolution? The Talk.Origins Archive: Creationist Claims. Available on-line at http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA111.html. Last accessed May 1, 2006.

Linder D. 2002. State v John Scopes ("The Monkey Trial"). [Internet] Available on-line at http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/scopes.htm. Last accessed May 1, 2006.

Morris HM. 1998. Bigotry in science. Back to Genesis 114. [Internet] Available on-line at http://www.icr.org/index.php?module=articles&action=view&ID=840. Last accessed May 1, 2006.

Murray C. 2006 Feb 7. Bush: Cut $3.2B from education. eSchool News Online. [serial online] Available on-line at http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStoryts.cfm?ArticleID=6101. Last accessed May 1, 2006.

National Academy of Sciences. 1998. Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science. Washington (DC): National Academy Press.

Pinar WF, Reynolds WM, Slattery P, Taubman PM. 2004. Understanding Curriculum. New York: Peter Lang.

Scott EC, Branch G. 2002 July 2."Intelligent design" not accepted by most scientists. School Board News. [serial online] Available on-line at http://www.nsba.org/site/doc_sbn.asp?TrackID=&SID=1&DID=8127&CID=310&VID=58. Last accessed April 25, 2006.

Stone D. 2002. Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making. New York: WW Norton.

Trobee K. 2006 Feb 13. Wisconsin proposal looks to ban intelligent design from the classroom. Family News In Focus. [serial online] Available on-line at http://www.family.org/cforum/fnif/news/a0039507.cfm. Last accessed February 14, 2006.

West JG Jr. 2003. Intelligent design and creationism just aren't the same. [Internet] Available on-line at http://www.arn.org/docs2/news/idandcreationismnotsame011503.htm. Last accessed May 1, 2006.

Witham L. 1997. Many scientists see God's hand in evolution. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 17 (6): 33. [Internet] Available on-line at http://ncse.com/rncse/17/6/many-scientists-see-gods-hand-evolution. Last accessed January 25, 2010.

Zehfus C. 2006 Feb 12. Intelligent design facing more challenges. [serial online] Sheybogan Press. Available on-line at http://www.sheboyganpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060212/SHE06/602120394/1109/SHEopinion. Last accessed February 14, 2006.

About the Author(s): 

Rebecca P Lewis
Education Development Center, Inc
55 Chapel Street
Newton MA 02458-1060
RLewis@edc.org

Rebecca Lewis is a doctoral candidate in Curriculum and Instruction at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. A former science and mathematics teacher with an undergraduate degree in horticultural science and a master's degree in teaching biology, Lewis now works on curriculum development and teacher professional development projects at Education Development Center, Inc.

The State of High School Biology Teachers' Understanding of Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The State of High School Biology Teachers' Understanding of Evolution
Author(s): 
Patricia Palko
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2009
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
37–38
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

When asked, "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals", only 43% of randomly selected Americans answered "True" (National Science Board 2006). Furthermore, no more than 48% of the public could choose an accurate definition of evolution (People for the American Way Foundation 2000).

The woeful state of evolution comprehension is not surprising considering that formal education ends in high school for most of the American population. The Current Population Survey estimates that 28% had attained a bachelor's or higher degree (National Center for Education Statistics 2008). Although some high school graduates may have attended college without matriculating, there are no indications of how many of these students completed a college science course, particularly in the field of biology. Therefore, high school teachers provide the last formal instruction most students will receive in evolution. There have been many assessments of teachers' religious beliefs and the acceptance and teaching of evolution (see, for example, the University of Minnesota Biology Program faculty publications webpage at http://www.cbs.umn.edu/bioprog/publications for a compendium of Randy Moore's work). However, there have been very few measures of their conceptions of evolution and none attempt to determine the source of misconceptions.

Therefore, James E Platt (of the University of Denver) and I developed the Classroom Test of Evolution (CTER) aimed at learning more about secondary teachers' understanding of evolution. It is based upon recent research on evolutionary misconceptions (for instance, see Brian Alters [2005] for an excellent treatment on general misconceptions; Mier and others [2007] for problems reading phylogenetic trees; and the NCSE website at http://ncse.com/evolution/education/problem-conceptsevolution for Eugenie Scott's discussion regarding the terms "cause, purpose, design, and chance"). The assessment was reviewed by evolutionary experts for content.

The CTER consists of 26 multiple-choice items designed to measure an understanding of the following aspects of evolution:

  • natural selection
  • acquired characteristics
  • vestigial structures
  • homology
  • convergent evolution
  • reading phylogenetic trees
  • speciation
  • common ancestry
  • transitional fossils
  • and the nature of evolution.

Almost all of the items are paired in the style of Lawson (1994): questions are sequenced in such a way that the answer to the second question identifies the reasoning behind the response to the first question. For example, in one set of questions, the first asks the respondent to identify which of a group of organisms is most closely related to lungfishes and the second inquires why biologists accept this to be true. Respondents must answer both questions correctly in order to receive credit.

