NCSE Reports

NCSE's in-house journal, published until 1997, when it merged with Creation/Evolution Journal, and continued as Reports of the National Center for Science Education.

Selected content available via links below.

Alabama Textbook Selection in Context

Last summer, the Alabama State Board of Education, after much vacillation, required for the first time that evolution be included in the state curriculum guide. That was the good news. The bad news was that, for political reasons, a statement was sent out to teachers saying, "Consistent with the expressions of the U.S. Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard, teachers shall have the freedom and flexibility to supplement the curriculum with the presentation of various scientific theories about the origins of life, if done with the secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction." Because creationists claim that a sanitized version of Genesis-taken-literally can be made scientific, they applauded the statement. (Textbook critics Me1 and Norma Gabler have promoted this "Supreme Court approved" view in Texas, California, and Ohio; see "What Did Justice Brennan Mean?" NCSE Reports 9(2):14.)

This statement shows where the antievolutionists at the Alabama textbook hearing were coming from. It calls for scientific theories, and because of the beating creationism has taken in the courts, terms such as "scientific creationism" or "creationism" in any form is to be avoided. The new strategy is to use euphemisms like "intelligent design," or "evidence against evolution," or "theories of evolution", all of which are code-terms for "scientific" creationism (see "Creeping Creationism," NCSE Reports 9(2):15).

The enthusiasm for "intelligent design" was doubtless stimulated by an Eagle Forum workshop held in April, 1989. Charles Thaxton, principal author of the new creationist book Of Pandas and People, was the keynote speaker. Pandas contrasts evolutionary explanations with "intelligent design" as explanations for the natural universe. The book was submitted for adoption in Alabama, but it was not available at the several sites where copies of books up for review were supposed to be available to the public. As a result, evolution supporters did not see the book before the hearing and could not comment upon it. At this writing, Pandas is neither approved nor rejected; it is in a limbo-like state from which it may be retrieved by the Alabama State Board of Education.

NCSE is following the story and will update this report in a future issue. A review of Of Pandas and People is scheduled for the next issue.

Close Ohio House Vote Scuttles "Evidence Against Evolution" Bill

On May 28, 1996, state representative Ron Hood's HB 692 was voted down in the Ohio House of Representatives Education Committee by a vote of 8-12. When introduced on April 12, 1996, the bill stated that
Whenever a theory of the origin of humans, other living things, or the universe that might commonly be referred to as "evolution" is included in the instructional program provided by any school district or educational service center, both evidence and arguments supporting or consistent with the theory and evidence and arguments problematic for, inconsistent with, or not supporting the theory shall be included.
The bill was assigned to the Education Committee. Legislators changed the wording slightly, inserting "scientific" before the words "arguments." The Education Committee held a public hearing on May 14, 1996. Four opposition speakers and 28 supporters of the bill attended. NCSE member Steve Edinger reports that "The supporters of the bill were very well organized, with name tags identifying themselves as 'Students for 692,' 'Educators for 692,' 'Parents for 692,' etc. A very sizable share of the supporters had the same set of booklets and pamphlets from the Institute for Creation Research. It appears, as I had suspected, these people were ready to make a show of support even before Representative Hood introduced the bill so 'spontaneous grassroots support' could appear when the hearing started." According to reports, students testified that they had been traumatized by having had evolution presented in their science classes.

One of the citizens testifying was Louisville, OH school board member Andrew Aljancic, who proposed that the legislature adopt the creationist book Of Pandas and People as the standard "balanced treatment" textbook. The chair of the Education Committee replied that Aljancic could promote the book in his home district and that passage of HB 692 was not needed for him to do this. Louisville has been the site since 1991 of a continuing fight over introducing creationism to the science curriculum (see Reports 13(3):p. 1.)

The four speaking against the bill, a decided minority, included NCSE members Steve Edinger and Frank Zindler. Edinger also gave the legislators scores of letters and statements from scientists and other Ohio citizens protesting the passage of the bill.

After the committee hearing, efforts were made to "pass the hot potato" by dropping the issue into the lap of the State Department of Education. Representatives argued that the department could implement instruction in evolution and "evidence against evolution" administratively, thus taking the issue out of the hands of the legislature. At the time of this writing, the Department of Education is not considering such action.

When the final vote was taken on May 28, a majority of representatives voted against sending the bill to the floor of the House. There was, however, strong support for the bill in committee. NCSE member Tom McIver interviewed Education Committee member Edward Kaputis (R-Cleveland) who related his enthusiasm for creation "science" and recommended the writings and teachings of young-earth creationism advocate Ken Ham, founder of the "Answers in Genesis" ministry located in nearby northem Kentucky. Rejection of the bill was bipartisan.

NCSE members expressed concern that the appearance of evolution as a "controversial issue" at the state level in Ohio could intimidate teachers from teaching evolution. They also are concerned that, in the words of Steve Edinger, "Creationism is like a vampire, and every time you think the thing is finally dead, someone pulls the damned stake out again." NCSE will keep you informed should new developments in Ohio suggest a need for fresh garlic.

Evolution Challenged in Colorado's Largest School District

This June an ad-hoc committee of the Jefferson County, Colorado schools, a Denver area school district, responded to Wheat Ridge High School sophomore Danny Phillips's complaints about evolution education by recommending that teachers stop using a videotape, "The Miracle of Life," and have it removed from the district resource center. Phillips had complained about more than the videotape, a film about human reproduction which opens by discussing the common ancestry of all life. He protested the school district's use of the Kendall-Hunt textbook Biological Science, an Ecological Approach (from the well known Biological Science Curriculum Studies "Green" series, and any teaching about evolution that is not "balanced" with creationism. He also asked that the district use the "intelligent design" textbook Of Pandas and People.

Like many an adult creationist, Phillips makes conciliatory remarks like, "I didn't want somebody learning the six-day creation of the earth," (Denver Post, August 3, 1996, p. Bl), but makes other statements that are unequivocally religious, like, "Why should the Bible, which the centuries have been unable to shake, be discarded in our schools for scientific works that have to be revised and corrected every few years?" (Rocky Mountain News, August 2,1996, p. Al) The committee did not recommend discontinuing the textbook nor changing district policy on teaching evolution.

Superintendent Wayne Carle accepted the committee's recommendation, writing to Phillips on June 21 that, "Committee members agree that the introductory comments in the video are poorly stated and scientifically refutable. The statements assume a factual rather than theoretical basis" (Rocky Mountain News, August 2, 1996). The committee had asked the video tape's producers to cut out the challenged material but, in contrast to McGraw Hill's response to a request to remove some pages from an earth science textbook (see NCSE Reports 16[1]:6), the producer refused.

While the committee's decision may have been perceived as a compromise, it didn't make anybody happy. Danny Phillips said he would appeal the decision. District science teachers said they wanted to continue using the film, originally produced for Nova, which some say is the best of its kind; many parents protested that they don't want their children denied an opportunity to see the film just because one student complained. The president of the Colorado Biology Teachers Association criticized the decision in a statement explaining that any scientific theory is "substantiated by an immense body of empirical evidence," (Denver Post, August 2,1996) and the Colorado ACLU sent the school board a letter explaining the legal objections to the decision.

NCSE's Colorado members are actively opposing any weakening of evolution education and, in cooperation with other organizations, asked the school board to reinstate the video. NCSE member Thomas Henry points out the district already has a policy that would have allowed Phillips to be excused from watching the video tape. Both Henry and a group of Jefferson County teachers, acting independently, suggested that teachers presenting the film can accompany it with appropriate instruction about the opening section, and the teachers presented Superintendent Carle with a draft teaching guide. Henry reports that public comment at the Board's meeting was impassioned, with strong presentations by creationists, church-separationists, and speakers concerned about science education. Public interest continues to be strong. Since Jefferson County is the state's largest school district, many observers think events there may predict what will happen elsewhere. It is certainly a test of the increasingly popular creationist strategy of insisting that evolution be taught as "only a theory."

