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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/02/06

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(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear Friends of NCSE,

There are new antievolution bills in Iowa and New Mexico.  But it's not all
bad news:  NCSE's Glenn Branch appeared in US News & World Report, two
members of NCSE were honored by the National Academy of Sciences, and
Darwin Day is almost here.


House File 183, introduced in the Iowa House of Representatives on February
3, 2009, and referred to the House Education Committee, is the latest
antievolution "academic freedom" bill.  Entitled the "Evolution Academic
Freedom Act," HF 183 contains three sections.  In the first, it is
contended that "current law does not expressly protect the right of
instructors to objectively present scientific information relevant to the
full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological
evolution," that "instructors have experienced or feared discipline,
discrimination, or other adverse consequences as a result of presenting the
full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological
evolution," and that "existing law does not expressly protect students from
discrimination due to their positions or views regarding biological or
chemical evolution."

The following sections of the bill provide that teachers in the state's
public schools and instructors in the state's public community colleges and
state universities may "objectively present scientific information relevant
to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical
evolution in connection with teaching any prescribed curriculum regarding
chemical or biological evolution" and that they "shall not be disciplined,
denied tenure, terminated, or otherwise discriminated against" for doing
so.  Also, the bill adds, although students "shall be evaluated based upon
their understanding of course materials through standard testing
procedures," they "shall not be penalized for subscribing to a particular
position or view regarding biological or chemical evolution."

Presumably attempting to avert a likely challenge to its constitutionality,
HF 183 provides that it "shall not be construed to promote any religious
doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of
religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or
nonreligion."  The bill also attempts to avoid a likely charge of
inappropriate legislative micromanagement of the curriculum by disclaiming
any intention to "require or encourage any change in the core curriculum
adopted by the state board of education ... the core content standards ...
or the accreditation standards and curriculum definitions" or in "curricula
on biological or chemical evolution adopted by the board of directors of a
community college or the state board of regents."

The bill's sponsor is Rod A. Roberts (R-District 51), one of the four
assistant minority leaders in the Iowa House of Representatives.  The Sioux
City Journal (February 5, 2009) reports that Roberts, an ordained minister
in the Church of Christ, is contemplating a bid for the Republican
nomination for governor in 2010.  HF 183 is apparently the only
antievolution bill to be introduced in Iowa within at least the past ten
years.  As of February 5, 2009, only two lobbyists were listed on the Iowa
General Assembly's website as having declared their interest in the bill:
the Iowa Christian Alliance favoring it, and the Iowa State Education
Association -- the state affiliate of the National Education Association,
representing over 34,000 education employees in Iowa -- opposing it.

For the text of Iowa's HF 183, visit:

For the story in the Sioux City Journal, visit:


Senate Bill 433, introduced in the New Mexico Senate on February 2, 2009,
and referred to the Senate Education Committee, is the third antievolution
bill to be introduced in a state legislature in 2009.  If enacted, the bill
would require schools to allow teachers to inform students "about relevant
scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or
scientific weaknesses pertaining to biological evolution or chemical
evolution," protecting teachers who choose to do so from "reassignment,
termination, discipline or other discrimation for doing so."

The phrase "academic freedom" is not present in the bill, but it is clearly
in the mold of the recent spate of antievolution "academic freedom"
bills.  As NCSE's Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott recently wrote in
Scientific American, "'Academic freedom' was the creationist catchphrase of
choice in 2008: the Louisiana Science Education Act was in fact born as the
Louisiana Academic Freedom Act, and bills invoking the idea were introduced
in Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Missouri and South Carolina."  Oklahoma,
with its Senate Bill 320, and Iowa, with its House File 183, joined the
list in 2009.

Although SB 433 explicitly states that it "specifically does not protect
the promotion of any religion, religious doctrine or religious belief" and
defines "scientific information" as "information derived from observation,
experimentation and analyses regarding various aspects of the natural world
conducted to determine the nature of or principles behind the aspects being
studied," it also states that "'scientific information' may have religious
or philosophical implications and still be scientific in nature."

New Mexicans for Science and Reason quotes a New Mexican antievolution
organization as taking credit for the bill:  "State Senator Steve Komadina
helped get the NM Biological Origins Education Bill started, and then he
sponsored it in the NM Senate in 2007 [as SB 371].  Unfortunately, he will
not be able to sponsor the bill again because he was not reelected, but we
really appreciate his initiative.  Senator Kent Cravens [R-District 27] has
agreed to sponsor the bill in the 2009 session.  Let's support him in
getting this legislation through the Senate."

For the text of New Mexico's SB 433, visit:

For Branch and Scott's article in Scientific American, visit:

For New Mexicans for Science and Reason's coverage, visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in New Mexico, visit:


NCSE's deputy director Glenn Branch answered the question "Should
creationism be taught in the public schools?" for the on-line edition of US
News & World Report (February 2, 2009) -- in the negative, of
course.  After reviewing the legal history of attempts to require the
teaching of creationism in the public schools, he observed, "Creationism is
not just a legal failure.  It is a scientific failure as well.  Scan the
scientific research literature:  There are no signs that anyone is using
creationism, whether as creation science or its newfangled form of
intelligent design, to explain the natural world.  In contrast, not a year
passes without the appearance of thousands of scientific publications that
apply, refine, and extend evolution."