The test was administered anonymously online. The respondents also provide demographic information, such as location and educational background. Over 700 high school biology instructors nationwide completed the survey. The majority were from the western or midwestern public schools, although the schools were roughly equally distributed between urban, suburban, small city, and rural locations.

Out of a possible 13 points, the mean score was just a 6.35. Yet unlike the American public, most teachers could correctly identify the evolutionary relationship of humans to other, related species. They performed well on questions concerning acquired characteristics and vestigial structures,as well.

However, several items asking teachers to interpret phylogenetic trees received no better than a 52% correct response rate, and for one set of questions, this rate dropped to a dismal 10.5%. Just under 35% were able to identify homologous characteristics in two organisms as being derived from biological features in their most recent common ancestor, and a mere 17.3% were able to define transitional fossils. Other problematic areas were discerning the effects of mutations on the genome and predicting the results of a selection event on a population.

Rutledge and Mitchell (2002) show that student knowledge about and understanding of evolution are affected by that of their instructors and our analysis of CTER data reveals that teachers possess many misconceptions. We continue to analyze these data with an eye toward developing science education curriculum to help correct teachers' misunderstandings. In the meantime, we need to be aware that students may be graduating high school with the baggage of their teachers' misconceptions.

References

Alters B. 2005. Teaching Biological Evolution in Higher Education: Methodological, Religious, and Nonreligious Issues. Sudbury (MA): Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Lawson AE. 1994. Science Teaching and the Development of Thinking. Belmont (CA): Wadsworth Publishing.

Mier E, Perry J, Herron JC, Kingsolver J. 2007. College students' misconceptions about evolutionary trees. The American Biology Teacher 69 (7): 71–6.

National Center for Education Statistics. 2007. Digest of Education Statistics. [Internet] Available on-line at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d08/tables/dt08_008.asp. Last accessed November 30, 2009.

National Science Board. 2006. Science and Engineering Indicators. [Internet]. Available on-line at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind08/c7/c7s2.htm. Last accessed January 7, 2009.

People for the American Way Foundation. 2000. Evolution and Creationism in Public Education: An In-depth Reading of Public Opinion. [Internet]. Available online at http://67.192.238.59/multimedia/pdf/Reports/evolutionandcreationisminpubliceducation.pdf. Last accessed April 26, 2009.

Rutledge ML, Mitchell MA. 2002. High school biology teachers' knowledge structure, acceptance & teaching of evolution. The American Biology Teacher 64 (1): 21–8.

About the Author(s): 

Patricia Palko
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Denver
2190 E Iliff Ave, Room 102
Denver CO 80208
ppalko@du.edu

Patricia Palko is a doctoral candidate at the University of Denver Department of Biological Sciences. Her research concentrates upon investigating and improving the evolutionary understandings of high school biology instructors.

Going Back to Glen Rose

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
People & Places: Going Back to Glen Rose
Author(s): 
Randy Moore
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2009
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
38–39
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

In the last issue of RNCSE, Randy Moore's account of the Creation Evidence Museum gave an overview and history of the facility and its founder. In October 2009, Randy wrote that he was going to have the opportunity to visit the museum again, so we asked him to write this follow-up.

Figure 1: Carl Baugh's new Creation Evidence Museum just outside of Glen Rose, Texas

I Can't Make This Stuff Up

In November 2009, I visited beautiful Glen Rose, Texas, and could not resist stopping by Carl Baugh's Creation Evidence Museum. Baugh has moved his YEC-and-more "Creation in Symphony" message from his creaky double-wide trailer to a new two-story building. His message remains largely unchanged: visitors continue to hear about God's stretching the fabric of the heavens, God's putting Adam to sleep and taking a rib to make Eve, God's using a geyser to shoot water 70 miles into the air, and God's aligning the molecules of the universe to create magnetic fields and the "appearance of age" (for example, birds were created in mid-air).

Some of the museum's exhibits are also unchanged (for example, visitors can still see a man-made hammer embedded in early Cretaceous rock).

Other exhibits have been upgraded. For example,"the world's first hyperbaric biosphere" — which was originally about the size of a large barbecue-pit and connected to an oscilloscope — is now 62 feet long. That chamber simulates the pre-Flood environment (for example, increased magnetic fields to "help healing and cellular communication"). Baugh claims that the biosphere's environment has increased the lifespan of fruit flies (and, by implication, helps explain the long lifespans of biblical patriarchs), increased the growth of certain fish (and, by implication, helps explain the large sizes of early humans), and "altered snake venom at the molecular level." (I was relieved to see a sign stating that "We do not and will not experiment on humans.")

Figure 2: The Alvis Delk Print showing a track of Acrocanthosaurus (right) intruding on a footprint of Homo bauanthropus (left).