[This article was prepared with the assistance of NCSE members Thomas Henry, Marc Williams, and Mark Boslough.]

More Patter of Little Pandas

Reports readers will by now by familiar with the "intelligent design" book, Of Pandas and People. We have reported ongoing efforts to introduce the book into public schools as an alternative to naturalistic evolution. Sometimes the significance of this book probably gets lost (it is, after all, just one book, so why should we care about it?).

Michael Woodruff, a lawyer writing for the creationist "Center for Law and Religious Freedom" in Falls Church,Va., makes clear in a cover letter and annotations of the 1987 Supreme Court decision Edwards v. Aguillard that Pandas is a carefully constructed ruse to get around legal objections to antievolutionism. "[The book] is not creation science as the court defined that term. It does not support evolutionary theory grounded in naturalism...[and] that that there are phenomenon [sic] that don't fit the evolutionary theory but do fit a theory of intelligent design. ... Members of school boards and local authorities that consider the enrichment of curriculum should not be concerned that this particular book violates standards set forth by the Supreme Court in any way because it is a careful and scientific presentation of facts that might not otherwise be considered."

There follows an eleven-page "legal scrutiny" of Of Pandas and People which goes through 37 major statements in the Court decision and explains how Pandas handles each clause. Woodruff outlines how the book is tailored to meet specific objections while introducing the "intelligent design" alternative to evolution. He also quotes Justice Scalia's dissenting opinion, when useful to his case.

Woodruff adds that "Intelligent Design is a more modest and general position than Creation Science, one that rests on inferences from empirical observations of nature...not on revelation or holy books." He probably offends creationists by arguing simultaneously that "Intelligent Design" (which he capitalizes) is fairly trivial and that it can be usefully substituted for creationism in the science classroom. In other words, he argues that it is a valid place-holder for creationism in the curriculum despite its being supposedly innocuous. For example, Intelligent Design "makes no attempt to identify the intelligent agent," he writes. "While it is a fact that many people identify the intelligent agent with the traditional God of the Bible in their own minds, Pandas in no way teaches or encourages the teaching that this private mental conclusion is scientific knowledge." Some creationists as well find most evolutionists surely find this a rather sophistic (as opposed to sophisticated) argument.

New Creationist Book On the Way

The Texas-based Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) has been looking for two years or so (to our knowledge) for a publisher for a supplemental textbook for public school science classes. FTE’s goal is "to help restore freedom of choice to young people in the classroom, especially as it relates to matters of religion and conscience." Creationist-watchers will recognize this as a term of art for getting sectarian religious views into the classroom. Their supplementary book, originally entitled Biology and Origins, looks like it is going to finally get published.

The book has had an interesting history. In the fall of 1986, "Austin Analytic Consulting" (same outfit, different name) conducted a national survey of biology teachers on attitudes about the teaching on creation and evolution in schools. The 300 teachers (note the small sample size) reported a certain amount of enthusiasm for having supplementary materials for "balancing" evolutionary teachings in class, a point that was highlighted in a letter sent to many publishers in early 1987. Apparently, FTE didn’t want a Christian publisher, but a mainline publisher in order to crack the public school market. Biology and Origins, however, didn’t attract sufficient (if any) interest among mainline publishers. FTE continued soliciting its membership for donations to keep the project afloat, and in December, we learned that a publisher had been found.

The textbook has now been re-christened Of Pandas and People, which probably gives Stephen Jay Gould mixed feelings, and is to be published by Haughton Publishing Company (not to be confused with textbook giant Houghton Mifflin). Haughton is in Dallas, and is not listed in Literary Marketplace, or the Publishers volume of Books in Print. We found Haughton in Publishers, Distributors, and Wholesalers, and called them. A pleasant fellow told me that they publish agricultural books, and that Pandas is their first foray into the textbook market. Because textbook marketing is a specialized field, we wonder how successful they will be.

The predicted date of publication is July-August, 1989, and as befits a supplement, will be 124 pages. They may be writing for the Christian school market, but the original goal was to go for the public schools. Be on the lookout for attempts to get it adopted in your local school district. It is a classic "equal time" tract, and the "fairness" of such an approach is insidious.

One Day Wonders

Some of the local challenges with which NCSE assists last for months or even years; for example, the attempt to place the creationist textbook Of Pandas and People in the schools of Louisville, Ohio, began in mid-1993 and has been continuously opposed by local NCSE activists. Others are resolved more quickly. In February, 1996, NCSE received two similar requests for help within two days-one from Morgan Hill, California (not far from Silicon Valley), and one from Albuquerque, New Mexico. In each case, children had been sent home with forms notifying parents that the children would be attending creationist presentations. In each case, the assembly was scheduled to occur the day after NCSE was contacted. In each case, thanks to the work of local activists, the presentation was cancelled.

While this kind of swift effectiveness is heartening, the "story behind the story" is one of more work, before and after the pivotal incident. In Albuquerque, several scientists and concerned citizens had already formed an organization, New Mexicans for Science and Reason (NMSR), dedicated to promoting good science education and public understanding of science. While considering a number of ways to help local schools, NMSR anticipated the possibility that some attempt would be made to introduce creationism, and contacted NCSE months before the problem occurred. When a concerned parent told Mark Boslough of NMSR about the assembly, he visited the school and explained why the presentation was poor science, then contacted NCSE. NCSE faxed legal information to Boslough, who hand-delivered it to the school. When the principal had more complete information in hand, she cancelled the assembly.

This was not the first known instance of creationism in New Mexico's schools. In an incident publicized throughout the state in February, 1995, a substitute teacher showed a creationist videotape in a Santa Fe school. More incidents can be expected, and the NMSR know their job isn't over. They are continuing their plans to volunteer in local schools, and drafting a statement opposing creationism.

Dale Morejon, a science teacher in the neighboring community of Gilroy, California, called NCSE about the Morgan Hill assembly. He had heard about NCSE some months before from another teacher who had attended a workshop conducted by Dr. Scott. He had been approached in the past by parents who wanted him to teach "creation science" in his middle school science class, but this time, when he explained why teaching creationism is inappropriate, the parent replied, "But they teach it in Morgan Hill." Morejon learned that a local minister had given a "creation science" presentation to one science class last year, and this year an assembly was planned for all science students.

NCSE faxed information to Morejon explaining why the proposed assembly was illegal, and he, in turn, showed it to the teacher and principal at the neighboring school. Meanwhile, in the short time available, NCSE staff quickly notified some Morgan Hill members, and they, too, called the school to express their concern. The teacher decided to cancel the assembly but, as in Albuquerque, that's not the end of the story.

An article in the local newspaper reported that some parents were disappointed that the assembly had been cancelled, and that the school district's superintendent said that he would not have told the teacher to cancel the assembly. NCSE has written to the superintendent, explaining why the teacher's decision was right. One of NCSE's members in Morgan Hill is submitting an editorial to the local newspaper, and others are continuing to work on building a support network among area science teachers.

NCSE's staff and local activists make good teams: NCSE has the information people can use in a wide range of situations, but we are most effective when members tell us what's happening in their communities and do much of the work "on the front lines." Often, NCSE acts locally by identifying potential allies for those interested in resisting creationist assaults on the curriculum. In many cases, these allies were not aware of the interest and involvement of others in their community until after they have called NCSE. For example, when an administrator in a mid-western school district asked us for help because local creationists opposed a very good new biology curriculum, we gave him the name of a local scientist whom he already knew, but hadn't thought of asking for help.

