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.
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.
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.
[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?)
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.
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.
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.)
... 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!
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.]