NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/01/16
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, A mixed result as Louisiana adopts guidelines to implement the antievolution law enacted there in 2008. A bill requiring evolution textbook disclaimers is introduced in the Mississippi legislature. And Kenneth R. Miller debunks a recent attack by the Discovery Institute on his testimony in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case.
A MIXED RESULT IN LOUISIANA On January 15, 2009, Louisiana's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted a set of guidelines about what types of supplementary classroom materials will, and will not, be allowable under the Louisiana Science Education Act. While the guidelines echo the LSEA's requirement that such materials "not promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion," a provision that "materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science class" was deleted, according to a report from the Associated Press (January 15, 2008). Enacted in June 2008 over the protests of scientists and educators across the state and around the country, the LSEA (enacted as Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1) provides, "A teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the city, parish, or other local public school board unless otherwise prohibited by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education." The guidelines just adopted govern the way in which BESE will consider such supplementary material. It was clear from the outset that evolution was in the LSEA's sights. As originally drafted, the law specifically identified "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning" as controversial subjects, and called on state and local education administrators to "endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies." In its final version, these topics are no longer described as controversial, but they are still specifically mentioned. And the Baton Rouge Advocate (April 19, 2008) editorially recognized, "it seems clear that the supporters of this legislation are seeking a way to get creationism ... into science classrooms." The guidelines to implement the LSEA began to be drafted in December 2008 with the guidance of a committee of veteran educators and scientists assembled by the state department of education. The Associated Press (January 8, 2009) reported, "Proposed for discussion at the December meeting [of the BESE's Student/School Performance and Support committee] were requirements that any information in the supplemental material be 'supported by empirical evidence.' The proposed language also said religious beliefs 'shall not be advanced under the guise of encouraging critical thinking' and that materials 'that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited in science classes.'" Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, coauthor with Paul R. Gross of Creationism's Trojan Horse (revised edition, Oxford University Press, 2007), and a member of NCSE's board of directors, praised the proposed language for ensuring that religion would not be taught in the public schools. But Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum, a religious right organization that vociferously supported the LSEA, was unhappy with the proposed language for the guidelines, telling the Associated Press, "I would think that it left religious neutrality and took a tone of religious hostility. Or at least it could be interpreted by some to have done that." Subsequently, on January 8, 2009, a revised draft was posted in advance of the BESE committee's January 13, 2009, meeting. The provision that "religious beliefs shall not be advanced under the guise of encouraging critical thinking" was removed, and a provision forbidding consideration of the "religious or non-religious beliefs and affiliations" of the authors of supplementary material was added. Also, the procedure for challenging supplementary material became more complicated, now requiring that complaints must cite the problems with the material, that school districts must be notified of the challenge, and that a hearing must be held at which the district, the complainant, and "any interested parties" would have "adequate time to present their arguments and information and to offer rebuttals." Forrest decried these revisions in a January 12, 2009, letter to the BESE, objecting that the guidelines "have been altered in ways that are detrimental to the education of Louisiana students." She called for the provision regarding religious beliefs under the guise of critical thinking to be restored, explained that "[t]o determine quality, acceptability, and bias, scientists and teachers customarily and quite appropriately examine the source of instructional material," and described the new procedures for challenging supplementary material as "unclear, ill-conceived, and onerous," adding, "The instructions are vague and confusing, and they unnecessarily complicate what should be a straightforward decision based on the professional expertise of [Louisiana Department of Education] staff." At the committee's meeting on January 13, 2009, the LSEA's chief sponsor, Ben Nevers (D-District 12), and Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum were in attendance, successfully lobbying for the removal of the section of the guidelines that provided, "Materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science classes." The provision forbidding consideration of the beliefs and affiliations of the authors of supplementary material was also removed, according to a report from the Associated Press (January 13, 2009). With the adoption of the guidelines by the BESE on January 15, 2009, it is still unclear what will happen. Steve Monaghan, the president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, told WAFB television (January 13, 2009) in Baton Rouge, "The time spent on this issue may be in total excess of what the problem was because we