These incidents also remind us that when it comes to creationism, "It can happen here." Albuquerque is a community with a university and "high tech" facilities like Sandia Labs; many residents of Morgan Hill commute to work the city of San Jose or in businesses in "Silicon Valley." But other factors are at work in these diverse communities, including the hope that "teaching both sides" will prevent controversy. Until scientific literacy is genuinely widespread, pseudoscience can crop up anywhere.

Special thanks to Mark Boslough in Albuquerque, and Ray Gipson and Jack Penketham in Morgan Hill.

Oregon: Creationism Continues to Simmer in the Pacific Northwest

In Oregon, whenever a school board considering creationism requests advice from the state's Attorney General, they are told it's illegal. Then the same question pops up in another district. Now in Reedsport, another tactic is being tried — "equal time" for "another scientific point of view." Longtime readers of NCSE Reports can probably guess the next words — a local parent is advocating "intelligent design theory," a citizen's group is reviewing Of Pandas and People, and while the Superintendent is consulting an attorney, he also says he's "pretty excited about student opportunities to debate issues from all sides." (Eugene Register-Guard, September 26, 1995) Local activists have called NCSE for help. Stay tuned....

Popper and Evolution

In connection with the discussion of Karl Popper's philosophy of science (Reports 13(1) and 13(3)), it should be recalled that this philosophy played a small but significant role in the creation-evolution controversy in the early 1980s, and it is still used by anti-evolutionists a decade later.

Popper asserted that making testable (and thus potentially falsifiable) predictions of previously unobserved phenomena was a necessary condition for a theory to be called "scientific." This was known as the "falsifiability" criterion. Popper himself concluded that Darwinian evolutionary theory failed to satisfy that criterion so it was not a scientific theory but only a metaphysical research programme--a way of explaining what had already happened, not a theory that can predict what will happen in the future.

There is an obvious flaw in the criterion, at least in the extreme version originally proposed by Popper: it excludes not just evolutionary biology but also historical geology and much of astronomy, even though these are recognized sciences. A more subtle objection is that even in testing theories that obviously are scientific, such as Einstein's general theory of relativity, scientists do not give any more weight to previously unknown phenomena (such as the bending of light by the Sun) than to deductions of known phenomena (such as the advance of the perihelion of Mercury).

Popper reversed himself in 1978 and asserted that Darwinian theory is scientific. But the damage had been done; creationists used Popper's original statement to argue that evolution is not a science and hence does not deserve precedence over creationism in the classroom. For example, in 1982 a proposed "equal-time" law in Maryland argued that "evolution-science like creation-science cannot be ... logically falsified."

In a society where the word "science" implies reliable knowledge and the authority that goes with such knowledge, lots of people (especially including creationists) want to grab that label, and many of us feel a strong need for an objective test or formula to distinguish between science and nonscience. Popper's falsification criterion once seemed to be the answer, but it was too simplistic. I don't think there is a single test that can capture the multidimensional nature of real science. At the same time we can insist on several factors that should be involved in judging theories: internal coherence, compatibility with other accepted theories, agreement with empirical evidence, etc. A careful reading of Popper's works shows that he advocated such a multifactor approach when he wasn't discussing the falsifiability criterion which made him famous. (References for the statements mentioned here can be found in my article in Science, 1 December 1989.)

Ed.: C/E Issue VI, 1981, quotes Popper's "reversal" directly in "Misquoted Scientists Speak Out," by J. Cole.

Science Text Adoptions in Alabama: Part II

In part I of this article (NCSE Reports 9(6):5), I told how Haughton Publishing submitted its text, Of Pandas and People, for adoption in Alabama as a supplemental high school biology textbook. I consider this book a serious challenge to the integrity of public science education in Alabama because it falsely promotes "Intelligent Design" as a scientific concept. The Alabama Textbook Committee, which advises the Board of Education, reviewed Pandas and refused to consider it by a vote of 17-5. My last report ended before the 14 December meeting at which the board considered the committee's recommendations.

The 14 December meeting of the Alabama Board of Education convened with Governor Hunt presiding, a clue that something was going on. A second clue was the intense political squabbling over how much agenda time should be devoted to the textbook adoption business, a matter usually decided beforehand. The board could have dispatched this agenda item by simply voting to accept the committee's list of recommended texts. But this list did not include Pandas, and Haughton Publishing was appealing to the board to adopt the book anyway.

Governor Hunt asked those speaking about Pandas to decide among themselves how to allocate the 25 minutes allotted to each side. I had organized a small resistance force of five scientists, including John Schweinsberg, CC liaison for Alabama; David Sims, a physicist from Huntsville; James Lamb, the paleontologist at the Red Mountain Museum in Birmingham; and Ron Lewis, a paleontologist at Auburn University. We focused on the unscientific nature of "Intelligent Design" and the poor science in Pandas.

Haughton's Presentation

Haughton Publishing made an elaborate presentation. A Birmingham businessman presented petitions with over 11,800 signatures urging the board to adopt supplementary materials presenting "Intelligent Design" as an alternative to evolution. (For several weeks, a Christian radio station in Tuscaloosa had urged people to sign the Pandas petition.) He recited the names of eminent supporters of Pandas – physicians from the University of Alabama – Birmingham medical faculty, business leaders, and a mayor. He also urged adoption based on the book's scientific validity and argued that its exclusion would be unfair.

The main speaker for Pandas was the Haughton's legal representative, Francis "Brother" Hare, Jr., a prominent Birmingham attorney. Hare charged that opponents had falsely painted Pandas as a creationist text, and that "Intelligent Design" does not compel belief in the supernatural. He then introduced two expert witnesses.

The first witness was Dr. Robert Kaita, a fusion physicist at Princeton University. Hare asked Kaita to identify the three major tenets of "scientific" creationism (a young earth, catastrophic events in earth history, and a belief in the supernatural) and asked whether these elements are not present in Pandas. Kaita said they are not.

The second witness was Dr. Fred Sigworth, a molecular biochemist from Yale University. Sigworth called evolution a fact but said he distinguishes between microevolution and macroevolution. He doubts that macroevolutionary theory can adequately account for the development of the major groups of organisms. He said that, like evolution, "Intelligent Design" does a good job of explaining the data of biology and paleontology.

After several more witnesses and some discussion, board member Victor Poole moved to approve Pandas as a supplementary text. Before the motion was voted on, however, another board member asked for legal counsel. She was not sure the board could legally add books not recommended by the committee to the approved list. A Department of Education lawyer said that in his opinion the board lacked such authority, and Poole's motion failed. Instead, the board voted to return Pandas to the committee for further review. The committee was directed to hold another public hearing on 8 January for the sole purpose of discussing Pandas.

In preparation for the January meeting, I again recruited Lamb and Schweinsberg; I found additional help from Bob Gastaldo, a paleobotanist from Auburn University, and Jim Dobie, of Auburns's Zoology Department. We were well prepared to expose the invalid science in Pandas, but we were unprepared for the bizarre events that transpired.

The January hearing had barely begun when committee chairman Larry Newton was interrupted by Francis Hare, who asked for an opportunity to announce that Haughton was withdrawing Pandas. Newton replied that the committee was holding a public hearing at the direction of the Board of Education. Hare threatened to file a series of complaints, but Newton told him to wait his turn to speak.

John Schweinsberg spoke first, and he cleverly showed how Pandas retains vestiges of "scientific" creationism. After John's presentation, Newton called for Henry Skrabanek, president of Haughton publishing, but there was no reply. He then called Francis Hare.