The Creation Evidence Museum is most famous for its "Flintstones Fossils" — that is, fossils claiming to show that humans lived with dinosaurs. The newest exhibit is a fossil discovered by amateur geologist Alvis Delk of Stephenville, Texas, showing a track of Acrocanthosaurus intruding on a 11" human footprint of Homo bauanthropus in Cretaceous rock (Figure 2). This fossil, which was excavated in 2000 but displayed only recently, is accompanied by another fossilized track of Acrocanthosaurus beside a fossilized handprint of H bauanthropus in Cretaceous rock. These fossils, which have been "verified with x-rays" at "a professional laboratory", are part of the Sir George Series (named in honor of His Excellency Governor General Ratu Sir George Cacobau of Fiji). Also on display is a large photo of Baugh.

There are numerous tables of YEC books, DVDs, posters, and other materials for sale. I have the dubious distinction of making the first purchase at the new museum.

Business is good at the Creation Evidence Museum. On the days I was there, the museum was full. It is a depressingly entertaining place; astounding claims can be found throughout the facility. But the most curious display is on the second floor of the museum. There, overlooking everything, is a 12'-high statue (Figure 3).

Figure 3: A statue of Dallas Cowboys football coach Tom Landry oversees another busy day at the Creation Evidence Museum.

When I saw the statue from a distance, I assumed that it was a memorial to a YEC pioneer such as George McCready Price, Henry Morris, or perhaps even Baugh. But I was wrong. It's a statue of Tom Landry, a former coach of the Dallas Cowboys professional football team.

Is football-creationism next?

About the Author(s): 

Randy Moore
c/o NCSE
PO Box 0477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
info@ncse.com

Randy Moore (with Mark Decker) is coauthor of More Than Darwin (Berkeley [CA]: University of California Press, 2009) and (with Mark Decker and Sehoya Cotner) the upcoming Chronology of the Evolution–Creationism Controversy.

HOMO BAUGH-ANTHROPUS?

It is no surprise that the supposed Cretaceous hominid Homo bauanthropus is recognized only by Carl Baugh. The species name, he explains, is in honor of “a physically superior royal tribe in Fiji”(quoting from p 368 of his 1989 dissertation, available on-line at http://www.creationevidence.org/~creatio1/carlbaugh.htm). Discussing Baugh’s claims in 1985, the physical anthropologist Laurie Godfrey identified the footprints as falling into three classes: clear toe impressions of tridactyl dinosaurs, poor dinosaur tracks obscured by infillings of mud, and misinterpreted invertebrate burrow casts of Thalassinoides (see “Foot notes of an anatomist” in Creation/Evolution 5 [1]: 16–35; available on-line at http://ncse.com/cej/5/1/foot-notes-anatomist).

Review: Darwin's Illness

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
6
Date: 
Forthcoming
Page(s): 
40–41
Reviewer: 
Keith Thomson
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Darwin's Illness
Author(s): 
Ralph Colp Jr
Gainesville (FL): University of Florida Press, 2008. 337 pages

Poor Darwin; one has to feel sorry for him, not just because he was ill so much of the time, but also because the world now knows so much about his heart palpitations, the color of his urine, and his bowel movements! But the man himself seems to have relished all the details of his symptoms, set out for many years in a diary and in lists sent to an unending supply of doctors and quacks. He is famous for taking "cures" at expensive spas, such as the one run by Dr James Gully (principally involving cold baths and a strict diet). It is remarkable that such a perennially sick man got such a prodigious amount of work done.

Thirty-two years ago, Ralph Colp Jr, a psychiatrist, gave us a comprehensive view of Darwin's illnesses and some best guesses as to their causes in his influential book To be an Invalid (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977). Now he has revised that work in the light of the many new ideas that have been suggested about what ailed the great man. In this new edition Colp has carefully transcribed Darwin's "Diary of Health" of 1849 to 1855, but sadly the details of contemporary nostrums that enlivened the first edition have been removed.

Just how ill was Darwin? Colp makes it clear that he was unwell, on and off, for his whole life. The contradictory patterns of Darwin's illnesses started in his youth. He was both a strong athletic youngster and quite psychologically tender. Evidence suggests that he was deeply affected by the death of his mother, when he was only eight. He stammered and always had a weak stomach (especially at breakfast). As a teenager he began to suffer bad eczema on his face (especially the lips) and hands and this was always associated with anxiety and stress.

At Cambridge he seems to have suffered periodic depression. Just before the Beagle voyage (1831–1836), while miserably delayed in Plymouth, he developed palpitations and, it is thought, paresthesia in which his finger tips became numb. During the voyage itself, he suffered surprisingly little from the sorts of stomach upsets and fevers that one might expect from someone exploring fearlessly on horseback across South America. But on at least two occasions he was seriously laid up for weeks at a time.