Despite those failures, creationism persists.  Branch explained, "Defeated
in court and unable to make their mark in science, creationists have
increasingly turned to the fallback strategy of attacking evolution without
mentioning any specific creationist alternative," citing recent legislation
in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Mississippi as well as struggles over the
treatment of evolution in state science standards in Kansas, Ohio, and
Texas.  Additionally, he commented, "creationism contributes to a climate
of hostility toward, skepticism about, and ignorance of evolution -- and,
indeed, science -- in America. ... The sad consequence is students cheated
of a chance to attain a proper understanding of the central principle of
the biological sciences."

For Branch's op-ed in US News & World Report, visit:


NCSE is delighted to congratulate two of its members, Joseph Felsenstein
and John D. Roberts, who are among the eighteen individuals to be honored
by the National Academy of Sciences in 2009 with "awards recognizing
extraordinary scientific achievements in the areas of biology, chemistry,
geology, astronomy, social sciences, psychology, and application of science
for the public good," according to a January 28, 2009, press release.

Felsenstein, professor in the departments of genome sciences and biology at
the University of Washington, was awarded the John J. Carty Award for the
Advancement of Science, which brings with it a medal and a prize of
$25,000.  According to the press release, Felsenstein is "being honored for
revolutionizing population genetics, phylogenetic biology, and systematics
by developing a sophisticated computational framework to deduce
evolutionary relationships of genes and species from molecular data."  He
recently contributed "Has Natural Selection Been Refuted?" to Reports of
the National Center for Science Education.

Roberts, Institute Professor of Chemistry Emeritus at the California
Institute of Technology, was awarded the NAS Award for Chemistry in Service
to Society, established by E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, which
brings with it a prize of $20,000.  According to the press release,
"Roberts is being honored for seminal contributions in physical organic
chemistry, in particular the introduction of NMR spectroscopy to the
chemistry community."  Replying to a congratulatory note from NCSE, Roberts
commented, "It would be nice to have an award for service to society for
settling the hash of creationism vs. science!"

For the press release from the NAS, visit:

For Felsenstein's article in Reports of the NCSE, visit:


Less than a week remains before Darwin Day!  And since 2009 is the
bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication
of On the Origin of Species, it promises to be a particularly exciting
celebration.  Colleges and universities, schools, libraries, museums,
churches, civic groups, and just plain folks across the country -- and the
world -- are preparing to celebrate Darwin Day, on or around February 12,
in honor of the life and work of Charles Darwin.  These events provide a
marvelous opportunity not only to celebrate Darwin's birthday but also to
engage in public outreach about science, evolution, and the importance of
evolution education.  NCSE encourages its members and friends to attend,
participate in, and even organize Darwin Day events in their own
communities.  To find a local event, check the websites of local
universities and museums and the registry of Darwin Day events maintained
by the Darwin Day Celebration website.  (And don't forget to register your
own event with the Darwin Day Celebration website!)

And with Darwin Day comes the return of Evolution Weekend!  Hundreds of
congregations all over the country and around the world are taking part in
Evolution Weekend, February 13-15, 2009, by presenting sermons and
discussion groups on the compatibility of faith and science.  Michael
Zimmerman, the initiator of the project, writes, "Evolution Weekend is an
opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship
between religion and science. One important goal is to elevate the quality
of the discussion on this critical topic -- to move beyond sound bites.  A
second critical goal is to demonstrate that religious people from many
faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses
no problems for their faith.  Finally, as with The Clergy Letter itself,
Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must
choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy."  At
last count, 924 congregations in all fifty states (and fourteen foreign
countries) were scheduled to hold Evolution Weekend events.

In a January 27, 2009, story at Religion Dispatches, Lauri Lebo -- the
author of The Devil in Dover (The New Press, 2008), the latest book about
the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial -- discusses the genesis of Evolution Weekend
and the Clergy Letter Project.  Michael Zimmerman told her that after
organizing a number of letters in Wisconsin to counteract a local attempt
to undermine the teaching of evolution, it struck him:  "All of a sudden,
here it was ... I realized, OK, I have this letter signed by 200 people in
one state.  I did the calculations, and figured I could come up with 10,000
signatures nationwide.  I thought if I could get the signatures, I could
put an end to this silliness."  He added, "It never crossed my mind how big
10,000 is."  (There are presently 11,819 signatories.)  Lebo continues,
"Despite its success, Zimmerman is under no delusion that the Clergy Letter
Project will end the attacks on evolutionary education by those of
fundamentalist faiths. ... Instead, hes trying to reach out to people of
more mainstream faiths, who are open-minded but scientifically illiterate."

Writing on the Beacon Broadside blog in February 2008, NCSE's deputy
director Glenn Branch asked, "Why make such a point of celebrating Darwin
Day, as opposed to, say, Einstein Day on March 14?"  He answered, "A
crucial reason, particularly in the United States, is to counteract the
public climate of ignorance of, skepticism about, and hostility toward
evolution," citing a number of current attempts to undermine the teaching
of evolution in the public schools.  The onslaught continues in 2009, with
struggles in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and elsewhere.  "So
thats a fine reason," as Branch recommended in 2008, "for you to devote a
day -- at the museum or in a pew, at a lecture hall or in a movie theater,
out in the park or indoors on a badminton court -- to learn about, discuss,
and celebrate Darwin and his contributions to science, and to demonstrate
your support of teaching evolution in the public schools."

For the Darwin Day Celebration website's registry of events, visit:

For information about Evolution Weekend, visit:

For Lebo's article at Religion Dispatches, visit:

For Branch's Darwin Day 2008 blog post, visit:


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Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site:

where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and
threats to it.


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x310
fax: 510-601-7204

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