Silence shrouded the auditorium as Haughton's attorney strode to the podium. Hare said that Haughton Publishers had instructed him to withdraw Pandas for lack of due process; the public hearing did conform to the protocol for such proceedings. He objected to the arbitrary order of the speakers, the lack of opening and closing arguments, and his inability to cross-examine witnesses. Hare also claimed overwhelming public support for Pandas as well as scientific support, and he characterized its opponents as intolerant.

Norris Anderson, director of Cornerstone Ministries and perhaps the strongest Pandas partisan on the committee, immediately moved to accept the withdrawal and end the public hearing. His motion failed 15-4. When a motion to continue carried 15-3, Hare and his contingent stormed out of the auditorium, with media representatives in their wake.

The hearing continued. Speakers for Pandas included Jon Buell, Director of the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, Dr. Fred Sigworth of Yale University, and Dr. Charles Thaxton, "academic editor" (coauthor?) of Pandas. Opponents included my science contingent and former Congressman John Buchanan, Director of the People for the American Way.

Winning through intimidation

After the public hearing, the committee reconvened in a smaller meeting room, where the public could listen but not participate. Before any action could be taken, Norris Anderson interrupted with an ominous statement. During lunch, he said, several attorneys advised him that the committee's legal jurisdiction was nullified by Haughton's withdrawal of Pandas. If they now voted against the book, Haughton would be injured, and each member would be corporately and personally liable for damages. Anderson said categorically that Haughton Publishing would sue them under the 1983 Civil Rights Act.

Haughton's threats to the committee members are unprecedented (I believe) in the history of Alabama textbook adoptions. The ensuing discussion found committee members torn between their mandate from the board to evaluate Pandas on its merits and their fear of legal action. Many expressed disgust at their manipulation by Haughton, and some wondered aloud whether Haughton had planned this tactic in advance. (As Norris Anderson defended Haughton's position by citing specific sections of the legal code, this appeared to be the case.) Intimidated, the committee decided not to vote on the merits of Pandas and instead passed a resolution recognizing its withdrawal. This was a minor victory for Haughton, as their forced withdrawal in Alabama will damage their future efforts less than an outright rejection.

When the Board of Education met on 11 January, it noted the withdrawal of Pandas. As a last gasp, one member again tried to enter a motion to adopt the book, but this tactic failed. The Pandas adoption fight in Alabama was finally over.

Three Decisive Factors

In contrast to the determined and well-organized campaign run by Haughton Publishing, the resistance forces quickly formulated responses as each new challenge arose. The success of our loose confederacy in nullifying overwhelming odds depended upon three factors.

First, Haughton promoted Pandas as a science book, but the perceptive people chosen to evaluate it applied the Duck Rule (if it looks, walks, and quacks like a duck, you ought to call it a duck). They recognized Pandas as a creationist book.

Second, Haughton made a big issue of public support. Unfortunately for them, this was not a criterion considered by the committee. Instead, committee members are instructed to consider a book's conformance to the state Course of Study and its academic merit. Pandas fails on both counts.

Finally, Haughton's undercover promotional campaign may have aroused ill-will in some committee members. Dogged persistence, excellent press coverage, and a bit of luck were crucial to our success in exposing and publicizing Haughton's shenanigans.

Our victory in Alabama may be of greater significance nationwide than we can judge at present, because Haughton Publishing has begun a long march across the nation into other states with state-wide adoption procedures. Our experiences should help the foot soldiers elsewhere who will have to fight the same battle. We now know enough about Pandas and its publisher's strategy to enable a faster and more effective response.

I commend the National Center for Science Education, and especially its executive director, Dr. Eugenie Scott, for providing critical information and support to us during these trying times.

At the conclusion of the textbook committee's discussion, one member asked when Pandas can be resubmitted. The answer was, the next time Alabama evaluates science texts — 1995.

See you then for another round!

Science Textbook Adoptions in Alabama: Part I

Alabama has just witnessed its most serious challenge to the integrity of science education since 1977. The State Textbook Committee voted on October 2, 1989 not to consider Of Pandas and People a textbook submitted by Haughton Publishing (Dallas, Texas) for inclusion on the recommended list for science text adoptions. One committee member, quoted in a newspaper interview, remarked that Pandas "is a strictly religious book."

Unlike some states, Alabama reviews only one or two subjects each year. Consequently, science books, once adopted, remain so for a period of six years. The long interval between adoptions means that successful submission is a must for publishers desiring a presence in the Alabama textbook market. Haughton Publishing submitted the title (not the book) to the Alabama Department of Education earlier this year for consideration as a science text. And there hangs a tale.

The State Textbook Committee scheduled the public hearing for September 12. To prepare for the hearing, I obtained in late August a list of science books submitted to the Department of Education. I then visited the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) library, one of 22 libraries across the state designated for the public display of all submitted books.

Having served as vice-president of the 1983 State Textbook Committee, I heard during its public hearing the usual arguments by members of the Eagle Forum and other citizens on the supposed "dogmatism" of evolution. Perhaps because of the successful passage of the 1981 balanced-treatment legislation in Arkansas, these individuals also argued for the inclusion of creation "science" into the Alabama science curriculum. In 1983, these appeals for creation "science" could not have been satisfied, even if that were the recommendation of the Textbook Committee (it was not) or the decision of the State Board of Education. Not one of the science books submitted in 1983 included any substantive discussion of the topic.

Evolution and the fossil record are normally the foci of attacks by those espousing creation "science," so I limited my reviews to appropriate sections of the life science, earth science, and biology texts. Checking the display copies against the submission list, I found it odd that a few books were missing. With the public hearing a few days away, I had no time to investigate the missing texts.

As the first speaker of the September public hearing of the 1989 State Textbook Committee, I emphasized that the average book was better than its 1983 edition. In my opinion, few books exhibited poor treatments of life science, earth science, or biology. I also pointed out some errors of fact and recommended that one biology book be denied a place on the adoption list.

None of the books I reviewed provided coverage of creation "science," so I thought the remarks of opponents of evolution would be similar to those I heard in 1983. Imagine my shock when Joan Kendall, director of the Birmingham chapter of the Eagle Forum, praised Pandas as an exemplary scientific text presenting an alternative to modern evolutionary theory. Mrs. Kendall said "intelligent design" is the basis of the alternative.

I could not believe I had missed such a critical text. Upon returning to Birmingham, I immediately checked with Gordon Dunkin, the UAB librarian who received the submitted texts. He confirmed that Sterne Library had never received Pandas. Was there a deadline for receipt and display of these texts by the designated libraries? Gordon extracted from his file a June 16 letter from Barry Buford of the State Department of Education instructing him to ensure that all submitted texts were on display by July 10.

Pandas was now nearly 3 months late to the UAB library! Because I wanted to review this text, I called every one of the other 21 designated libraries across the state. Not one of them had a copy of Pandas. The absence of the book from the designated libraries raised a serious question: If a book were not on public display as required by the Alabama Department of Education, could it be voted on legitimately by either the State Textbook Committee or the State Board of Education?

I completed my survey about two weeks prior to October 2, the date on which the State Textbook Committee was to vote on its recommendations for adoption. During this interval, I obtained a copy of Pandas from Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of NCSE. Upon reading the text, I realized that this book was potentially much more damaging to the integrity of science education than I had expected. I sent a detailed criticism to each member of the State Textbook Committee just three days prior to their vote. I argued that Pandas should be eliminated from consideration because of the lack of public review.

After my discovery that Pandas was unavailable for public review before the September 12 Textbook Committee hearing, Haughton Publishing sent bound copies to each library by Federal Express. They arrived on September 29, one business day before the committee's vote.

