NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/02/06
(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.
ANTIEVOLUTION LEGISLATION IN IOWA 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: http://coolice.legis.state.ia.us/Cool-ICE/default.asp?Category=BillInfo&Service=Billbook&ga=83&hbill=HF183 For the story in the Sioux City Journal, visit: http://www.siouxcityjournal.com/articles/2009/02/05/news/local/2b08ac392f9c71bc862575540017a492.txt ANTIEVOLUTION LEGISLATION IN NEW MEXICO 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: http://www.nmlegis.gov/Sessions/09%20Regular/bills/senate/SB0433.html For Branch and Scott's article in Scientific American, visit: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-latest-face-of-creationism For New Mexicans for Science and Reason's coverage, visit: http://www.nmsr.org/leg2009.htm And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in New Mexico, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/new-mexico NCSE'S BRANCH IN US NEWS & WORLD REPORT 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: http://www.usnews.com/articles/opinion/2009/02/02/intelligent-design-is-not-science-and-should-not-take-the-place-of-evolution-in-the-classroom.html NCSE MEMBERS HONORED BY NAS 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: http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=01282009 For Felsenstein's article in Reports of the NCSE, visit: http://ncseweb.org/rncse/27/3-4/has-natural-selection-been-refuted-arguments-william-dembski DARWIN DAY APPROACHES 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: http://www.darwinday.org/events/ For information about Evolution Weekend, visit: http://www.butler.edu/clergyproject/rel_evolution_weekend_2009.htm For Lebo's article at Religion Dispatches, visit: http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/scienceandreligion/963/ For Branch's Darwin Day 2008 blog post, visit: http://www.beaconbroadside.com/broadside/2008/02/dust-off-your-d.html 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 x310 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