don't believe there was a problem in the science classroom anyway": teachers in his organization have not complained about the science education materials at their disposals and presumably would not seek to add supplementary materials. Civil liberties organizations have already expressed their readiness to challenge attempts to teach religion in the guise of science in Louisiana's public schools. In the meantime, the Lafayette Independent Weekly (January 12, 2009) worried about the effect of the LSEA and the guidelines on Louisiana's reputation. "For many of us interested and active in economic development and hopeful in a newly resurgent Louisiana ... this is not good news," Steve May wrote. "This attempt to pollute the teaching of science in our public schools with religious dogma does more long-term damage to ourselves than all the painful headlines about Edwin Edwards, David Duke or 'Dollar' Bill Jefferson combined, because the damage is far more lasting. Is this the message of educational ignorance that we want to send prospective employers considering locating or relocating to Louisiana?" For the January 15, 2009, article from the AP, visit: http://www.wdam.com/Global/story.asp?S=9680155 For the text of the LSEA as adopted, visit: http://www.legis.state.la.us/lss/lss.asp?doc=631000 For the Baton Rouge Advocate's editorial, visit: http://www.2theadvocate.com/opinion/17931559.html For the January 9, 2009, article from the AP, visit: http://www.nola.com/newsflash/index.ssf?/base/news-45/123144265078170.xml&storylist=louisiana For information about Creationism's Trojan Horse, visit: http://www.creationismstrojanhorse.com For Forrest's letter to the BESE (PDF), visit: http://www.ncseweb.org/files/pub/creationism/Forrest_BESE_Letter_1.12.09.pdf For the January 13, 2009, article from the AP, visit: http://www.katc.com/Global/story.asp?S=9666288 For the WAFB story, visit: http://www.wafb.com/Global/story.asp?S=9667207 For May's column in the Lafayette Independent Weekly, visit: http://www.theind.com/content/view/3693/54/ For the Louisiana Coalition for Science's website, visit: http://lasciencecoalition.org/ And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/louisiana ANTIEVOLUTION LEGISLATION IN MISSISSIPPI House Bill 25, introduced in the Mississippi House of Representatives by Representative Gary Chism (R-District 37) on January 6, 2009, and referred to two committees, Education and Judiciary A, would, if enacted, mandate the state board of education to require every textbook that discusses evolution to include a disclaimer describing evolution as "a controversial theory." In full, the proposed disclaimer reads: *** The word "theory" has many meanings, including: systematically organized knowledge; abstract reasoning; a speculative idea or plan; or a systematic statement of principles. Scientific theories are based on both observations of the natural world and assumptions about the natural world. They are always subject to change in view of new and confirmed observations. This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things. No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered a theory. Evolution refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced living things. There are many topics with unanswered questions about the origin of life which are not mentioned in your textbook, including: the sudden appearance of the major groups of animals in the fossil record (known as the Cambrian Explosion); the lack of new major groups of other living things appearing in the fossil record; the lack of transitional forms of major groups of plants and animals in the fossil record; and the complete and complex set of instructions for building a living body possessed by all living things. Study hard and keep an open mind. *** At present, the only state to require a textbook disclaimer about evolution is Alabama, which is currently using a disclaimer adopted in 2005. The proposed Mississippi disclaimer is evidently a hybrid of two previous versions of the Alabama disclaimer: its first paragraph is modeled on the first paragraph of the second version (adopted in 2001), while much of the remainder is modeled on the first version (adopted in 1995). In a 1996 lecture at Auburn University, later published in the Journal of the Alabama Academy of Science, Richard Dawkins offered a paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of the first version of the Alabama disclaimer, criticizing it as "a study in ignorance and dishonesty." In 2000, when the state of Oklahoma was considering adopting the first version of the Alabama disclaimer, Kenneth R. Miller agreed, concluding, "By any standard, this disclaimer fails even an undemanding test of scientific literacy." A textbook disclaimer was at the center of the Selman v. Cobb County case. Less prolix and less committal than the Alabama disclaimers, the Cobb County disclaimer still insisted that evolution is "a theory, not a fact." In 2005, the disclaimer was ruled to be unconstitutional and the disclaimers were removed from the textbooks; on appeal, the verdict was vacated and the case was remanded to the trial court. A settlement was reached, in which the Cobb County School District agreed not to make any disclaimers about evolution either orally or in writing. For the text of Mississippi's HB 25, visit: http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2009/html/HB/0001-0099/HB0025IN.htm For information about Alabama's disclaimers, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/2005/03/evolution-alabama-00571 http://ncseweb.org/news/2001/11/state-board-education-adopts-another-evolution-disclaimer-00208 For Dawkins's critique of the Alabama disclaimer, visit: http://www.simonyi.ox.ac.uk/dawkins/WorldOfDawkins-archive/Dawkins/Work/Articles/alabama/1996-04-01alabama.shtml For Miller's critique of the Alabama disclaimer, visit: http://ncseweb.org/rncse/20/3/dissecting-disclaimer For information about Selman v. Cobb County, visit: http://ncseweb.org/creationism/legal/selman-v-cobb-county-textbook-disclaimer-case And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Mississippi, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/mississippi MILLER DEBUNKS THE DISCOVERY INSTITUTE AGAIN In a three-part guest essay posted at Carl Zimmer's blog The Loom, Kenneth R. Miller responded to a recent attack by the Discovery Institute on his testimony in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. At issue in the first part is the claim, found in both Of Pandas and People and Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box, that the blood clotting system in vertebrates is irreducibly complex and therefore unevolvable. After rebutting the claim that he misrepresented Behe's claims in his testimony, Miller proceeds to explain the latest scientific research that undermines Behe's claims: "The lamprey, as luck would have it, has a perfectly functional clotting system, and it lacks not only the three factors missing in jawed fish, but also Factors IX and V." Miller turns his attention in the second part of his essay to the Discovery Institute's attempt to rehabilitate the concept of irreducible complexity. Explaining Behe's argument, he comments, "That would be a powerful argument against evolution -- if it were true. Unfortunately, it's not, and the Dover trial demonstrated that for at least three of ID's favorite systems, blood-clotting, the bacterial flagellum, and the immune system." The Discovery Institute's attack fails, he contends, even to represent Behe's argument correctly, and "once you've demonstrated that the parts of the system do indeed work just fine in other contexts, you're answered the ID challenge fully and completely. Case closed. Three years ago, in fact. Case closed, and ID lost." In the third part of his essay, Miller wonders why the Discovery Institute is bothering to assail the Kitzmiller decision three years after the fact. "The only conclusion I can draw," he writes, "is that they must be maneuvering for the next round of state board hearings or legislative sessions -- and I'm concerned. These folks are a whole lot better at politics and public relations than they are at science, and that means that everyone who cares about science education should be on guard." Miller was prescient: the first two antievolution bills of the 2009 legislative session -- Oklahoma's Senate Bill 320 and Mississippi's House Bill 25 -- have already appeared. Over at the Panda's Thumb blog, Nick Matzke adds a host of details to Miller's rebuttal, noting that Behe in fact wrote the portion of Of Pandas and People that discusses the blood clotting system. Further, in Kitzmiller he testified that the treatment of blood clotting in Darwin's Black Box is "essentially the same," vitiating the Discovery Institute's attempt to insulate Behe from the failures of Of Pandas and People's treatment. In fact, the treatments differ somewhat, which, as Matzke notes, was a problem for Behe on cross-examination: "Behe could have just said 'I was wrong in Pandas, my newer definition is right.' But of course, the whole point of Behe being there was to defend the ID book on trial, which was Pandas, so he couldn't do that." Miller is Professor of Biology and Royce Family Professor for Teaching Excellence at Brown University and the author of Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul (Viking, 2008); he was the lead expert witness for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover. A Supporter of NCSE, he received its Friend of Darwin award in 2003. Matzke, who is now a graduate student in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, worked for NCSE from 2004 to 2007. He was the lead NCSE staffer working on the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, providing a wealth of scientific expertise and practical advice to the legal team representing the ultimately victorious plaintiffs. For the three parts of Miller's essay, visit: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2009/01/02/smoke-and-mirrors-whales-and-lampreys-a-guest-post-by-ken-miller/ http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2009/01/03/ken-millers-guest-post-part-two/ http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2009/01/04/ken-millers-final-guest-post-looking-forward/ For information about Of Pandas and People, visit: http://ncseweb.org/creationism/analysis/critique-pandas-people For Miller's review of Darwin's Black Box, visit: http://ncseweb.org/cej/16/review-michael-behes-darwins-black-box For Nick Matzke's blog post on The Panda's Thumb, visit: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2009/01/god-of-the-gapsin-your-own-knowledge-luskin-behe-blood-clotting.html For a transcript of Behe's cross-examination about blood clotting in the Kitzmiller case, visit: http://talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day12am2.html#day12am1087 And for NCSE's collection of information about the Kitzmiller case, visit: http://ncseweb.org/creationism/legal/intelligent-design-trial-kitzmiller-v-dover REMINDER If you wish to unsubscribe to these evolution education updates, please send: unsubscribe ncse-news firstname.lastname@example.org in the body of an e-mail to email@example.com. If you wish to subscribe, please send: subscribe ncse-news firstname.lastname@example.org again in the body of an e-mail to email@example.com. Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://www.ncseweb.org where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it. Sincerely, Glenn Branch Deputy Director National Center for Science Education, Inc. 420 40th Street, Suite 2 Oakland, CA 94609-2509 510-601-7203 x305 fax: 510-601-7204 800-290-6006 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.ncseweb.org Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools http://www.ncseweb.org/nioc Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism http://www.ncseweb.org/evc NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://www.ncseweb.org/membership