The Textbook Committee meetings are open, but I could not attend the October 2 session. I later learned from a newspaper reporter who attended the meeting that Pandas elicited extensive dialogue among the committee members about its suitability as a primary or supplemental biology text.

Pandas does not cover basic biology. It addresses only problems of life's origin and evolution through the comparison of "intelligent design" and modern evolutionary theory; therefore, the authors explicitly declare it to be supplemental to major biology texts.

Perhaps for that reason a majority of the State Textbook Committee voted not to consider Pandas as a primary biology text. The book was also voted down as a supplemental text, at least in part because of its thinly disguised religious underpinnings.

I believe the science adoption in Alabama of Pandas would damage the integrity of our science curriculum and set a dangerous precedent for science textbook adoptions in other states. I am currently working to publicize this book and its nonscientific views to scientists throughout the state.

The State Textbook Committee's votes are only advisory to the State Board of Education, so it is possible for the board to reconsider this book at its December 14 meeting, when the votes for adoption will be taken.

Stay tuned for the final count.

The following was originally published as a sidebar to Scott Brande's article.

Good News from Idaho!

by Anonymous

The creationist supplemental textbook in biology, Of Pandas and People, was submitted for adoption in the state of Idaho. We have learned that the Textbook Committee, at its meeting on November 27, rejected Pandas by a lopsided majority. Idaho CC liaison Garvin Chastain and the NCSE office provided information to the Committee to help them in their decision, and we commend them for their discernment.

NCSE will provide our promised extensive review of Of Pandas and People in our next issue. The article was omitted due to space limitations this month. If the book appears in your district and you want reviews by scientists and educators, call NCSE. We are here to help.

Selling Pandas

For about a year, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) has been trying to get the creationist book Of Pandas and People into the public schools as a supplementary text. Scott Brande described how FTE, Haughton Publishing Company (the nominal publisher), and various religious activists tried to get it approved in Alabama (NCSE Reports 9(6):5, 10(1);8). Eugenie Scott has reviewed Pandas (NCSE Reports 10(1):16).

As John A. Thomas notes, FTE and Haughton Publishing have backed off (for now, at least) from pushing for statewide adoption in any state. (Texas, site of the next major statewide adoptions, does not adopt supplementary texts.) Instead, FTE is enlisting a quiet army of amateur salespeople to get Pandas into public school biology classes.

In a Dear Friend of the Foundation letter dated May 1990, FTE executive director Jon Buell wrote as follows:

[W]e are finding that the best approach to the local school system is through the biology teacher. Biology teachers are generally easy to contact, available for a meeting on short notice, and receptive. Experience has indicated that they are comfortable in making a decision to introduce a supplemental text with the review and approval of the school curriculum committee.
Buell appeals for volunteers for this quiet army, promising to send a Suggested Plan of Action and (if requested) an 18-minute video with the endorsements of a number of scientists, educators, and an authority on First Amendment law. (What genuine science book ever needed and endorsement from a lawyer?)

FTE anticipated (no doubt correctly) that some of those anxious to convince biology teachers to use Pandas in public school science classes would not own a copy, so at least some received a loaner copy to show teachers. The sales packet also contained A Suggested Plan for Action, overheads, a presentation script, and suggested answers to possible objections. The suggested plan does not suggest that the amateur sales representative actually read the book, let alone understand anything about science.

The idea is for a parent or other activist to take the sales kit and make a pitch to a sympathetic biology teacher. The suggested pitch is the usual creationist hogwash, condensed and somewhat sanitized. The sales representative is coached to denigrate evolution, misrepresent its scientific status, and appeal for students to be taught other, equally plausible, scientific alternatives. Indeed, the sales script often resembles as tobacco company press release on the health effects of smoking. For example:

Because theories presented to support evolution are informed speculation at best, but not knowledge, there is an unavoidable coercive element in teaching this single view.
As with tobacco flackery, minority positions are offered without being identified as such. For example:

Recently published, Of Pandas and People has been acclaimed by scientists and science educators for its accuracy and clarity in presenting plausible, scientific alternatives to conventional evolutionary theories.
Funny, but Pandas has been acclaimed in these pages for its inaccuracy and obscurantism; it seems only creationists can find in it scientific alternatives to conventional evolutionary theories.

The script suggests five ways Pandas will benefit good science education. For example, it will supposedly help students learn to distinguish between science and pseudo-science. Although Pandas is eminently well suited for a course on pseudo-science, it has no place in a biology class.

After prepping the prospect, the sales representative shows the video made by leading scientists and science educators and legal authorities. Then questions are entertained. Effective sales training arms the sales rep with canned replies to the most common objections prospects will offer.

Generally, half a dozen canned replies will cover 95% of the objections prospects (who must think on their feet) will generate. Indeed, FTE offers exactly six examples. The third is particularly interesting:

They may bring up one or more mistakes in the book, loudly pronouncing them to be inexcusable or stupid errors that show the kind of 2nd rate, incompetent material that fills the book.
Any sales pro hearing such an objection would quickly ring up no sale and depart. (If the prospect knows the product and thinks it's garbage, you're dead.) Therefore, one suspects that the example is intended primarily to brace the amateur sales rep for the knowledgeable prospect. In any case, here is the suggested reply:

While there are errors in the book -- as there are in the first printing of all books -- none of them is major or affects, in any way, the fundamental arguments of the book. The publisher is producing an errata sheet until the 2nd printing comes out with corrections, and if you think you've found some he may not already have seen, I'll be glad to pass them on to him.
Assuming all goes well and the prospect is sold, who will pay for the books, and how?

Some schools have discretionary funds. More likely, they would be paid for through special appeals by PTA or other parent interest groups. (italics added)
The italicized passage seems to be an obvious code phrase for church groups.

The following scenario seems to be FTE's best hope:

  • A local creationist activist finds a sympathetic biology teacher (perhaps a fellow member of his or her church) and makes the pitch.
  • The teacher convinces the curriculum committee and/or administration to approve use of Pandas provided funding can be found from outside sources.
  • A local church purchases the books and donates them to the school.
How effective FTE's new sales campaign will be is anybody's guess. The quiet army does not have to be good to be effective -- only numerous. And it is already out there fighting.

Ed. Note: Next issue we will have a story on the application of this strategy in Oregon. Stay tuned.

Selling Pandas
Robert J. Schadewald
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Televangelist Promotes Of Pandas and People

Televangelist James Dobson's group, "Focus on the Family," is a leading proponent of the religious right agenda. In the summer 1992 edition of his Citizen newsletter, Dobson directs his supporters to march down to the school board and demand of Of Pandas and People be used when evolution is taught. Pandas, of course, is a creationist "intelligent design" book intended as a supplement to high school biology courses. It was submitted for state adoption in Idaho and Alabama, and, with NCSE and committee of correspondence help, was rejected in both states (see Reports, 11(1):10-11; 10(1):8-10; 10(1):16-18; 9(6):5; 9(2):21).

A source at People for the American Way, the first-amendment advocacy organization, tells us that when Dobson's newsletter exhorted its readers to go after the "Impressions" elementary textbook reading series, calls began pouring into PfAW for help. The books were considered "Satanic" and "anti-Christian" by some religious-right proponents. Dobson is reportedly heard on 4000 radio broadcasts each week. If his forces take his bidding seriously, a fresh burst of anti-evolution activity may be right around the corner. (See cover story, this issue.)

Texas Textbook Adoptions: Whither (Wither) Evolution?