After the Beagle voyage, while he was working feverishly to establish himself as a writer and geologist in London, he found that hard mental work led immediately to severe headaches, the ever-present eczema, palpitations, dyspepsia, and exhaustion. He was already on the way to becoming an invalid. In early to mid-1838 he added a whole new phase of symptoms involving much vomiting, "stomach" pain, extreme flatulence (belching), an acid stomach, night waking, an ulcerated tongue in the morning, and more severe eczema of the face and hands. At more than six feet and 148 pounds, he was marginally underweight. Readers may be surprised at some of his more obviously psychological symptoms, which included hysterical crying, "rocking," feeling that his stomach was "cold," seeing black dots, feeling a sensation of "walking on air," "dying sensations," ringing of the ears, and exhaustion and self-loathing. Interestingly he did not suffer much from fever or diarrhea; his intestinal difficulties were centered on the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. One is almost shocked by the extent and duration of the agonies that Colp has documented.

Many doctors were consulted and most cures worked for a little while. One such was dilute muriatic (hydrochloric) acid — an odd prescription for an acid stomach. Other doctors prescribed bismuth and calcium. He always had a craving, verging on an addiction, for sugar, and moving to what we would term a "better" diet usually helped, as did sitting upright, exercise, and a little wine.

This is a book for anyone interested in Darwin's complex life and the nineteenth century, with special interest for historians of science and medicine and for social historians. Every reader will naturally turn diagnostician and one's first instinct is to visit upon Darwin those conditions of which one has first hand experience. Over the years many theories have been proposed — from repressed homosexuality (!) to lactose intolerance and Crohn's disease. A long-standing favorite of Colp's is Chagas's disease, although to make the case for Chagas's, he has to invoke both an early latent phase and then a kind of secondary version later.

Darwin's obsessive preoccupation with health may in fact give us a clue to the causes of his symptoms. All the evidence points to a direct causal link between stress and his varied symptoms. The 1838 deterioration in his health coincided with his marriage and almost simultaneous recognition of the Malthusian principle that set the seal on his theory of natural selection — the secret ("like confessing a murder") that he was keeping from his colleagues and the extremely religious Emma. His health improved in the 1850s when he was engrossed in studies of barnacles and again in his last few years.

The range of Darwin's symptoms suggests, at the least, extreme hypochondria and a kind of chronic anxiety syndrome, coupled with — and perhaps causing — a variety of upper alimentary disturbances. But the story of Darwin's health is like a mystery novel from which the last chapter has been deleted. Short of exhuming his body from Westminster Abbey, we probably will never fully know what ailed him. Meanwhile, except for the fact that its index is truly abysmal, this is a really valuable book. Everyone seeking to understand Darwin should read it and choose among the rival explanations of what brought him so low while he was achieving such greatness.

About the Author(s): 
Keith Thomson
41 Summit Street
Philadelphia Pa 19118
kthomson@amphilsoc.org

Keith Thomson, professor emeritus of natural history at Oxford University and senior research fellow at the American Philosophical Society, is a biologist and historian of science. His latest book is The Young Charles Darwin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).

Review: Darwin’s Sacred Cause

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
6
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
41–42
Reviewer: 
John Waller
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Darwin’s Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Human Evolution
Author(s): 
Adrian Desmond and James Moore
New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. 448 pages

In 1991 Adrian Desmond and James Moore teamed up to write a wonderful book. Called simply Darwin (New York: Warner Books, 1991), this biography of Charles Darwin rightly won plaudits from fellow historians and a wider reading public, both camps awed by the authors’ depth of research, their fluency of expression, and their ability to bring the tumultuousness of Darwin’s England to life. A central theme informed Desmond and Moore’s account: the belief that Darwin was made sick, scared, and highly sensitive by the association of evolutionist thought and political radicalism. It was not a new argument but they explained it with tremendous brio. In addition, they presented natural selection as an idea born, in part, of the relentless competition and jostling for position which defined the new industrial order. Their clever, atmospheric, and enthralling biography put Darwin firmly back in his time and place without diminishing the reader’s appreciation for the great man’s qualities as a scientific thinker.

Eighteen years later Desmond and Moore have produced another striking book that will once more get historians talking and challenge staid stereotypes about how Darwin arrived at one of the most important realisations in modern science. Darwin’s Sacred Cause argues, in short, that Darwin developed his evolutionary theory not with the coolness of a scientist interested only in higher truths, but with a hatred for slavery so intense that he was hag-driven to prove that all human peoples were of one blood and ancestry. Proving that organisms can change over time, through natural and sexual selection, was part of a campaign, consciously and unconsciously waged, to bring an end to the evils against which his family had fought and from which he had recoiled on the Beagle voyage. Darwin might have obsessed about mockingbirds, fossil sloths, interbred pigeons, and overbreeding humans, but the "driving force" of his evolutionist thinking was the moral crime of slavery.

