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).