Texas is the largest single purchaser of textbooks in the nation, thus what Texas wants in its textbooks strongly influences what other states get. In past years, evolution was systematically deleted or downplayed in textbooks because Texas required textbooks to print a disclaimer that any textbook dealing with evolution.
... shall identify it as only one of several explanations of the origin of humankind and avoid limiting young people in their search for meaning of their human existence. [Evolution must be treated] ... as a theory rather than fact [and] ... in a manner which is not detrimental to other theories of origin.
In 1984, the Texas attorney general declared that the requirement was unconstitutional, and it was dropped. Shortly thereafter, evolution began to make a re-appearance in textbooks, assisted in large part when California required extensive coverage of the subject in its curriculum guide, the California Science Framework. In 1990, when Texas adopted its biology textbooks, the Proclamation (Texas's curriculum guide) required evolution to be included. The textbooks of the early 1990's included more evolution than had been seen in textbooks since the late 1960's. They didn't always get it right, but at least it was in there!

Now Texas has issued a new Proclamation for biology textbooks, and it does not mention the "e-word." Further changes in the adoption procedure make us doubt that textbook publishers will be encouraged by the state to treat evolution as a necessary component of biology (as directed by the National Science Education Standards). We hope we will not be moving back to the bad old days.

The state legislature has partly decentralized the textbook selection procedure and in some ways weakened the formerly highly-centralized process. Whether this is good or bad remains to be seen. A document entitled the "Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills" (TEKS) will direct publishers as to what to include, but the first draft of the TEKS did not include evolution, though it mentioned the "theory of natural selection." After teachers complained, the second and third drafts mentioned evolution, but not prominently. As this issue goes to press, the third draft has not yet been accepted by the state board of education.

Books and other instructional materials will be divided into those "conforming" to the TEKS (i.e., meeting all requirements), "nonconforming" (meeting 50% of the TEKS), and "open" (no content guidelines). Basic curricula such as science, social science, language arts, and mathematics must have instructional materials from the first two lists-districts are not free to choose just any old book and spend state money on it. Whether creationist books like Of Pandas and People will meet either standard is yet to be determined. The legislature also sought to eliminate the textbook adoption process, but it succeeded only in decentralizing it. Local districts will have more authority in the choice of books and two lists to choose from, rather than one. If creationist materials are approved, it will require stringent monitoring of local districts by NCSE members to insure that inferior materials are not adopted locally.

Biology books are coming up for adoption in 1997. Prospective textbooks will be available at regional centers for review before the textbook committee holds public hearings in November. Publishers are well aware of complaints against textbooks with "too much evolution" and need little encouragement to diminish their coverage of evolution. NCSE will keep you posted on developments.

Texas: No Pandas for Plano

The creationist textbook Of Pandas and People has been rejected again, this time in Plano, Texas, not far from Richardson, home of the book's publisher, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics.

In a pattern that is becoming familiar all over the country, a newly elected school board began a variety of changes associated with the "religious right" agenda. In August, 1994, alert citizens contacted NCSE after hearing a rumor that the board was considering purchase of Pandas. By the time board member Tom Wilds had publicly announced his plan to purchase thirty copies of the book to distribute to science teachers, promising to by as many additional copies as teachers might request, his opposition had organized. "Keep Quality In Plano Schools" (KQUIPS) was founded not only to oppose the purchase, but to monitor school board actions and candidates, and address any issue concerning the quality of education in their community.

In the following months, there was intense discussion of the issue. Not only Plano newspapers, but the nearest metropolitan daily, the Dallas Morning Sun, covered every aspect of the problem, from the scientific and educational issues to the religious motivations of the publishers of Pandas. A local radio station broadcast KQUIPS founder Evelyn Peelle's interview of Tom Wilds. NCSE's resource center, and our state liaison provided KQUIPS spokespeople with detailed scientific critiques of Pandas, information on the legality of teaching "creation science," and help in contacting other concerned organizations.

Concern for a variety of educational issues was a key ingredient of KQUIPS' eventual success. Because their newsletter addressed a variety of issues, from zoning to graduation requirements to the cost of "Take Your Daughter to Work Day," they could not be accused, as opponents of Pandas sometimes are, of narrow-mindedly persecuting alternate views. They reached out to many members of the community. Their ranks included scientists who could explain what is wrong with Pandas and religious people who could counter letters to the editor falsely equating evolution and atheism. Also, when KQUIPS objected to introducing a textbook that had not been subject to normal review processes, they expressed a concern that could apply to any book.

Cooperation with other groups was another key to success; the North Texas Skeptics were especially helpful in collecting and distributing information, and planning strategy for addressing the School Board when it formally considered Wilds' proposal to purchase Pandas. When the board met on February 7, there was a large, determined audience. Joe Voelkering of the North Texas Skeptics told NCSE, "We brought a box full of anti-Pandas badges — a red circle and slash superimposed over a black and white drawing of a panda. Every badge was taken. When the Board looked out at the room, they could see nearly everyone there was opposed [to the book]." ACLU attorneys in the audience reminded the Board that teaching creationism was illegal. Others — despite attempts to silence them — insisted on reprimanding the Board for considering an action that could cost thousands of dollars to defend in court.

The opposition was so overwhelming that the Board decided that day not to purchase Pandas. Still, the story isn't over. While the Board determined that none of them will re-open the subject of adopting Pandas themselves, they will reconsider at the request of the school district staff (they didn't define "staff," and it seems any employee, from playground supervisor or cafeteria worker to science teacher, could make the request). Also, if local school control comes to pass, as advocated by Texas' new governor George Bush, we can expect creationism to be proposed again in Plano and many other communities in the state.

It's a good thing KQUIPS is there for the long haul. Working with groups like these is NCSE's best tactic in defending evolution. It's been said that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; it may be the price of a good science education as well.

[Thanks to Evelyn Peelle of KQUIPS, and Joe Voelkering and Mike Sullivan of the North Texas Skeptics, for information used in this story.]

The Foundation for Thought and Ethics

Readers of NCSE Reports know that a new creationist book, Of Pandas and People, is making the rounds. Scott Brande has described the efforts of Haughton Publishing Co. to get Pandas adopted in Alabama as a supplementary text (NCSE Reports 9(6):5 and 10(1):8). Pandas presents the "intelligent design" version of the origin of species in an attractive wrapper without any explicit sign of religious creationism (see review, NCSE Reports 10(1):16).

Those curious about the origin of Pandas itself might wonder why the book's copyright is held, not by the publisher, but by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) of Richardson, Texas. "Haughton Publishing Co." is the assumed name of Horticultural Printers, Inc., a large Dallas printing firm mainly serving the agricultural industry. Haughton has no other books in print, nor does it have in-house writers or science advisors. Pandas is entirely the creation of FTE.

Officials at FTE refused my requests for an interview, but enough evidence exists in the public record and FTE publications to give an adequate sketch of its goals and methods. FTE was formed in 1980 as a tax-exempt charitable and educational organization.

The incorporator and current president of FTE is Jon Buell, an ordained minister. Buell earlier served on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ, and in 1972, he formed Probe Ministries with evangelist Jim Williams.

The other major figure in FTE is Charles Thaxton, its "Director of Curriculum Research." Thaxton, who holds a Ph.D. in chemistry, coauthored an earlier FTE-sponsored book, The Mystery of Life's Origins. Mystery offers a skeptical look at current theories of abiogenesis and closes with a chapter advocating a hypothesis of special creation to explain the origin of life. Thaxton is also a Fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization of theistic scientists that requires assent from its members to a statement of Christian principles. (You may remember ASA for its publication a few years ago of Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy, a nice packaging of old-earth creationism.)

Although FTE claims to be publishing science books, it obviously has a religious agenda. Buell refers to FTE as a "Christian think-tank" in the original application for tax-exempt status. FTE's articles of incorporation state that its purpose is both religious and educational, and it includes "proclaiming, publishing, preaching [and] teaching…the Christian Gospel and understanding of the Bible and the light it sheds on the academic and social issues of the day." The application referred to says the organization's first activity would be the editing of a book "showing the scientific evidence for creation."