The result is fascinating and provocative. Written with much of Darwin’s flair and energy, Desmond and Moore tell an under-told story of how Darwin’s repugnance at slavery continued throughout his life, flaring up at times with all the emotional intensity of when he saw a female slave whipped in Argentina and an old lady’s collection of screws kept to crush the fingers of recalcitrant slaves. This book does the great service of humanising Charles Darwin. We see how keenly-fought debates over the nature of non-white peoples, their ultimate origins, even their capacity for interbreeding, occupied much of Darwin’s time and helped shape the reflections which led him to his mature theory. Along the way the reader receives a vivid, detailed, and utterly engaging lesson in the racial debates of Victorian Britain and America, with believers in a single origin for all humans as described in Genesis pitted against the often pro-slavery exponents of polygenesis, the idea that each race had been created separately. It is in the context of these conflicts, fought out in clubs and societies but with implications for plantations and slave markets, that Darwin formulated an evolutionary riposte to the polygenists. Or so Darwin’s Sacred Cause argues.

This stirring thesis raises many unanswered questions. If Darwin was so hell-bent on using science to undercut slavery, why not opt for a monogenist argument that all men and women were descended from Adam and Eve? Why bother bringing plants and animals into the picture at all? Moreover, the problem with making transmutation the basis for a critique of slavery was that it posed the question of how far back the splits among races had occurred. A few thousand years? A few million? Tens of millions? Since fossil hunters had yet to find a convincing human precursor, the branching among human races could theoretically be thrust back a very long way indeed. Inveterate racists could — and did — assert that the common ancestor of human races lived many millions of years ago, while the opponents of slavery opted for a more recent division. Evolutionary theory did not vouchsafe any one position. Nor does all the evidence as marshalled by Desmond and Moore neatly fit their hypothesis (as they at times concede). For if the brutality of slave-owning regimes put so much fire in Darwin’s belly, why did he write with cool indifference about the "inevitable" extinction of peoples like the Australian aboriginals? And why did he feel the need to insist that "savage" peoples were the moral and intellectual inferiors of whites?

One of the most remarkable features of this book is its originality. Desmond and Moore’s Darwin was far less bold in its analysis: historians had long pointed out that a fear of social ostracism contributed to Darwin’s delaying publication of his theory and even Karl Marx had recognised the clear affinities between the theory of natural selection and the often highly creative state of competition which fuels capitalist society. This time, however, Desmond and Moore are presenting a thesis which has been played in hushed tones, if at all, by previous Darwin scholars.

For this very reason their racy, rollicking style may not have been the most appropriate choice. A comparison to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species is germane. Knowing that his theory was going to be hotly contested and painfully aware of some important gaps in his data, Darwin presented his theory in the form of "one long argument", meticulously piecing together thousands of individual facts. In fact, the Origin has been compared aptly to a legal brief. So Darwin told the reader at every turn what he was arguing and how far his evidence went. He also did something unlike any attorney worth his fee: he devoted a chapter to acknowledging and then trying to argue around a set of thorny problems with this theory. Darwin’s great book was compelling because it is at once authoritative, brimming with data and candid about its limitations. Desmond and Moore’s Darwin’s Sacred Cause is also "one long argument", but it is written in the form of a breathless narrative replete with rhetorical flourishes. This makes it a superb and edifying read. But it also means that readers may find it hard to judge the quality of the evidence. There is no attempt to compare the relative importance of, say, slavery and mockingbirds, or Fuegians and finches. In fact, at one point we are reminded that "humans were not the sole source of insights into transmutation" (p 124). This would sound like outrageous understatement were it not for the fact that the preceding pages contain barely a mention of fossils or biogeography. Clearly Desmond and Moore know as much about the scientific basis of Darwin’s science as anyone alive. Nevertheless their style lacks the disarming clarity which left many of Darwin’s readers feeling that they were being told it as it is.

In sum, this is another splendid book from Desmond and Moore, the product of vast learning and deep sympathy, conveyed with often lyrical prose. If there are difficulties with the claims they make, they have at least provided, as Darwin said of his fledgling theory in 1837, a "theory by which to work." Time will tell if it has the strength to survive.

About the Author(s): 
John Waller
Department of History
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824
wallerj1@msu.edu

John Waller is Assistant Professor of the History of Medicine at Michigan State University. His latest book is A Time to Dance, A Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518 (London: Icon Books, 2008).

