NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/03/13
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, Texas is in the headlines again, with a new bill that appears to be intended to exempt the Institute for Creation Research's graduate school from state regulation as well as a profile of Don McLeroy, the avowed creationist who chairs the state board of education, in the Austin American-Statesman. Meanwhile, a legislator in Oklahoma, outraged by the prospect of Richard Dawkins visiting the University of Oklahoma, introduced two antievolution resolutions -- and Dawkins responded.
LEGISLATIVE SALVATION FOR THE ICR? House Bill 2800, introduced in the Texas House of Representatives on March 9, 2009, would, if enacted, in effect exempt institutions such as the Institute for Creation Research's graduate school from Texas's regulations governing degree-granting institutions. The bill's sole sponsor is Leo Berman (R-District 6), a member of the House Higher Education Committee. A member of NCSE called Berman's office to ask whether the bill would apply to the ICR's graduate school; a staffer answered that he thought that it would, adding that he believed that the bill's objective was to aid institutions that want to teach creation science or intelligent design. Berman himself seems not to have offered any public statement about HB 2800 so far. As NCSE's Glenn Branch recounted in Reports of the NCSE, "When the Institute for Creation Research moved its headquarters from Santee, California, to Dallas, Texas, in June 2007, it expected to be able to continue offering a master's degree in science education from its graduate school. ... But the state's scientific and educational leaders voiced their opposition, and at its April 24, 2008, meeting, the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board unanimously voted to deny the ICR's request for a state certificate of authority to offer the degree." Following the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board's decision, the ICR appealed the decision, while also taking its case to the court of public opinion with a series of press releases and advertisements in Texas newspapers. Now, however, it seems that HB 2800 would take the matter out of the board's hands altogether. Subchapter G of Chapter 61 of Texas's Education Code serves to regulate "the use of academic terminology in naming or otherwise designating educational institutions, the advertising, solicitation or representation by educational institutions or their agents, and the maintenance and preservation of essential academic records"; it provides, inter alia, "A person may not grant or award a degree or offer to grant or award a degree on behalf of a private postsecondary educational institution unless the institution has been issued a certificate of authority to grant the degree by the board [that is, the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board] in accordance with the provisions of this subchapter." HB 2800 would amend subchapter G by providing, "The provisions of this subchapter do not apply to a private educational institution, including a separate degree-granting program, unit, or school operated by the institution, that: (1) does not accept state funding of any kind to support its educational programs; (2) does not accept state-administered federal funding to support its educational programs; (3) was formed as or is affiliated with or controlled by a nonprofit corporation or nonprofit unincorporated organization; and (4) offers bona fide degree programs that require students to complete substantive course work in order to receive a degree from the institution." Presumably the ICR would argue that its graduate school satisfies all four requirements. For Texas's HB 2800 as introduced (PDF), visit: http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/81R/billtext/pdf/HB02800I.pdf For the story in Reports of the NCSE, visit: http://ncseweb.org/rncse/28/2/setback-icr-texas For chapter 61 of Texas's Education Code, visit: http://tlo2.tlc.state.tx.us/statutes/docs/ED/content/htm/ed.003.00.000061.00.htm And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/texas CREATIONIST BOARD CHAIR PROFILED As the final vote on the proposed revision of the Texas state science standards approaches, the Austin American-Statesman (March 8, 2009) offers a profile of the chair of the Texas state board of education, avowed creationist Don McLeroy. Describing his conversion to fundamentalism as a dental student, the profile explained, "He is now a young earth creationist, meaning that he believes God created Earth between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago," quoting him as saying, "When I became a Christian, it was whole-hearted ... I was totally convinced the biblical principles were right, and I was totally convinced that it could be accurate scientifically." Particularly important to McLeroy is the biblical tenet that humans were created in the image of God -- although Sid Hall, a Methodist pastor in Austin, told the newspaper, "I would never want to discount those works, but to take [the passage that humans were made in the image of God] to mean something about how the universe is created is a stretch to me ... That's code to me for 'I'm going to take my particular myth of creationism and make it part of the science curriculum.' That's scary to me." At the board's January 21-23, 2009, meeting, McLeroy successfully proposed a revision to section 7 of the draft of the high school biology standards to require that students "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record." As NCSE explains in its call to Texas scientists, the requirement is not only unworkable and confusing, but also evidently intended to promote the idea that living things were specially created in their current forms. Moreover, a detailed analysis by the Stand Up for Real Science blog strongly suggests that the documentation that McLeroy provided in support of his revision at the January meeting was in fact taken wholesale from creationist sources. Undaunted, McLeroy told the American-Statesman that at the board's March 25-27, 2009, meeting, he plans to "pitch another idea that he says should be taught in public schools: the insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of cells" -- apparently a reference to the "intelligent design" notion of "irreducible complexity" due to Michael Behe. David Hillis of the University of Texas, Austin, told