NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/10/09
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, A bill in the Massachusetts legislature would encourage discussion of creationism in public school science classes, according to a cosponsor. A useful collection of articles on teaching evolution in the college classroom is now available on-line. And the Pontifical Academy of Sciences upholds the scientific and educational importance of evolution.
ANTIEVOLUTION LEGISLATION IN MASSACHUSETTS? Will a Massachusetts bill entitled "An Act Relative to Protecting the Religious Freedom of Students" encourage the discussion of creationism in public school science classes? That's what a cosponsor of the bill, Representative Elizabeth Poirier (R-14th Bristol), told the Cape Cod Times (October 7, 2009). The bill, House No. 376, received a hearing on October 6, 2009, at which, according to the Times, "No one testified against the bill, which has bipartisan support and is expected to pass favorably through the Joint Committee on Education." Evolution is in fact not mentioned in the bill, which would require school districts in the state to "adopt and implement a local policy that allows for a limited public forum and voluntary student expression of religious views at school events, graduation ceremonies, and in class assignments, and non-curricular school groups and activities. ... Districts shall treat such expression ... in the same manner as the expression of a secular view. Districts are prohibited from discriminating against any student on the basis of a student's expressed religious views." In commenting on a similar bill in Virginia (HB 1135 in 2008), Americans United's Dena Sher urged legislators to amend the bill to ensure that classwork is still "graded according to academic standards of substance and relevance," observing that otherwise "this statute could be understood to force biology teachers to give equal credit to students who, when asked questions about evolution, answer with religious views about creation." The version of the bill that was eventually passed and enacted in Virginia was amended along the lines that Sher suggested. For the story in the Cape Cod Times, visit: http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091007/NEWS/910070320/-1/NEWSMAP For the text of the bill, visit: http://www.mass.gov/legis/bills/house/186/ht00/ht00376.htm For Sher's comments on the Virginia bill, visit: http://www.au.org/media/church-and-state/archives/2008/04/states-of-confus.html TEACHING EVOLUTION EFFECTIVELY AT THE COLLEGE LEVEL A special issue of the Journal of Effective Teaching, a peer-reviewed electronic journal devoted to the discussion of teaching excellence in colleges and universities, is devoted to the topic of teaching evolution in the college classroom. Featured are Randy Moore, Sehoya Cotner, and Alex Bates's "The Influence of Religion and High School Biology Courses on Students' Knowledge of Evolution When They Enter College"; Katherine E. Bruce, Jennifer E. Horan, Patricia H. Kelley, and Mark Galizio's "Teaching Evolution in the Galapagos"; Patricia H. Kelley's "A College Honors Seminar on Evolution and Intelligent Design: Successes and Challenges"; Alexander J. Werth's "Clearing the Highest Hurdle: Human-based Case Studies Broaden Students' Knowledge of Core Evolutionary Concepts"; Aditi Pai's "Evolution in Action, a Case Study Based Advanced Biology Class at Spelman College"; and Caitlin M. Schrein, John M. Lynch, Sarah K. Brem, Gary E. Marchant, Karen K. Schedler, Mark A. Spencer, Charles J. Kazilek, and Margaret G. Coulombe's "Preparing Teachers to Prepare Students for Post-Secondary Science: Thoughts From of a Workshop About Evolution in the Classroom." All are freely available in HTML and PDF format. For the special issue of the Journal of Effective Teaching, visit: http://www.uncw.edu/cte/et/articles/Vol9_2/index.htm THE LATEST ON EVOLUTION FROM THE VATICAN A recently published statement on current scientific knowledge on cosmic evolution and biological evolution from the Pontifical Academy of Sciences concludes: "The extraordinary progress in our understanding of evolution and the place of man in nature should be shared with everyone. ... Furthermore, scientists have a clear responsibility to contribute to the quality of education, especially as regards the subject of evolution." The statement appears in the proceedings of "Scientific Insights into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life," a plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences held from October 31 to November 4, 2008. Nobel laureate Christian de Duve summarized the plenary session: "The participants unanimously accepted as indisputable the affirmation that the Universe, as well as life within it, are the products of long evolutionary histories," noting that there was also wide agreement among the participants on the common ancestry of life on earth. "Evolution," he added, "has acquired the status of established fact. In the words of His Holiness John Paul II, it is 'more than a hypothesis'." The centrality of natural selection to evolution was also recognized, although de Duve acknowledged "the need to refine some of the conceptual bases" of natural selection "in the light of recent findings." "On the other hand," De Duve added, "no one, at least among the scientists, defended the recently advocated theory of 'intelligent design' ... Several of the arguments cited in support of this theory were shown to ignore recent findings. In particular, the theory was rejected as intrinsically non-disprovable, resting, as it does, on the a priori contention, neither provable nor disprovable, that certain events cannot be naturally explained. These views did not satisfy some theologians who stressed the role of design in creation, an affirmation which, in turn, raised the questions of where and how design is manifested. The issue was not settled during the meeting." "Intelligent design" was also the topic of Maxine Singer's contribution to the plenary session. Singer traced the history of the antievolution movement in the United States, from Scopes-era attempts to ban the teaching of evolution, through the McLean, Edwards, and Kitzmiller cases, to the present spate of "academic freedom" bills such as Louisiana's, which "permits teachers to speak of evolution as 'controversial' and is an invitation to teachers to present alternative, nonscientific explanations." She added, "The young governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, signed the bill, making it law although he had been a biology major at Brown University." "Intelligent design is one of the more recent subterfuges used to try to get creationist idea into school science curricula," Singer explained. Its proponents "say their methods are scientific. But they do not describe experiments or systematic observations and do not publish in recognized, peer-reviewed journals." In the face of resistance to evolution exemplified by "creation science" and "intelligent design," Singer concluded, "we are unlikely to convince those who view their religious faith as in fundamental conflict with scientific evolution. ... The most important task for scientists and the only one that has a chance to succeed is assuring that science and evolution are taught properly in school science classes." For the proceedings, visit: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_academies/acdscien/documents/rc_pa_acdscien_doc_20020103_index_general_en.html Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://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://ncseweb.org Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter: http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd http://twitter.com/ncse NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncseweb.org/membership