FTE publishes an occasional newsletter, and in 1985, it commissioned a poll of high-school science teachers to show potential publishers than a market existed for a book on intelligent design. FTE has also sponsored at least one seminar on the creation/evolution debate, but most of its income has been absorbed by the production and marketing of its two books. Its contributors have obviously been willing to put up their money for the long run, hoping for the eventual success of Mystery and Pandas.

Federal tax records also show that FTE's money-raising efforts are effective. This is clearly not a group run out of a church basement by inexperienced volunteers. From its formation until late 1988, FTE has raised some $828,220, almost all of it from donations. About 25% of this money has come from eight individuals, churches, and businesses. One Dallas-area church has donated more than $14,000, and one individual, $57,920. The current budget is about $15,000 a month. Buell is the only salaried employee.

Recently, FTE's letters have included pleas for donations to cover budget shortfalls. One letter says the Foundation expects Pandas to be a significant financial resource eventually, but presently donations have dropped off while FTE has devoted most of its fund-raising time to getting the book into the market.

FTE has also been successful in collecting prominent names for its letterhead, many with Ph.D.s following. Besides the officers and directors, FTE's letterhead includes a "Board of Reference" to provide occasional advice. Some persons listed, such as Norm Sonju and Bob Breunig, are prominent Dallas residents. Others are local business leaders. Michael J. Woodruff is director of the Center for Law and Religious Freedom, a group that filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the Louisiana "equal-time" act. Francis H. Hare, Jr., a prominent Birmingham attorney, represented Haughton at the Alabama textbook hearings. FTE also boasts a "Council of Academic and Educational Advisors." Besides Thaxton and the authors of Pandas, the council includes Joseph Sobran, an editor of National Review, Charles M. Duke Jr., an Apollo astronaut, and Lois Harbaugh, secretary of the National Science Supervisors Association. Others hold positions at major universities around the country.

An interesting question is the relationship of FTE to more mainstream creationist organizations. Apparently, Buell and Thaxton accept the scientific account of the earth's age; their quarrel is with naturalistic theories of the origin of life, and with the Darwinian view that new species (particularly humans) can arise from the operation of natural selection upon genetic variation. They can accept "microevolution," or changes within species, but not "macroevolution," defined as the change of one species into another.

Although FTE completely avoids young-earth material in its publications, it never explicitly criticizes such theories either, and it seeks support wherever it may be found. It has used the mailing list of the Bible Science Newsletter, a hard-line creationist publication, to offer The Mystery of Life's Origin for sale. A favorable review of Mystery by Kerby Anderson, a strict creationist, was included in the same mailing. Representatives of FTE have spoken before the Metroplex Institute of Origin Science in Dallas, a strict creationist group more likely to hear mantrackers Carl Baugh and Don Patton. One of the authors of Pandas, Percival Davis (P. William Davis on FTE letterhead), coauthored A Case for Creation with Wayne Friar in 1983, a standard creationist work with frequent religious references.

What will FTE do with Pandas now that it has been effectively rejected in Alabama? Apparently, FTE has decided against further attempts at state textbook approval, at least for the present. Henry Skrabanek, president of Haughton, told me that Haughton and FTE intend to change course and direct their efforts "outside the schools" to the grass-roots level. Skrabanek said sales of Pandas so far have been single-copy, and he needed to get the book into the schools to have significant sales. He said local school boards, teacher's groups, and parents were the likely targets of the new effort.

A May 1990 letter from FTE confirms this new strategy. It says, "[W]e are finding that the best approach to the local school system is through the biology teacher…. Experience has indicated that they are comfortable in making a decision to introduce a supplemental text with the review and approval of the school curriculum committee." FTE has a packet of material and an 18-minute videotape to assist parents who approach teachers. I would not be surprised to see copies of Pandas appearing in some classrooms this fall.

Washington School District Wrestles with Creationism, "Intelligent Design Theory"

From February through April, 1996, the small town of Sultan, WA, was the site of now-familiar rancorous school board meetings over the question of whether creationism should be taught with evolution. Teacher Meg Town had attended a workshop on creation and evolution at a National Science Teachers Association regional meeting (taught by NCSE board member Dr. Duane Jeffery), so she knew where to go for help when the school board was approached with the request that it introduce creation "science" and Intelligent Design Theory into the curriculum.

In February, Meg's science curriculum committee was being pressed to include creation science in the curriculum under preparation. The Superintendent strongly favored a public forum, which the committee preferred to avoid because of its potential to stir up controversy. As an alternative, the committee agreed to sit through a presentation on creation science from two community members. Without the knowledge of the committee, a board member on the committee invited the full board to attend the presentation. Because all meetings of the board must be public, this presentation constituted an illegal meeting, causing an uproar.

During the actual presentation, the presenters made the usual creationist claims, and proposed the textbook Of Pandas and People as a good source for information on creation science. In March, the committee of teachers and community members declined to include creationism in the curriculum they submitted to the board. The board, however, did not initially accept the science committee's curriculum and subsequently scheduled public hearing on the merits of teaching "alternatives to evolution" that teachers had sought to avoid.

Meg and her husband Mike gathered a committee of concerned citizens to protest the introduction of nonscience topics into the science class, and to support the teaching of evolution. At the April 10 school board meeting, 250 people (about 10% of the Sultan population!) filled the meeting room to overflowing, eager to argue the issue. According to the Towns, the crowd's opinions about creationism in the science curriculum were divided 50:50 — a terrific turnout for the pro-evolution side, which is ordinarily outnumbered in such meetings (see related stories about Ohio hearings, pp. 6, 18). Even so, the board seemed reluctant to adopt the curriculum without creation science added.

On April 15, in a meeting to adopt or reject the science curriculum, the board declined to include creationism, largely for fear of a lawsuit. The ACLU had written a letter to the Sultan Superintendent of Schools, outlining the Constitutional issues involved in teaching creationism. However, modifications were made to the science curriculum, with allegedly "political" statements taken out, i.e., a statement from the National Science Teachers Association (reprinted in NCSE's Voices for Evolution) that teachers should only teach concepts and subjects that fit stated criteria of science. As things now stand, creationism will not be required in Sultan, WA schools. Community members feel that the story is not over, however, and that the board might revisit the issue in the future. As is always the case when creationism and evolution clash at the local level, some teachers become intimidated and will cease to teach evolution.

Thanks to Meg and Mike Town and their fellow citizens for upholding the integrity of science, and also to University of Washington scientists (and NCSE members) Gordon Orians and George Gilchrist for their testimony at the public hearing.

Review: Of Pandas and People

Of Pandas and People (hereafter Pandas) exemplifies the new creationism, which conceals its theological underpinnings better than the old Institute for Creation Research variety. Here, the Creator is cloaked in the euphemism "intelligent design." Like traditional creationist works, this book is laden with misstatements, misunderstandings, or incomplete descriptions of evolution, and the errors and omissions always favor "intelligent design." This review will describe only a few of its errors.