Review: Darwin’s Universe

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
6
Date: 
November-December
Page(s): 
42-43
Reviewer: 
Carol Anelli
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Darwin’s Universe: Evolution from A to Z
Author(s): 
Richard Milner
Berkeley (CA): University of California Press, 2009. 488 pages

My past few weekends have been spent deliciously sampling and savoring the more than 400 main entries in Richard Milner’s recent tome, Darwin’s Universe: Evolution from A to Z. The copyright relates the publication history of the work, but also hints at the jocularity secreted within the book’s many pages: “The present book ... has evolved from two ancestral forms titled The Encyclopedia of Evolution, published in 1990 and 1993.” Milner’s work, while authoritative and scholarly, is anything but a somber, run-of-the-mill encyclopedia of alphabetically arranged entries. This substantive volume is at once an eclectic romp and an illuminating vade mecum for anyone interested in evolutionary science and Darwin’s pervasive influence on human thought, behavior, and endeavor.

In his foreword, Ian Tattersall captures the book’s scope and quirky conceit: “... you will look in vain for a solemn exegesis of the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium or of speciation theory. The rule is that if Milner is fascinated by it, you’ll find it in here; if he finds it boring or overworked in other books, you’ll search in vain” (p 1). Fortunately for us, Milner’s fascinations become our own, owing to his literary gifts and unconventional gamut of interests. I dare say that ivory tower dwellers and lay audiences alike will find much to relish in Milner’s bill of fare. The late Stephen Jay Gould justified Milner’s unique approach. In his “Appreciation,” adapted from the book’s first edition, Gould opines: “If we make an artificial division into high and vernacular culture, and consider just the former in a narrowly confined and misplaced concept of importance, then we will never understand the impact of science in society” (p 2). An endearing snapshot of Gould and Milner as childhood chums, posing in front of a reconstructed dinosaur skeleton, serves as homage to Gould and accompanies his essay.

Darwin’s Universe features a plethora of illustrations, many unexpected or rare, e.g., the cartoon characters, Betty Boop and Mickey Mouse (under the entry “Cuteness, evolution of”); the great comedic actor Buster Keaton, photographed in a 1923 silent film (under the entry “Caveman”); a crowd of astonished onlookers surrounding Clever Hans (the 1920s “talking” horse phenomenon); an image of a 1938 Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey poster advertising “Gargantua the Great” (under the entry “Gorillas”); a photo of the Sinclair Oil dinosaur being barged down the Hudson River for the 1964 World’s Fair (under the entry “Brown, Barnum (1873–1963)”); and satirical sketches of society rendered by Richard Owen (1804–1892), who merits his own entry as “zoologist, paleontologist,” to which one might add, “Darwin’s nemesis.” Owen’s sketches are published here for the first time, as are family photos from the Darwin family and many illustrations from Milner’s personal collection.

In addition to Owen, many historical figures (such as AR Wallace, TH Huxley, Charles Lyell, Lamarck, Francis Galton, and JD Hooker) and more recent luminaries (such as Theodosius Dobzhansky and George Gaylord Simpson) are represented, but so, too, are lesserknown figures (such as Errol Fuller, John Hampden, and Leo Lesquereux). Similarly, famous events gain entry (such as the 1860 Oxford debate between Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and TH Huxley), as do some obscure ones (such as the 1876 Slade trial, subtitled, “ Darwin vs Wallace on spiritualism”). As Milner puts it, “I have attempted ... to rescue many ‘unknown’ incidents from oblivion” (p 5). Thus it was news to me that c. HMS Beagle was named for the dog, that portions of this famous vessel were sold for scrap in 1870, and that the vessel’s remains are believed to lie buried beneath tons of mud in a marsh in Essex, England.

Milner’s disquisitions reach far beyond science and are so surprisingly inclusive as to both stimulate the intellect and enchant the soul. In this regard his eclecticism evokes James Burke’s Connections, a PBS series that readers may know from its companion book of the same name. The following two examples evidence Milner’s ability to create a tightly woven tapestry from seemingly disparate ideas, people, events, and tidbits. (1) For the entry entitled “Tennyson’s In Memoriam (1850)” (subheading: “Evolutionary Requiem”), several of the 136 stanzas in this poem are reproduced. We learn that this work is the source of the famous phrase “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” provided solace to Queen Victoria upon the death of her beloved Prince Albert, was quoted endlessly by Victorians, was inspired by the writings of both Lyell and Robert Chambers (the anonymous author of Vestiges of Creation, a controversial best seller on organic evolution, published fifteen years before Darwin’s Origin), and was so popular that the title of poet laureate was conferred on Tennyson shortly after the poem’s publication. (2) For the entry entitled “Sunday League” (also known as the Victorian “Sabbatarian” Controversy), Milner opens with an excerpt from Dickens’s Little Dorrit, in which London on Sundays is portrayed as a “gloomy, close, and stale” city that offered no diversions for the overworked, common laborer because all zoos, museums, and even libraries were closed on the Christian Sabbath. This prohibition, the work of the Lord’s Day Observance Society, met with opposition in 1853 with the organization of the National Sunday League. The League promoted “elevating recreation” on Sundays and its journal, the Sunday Review, found sponsorship among Dickens, Darwin, Huxley, and other progressive thinkers. Under the auspices of the League, Huxley presented the first scientific lecture ever given on a Sunday, for which he was charged with “keeping a disorderly house.” Huxley’s presentation led to Lay Sermons (1879), his collected lectures from that period.