the newspaper, "McLeroy's amendments are not even intelligible. I wonder if perhaps he wants the standards to be confusing so that he can open the door to attacking mainstream biology textbooks and arguing for the addition of creationist and other religious literature into the science classroom." He added, "If Chairman McLeroy is successful in adding his amendments, it will be a huge embarrassment to Texas, a setback for science education and a terrible precedent for the state boards overriding academic experts in order to further their personal religious or political agendas. The victims will be the schoolchildren of Texas, who represent the future of our state." Hillis is also a member of the Advisory Committee of the 21st Century Science Coalition, which has recruited over 1400 Texas scientists to endorse its call for the Texas state board of education to adopt state science standards that "acknowledge that instruction on evolution is vital to understanding all the biological sciences" and omit "all references to 'strengths and weaknesses,' which politicians have used to introduce supernatural explanations into science courses." Preparing for the March 25-27 board meeting at which the final vote on the standards is expected, McLeroy is arming himself with "a large binder that is adorned on the front with a picture of Albert Einstein" and contains "numerous passages from books -- such as [Kenneth R.] Miller's and others on evolutionary theory -- and articles that he plans to use as ammunition in the fight this month over what should be in the state's science standards." One page from his binder, the American-Statesman reports, shows a diagram of the fossil record from a book by Miller, with McLeroy's gloss, "What do we see?" 'Sudden appearance' of species." Miller -- a professor of biology at Brown University and a Supporter of NCSE, who recently received the Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in recognition of "his sustained efforts and excellence in communicating evolutionary science" -- told the newspaper, "That diagram shows evolution. If he thinks it says evolution does not occur, he is dead wrong. It's really quite the opposite." For the profile of McLeroy, visit: http://www.statesman.com/news/content/region/legislature/stories/03/08/0308mcleroy.html For NCSE's call to Texas scientists, visit: http://ncseweb.org/creationism/analysis/analysis-proposed-texas-educational-knowledge-skills-teks-am For the Stand Up for Real Science blog's analysis, visit: http://www.anevolvingcreation.net/collapse/index.htm For the 21st Century Science Coalition, visit: http://www.texasscientists.org/ And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/texas ANTIEVOLUTION RESOLUTIONS INTRODUCED IN OKLAHOMA Two bills in the Oklahoma House of Representatives -- House Resolution 1014 and House Resolution 1015, introduced on March 3, 2009 - attack Richard Dawkins's visit to the University of Oklahoma. The sole sponsor of both bills is Todd Thomsen (R-District 25), a member of the House Education Committee and the chair of the House Higher Education and Career Tech Committee. Both measures, if adopted, would express the strong opposition of the Oklahoma House of Representatives to "the invitation to speak on the campus of the University of Oklahoma to Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, whose published statements on the theory of evolution and opinion about those who do not believe in the theory are contrary and offensive to the views and opinions of most citizens of Oklahoma." Dawkins spoke at the University of Oklahoma on March 6, 2009, as part of the university's celebrations of the Darwin anniversaries. While HR 1015 ends with a plea for civility -- "the Oklahoma House of Representatives encourages the University of Oklahoma to engage in an open, dignified, and fair discussion of the Darwinian theory of evolution and all other scientific theories which is the approach that a public institution should be engaged in and which represents the desire and interest of the citizens of Oklahoma" -- HR 1014 attacks the University of Oklahoma's Department of Zoology for "framing the Darwinian theory of evolution as doctrinal dogmatism rather than a hypothetical construction within the disciplines of the sciences" and engaging in "one-sided indoctrination of an unproven and unpopular theory" while branding "all thinking in dissent of this theory as anti-intellectual and backward rather than nurturing such free thinking and allowing a free discussion of all ideas which is the primary purpose of a university." At the beginning of his talk, which was repeatedly interrupted by cheers and applause, Dawkins opened by saying, "I don't want to blow my own trumpet, but it isn't everybody who's the subject of legislation ..." Quoting HR 1014's complaint of his alleged "intolerance for cultural diversity and diversity of thinking," he presented the stork theory of human reproduction -- illustrated with a parody of the creationist propaganda film Expelled -- as a view comparable to creationism. "They've lost in the courts of law; they've long ago lost in the halls of science; and they continue to lose with every new piece of evidence in support of evolution. Taking offense is all they've got left. And the one thing you can be sure of is that they don't actually know anything about what it is that they reject," he added. He also announced that the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science would be donating $5000 to Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, which fights against attempts to undermine evolution education in Oklahoma. For the text of Oklahoma's HR 1014 and 1015 as introduced (documents), visit: http://webserver1.lsb.state.ok.us/2009-10HB/HR1014_int.rtf http://webserver1.lsb.state.ok.us/2009-10HB/HR1015_int.rtf For information about the University of Oklahoma's celebrations, visit: http://www.ou.edu/darwin/Site/Home.html For videos of the beginning of Dawkins's talk, visit: http://richarddawkins.net/article,3646,Richard-Dawkins-at-the-University-of-Oklahoma---Introduction,Richard-Dawkins For information about the Dawkins Foundation, visit: http://richarddawkinsfoundation.org/ For Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, visit: http://www.oklascience.org/ And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Oklahoma, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/oklahoma 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