As an anthropologist, I turned first to the section on the hominid fossil record. The following examples are from pp. 109-112:

  • The diagram on p. 109 purportedly showing the fossil record of primates is incompetent. Old World monkeys are not older than apes (as drawn), pongids include chimpanzees (shown as separate), and the fossil forms Pliopithecus, Australopithecus, and Oreopithecus have not (as depicted) continued until present. The "chimpanzee" at the top of the chart looks like a gibbon. The chart is drawn without any transitional forms, but that doesn't mean there aren't any.
  • On p. 111, A. africanus is drawn with a chimp thorax, a human pelvis, and a cranium from a K-Mart Halloween display. It looks like a tracing from a physical anthropology text, with much lost in translation.
  • On p. 112, "primate" and "human being" are juxtaposed as if humans were not primates. The text falsely implies that H. habilis has no ancestors and that "human" fossils are found "in the same area" as H. habilis. Archaic Homo is not hypothetical (several remains are attributed to this taxon), and it did not have an ape-like skull. The authors' attribution of the sloping forehead of H. erectus to nutritional deficiency is lunatic. (The H. erectus morphology occurs in Asia, Europe, and Africa. Were there calcium, vitamin D, and other deficiencies in all these areas?) Only creationists consider possible relict H. erectus populations in Australia to be "races" of H. sapiens.
These examples from three pages show why it is impossible to cover the whole book in a review. Here are few more chips from the tip of the iceberg.

Origin of Life

Evolutionary theory is not tied to origin-of-life theory, as the book says (p. 2), nor to random or chance processes. Evolutionary theory may include origin of life hypotheses, but much of it is independent. In saying "most mutations are harmful," the authors reveal a serious misunderstanding of modern genetics. Most mutations are neutral and have no effect whatever on the organism. The authors ignore the neutral theory of evolution, which explains much that classical Darwinism doesn't.


Most of the evolutionary biology in Pandas is 25 years out of date. The authors expect neo-Darwinism to explain everything, but they can't even get this material entirely correct. For example, they confuse characteristics of reproductive isolation with those of speciation. They make the Design-inspired assumption that natural selection must result in perfection and even overspecialization. They misunderstand variation's role in natural selection and state that populations adjusting to an ecological niche become less variable. (That is only one possible outcome, albeit one that supports their position). And they incorrectly imply that macroevolution depends upon microevolution.


Homology theory has many interesting problems, but Pandas does not discuss them. Indeed, the homology discussion is so misinformed it would take another book to sort it out. Because they don't understand homology, the authors accuse evolutionists of "guesswork" and "extrapolation." In fact, evolutionists consider comparative anatomy, ontogeny, and the fossil record, none of which is treated competently in this book.


The treatment of the fossil record is rife with egregious misunderstandings. No one with any competence in paleontology would claim that no transitional forms exist. Transitions exist between classes like Mammals and Reptiles, between families, and even within genera. Punctuated equilibrium is presented more or less correctly in the overview but botched in chapter 3. The authors agree that geographic speciation occurs (they discuss it at length), but they fail to relate it to punctuated equilibrium, which is essentially geographic speciation extended through time as well as space.


The biochemistry chapter is similarly hopeless. The author acknowledge taking much of their material from Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, so previous criticisms of Denton's biochemistry are directly relevant. Even the diagrams are similar (compare p. 147 of Pandas with p. 282 of Denton). The molecular data do show the nested, hierarchical relationships predicted by evolution (see the diagrams – derived from Denton – in Thwaites' review, NCSE Reports 9(4): 14). Only creationists expect biochemical data to show the genealogical relationships on p. 143ff. Bacterial cytochrome c is indeed equally distant from yeast and mammal cytochrome c, which is precisely what evolution predicts. The common ancestor of yeast, carp, rattlesnakes, and humans diverged from bacteria long ago, so they all have been diverging from bacteria an equally long time. The accumulated genetic difference between them and bacteria is therefore about the same.

Molecules from organisms with more recent common ancestors (like those from humans and other creatures in table 6-1) show different relationships. Humans are more similar to monkeys than to screw worms because they shared a common ancestor with monkeys more recently than with screw worms. They are more similar to screw worms than to mung beans because they shared a common ancestor with screw worms more recently than with mung beans. Evolutionists view these relationships as one of branching clades. Molecular data clearly show that evolution has occurred.

Living forms are not representatives of ancestors, but the authors apparently don't understand this. In their "Great Chain of Being" view, "less advanced" living forms are ancestral to "more advanced" living forms (p. 144). The authors profess amazement because living amphibians are not molecularly intermediate between fish and mammals. Living ones are not. Once again, we find profound misunderstanding of evolutionary theory, molecular genetics, molecular evolution, and the molecular clock.


A textbook should be a scholarly source of information, but here also Of Pandas and People fails. Where did these ideas come from? Where are the references? An occasional superscript number suggests a footnote, but (except for the last section) no references are listed for the footnotes! Most identifiable references are to creationist works or obscure works given little credence by mainstream scientists. Where there are quotations from legitimate scientific works, many seem to be copied from creationist publications rather than quoted from original sources (they show the same inaccuracies.) Denton has Darwin and Wallace jointly presenting their paper to the Linnaean Society in 1858, and Pandas says both men "jointly presented their natural selection theory of evolution in 1859," the year of the publication of On the Origin of Species. Both are wrong. On p. 107 is one of Duane Gish's favorite passages, a quote from E. J. H. Corner, and it omits (with no ellipsis) exactly the same words Gish left out. Is this the sort of scholarship to which students should be exposed?

Selling the Supernatural

The book attempts to convince the student (and teacher) that a basically supernatural view can be made scientific through word manipulation and conflation with scientific concepts. Thus, the Argument from Design is dressed up in information theory and passed off as science. This selling of the supernatural is pertinent to understanding why this book is not science, but pseudoscience.

In early 1987, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE), with which Thaxton is affiliated, wrote to potential textbook publishers about Pandas. In the letter, FTE wrote, "[T]he book will not be subject to the major criticism of creation, that the supernatural lies outside of science, because its central statement is that scientific evidence points to an intelligent cause, but that science is silent as to whether that intelligence is within or beyond the material universe. So the book is not appealing to the supernatural." In an appendix by Thaxton, under the heading Philosophy/Religion, "natural" is contrasted with "supernatural" as adjectives describing cause (p. 161). Under Science, he opposes "natural" with "intelligent". The latter, however, is a false dichotomy. To be dealt with scientifically, "intelligence" must also be natural, because all science is natural. Thaxton's appeal to the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is fallacious. SETI is indeed a scientific project: it seeks natural intelligence. Any theory with a supernatural foundation is not scientific, and to say that "intelligent cause" is an antonym of "natural" but is not "supernatural" is pure sophistry.

Nowhere in this book is there any indication that the "Intelligent Designer" is anything other than the God of Genesis. Beneath the veneer of sophistry and euphemism, "intelligent design" is plain old scientific creationism. While Pandas consciously avoids that term, anyone familiar with creationist literature will immediately recognize the logic and arguments – mutation is bad; evolution depends on chance; creationism and evolution are parallel and equally well-supported views; numerological considerations prohibit evolution; if we don't understand, "there must be a designer;" and so forth. Despite pious protestations about the student's "right" to receive all the information, Pandas only presents criticisms of evolution, not of "intelligent design." But the Argument from Design has been around for 200 years, and scientists have rejected it for good reason. Stephen Jay Gould alone has published numerous papers on "imperfectly designed" creatures and structures of the like that even in Thomas Paley's day made thoughtful people reject the Divine Watchmaker for both theological and scientific reasons. Pandas never hints that "intelligent design" is an intellectually discredited idea that has never been science. The universe is indeed comprehensible, as the authors observe, but it is not valid to equate the intelligibility of the universe with intelligent cause. (I thank Delos McKown for pointing this out to me.)

In sum, Pandas is worse than I anticipated. I expected something more scholarly, for the principal authors have done better elsewhere. But this book is riddled with egregious errors of fact and profound misunderstandings of theory. Again and again, the authors ignore the scholarly consensus and present instead a pot pourri of half-truths, untruths, and nonsense.

Of Pandas and People is without scientific or pedagogical merit, and it has no place in the science classroom.