Milner has a penchant for certain topics, including primate evolution; notable anthropologists, archeologists, and paleontologists; and science fiction films (such as Quest for Fire, 2001: A Space Odyssey, King Kong, Jurassic Park, and the Tarzan flicks). I was captivated by the biographical entries on Haldane and Mayr, and was pleased to see entries on “Biological exuberance,” “Darwinian medicine,” “Lysenkoism,” “Peer review,” “Science,” and the various challenges to evolution (including creationism, fundamentalism, and “intelligent design”). Particularly useful are entries that provide important updates (for example, on the peppered moth, Darwin’s finches, evo-devo, mimicry, and the Creation Museum). Darwin’s Universe includes a bibliographic list for each entry. Two delightful, unexpected treats appear in the appendix — I will not spoil the surprise by describing them — but the entire work is engrossing and highly recommended for a stimulating, interdisciplinary perspective of Darwin’s reach.


About the Author(s): 

Carol Anelli is Associate Professor of Entomology at Washington State University. Her research interests include the history of evolutionary thought.

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Carol Anelli
Department of Entomology
Washington State University
Pullman WA 99164-6382

Review: The Genius of Charles Darwin

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
6
Date: 
November-December
Page(s): 
43–45
Reviewer: 
Timothy H Goldsmith
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Genius of Charles Darwin
Author(s): 
presented by Richard Dawkins
Silver Spring [MD]: Athena, 2009. DVD, 2 disks, 139 and 260 minutes

In recent years Richard Dawkins — formerly Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University — has achieved a measure of notoriety for his outspoken atheism; indeed, he possesses a collection of tasteless e-mail to show for it. However, The Genius of Charles Darwin — a three-episode program (139 minutes) he narrated for Channel 4 in the United Kingdom — is principally concerned with scientific evidence and critical thinking in teaching about evolution and the difficulties posed by fundamentalist Christians. This is an excellent program, both for Dawkins's clear presentation of evolutionary principles and the informative display of vacuous arguments by evolution's critics.

Episode 1: Life, Darwin & Everything is a synopsis of Darwin's accomplishments, starting with English religious and philosophical views of nature at the start of the nineteenth century. This episode is constructed around Dawkins's several hours of interaction with a small group of teenage British school children whose religious family backgrounds have made them refractory to understanding the reality of evolution. This episode provides a basic primer in biological evolution and an invitation to children to think for themselves. Not surprisingly, Dawkins conveys the message that belief in the supernatural is neither necessary nor relevant to understanding and appreciating the beauty and complexity of the natural world.

Episode 2: The Fifth Ape. People are fascinated by other primates, yet uncomfortable with the idea we have a shared heritage. As Queen Victoria put it, apes are "painfully and disagreeably human." Dawkins takes the viewer to East Africa and the profusion of fossils relating to human origins. There we also meet Bishop Boniface Adoyo, the chair of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, who is convinced that he is not related to the fossils and wants to bar their public display in an evolutionary context. The bishop conveys a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution, which Dawkins attempts to rectify.

This episode discusses the evolution of human nature, focusing on the question of altruism: how and why natural selection produced individuals who suspend self-interest and behave kindly towards one another. (A tip of the hat to Robert Trivers would have been appropriate, for Trivers showed how reciprocal altruism can be in the self-interests of the participants' genes and thus evolve, even when the participating altruists are members of different species.) I share Dawkins's view that in humans the propensity for reciprocal acts of altruism probably evolved in small groups of people, building on an older and biologically broader predisposition to take care of close kin.

Dawkins visits the psychologist Steven Pinker to talk about evolved moral impulses, the affective feelings such as sympathy and gratitude that support altruistic behavior. Dawkins's brief discussion with the primate behaviorist Frans de Waal bears close listening, for it shows how important misunderstandings can occur between fellow scientists. De Waal does not understand the metaphor of the selfish gene as referring to the genes' central role in natural selection. Instead he connects it with selfish behavior, not recognizing that the concept of reciprocal altruism implies an evolved capacity with deep roots in the human (or even ape) psyche. The roots of altruism are so deep that people frequently feel empathy or extend help when stirred by the plight of a total stranger. Although the program only scratches the surface, this important subject cuts the heart out of the creationist assumption that evolution has nothing to say about moral feelings.

As part of an antievolutionary argument, some people assert that the goalless, soulless, struggle for existence is an unacceptable model for human affairs, a proposition with which Dawkins is in full agreement. He points out, however, that for many conservatives, the dog-eat-dog competition of business seems natural. He argues that the comparison of business with evolution is only an analogy, for the complexities of economic and biological systems are very different.

Dawkins's discussion of reciprocal altruism is the meat of this episode, but it takes a bizarre detour into human sexual selection and female choice. The scene opens on a street in downtown New York with Dawkins standing next to the Naked Cowboy, who is writhing in his jockey shorts with sweet young things waiting to cling to him. Then it moves to interviews with young women who wish to become pregnant via sperm donors whose profiles they first vet. From all this we learn that women's interest in a mate includes kindness as well as looks and intelligence. Amazingly, resources are not mentioned.

Episode 3: God Strikes Back. Viewers who know little of Darwin's personal life will be interested in his change in religious views and his dissatisfaction with his children's school that failed "to let the science do the talking." Today, there is still controversy about letting science do the talking when the subject is evolution. To set the stage, Dawkins visits with John Mackay, a fundamentalist Australian preacher who believes that knowing requires seeing, and as you can't see atoms or past events, science must therefore be faith. A British chemistry teacher who believes the world is less than 10 000 years old illustrates an infrastructural problem for science education. Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America gives us a glimpse of the current arguments of those anti-evolutionists who nevertheless acknowledge small evolutionary changes within a species. Discussion with Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, provides yet another theological view, one comfortable with the reality of evolution but poetic about whether God ever intervenes in the affairs of the world. With Randolph Nesse, Dawkins addresses the false notion of "intelligent design": evolution is not intelligent and cannot go back to the drawing board to correct mistakes; it must build on what it has already done. Consequently evolutionary adaptations are fraught with compromises and imperfections.

Although I share Dawkins's views about religion, I think his interview with four British school teachers displays a surprising naivety. Dawkins is convinced that science teachers in public schools are tiptoeing too respectfully around religious beliefs that are inconsistent with scientific facts. The teachers explain that their job is to teach science, not religion — a good model for this country if we are to remain consistent with judicial rulings. Teaching young children what we mean by evidence and how science provides understanding for so many features of the world presents a significant challenge. It is hard to know whether, when, and how children will accommodate a conflict with their family's religious views; for most it requires time and a measure of experience with life. Moreover, in a democracy public education is burdened with politics, so it is not possible to offer a general recommendation where in the educational system prior to university this challenge can be effectively introduced. Dawkins seems to have forgotten that it was his father, not a schoolteacher, who introduced him to the concept of evolution and drew him so enthusiastically away from religion.

The Genius of Charles Darwin shows wonderfully the science that Darwin set in motion, yet further reflection also suggests more distant vistas. Belief systems are frequently formed in childhood and resist later alteration. We pride ourselves on having rational brains despite our ready capacity to deny valid information that does not comport with cherished beliefs. There are doubtless evolutionary reasons for this imperfection, despite its contribution to misplaced romantic attachments, economic disasters, and military defeats. Belief in the supernatural is widespread and present in all cultures (itself a fascinating evolutionary outcome), but the manifestations are very diverse and cultural in origin. All the major religions share some common rules for behavior that function to stabilize relations within the group. This cultural convergence is the work of brains with shared, evolved features for social living. There is much to understand in evolutionary terms about our extraordinary cognitive capacities as well as our inevitable tragic frailties.

Disk 1 also contains three evolutionary vignettes, each developed around one of the reptiles on the Galápagos Islands. These are full of information about other organisms, the environment, and history. The script is elegant and is Dawkins at his best. I recommend these 24 minutes to anyone planning a visit to the Galápagos as well as those who have already been.

Disk 2 contains unedited interviews with individuals who appear in The Genius of Charles Darwin. Dawkins's discussion with the science teachers is compelling; they are clearly skilled professionals, understand the educational problems posed by complex material, and are not cowed by the Oxford presence. Teachers who are introducing children to evolution may find this discussion interesting. Randolph Nesse talks about how an understanding of evolution enriches the practice of medicine, a relatively new subject. Wendy Wright displays remarkable indifference to evidence and John Mackay an astonishing self-assurance in his pinched understanding of the power of science. In contrast, Dawkins's conversation with the philosopher Daniel Dennett illuminates how these two articulate humanists see the joy and goodness of life ennobled by the human capacity to understand our origins and our connections to the rest of nature.

About the Author(s): 

Timothy H Goldsmith
Yale University
Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology
PO Box 208103
New Haven CT 06520-8103
timothy.goldsmith@yale.edu

Timothy H Goldsmith is Professor Emeritus of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at Yale University. He is the author of The Biological Roots of Human Nature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991) and, with William Zimmerman, Biology, Evolution, and Human Nature (New York: Wiley, 2000). He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a former chair of the board of Biological Sciences Curriculum Study.

Review: The Paleobiological Revolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
6